- 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.
“There’s no Delta Force residing at the embassy.” What happened in Juba, South Sudan on July 11? A few things we know for certain: Forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir stormed a compound in the capital city and beat, robbed, tortured, and raped dozens of aid workers for hours. Despite frantic calls from the victims to U.N. troops nearby, and the U.S. Embassy, no one came to help until it was too late.
The U.N. is launching an investigation into why it’s forces refused to help, and a senior U.S. official told FP that “we didn’t have the personnel with the mission or the capacity to respond to such a wide-scale event. Our response was to engage the government that had the capability to do so.” FP’s Colum Lynch, Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary have much more on the attack and its political fallout, writing the incident marks “a grim moment in a long-standing U.S. effort to help South Sudan achieve its independence from the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum. The violence highlighted the degree to which South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has evolved from a valued U.S. friend to the leader of a rampaging army that has now targeted American nationals.”
Wheels up. Guns down. U.S. and Syrian forces held fire recently when they spotted a convoy carrying as many as 200 Islamic State fighters escaping the Syrian city of Manbij, fearing that hitting the convoy would harm civilians. “We did not conduct any strikes because [every vehicle] had civilians in it or on it, and so we watched, we kept track,” Army Col. Chris Garver, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad told reporters Tuesday. Asked where the convoy was headed, Garver was circumspect, saying “they went north,” adding that the fighters are still being tracked.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces have taken Manbij back from the jihadist group, prompting the flight, but the move has sparked concern that ISIS might begin using more civilians as human shields in the coming fight for the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Bombs over Aleppo. Russian bombers launched a second day of airstrikes on Wednesday against targets in Syria from their new outpost in Iran, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the strikes don’t violate a key U.N. Security Council resolution, as no weapons are being transferred to Tehran. Iranian officials also insist that the Russian base isn’t permanent.
The Russian bombing campaign in Aleppo and Idlib have raised concerns in Washington over who the strikes are targeting. Col. Garver said Tuesday that ISIS isn’t operating in Aleppo and Idlib in any numbers, where the Russians are focusing their bombing runs. “We have not struck targets in Aleppo in a very long time. We have not struck targets in Idlib in a very long time, if we have at all. We don’t see concentrations of ISIS in those areas,” he said.
NSA hack. After a group of mysterious hackers claimed to have broken into the NSA and posted a portion of its stolen code online, security researchers were left with a vexing question: Was the material released by the so-called “Shadow Brokers” actually from the NSA? FP’s Elias Groll writes that the answer appears to be “yes.” On Tuesday, researchers at Kaspersky, the Russian cybersecurity firm, said their analysis of the Shadow Brokers’ code found a trail of digital breadcrumbs that leads straight back to the NSA.
It’s all happening. The two main candidates for president of the United States are about to start receiving their intelligence briefings, with Republican nominee Donald Trump up first. Trump will meet with U.S. intelligence officials in New York on Wednesday, bringing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former Defense Intelligence Agency chief who has been criticized for his ties to the Kremlin-funded propaganda channel RT, along with him.
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
A senior North Korean diplomat has jumped ship and defected to an unspecified country, according to the BBC. North Korean officials have apparently been looking for Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s number two at its embassy in London, but the Beeb reports that the diplomat has ditched his job in the North Korean government to seek asylum. Where? No one quite knows yet but South Korean media report that Thae isn’t looking for refuge in the Republic of Korea. Analysts say Thae’s long tenure as a senior diplomat in an important posting like the U.K. likely makes him a desirable source of intelligence on Pyongyang’s thinking.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday of a coming “humanitarian catastrophe” in the Syrian city of Aleppo, and pushed Russia and the U.S. to strike a deal on a ceasefire in the besieged city. Fighting in the city — which is split between its government-held west and rebel-held east — has grown in recent weeks, killing hundreds of civilians while cutting off power, water and food deliveries. “In Aleppo we risk seeing a humanitarian catastrophe unprecedented in the over five years of bloodshed and suffering in the Syrian conflict,” Ban told the U.N. Security Council in his latest monthly report, according to Reuters.
Human Rights Watch says the Russian and Syrian governments have been using incendiary weapons in Aleppo, “which burn their victims and start fires,” in civilian areas of Syria “in violation of international law, the group said Tuesday. “Incendiary weapons have been used at least 18 times over the past nine weeks, including in attacks on the opposition-held areas in the cities of Aleppo and Idlib on August 7, 2016.”
Court documents unsealed on Monday reveal that an American man from Maine died while fighting for the Islamic State in Lebanon back in 2015. Adnan Fazeli, an Iranian refugee, traveled to Turkey in 2013, just four years after arriving in the United States. FBI informants quoted in an unsealed affidavit say Fazeli grew more radical and distant from those around him while living in Maine. The Lebanese army killed Fazeli as he and other Islamic State members fought in the town of Ras Baalbek near the Syrian border.
American special operations troops on the ground in Somalia helped local forces carry out a raid last week which killed a number of al-Shabaab fighters, the New York Times reports. A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command tells the paper that the commandos tagged along for the attack on an al-Shabaab checkpoint, but didn’t join in the fight. American drones and special operations forces have repeatedly targeted al-Shabaab, an Islamist terrorist group which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.
Ever since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014, the Chibok girls have been the face of the terrorist group’s cruelty. But girls aren’t the only children Boko Haram has victimized. The Wall Street Journal reports on the roughly 10,000 boys kidnapped by the group and forced to serve as child soldiers. The Islamist militants send captured children to receive military training, reportedly using beatings and starvation as disciplinary tools to ensure discipline. Once trained, Boko Haram used the boys as cannon fodder against artillery, sometimes plying them with drugs, and arming them with little more than machetes.
Get you a drone that can do both
General Atomics is working on a plan to convert MQ-9 Predator B drones from terrorist hunters in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigns to a missile defense platform in higher intensity conflicts. The defense contractor is working with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to equip Predator Bs with sensors that can track ballistic missiles, according to AINonline. The agency says it’s planning to use drones and other assets to extend the engagement zone of Standard Missile-3 interceptors.
The Air Force is ordering up 30 more Reaper drones from General Atomics. The deal is worth around $370 million and is expected to be completed by 2019 — just as the service retires its fleet of MQ-1 Predator drones. Demand for Reaper drones is also being pushed by the Air Force’s plans to increase the number of combat air patrols to 70, up from the current 60.
Photo credit: CHARLES LOMODONG/AFP/Getty Images