- 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.
Back to Iraq. With the ceasefire in Syria in flames and tensions between the U.S. and Russia at their highest level in years, the war in Iraq has taken a bit of a backseat over the past two weeks. That’s all changing.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State launched either a mortar or artillery attack on U.S. and Iraqi troops at the Qayyarah West base outside of Mosul, and at least one of the shells might have contained a mustard agent, the Pentagon said Wednesday. No troops were hurt or showed symptoms of mustard exposure, and tests on the fragments are ongoing, a spokesman for the U.S. military said. The attacks doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as Peshmerga troops in the area had previously been attacked by with mustard agents, as FP’s Dan De Luce has reported.
More troops might be on the way. There are officially about 4,400 American troops serving in Iraq, but when temporary deployments and Embassy guards are added, the number rises to almost 6,000. And more might be gearing up to head out soon, if the Defense Department gets its way.
The Wall Street Journal reports that defense planners are asking the White House for 500 more troops to help the Iraqis with their coming push into the ISIS-held city of Mosul, which Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday might come as soon as October. He told an audience at an Air Force conference, “we assessed today the Iraqis will have, in early October, all the forces marshaled, trained, fielded and equipped that are necessary for operations in Mosul.”
Syrian opposition numbers. Dunford also lauded the work of U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, telling the crowd that there are now 30,000 Syrian Democratic Forces, with 14,000 Arabs among the Kurds that dominate the group. “Last year at this time we probably had a few hundred vetted Syrian opposition forces on the ground we were supporting, so there has been significant growth,” Dunford said.
More talk. Dunford joints Defense Secretary Ash Carter Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, where the two will field questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. We suspect the committee will have some thoughts on the long, violent summer in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. Livestream here.
Syria, still Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry scrapped with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at the U.N. Wednesday, saying the Russian’s comments on the war in Syria make him feel like “they’re sort of in a parallel universe here,” FP’s Colum Lynch reports. Kerry called for a grounding of all aircraft in areas in northern Syria near where U.S. officials say Russian planes bombed a U.N. aid convoy Monday, killing 20 aid workers and destroying 20 trucks.
Monitoring group Bellingcat has published a very detailed examination of all of the publicly available data on the attack, finding that many of the Russian claims about it actually being an opposition attack are “simply not true.”
Adding an exclamation point to the end of the ceasefire, Syrian and possibly Russian warplanes pounded Aleppo Wednesday, in what one monitoring group said “was the heaviest air strikes for months inside Aleppo city. It was very intense. In that area we didn’t see heavy fighting recently.”
The race continues. Amid all of this, there are five people running for president of the United States of America. One of them, who jumped into the race just last month, is former CIA agent Evan McMullin — a Republican running as an independent — who is trying to peel votes away from Donald Trump while reasserting a conservative foreign policy vision that the Republicans have all but abandoned this election cycle.
The candidate told FP’s Paul McLeary that “Trump is weakening us, and is doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin,” referring to the Republican candidate’s verbal attacks on NATO, refusal to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and repeated adulation of the Russian president. “There’s a wave of isolationism that has blown over the country in response to Iraq, [but] it’s a huge mistake for us to withdraw from the world,” McMullin said.
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
Is China clamping down on its troublesome ally in Pyongyang? The AP reports that Chinese police have charged Hongxiang Industrial Development Co with “serious economic crimes.” That might be code for violating sanctions against North Korea, as American diplomats say the company has been helping the North gather components for its nuclear weapons program. With a fresh nuclear test and Kim Jong Un’s confrontational mood giving Chinese diplomats headaches, though, Beijing might be more willing lately to put the squeeze on illicit trade to the North.
Iran held its annual Sacred Defense Week military parade on Wednesday, commemorating the beginning of the long and bloody Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s newly-installed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri used the occasion to warn that there’d be no halt to Iranian defense exercises. Iran’s armed forces use the parade to show off its latest military hardware. This year’s debut of the “new” Zulfiqar missile float, according to one expert, may be less than it appears. Tal Inbar of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies tweets that the Zulfiqar is just a mockup of Iran’s shorter-range Fateh 110 missile.
Business of defense
The U.S. Senate passed a $1.15 billion arms deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, rebuffing a small but noteworthy effort to block the sale and the conduct of the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. Roll Call reports that Senate tabled Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Christopher Murray’s (D-CT) resolution to stop the sale by a margin of 71-27. Opponents of the deal say that the vote nonetheless puts Saudi Arabia on notice that the Senate is paying close to attention to the U.S. military relationship with the Kingdom.
The last F-35 hasn’t even rolled off the production line but the Air Force already has its mind on a son-of-Joint-Strike-Fighter. Defense One reports the top Air Force officer Gen. David Goldfein emphasized “penetrating counter-air” capability for the next generation of aircraft while speaking at an Air Force conference Wednesday.
The latest poll of active duty U.S. military personnel shows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a dead heat with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Military Times conducted the poll along with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and found Trump just barely edging out Johnson 37.6 to 36.5 percent, well within the two point margin of error. Enlisted personnel tended to favor Trump more while officers expressed a larger preference for Johnson.
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