SitRep: Obama to the Pentagon; Turkish Coup Fallout in Syria
Aleppo Surrounded; A Look at U.S. Strikes in Libya; And Lots More
Come on over. President Barack Obama is heading to northern Virginia to huddle with his National Security Council at the Pentagon Thursday, and will take a couple questions from the press afterward. The visit comes days after the start of a new round of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Libya, and as the U.S. and its allies continue to prepare Iraqi forces to move on Mosul, and Kurdish/Sunni Arab rebels to take the ISIS-held cities of Manbij and Raqqa, in Syria. Forces loyal to the Assad regime in Damascus have also completed the encirclement of the city of Aleppo — with Russian air support — amid heavy fighting there, which has trapped 250,000 civilians inside the besieged city.
Aleppo. Support for Syrian rebels from the Turkish government has been placed in jeopardy by the failed July 15 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many of the Turkish officers most closely associated with assisting and supplying the rebel groups are now behind bars, the result of a massive purge of the military and civil sector, which has seen over 60,000 arrested or dismissed throughout the country. “The generals who were leading the Turkey-Syria policy and the Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds are all in jail now, and we now see the crumbling of the Turkish security establishment,” Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told the Wall Street Journal.
The Institute for the Study of War has an analysis of the fight for Aleppo here, along with a very helpful map, for the visual learners among us.
Peek at Libya fighting. A Libyan commander on the front lines fighting the Islamic State around the city of Sirte gives Reuters a look at how the new U.S. airstrikes are impacting the battlefield. Mohamed Darat said, “in the last two houses in this area we faced strong resistance so we asked (the U.S.) to hit that site…we moved back and they struck.” The strikes have been carried out by armed drones flown from Jordan and Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers from the USS Wasp, parked nearby in the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. defense officials have said the strikes on Monday and Tuesday are the start of an air campaign meant to dislodge ISIS from its stronghold in Sirte. SitRep has more on the American airstrikes here.
Paygate. Or Not. Did Washington pay Iran a $400 million ransom to get four Americans out of Irnian jails? Depends on where you sit. The money, which was quietly sent to Tehran in January, coincided with the release of the four Americans, which had led some critics to label it as a ransom payment. The cash was originally Iranian, but Washington froze the assets when Islamist militants took over the government in 1979. As one analyst told the Washington Post, “the timing may look awkward, but on the other hand, this dispute had been festering for more than three decades, and it was good to get it resolved — and to get Jason and the others out,” said Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “Those who opposed the nuclear deal will call it ‘ransom’ and those who supported it will call it ‘compensation.’”
Friends? Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Washington on Wednesday to talk about creating a new regional counterterrorism effort to “increase dialogue on threats from foreign terrorist fighters, and exchange best practices on countering terrorism and preventing radicalization to violence,” according to a statement.The catch here is that State has long criticized all five nations for human rights abuses. So it goes.
Step by step. For the first time ever, an enlisted female sailor has earned her submarine qualification. Chief Petty Officer Dominique Saavedra received her silver dolphin pin Tuesday in Bremerton, Washington, the AP reports. Soon, she’ll deploy on then a nuclear-powered guided missile submarine, the USS Michigan. Enlisted female sailors began training for their submarine qualifications last year, and there are roughly three dozen other enlisted women assigned to subs, working through the qualification process.
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Hezbollah sees no end to the war in Syria.
U.S. military officials are still pretty worried about some of the things they see the Russians doing in Ukraine.
China and its plans for launching a “people’s war” at sea.
Thirty-three U.S. servicemembers have contracted Zika.
The U.S. Air Force flew five B-52 bombers around the North Pole in what it called its “Polar Roar” exercise, which looks like a not-so-subtle message to Russia. The bombers carried out some target practice by dropping dummy munitions on a range in Alaska. The U.S. also let partner countries from NATO and Scandinavia practice intercepting the bombers, letting F-16s from Denmark and JAS-39 Gripens from Sweden have a go at the Cold War vintage strategic bombers.
The Russian government and Syrian rebels are trading accusations over which side used poisonous chemicals in the fighting over the city of Aleppo. The BBC reports that the Russian military is claiming rebel groups used unspecified “toxic substances” in the city. The claims follow similar charges by rebels that unidentified aircraft dropped chlorine gas in Idlib after a Russian military helicopter was shot down near the city of Saraqeb. The claims and counter-claims, however, remain unverified.
The Islamic State
The fight against the Islamic State has struck uncomfortably close to home as federal prosecutors charged a Washington, DC transit police officer with trying to provide assistance to the group. The New York Times reports that Nicholas Young popped up on counterterrorism officials’ radar after fighting with a Libyan rebel group and associating with convicted terrorists. Law enforcement first sent undercover agents to befriend young in 2011, but finally charged him after he tried to fund the Islamic State by providing gift cards to an undercover agent.
The genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State against Iraq and Syria’s minority Yazidi population is “ongoing,” according to the United Nations. The U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued a statement marking the anniversary of the jihadist group’s 2014 assault on Yazidis in Sinjar, Iraq. The commission took the occasion to remind the world that the Islamic State still holds thousands of Yazidi women in sexual slavery alongside their children, forcing the older children to train as child soldiers for the group. Commission chair Paulo Pinheiro urged the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court.
You never give me your money
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is holding up a $300 million payment to Pakistan because it says the country isn’t doing enough to stop the powerful Haqqani militant group. The U.S. pays Pakistan to fight militants on its own soil out of something called the Coalition Support Fund, but Reuters reports that Carter will halt the payments by refusing to certify that the country has sufficiently cracked down on the Haqqani group. Pakistan’s intelligence service has deep ties to the Haqqani leadership and other Islamist militants, and some accuse the country of playing a double game of reaping U.S. military aid while covertly supporting terrorism.
Nigeria’s infamous Boko Haram terrorist group has a new boss. The AP reports that Abu Musab al-Barnawi is now in charge of the Islamic State-affiliated group that has wreaked havoc on communities throughout West Africa. The announcement is a tad awkward for Abubakar Shekau, the previous leader of Boko Haram, whose current status in the group was left unaddressed in the announcement published in an internal propaganda newspaper. al-Barnawi promised followers that the group would reverse territorial gains made by the Nigerian military, which has made slow but steady progress against Boko Haram-held towns and villages.
Marine aviation is taking an “an operational pause” following a series of F/A-18 crashes, Marine Corps Times reports. Deputy Commandant for Aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis said squadrons that aren’t on a deployment must take a 24 hour pause sometime within the next seven business days to assess their aircraft. The pause comes after the fatal crashes in Twentynine Palms, California and Smyrna, Tennessee. An F/A -18 suffered a third crash this week in Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada but the pilot survived the incident. Budget cuts have eaten into maintenance for the aircraft and delays in the availability of the F-35 have pushed the Marines to use the F/A-18s for longer and longer.
3-D printing in the military has hit another milestone following the first MV-22 Osprey flight to take place with a 3-D printed part. Defense Tech reports that the Navy printed out a titanium link and installed it in an MV-22 for a short hover at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. The military has been looking to take advantage of the increasingly availability of 3-D printing technology for its ability to quickly and cheaply manufacture components and equipment. The Navy, in particular, has been experimenting with putting 3-D printers on ships, even building a small drone aboard the USS Essex.
Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary