- 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.
The two fights for Mosul. Baghdad and the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq are readying themselves for two fights in the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in the coming months. First is what promises to be a relatively conventional push to evict the dug-in extremists from their positions. Second comes a counterinsurgency campaign to beat back what is expected to be a guerrilla-style push after the insurgents melt into the population.
The fall of Mosul doesn’t mean ISIS is done in northern Iraq, Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Dave Anderson told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday. “It just means it’s defeated in its current format.”
Anderson oversees the training of Iraqi troops for the coalition, and said he expects ISIS fighters to go underground in and around Mosul, much as it’s done around Ramadi and other cities that the Iraqi army has retaken. “So it’s definitely not over” once the city falls, Anderson said. “If anything, it’s gonna be more difficult.”
Training after retraining. Once the major fighting is over, Iraqi troops will be pulled out of the city and sent for four weeks of counterinsurgency training, while about 30,000 to 45,000 Iraqi security forces will surge into the city to hold it, including local police, Anderson added.
Can’t quit you. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the situation in Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after the State Department announced a suspension in “bilateral channels with Russia” related to reducing the violence in Syria, FP’s John Hudson tells us. “The Wednesday phone call between the two diplomats, first disclosed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, raised immediate questions about whether the United States was already backtracking on its threat to cut off ties with Moscow,” he writes. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is traveling to Washington and Moscow this week as part of a French bid to kickstart the peace process, which fell apart earlier this month.
Russian navy ups its game in the Med. Moscow continues to ramp up its military footprint in and around Syria. Three missile corvettes from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet left their base in Sevastopol earlier this week and will join other Russian warships in the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast. All three ships — The Serpukhov, The Zelyony Dol, and The Mirazh, are equipped with Kalibr and Malakhit cruise missiles. The ships are expected to be joined next month by Moscow’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, as FP reported earlier this month.
The missile ships will likely help in reducing the city of Aleppo to rubble, as part of the strategy of driving anti-Assad rebels and civilians out of the city, extending the government’s footprint, and putting Russia in a stronger position for political talks with Washington. If the rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo falls to government forces, along with its Hezbollah, Iranian, Iraqi Shiite militia allies, the regime in Damascus would then control the country’s major population centers of Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.
The stakes. “Taking Aleppo is possible but it is only possible by razing it to the ground,” Alexei Arbatov, a Russian political analyst recently said.
Steel ceiling. António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who is all but certain to become the next U.N. secretary-general, “was welcomed by U.N. insiders with a degree of elation not seen since one of their own, Kofi Annan, rose through the ranks to become the world’s top diplomat,” FP’s Colum Lynch reports from New York. “But his victory was bittersweet for many in the U.N. bubble, who had held out hopes that 2016 would see the first woman elected to be secretary-general. The slate of hopefuls for the top spot included seven women with impressive resumes, including at least one former prime minister, several foreign ministers, and various top U.N. officials.”
The next Snowden? Or grad school project? There are lots of questions over what NSA contractor Harold T. Martin III was doing with highly classified documents in his home and car, and despite an affidavit released by the government Wednesday, there’s little publicly available information about the Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, who worked for the same company which employed Edward Snowden.
Martin worked on a project with NSA hackers called the Tailored Access Operations unit and “if source code left NSA’s facilities, it will raise questions about whether hacking tools have been compromised and potentially rendered ineffective,” FP’s Elias Groll writes. “Hacking tools developed by the NSA would be of great interest to both criminal hacking groups and national intelligence agencies, both of whom would likely shell out large sums of money to acquire such code.” But the Daily Beast adds that some former intel analysts speculate that the materials Martin brought may have been to help him with his PhD work at the University of Maryland.
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
Alexander Khodakovsky, the former State Security Minister in Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, says Russian money calls the shots within the country’s rebel enclaves. In an interview with Reuters, Khodakovsky said that Russia is footing the bill for pensions and budgets in Donetsk and Luhansk. How much money that amounts to, he didn’t say, but rebels have estimated that the cost of social security and welfare to be around $750 million since March 2015.
Nearly a thousand Iraqi Shia fighters have left the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq in order to fight on behalf of the Assad regime against Syrian rebels in Aleppo since September, part of a 5,000-strong force of sectarian militiamen the Wall Street Journal reports. The bulk of Iraqi forces arrayed against the city come from Harakat al-Nujaba, whose leader, Hashem al-Mosawwi, casts all Sunni rebel groups fighting the Assad regime as part of a jihadi conspiracy funded by America and Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s Badr Organization also says it may fight on behalf of the Assad regime once Mosul is liberated from the Islamic State.
Angela Merkel’s government in Germany is considering whether to push for new European Union sanctions on Russia in the wake of its assault on civilian areas of Aleppo. Merkel will have to get more than her own party on board if EU sanctions are going to take hold, however. Merkel would have to win over her center-left coalition allies over as well as other European countries. Meanwhile, diplomats from other European countries say they don’t see much enthusiasm for taking on Russia.
Saudi Arabia kicked off new naval drills, dubbed Exercise Gulf Shield 1 in the Sea of Oman, the National reports. The exercise comes at a particularly tense time, following a missile strike against a United Arab Emirates-leased high speed vessel by Houthi forces in Yemen. Though the munition used in the strike and its origin remain unclear, many have speculated that the ship could have been hit by an Iranian-supplied C-802 anti-ship missile. It also comes amid a string of provocative encounters in the Persian Gulf between U.S. Navy ships and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Navy. The live-fire Saudi drills have drawn the ire of Iran — itself, a frequent source of naval exercises in the Gulf — which warned Saudi ships to steer clear of Iranian waters.
War is hell, as the saying goes, but Army chief Gen. Mark Milley’s vision of future conflicts looks like a especially unpleasant corner of it. Speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army earlier this week, Milley laid out what he thinks upcoming ground warfare will look like. As Breaking Defense reports, Milley deployed grim showstopper lines like “being seriously miserable every single minute of every day will have to become a way of life” in order to drive the point across. Future wars, he said, will have no static bases, clear battle lines or lines of communication, with constant movement required in order to escape enemy drones, sensors, and weapons.
Business of defense
American arms sales took a $10 billion haircut in 2016, according to the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), down from last year’s record-setting $46.6 billion. Nonetheless, Defense News reports that DSCA chief Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey didn’t have a singular explanation for the drop, offering instead that a variety of different factors could be behind the year-over-year loss. One factor could be scheduling. Rixey said that if the recently-announced fighter jet sales to Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain had gone through sooner, they would have made 2016’s figure more impressive.
Two former senior CIA officials will be questioned by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a lawsuit on behalf of three detainees held by the Agency. Former CIA Counterterrorism Center director Jose Rodriguez and Agency general counsel John Rizzo will answer questions as part of a lawsuit against the two contractors who designed the CIA’s post-9/11 torture techniques. The deposition of such high-ranking intelligence officials in civil court is “unprecedented,” according to Justice Department officials.
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