The Cable

SitRep: Russian Bombers in Iran; A Trump Foreign Policy

More Gitmo Releases; NSA Hack; And Lots More

SYRIA - AUGUST 14, 2016: A Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber carries out airstrikes against ISIS targets in the districts to the South West, East and North East of the Syrian city of Dayr al-Zawr using high-explosive fragmentation weapons. Russian Defence Ministry's Press and Information Department/TASS (Photo by TASSTASS via Getty Images)
SYRIA - AUGUST 14, 2016: A Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber carries out airstrikes against ISIS targets in the districts to the South West, East and North East of the Syrian city of Dayr al-Zawr using high-explosive fragmentation weapons. Russian Defence Ministry's Press and Information Department/TASS (Photo by TASSTASS via Getty Images)

 

New base for Russian bombers. Russian bombers have started operating from an air base in Iran, and on Tuesday launched a wave of bombing runs on targets in Syria. The strikes, by Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi 34 fighters flying out of Iran’s Hamadan air base may signal a new wrinkle in Russia’s year-long bombing campaign in Syria, since the bombers will be able to carry larger payloads, given the shorter distances they have to fly.

The strikes may not be the first time Russian planes have taken off from Iran however, as Russian warplanes were spotted at Iranian air bases last fall.

The bombing runs come amid reports that Moscow has asked Iraq and Iran for permission to begin flying cruise missiles over their territory. Earlier this week, Moscow sent several ships into the Caspian Sea for exercises, the same location from which Russian ships sent cruise missiles into Syria in November 2015.

Tensions at Turtle Bay. While the Russia and Iran are teaming up in the fight against ISIS and other targets in Syria, the recent diplomatic thaw between Moscow and Ankara appears to have its limits. FP’s Colum Lynch gets the exclusive details of a recent closed door session at the U.N. Security Council, where Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin slammed Turkey for permitting what he claims is the continued flow of weapons and terrorists across the border into Syria.

Lynch writes that the criticism “underscored the tensions that continue to define Russia’s interactions with Turkey even at a time when they are trying to put their relationship back on track,” and it reflects the fact that Moscow and Ankara “remain deeply divided over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is receiving direct military assistance from Russia as he fights rebels armed and backed by Turkey.”

More alliances? Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said Monday that Russia and the United States are inching closer to an agreement to join forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. U.S. State Department officials are a little more equivocal on the subject, however. Shoigu said the two sides, currently involved in talks in Geneva, Switzerland, are close to an agreement on Aleppo “that would really allow us to start fighting together to bring peace.” A State Department spokeswoman, however, offered only that the department has “nothing to announce” and that Washington is pushing for a broad ceasefire in Syria.

And here comes Beijing. Guan Youfei, an official with China’s Central Military Commission, was in Damascus Tuesday where he met Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij. Guan said that China wants a closer relationship with Syria, and “China’s military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria’s military,” China’s Xinhua state news agency reported.

A Trump foreign policy. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump delivered what was billed as a major foreign policy speech Monday, offering a performance that borrowed much from President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the Islamic State, while simultaneously declaring the president’s strategy a failure. Trump also said the United States should have left troops in Iraq to guard oil facilities while the U.S. took all the oil to pay for the war. FP’s Molly O’Toole truth squads the address, here.

The AP also has a long list of the candidate’s mistakes and untruths in Monday’s address.

GITMO. On Monday, Trump repeated his vows to maintain the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and fill it with new detainees — including, potentially, some U.S. citizens. But President Barack Obama answered just a few hours later with the announcement that the Pentagon had transferred 15 Guantanamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates, the largest such move during his tenure, FP’s Molly O’Toole reports.

Hack attack. A mysterious online group calling itself “The Shadow Brokers” is claiming to have penetrated the National Security Agency, stolen some of its malware, and is auctioning off the files to the highest bidder, FP’s Elias Groll writes. “The authenticity of the files cannot be confirmed but appear to be legitimate, according to security researchers who have studied their content. Their release comes on the heels of a series of disclosures of emails and documents belonging mostly to Democratic officials, but also to Republicans. Security researchers believe those breaches were perpetrated by agents thought to be acting on behalf of Moscow.”

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: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley

China

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is in Beijing for a sit down with his People’s Liberation Army counterparts and the U.S. deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea is at the top of the agenda. Chinese officials have reacted angrily to the THAAD deployment, meant to protect the South from North Korea’s growing ballistic missile threats, fearing it could be used to track Chinese missiles instead. In a statement, the Army said Milley told army chief General Li Zuocheng that the THAAD system in South Korea remains focused on threats from Pyongyang and not China.

Yemen

Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi movement in Yemen have once again bombed a hospital belonging to the international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing 15 people. The airstrike is the fourth such attack against MSF medical facilities by the coalition in Yemen, and follows the coalition’s bombing of a school in northern Yemen which killed a number of children. The U.S. Air Force has stepped up its support to the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen over the past six months with an increase in refueling operations.

South Sudan

Following a victory in Juba in July, South Sudanese soldiers raped and beat foreign aid workers at gunpoint and murdered a journalist — all while United Nations peacekeepers looked on and did nothing, according to the AP. Witnesses tell the wire service that the troops, apparently drunk and buoyant from their recent victory, stormed the Terrain hotel complex and began torturing foreign guests. Multiple calls for help to U.N. peacekeepers, based just minutes away, were ignored, as were pleas to foreign embassies, including the U.S. embassy

Cybersecurity

China has launched a satellite featuring a new kind of encryption which Beijing claims is “hack proof,” Reuters reports. The satellite, Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, uses quantum communication to try and defeat third party interception and decryption. The system is based on the principle of the observer effect, which holds that the very act of measuring a phenomenon can change it. Chinese officials say the satellite will be used to link the capital Beijing and Urumqi in Xinjiang province, where Islamist militants have attempted to create an independent state.

 

Photo Credit: TASS\TASS via Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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