- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is the Pentagon reporter for Foreign Policy., 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.
Tough choices: When his small riverine craft was surrounded by armed Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf earlier this year, the U.S. Navy’s Lt. David Nartker faced a stark choice: shoot his way out, potentially igniting a war with Tehran, or trust that the Iranians wouldn’t kill his crew. He chose to stand down.
In an exclusive interview with Foreign Policy’s Dan De Luce, Nartker strongly defended his role in the Jan. 12 incident, arguing that he safeguarded the lives of his crew, adding, “I 110 percent believe I would be in Fort Leavenworth right now if I had ordered to fire on the Iranians.”
De Luce writes, “speaking publicly for the first time about the case, Nartker offered an alternative narrative to the one painted by the U.S. Navy, which has reprimanded him for ‘dereliction of duty.’ He described a harrowing confrontation near Farsi Island as two Iranian vessels equipped with machine guns encircled his riverine boats. He said he had only seconds to decide whether to order his crew to open fire or to look for a way out of the showdown.”
Early on, Nartker thought about aiming his M4 assault rifle at a Iranian gunner only about 10 feet away. “I know I could have hit that guy and killed him,” he said. But he ruled it out. “I was thinking, ‘I am not going to kill this guy right now over a bullshit navigation mistake,’” he said. “There would be a dead Iranian in Iranian waters. And there was no way to claim it was international waters.”
Syrian ceasefire. At least 90 people were killed in airstrikes that rained down on rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria on Saturday and Sunday in a bombing campaign carried about by Syrian and Russian jets hours before a new ceasefire takes effect at sundown Monday.
That marker kicks of a critical seven-day window where rebel groups need to start separating themselves from the Syria Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front), or risk being targeted by American and Russian planes. The deal is part of the ceasefire hammered out by Washington and Moscow that would ground the Syrian air force for a week to allow humanitarian supplies to finally begin to flow into besieged cities like Aleppo. If the ceasefire holds by next weekend, the U.S. and Russia will begin coordinating strikes on Syria Conquest fighters. Few in Washington think the deal will hold, however.
Scores of rebel groups are intertwined with Nusra across Syria’s north in a complex series of local alliances that will make it difficult to pull them apart cleanly. Mostafa Mahamed, the director of foreign media relations for Syria Conquest Front, told the Wall Street Journal in a statement that that his group had the support of “numerous groups on the ground,” and “we expect a united stance of all major players in Syria against this deal…make no mistake about it. The U.S. and Russia have agreed to end this revolution.”
More nukes tests? “Assessment by South Korean and U.S. intelligence is that the North is always ready for an additional nuclear test,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said on Monday. Friday’s nuclear test — the North’s largest ever — reinforced fears in Washington and across Asia that Pyongyang’s military advances could soon outpace the missile defense systems the United States and its regional allies have built up over the last decade, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce write.
Experts and former officials told FP that Washington and its Asian allies “could be in danger of falling behind as North Korea builds longer-range and increasingly reliable missiles that expand its potential reach,” and threaten to overwhelm expensive, and untested missile-defense systems.
More sanctions, more frustrations. Following Friday’s tests, President Barack Obama pledged to unleash a new round of sanctions on Pyongyang, but as FP’s John Hudson and David Francis point out, decades of economic punishments have done nothing to stop the North so far, and experts they spoke to said they don’t see more sanctions making much of a difference. “No amount of sanctions will stop North Korea,” Jae Ku, the director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told Foreign Policy. “Nuclear weapons are their sole survival strategy.”
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
South Korea is now announcing its plans to strike at North Korea’s leadership in the event of a nuclear crisis, following last week’s North Korean nuclear test. A South Korean military source tells Yonhap News Agency that Pyongyang would be “reduced to ashes” by the South’s ballistic missiles and artillery fire if Seoul suspected the North was about to use its nuclear weapons. The Korea Massive Punishment & Retaliation plan, as it’s called, would pay particular attention to sections of Pyongyang likely to house North Korean military leaders, such as Kim Jong Un.
Russia held war games on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula over the weekend, the first since Russia invaded and annexed the territory in 2014, according to the New York Times. The exercises simulated the repelling of an amphibious assault on Crimea and joined a series of other drills carried out in southern Russia. Moscow has been fortifying its positions on the peninsula, including the deployment of Russia’s most advanced air defense system, the S-400 Triumf.
French officials say they’ve broken up a cell of Islamic State-linked female commandos over the past week. The AP reports that the discovery of the cell was prompted by an apparently failed bomb plot after authorities discovered a car packed with gas canisters in Paris. Officers quickly arrested “Ornella G.,” a woman allegedly linked to the gas canister car, whom intelligence officials say had intended to travel to Syria. Ornella’s car led police to the home of three women, where two women attacked police with a knife and one was shot in the leg by police. One of the attackers, Sarah H, had intended to marry Mohamed Lamine A, the brother of a man who stabbed a police officer and his wife to death in front of their three year old son on behalf of the Islamic State.
The Islamic State
Foreign fighter traffic to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is drying up as the U.S.-backed coalition shrinks the size of the caliphate’s territory, the Washington Post reports. American intelligence now estimates that the number of monthly arrivals has fallen to about 50, down from a peak of roughly 2,000. That jives with estimates from France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who recently announced that the country is seeing four times fewer foreign fighters traveling to the caliphate in the first half of 2016 compared to 2015. Experts now worry that would be foreign fighters and veterans of the caliphate are turning their attention to attacks at home instead.
Israel once again struck targets in Syria following another incident in which Syrian artillery hit Israeli territory in the Golan Heights. The Times of Israel reports that the Syrian military fired a rocket characterized as “spillover” from fighting within Syria by an Israeli military spokesperson. Syrian artillery has frequently fired across the border and the most recent firing marked the third such incident in a single week. Israeli Air Force planes responded by striking Syrian army positions.
The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) still hasn’t decided on the platform it will use for its arsenal plane concept, FlightGlobal reports. The arsenal plane would be a large, long-range aircraft that could loiter at large distances from its targets to fire long range standoff weapons targeted by other aircraft. Early concept sketches had the plane using a B-52 wings and engines attached to a C-130 fuselage but SCO director William Roper says the office hasn’t gotten that far yet.
The U.S. Army is threatening a Green Beret with an “other-than-honorable” discharge for breaking his neck while trying to save a girl he thought was dying. The Daily Beast reports that the Army wants to kick out SFC Tim Brumit because his toxicology report showed trace amounts of cocaine and amphetamines in his system while diving into too-shallow water in an attempt to save a girl he believed to be drowning. Brumit admits to having a “coping problem” due to post traumatic stress. The Army’s ruling threatens to strip the now-paralyzed soldier and his family of his benefits.
Sarah Arkin, foreign policy adviser for Florida congresswoman and former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is switching chambers and joining the office of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey who she’ll advise on foreign policy
Photo Credit: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images