SitRep: New Details on Syria Deal; Iran Threatens to Shoot Down U.S. Spy Planes
Bombers Over South Korea; Cyber Split; The Cost of War; And Lots More
Holding. The ceasefire in Syria appears to be holding, with no civilian deaths being recorded in its first 15 hours, a monitoring group reported Tuesday. A few air attacks were reported just after the agreement took hold at 7:00 p.m. local Syria time (12:00 p.m. EST), but most of the bloodied country, for the first time in a long time, made it through the night quietly.
The agreement hammered out between the United states and Russia last week to halt airstrikes against all groups — save ISIS and the Nusra Front — still has six days to go before American and Russian military planners begin sharing targeting lists to strike the jihadists, but distrust remains. The Russians still want to expand the list to include foes of the Assad regime, while the Americans, burned by the Russians and unconvinced of their willingness to hold to the deal, move forward warily.
FP’s Dan De Luce, Paul McLeary and John Hudson took the pulse of various U.S. diplomats and military officials Monday, and found them distrustful, at best. A few choice cuts:
“The Russians need to put their money where their mouth is. They’ve been reluctant to do that so far,” said one senior military officer on Monday.
“If you’re dealing with the Russians on this, you often need a long shower afterwards,” an anonymous diplomat said.
FP also reported some details of the U.S.-Russia agreement, including that when it comes time to pick targets, “we’re going to have Russians and Americans sitting down in a room together” with representatives from about 11 other nations to select mutually-agreed targets, on senior military official said. However, intelligence-gathering methods, sources, and why a particular target might be important “will not be exchanged,” the official stressed. “Just the lists of targets.”
Iran threatens U.S. spy planes. In another worrying incident in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, Iran threatened to shoot down two U.S. Navy Poseidon EP-3 surveillance planes flying over international waters if they didn’t move further from the Iranian coast, U.S. defense officials tell FOX News. “We wanted to test the Iranian reaction,” one US official told Fox when asked why the U.S. jets were flying close to Iran. “It’s one thing to tell someone to get off your lawn, but we weren’t on their lawn…anytime you threaten to shoot someone down, it’s not considered professional.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard also launched a new ship on Tuesday it claims is capable of carrying a helicopter and up to 100 men. “This ship increases the deterrent power of Iran and will have an effect on the calculations of the enemy, particularly America,” Revolutionary Guard navy boss Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said at the launch. The unveiling comes at a time of increased tension between the U.S. and Iran in the Gulf, with more than 30 incidents between U.S. and Iranian vessels in the waterway this year, doubling the number during the same time period last year.
Flyover. There’s testing and messaging happening all over the place these days. Here’s the latest: American warplanes roared over South Korea on Tuesday, just days after the North conducted its fifth nuclear test. Two U.S. B-1 bombers flew with Japanese warplanes over international waters, and after the Japanese planes peeled off near the Korean coast, South Korean F-15 fighters U.S. F-16 fighters took their place to conduct a low-level pass near Osan, South Korea in order to “demonstrate the solidarity between South Korea, the United States, and Japan to defend against North Korea’s provocative and destabilizing actions,” said Adm. Harry Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. American and South Korean officials also said Tuesday they would work to secure a new round of strong sanctions on the North for their continued nuclear and ballistic missile testing.
Splitting up the cyber/intel family. Leaders at the Pentagon and in the intelligence community are expected to recommend to President Obama that he split the leadership of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command in order to create two distinct offices for electronic espionage and cyberwar, the Washington Post reports. The proposed move is being pushed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who are “pressing for the split, with Carter seeking to build Cyber Command into a full-fledged fighting force that has its own network accesses to conduct attacks. Clapper, officials said, supports the idea in part to reduce tension over which force gets to use the networks — the spooks or the warfighters.”
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
The navies of China and Russia are drilling together in the South China Sea for eight days of the Joint Sea 2016 exercise, USNI News reports. In addition to normal exercise mission fare such as search and rescue and anti-submarine warfare, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy says the drills will also practice “island seizing.” Sounds…..promising. The exercise will involve five ships from Russia and a larger mix of vessels from China.
Buckle up, because North Korea’s recent nuclear test might not be the end of Pyongyang’s theatrical provocations, the New York Times reports. In a statement released to the press, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said that North Korea may engage in “terrorist attacks and local provocations” following last week’s nuclear test in a course of confrontation which may lead to war. South Korea’s defense ministry also said that the North can now carry out another nuclear weapons test at any moment at the Punggye-ri test site.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says American special operations forces should leave the country and end their 14 year presence working with the country’s military against Islamist militants in the southern Philippines, FP’s Benjamin Soloway reports. So far, the Pentagon says it hasn’t received any formal notification from the Philippines of a request to remove the roughly 100 commandos advising local forces and it’s unclear whether the famously erratic Duterte was serious or speaking rhetorically. Nonetheless, the comments raise questions about the U.S.-Philippine military relationship at a time when the two countries had been moving closer together as a result of shared anxiety over China’s territorial ambitions in the region.
This again. For the fourth time in over a week, a Syrian artillery round has landed in Israel’s Golan Heights, prompting an airstrike from Israeli forces. Reuters reports that Syrian forces fired a mortar round, and the Israeli Air Force followed up by striking Syrian forces in Quneitra. Syria’s military also fired two surface to air missiles during the air assault, claiming to have downed an Israeli jet and drone. Israel’s military denied the claim, saying all its aircraft were safe and accounted for.
The Saudi-led coalition trying to oust the Houthi movement from power in Yemen is stiffing government troops on their pay, which is leading an increasing number of them to walk off the job, according to the New York Times. The coalition promised to pay troops around $270 a month but has been slow to deliver on the paychecks. Government troops in areas run by the United Arab Emirates, however, reportedly fare better in receiving timely compensation. By contrast, Houthi leaders have been regularly paying their forces a similar amount without interruption.
The cost of war
The U.S. has spent somewhere around $5 trillion on its wars since 2001, a new academic study says. The tally includes not only Pentagon spending, but the State Department and Homeland Security outlays as well. Study author Neta Crawford of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, called the total “so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”
Photo Credit: U.S. Pacific Command
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary