SitRep: U.S. Marines Scramble in South Sudan; Chinese Coast Guard Flexes Muscles
The Politics of Defense; North Korean Missiles; And Lots More
Marines on the move. On the night of July 7, the presidential guard of South Sudanese leader Salva Kiir opened fire on two cars carrying American diplomats in the capital city of Juba, popping off as many as 100 rounds at the passing vehicles and forcing a U.S. Marine Corps quick reaction team to deploy from the embassy to rescue three of the diplomats.
State Department officials give FP’s Colum Lynch conflicting accounts of what happened next, and whether or not the U.S. government has carried out an investigation into the incident. But what concerns many in Washington is that South Sudan’s government and rebel leaders may be losing control over their own forces, as the shooting came just days before South Sudanese soldiers broke into a compound in the capital and tortured, raped, and murdered a group of aid workers and journalists.
Political generals. The next president of the United States should stop the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan — or even add more troops to the mix, says John Allen, a retired four-star Marine general with close ties to presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Allen, who endorsed Clinton in a controversial speech at the Democratic National Convention in July, has plenty of experience in Afghanistan, having served as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013. FP’s John Hudson points out that “Allen could potentially be in line for a senior job in the Clinton administration should she win the presidency. In his DNC speech, he spoke out forcefully against Trump without explicitly mentioning his name.”
Center stage. Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump will take the stage Wednesday night (separately) in New York City at the Commander-in-Chief forum sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The event – where the candidates will discuss veterans issues — will air at 8:00 p.m. on NBC and MSNBC. Trump held a national security Q&A on Tuesday, where his surrogate (ret.) Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn lobbed a series of softball questions to the candidate, writes FP’s Molly O’Toole.
Missile race. One subject that didn’t really come up during the Q&A was Russia. In one of the many simmering conflicts between NATO members and Moscow, Poland announced Tuesday that it was planning on buying the U.S. Army’s Patriot air-and-missile defense system, a move widely seen as a response to Moscow’s upcoming deployment of nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, FP’s Paul McLeary reports. The deployment of the Russian Iskander missiles is itself a response to the installation in May of a new U.S.-built missile defense system in Romania, which Moscow sees as a direct threat. Plans for the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System had been in the works for years, and U.S. and NATO officials have long said that the system was put in place to protect Europe from Iranian missiles. But the Russians have rejected that explanation.
New North Korean Missile Tech? When North Korea launched three ballistic missiles this week, it wasn’t just a show of force for the world leaders gathered in China for a meeting of the G-20, writes FP’s Elias Groll. It was also a test of what may be new technology to thwart missile defense systems. “Monday’s missiles were medium-range weapons that appeared to be outfitted with a detachable warhead, said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. If confirmed, such a warhead would provide North Korean forces with a greater capability to thwart American missile defense systems set to be deployed to South Korea.”
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When it comes to provocative encounters in the South China Sea, the China Coast Guard (CCG) is king, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The think tank’s ChinaPower website crunched the numbers on interstate naval clashes in the region over the past six years and found that CCG vessels were involved in 68 percent of the 45 incidents. The CCG was created in 2013 from four separate and sometimes competing maritime bureaucracies. With a budget of $1.74 billion, the CCG is better resourced than each of its national counterparts in the region, besting Japan by $240 million and spending several multiples of Vietnam and the Philippine coast guard budgets.
A handful of retired generals have published an open letter announcing their support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The letter decries defense budget cuts brought on by sequestration and accuses the Obama administration of emboldening America’s enemies through provocative weakness. The endorsement includes a signature from Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin (ret.), a controversial figure who spent years in special operations. The Army reprimanded Boykin in 2013 for releasing classified information in his 2008 memoir. Boykin also garnered controversy with comments suggesting that the American war against al Qaeda was a war between Christianity and Islam.
Syria’s opposition has put its diplomatic cards on the table, announcing its preferred plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power. The BBC reports that the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee recommends extensive negotiations during a ceasefire followed by an 18 month transitional government designed to prepare the country for a subsequent election. The plan, however, appears to have little chance of gaining acceptance at the moment, either within the Assad government or among its Russian and Iranian allies.
The Russian drone which violated Israeli airspace from Syria back in July was made by Israel, FlightGlobal reports. Israeli military officials believe an Israeli-made Searcher 2, one of 10 Searchers made by Israel and sold to Russia. Israeli officials initially believed that the drone belonged to either Syria or Hezbollah, and fired Patriot missiles and dispatched an F-16 in a vain attempt to down the aircraft. The incident strengthens American protests against further Israeli sales of unmanned technology to Russia following warming relations between Israel and Moscow.
Tensions between American and Iranian ships in the Gulf are once again on the rise after another confrontation from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N). The Pentagon disclosed Tuesday that seven Iranian ships circled the USS Firebolt on Sunday, forcing it to change course after the boats — with their guns uncovered — came within 100 meters of the American craft. The provocation marks the fourth time IRGC-N ships have challenged their American counterparts in the Gulf this month.
Despite speculation that President Obama would unilaterally declare a no first use policy for nuclear weapons, the New York Times reports that the Obama administration isn’t going to go there. Obama’s advisers reportedly argued that a no first use declaration would make American allies in Asia, currently sweating an increasingly aggressive China as well as a growing North Korean weapons of mass destruction program, nervous about American commitments to their security. Administration officials also worried that a unilateral declaration could embolden Moscow, with increasing Russian nuclear saber-rattling underway in Europe.
Photo credit: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary