- 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 Aleppo factor. Moscow’s attempts to cajole the European Union into easing economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014 don’t appear to be working. And the indiscriminate bombing campaign in Aleppo is to blame.
“It’s clear that the assault on Aleppo has changed the mindset of some,” one EU foreign minister tells Reuters. “It will be impossible to back an easing of sanctions on Ukraine in the current context.” A French diploma adds, “The prospect of the Russian sanctions over Ukraine being lifted are practically nil after Aleppo.” The new resolve among some of the EU’s larger members may halt what was a growing campaign led by countries like Italy and Hungary to ease the sanctions. While new sanctions appear unlikely, EU leaders will discuss Russia during a meeting in Brussels Oct. 20-21.
Turkey wants in. Tensions between Turkey and Iraq are entering dangerous territory over the continuing refusal of Turkey to pull troops out of a base near Mosul in northern Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ripped into Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday, saying Abadi needs to “know his limits,” adding, “Iraq had certain requests from us regarding Bashiqa, [the Turkish base in Iraq] and now they are telling us to leave, but the Turkish army has not lost so much standing as to take orders from you.” Erdogan also said that Turkish troops would participate in the upcoming fight for the ISIS-held city of Mosul, a fight Baghdad and Washington have not asked Ankara to join.
Words mean things. Ankara also lashed out at Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton’s call on Sunday to arm Kurds fighting Islamic State in Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday that such calls are “unethical,” adding that Turkey could push into Kurdish-held areas east of the Euphrates River in Syria if it sees “terrorist activities” there, as Turkey considers all armed Kurdish groups to be terrorists. Turkish-backed rebels and special forces pushed into northern Syria in August in a move that surprised Washington, in an effort to drive both the Islamic State and the Kurds off of Turkey’s southern border.
Chinese protests. China’s plan to slim down its military by around 300,000 troops for a leaner, meaner force is garnering some pushback. Reuters reports that sacked troops have been protesting the move in Beijing, saying that they haven’t received their promised transition benefits to be set up in civilian jobs after being fired. As the wire service notes, protests, even by soldiers, are not necessarily a rarity in China. Nonetheless, Beijing officials appear to be closely monitoring the protest, blocking demonstrators’ access to a military building in the city as well as reporters’ access to the protest.
Congress eying Saudi over strikes. Members of Congress are bristling over continued U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia in the wake of last week’s devastating airstrike in Sanaa that killed 140 civilians attending a funeral. “The continuing civilian carnage caused by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen appears to be war crimes,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told FP’s John Hudson Monday. Lieu, who earlier led an unsuccessful House effort to block a $1.15 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, demanded the U.S. immediately cease support to the Saudi coalition while the Obama administration reviews options to permanently pull American assistance. On Sunday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added, “the administration should pull U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.” Officials at the White House and State Department declined Monday to specify which types of U.S. support to the Saudi coalition could be withheld, or if Washington was still providing targeting information to the coalition. The U.S. currently provides refueling and logistical support to Riyadh’s air force.
Taliban push through in Helmand. The Taliban finally punctured the provincial capital of Helmand province on Monday, detonating a suicide car bomb and mounting other attacks that killed 14, just two days after Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan, flew to the city to promise defenders it wouldn’t fall.
“We are with you and we will stay with you,” Nicholson told a small group inside a police compound. “Lashkar Gah will not fall.” Indeed, it didn’t, and government forces pushed the attackers out, but the city remains virtually surrounded by Taliban fighters who control most of the province despite 15 years of American military involvement, and over $60 billion in U.S. military aid. Last month, Nicholson said that the Taliban has control over 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population, while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told a Congressional panel that the government controlled about 70 percent of the country.
The nuclear. Aviation Week’s Lara Seligman went ahead ran a fact check of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s assertion Sunday evening the United States’ “nuclear program has fallen way behind” Russia’s. “Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We are tired. We are exhausted in terms of nuclear,” he said. Turns out, while Moscow has a bit of a jump on upgrading their systems, the American nuclear triad has long been slated to be replaced in the 2020s or 2030s, and the Russian warheads aren’t designed to last as long.
Hans Kristensen, director of the Federal of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project said, “this just shows that he misunderstands the issue, because it’s not about what you are building when, it’s about are the ones that you have ready to be used or credible?…I don’t think there’s anyone in the U.S. military who would say sure, let’s swap.”
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
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and the U.S. intelligence community are at loggerheads over his characterization of Russian hacking. Trump told the audience at Sunday night’s presidential debate that he had no idea if Russia was behind the recent string of breaches and leaks of Democratic party emails and documents. An anonymous senior intelligence official, however, tells NBC News that both Trump and Hillary Clinton were given lengthy briefs on the subject during their intelligence briefings. “To profess not to know at this point is willful misrepresentation,” the source said.
South Sudan and the U.N.
Salah Khaled, the top UNESCO official in South Sudan, was shot after his farewell party in Juba, South Sudan as his white U.N.-labeled Toyota Land Cruiser was approaching the Egyptian Embassy, where he was staying as a guest in July. South Sudan’s ambassador to Washington said he was unaware of the Khaled shooting, which was reported in a local report. UNESCO officials withheld judgment on the culprits in the attack against Khaled, telling FP’s Colum Lynch that the case remains under investigation. But a senior U.S. State Department official and a senior U.N. official said it was clear that government forces shot Khaled.
Hurricane Matthew blew a path of devastation through Haiti, killing more than a thousand people as it moved across the country. Now, Navy Times reports, the U.S. Navy is sending 1,700 troops along with MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and MV-22 Ospreys to provide disaster assistance. Two ships are participating in the operation, the Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship and the Mesa Verde amphibious transport dock as part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. So far, survey teams from the military have been helping the USAID-led recovery mission, providing assessments of the wreckage caused by the hurricane.
The Wall Street Journal got a hold of documents from the Islamic State in Libya showing how the ill-fated affiliate hoped to build a state in the Mediterranean country. True to its harsh reputation, notebooks left behind by the group’s officials show it cracked down on locals accused of violating its severe interpretation of Islamic law, doling out lashings and prison sentences for flunking religious courses or traveling with unmarried women. The documents also show that the Islamic State shook down locals for taxes, which it used to pay for its para-state and personnel.
The Islamic State’s propaganda output has taken a nosedive, according to a new study from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. Islamic State media outlets issued around 700 items in August 2015. A year later, its August 2016 output was down to 200, matching its decline in territory, foreign fighters, and money over the past year. The character of Islamic State propaganda has also changed, according to the study, as the U.S.-led coalition has stripped away its territory. At the height of its power, the group focused on items that highlighted governance and state-building, now shifting to military-focused releases as the caliphate crumbles.
In another metric of the Islamic State’s decline, the group is now carrying out fewer suicide attacks according to its own numbers. The Long War Journal looked at statements released through the Amaq news agency, an Islamic State-linked propaganda outlet, and found that the group claimed an average of 87 suicide attacks in Syria, Iraq, and Libya throughout 2016. The numbers for just Iraq and Syria in September, however, plunged to 53, besting a previous low in July.
Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images