- 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.
More troops to Iraq. More American troops are headed to Iraq in the ramp up to the invasion of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday: 615 of them, to be exact. The deployment will push the official number of U.S. troops on the ground there to about 5,200, though with temporary assignments and rotations, the number will be well over 6,000.
Carter said the new troops will advise local forces while providing logistics support during the operation to seize Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that has been in ISIS hands for over two years. Many of the newly arriving troops will head for the Al Asad air base northwest of Ramadi in Anbar province, where the U.S. already has several hundred troops training Iraqi forces along with a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which delivers punishing long-range pinprick strikes. FP has lots more on the HIMARS in Iraq, here.
Air strikes everywhere. President Barack Obama is ready to extend the U.S. bombing campaign on Islamic State targets in Libya for a third month, Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson scoops, amid continuing resistance from the fighters in the city of Sirte. The U.S. Marines flying from the USS Wasp have already conducted 175 strikes in and around Sirte since Aug. 1, and despite Pentagon officials insisting at the time that the campaign would take “weeks, not months,” it’s taking months.
An American strike Wednesday in Somalia that the Pentagon says killed nine al Shabab fighters is under closer scrutiny, as one local military commander says the U.S. was tricked by one of his rivals into bombing his soldiers, killing 22. The U.S. military is looking into the matter, defense officials said Wednesday.
In Aleppo, some analysts are saying that the utter destruction being wrought by Russian and Syrian planes is part of a concerted strategy to drive moderate rebel groups into the hands of more extremist elements, thereby muting any international protests to bombing any anti-Assad forces and propping up the regime in Damascus.
Life in Aleppo. A gripping read here from the Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Louisa Loveluck about how those Russian and Syrian planes hit targets at night, and the toll it’s taking. Around 1,700 bombs have fallen in rebel-held eastern Aleppo in the week after the ceasefire’s collapse, with two more hospitals being hit Wednesday night:
“The bombings at night are the worst. There is no electricity in the rebel-held portion of eastern Aleppo, and the warplanes flying overhead target any light piercing the blackness beneath.
So families huddle together in the dark, gathered in one room so that they don’t die alone, listening to the roar of the jets and waiting for the bombs to fall.
After they do, rescue workers venture out, navigating the rubble and craters left by earlier bombings, to dig out victims without headlights or lamps. They haul them to hospitals swamped with patients being treated on the floor by doctors who barely sleep and must choose which lives to save and which to let go.”
Manilla turning everything on its head. If Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte makes good on his threats to walk away from his country’s 65-year-old alliance with the United States, FP’s Dan De Luce writes in a great piece on the latest South China Sea headache for the Obama administration, “the first casualty would likely be the U.S. military mission there, which has become a model for successful counterterrorism operations worldwide.”
Duterte has already warned that the U.S. military contingent of several hundred troops has to go, and on Wednesday said an upcoming joint military exercise would be the last with the United States. But his threat to push out the team of up to 100 U.S. Special Operations Forces, along with an additional 300 to 500 American conventional troops, “comes as concerns mount in Washington and Southeast Asia about the Islamic State’s efforts to spread its tentacles in the region,” De Luce says.
Congress to Obama: here’s your veto. Congress handed president Obama the first veto override of his presidency Wednesday, overruling him on his opposition to a bill that would allow the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. FP’s Paul McLeary notes that while the Republican-controlled Congress was more than happy to thwart the president, many in Congress expect the bill to be tweaked in the upcoming lame duck session, making it more difficult for the lawsuits to go through, and putting up barriers to foreigners suing Washington over civilian deaths in counterterrorism operations.
In a CNN Town Hall Wednesday evening, President Obama called the vote a mistake, “the problem with that is that if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal loss, right?”
McCain vs. Kerry vs. Russian delusions. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham put Secretary of State John Kerry on full blast Wednesday, issuing a blistering statement sarcastically applauding Kerry for taking a hard stance with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov over the Russian bombing campaign in Syria. FP’s Paul McLeary catalogues the back and forth which ended with the Senate duo mocking that if the talks are off between Kerry and the Russians over a ceasefire in Syria, as Kerry threatened, “we can only imagine that having heard the news, Vladimir Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes on hospitals, schools, and humanitarian aid convoys around Aleppo.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
One of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s top foreign policy advisors is headed to Japan. Retired Lt. General Mike Flynn says he’ll visit Tokyo in order to give America’s allies in east Asia a clearer idea of what a potential Trump administration’s policy views would be. Trump has repeatedly complained that American allies like Japan enjoy the protection of America’s security umbrella but do not, in his view, fairly compensate the United States.
A North Korean soldier just finished one of the most dangerous trips you can make, sneaking his way across the tense, mine-laden demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in order to defect. The unnamed soldier traveled unarmed and managed not to draw fire from either side’s forces. Thus far, North Korea hasn’t acted up following the soldier’s defection but South Korean troops are bracing for the possibility of a violent tantrum from Pyongyang.
Make Turkey great again. Turkey is close to finishing 560 mile wall along its border with Syria in order to deal with the threat of terrorist infiltration. The wall, begun in 2014, should be finished by February of 2017, Turkish officials tell Reuters. The 10-ft. high wall will be laced with razor wire and manned by private security. Turkey’s wall is one of a number of such counterterrorism barriers going up along the borders of the middle east, with countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Libya each trying to fence out problems with their neighbors.
Business of defense
The White House has finally given its blessing to the sale of at least $7 billion worth of fighter jets to Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, Defense News reports. Under the deal, Qatar will get 72 F-15E Strike Eagles and Kuwait will get F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. Bahrain also plans to buy 17 F-16s. The sale had been delayed, to the ire of lawmakers like Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), but the deal will keep open a Boeing production line in St. Louis, Missouri. Israel also protested that the deal could undermine its qualitative military edge in the region, but its concerns should be allayed in the face of a new $38 billion in military financing from Washington.
Bots o’ war
The U.S. Army is gearing up for a battlefield that could one day include Russian drones directing artillery fire from the skies. Defense One reports on recent comments by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster about the Army’s efforts to turn soldiers into drone killers. The Army’s approach to the threat of Russian drones involves developing radar systems that can identify the smaller aircraft as well as lasers and electronic warfare equipment that can either zap or jam them out of the skies. The next step for the Army includes actually fielding the anti-drone equipment.
For the first time ever, one of the Navy’s robotic helicopters designated a target for a missile fired by a manned chopper. An MQ-8B Fire Scout and an MH-60S took off from different bases for the test, and the Fire Scout called the shot for a Hellfire missile from the Seahawk, successfully hitting the target. Manned-unmanned teaming, the integration of platforms operated autonomously and by humans, is an area of growing interest within the U.S. military.
The Marine Corps has a new operating concept and it involves working more closely with the service’s counterparts in the Army, Breaking Defense reports. The concept upgrades the “three block war” concept, in which grunts have to conduct a spectrum of operations ranging from humanitarian work to open warfare within the span of three blocks with the latest concept adding information operations into that mix. Technology is also a big part of the implementing the concept, with Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller saying he’d like to field a quadcopter with each infantry squad and one day get the ability to 3D-print drones.
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