- 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.
How long will Moscow hold off? Russian warplanes haven’t hit Aleppo in 16 days, part of what Moscow calls a “humanitarian pause” to allow civilians in the rebel-controlled eastern half of the city to flee, but officials are making some noise about restarting the strikes in the face of a renewed rebel assault on the government-held part of the city.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said Wednesday it would give the rebels until Friday to leave the city, signaling their willingness to extend the pause through the week, but didn’t say what would happen if the rebels refused. On Friday, a loose coalition of Islamist and more moderate rebels launched an attack on western Aleppo to break the government siege that is starving out and bombing the eastern part of the city. The United Nations has said that the rocket attacks on civilians in the government half of the city could amount to war crimes.
Mosul vs. Aleppo. Claiming the moral high ground after months of biting criticism from Washington and the international community over indiscriminate air strikes on civilian targets in Aleppo, Moscow is pushing back.
The spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday said civilians in Mosul are under threat of “possible mass casualties” from U.S. and coalition airstrikes. Warming up to the line of attack, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov added, “in Mosul, we hear about an imminent storm of city districts inhabited by civilians, which is fraught with obscure but extremely alarming consequences because of possible mass casualties.” But in Syria, he added, “Russia and Syrian authorities have set up six humanitarian corridors with hot meal and medical aid stations in Aleppo, through which civilians are willing to exit the city but cannot do so, as the approaches to them have been mined, and militants keep shelling them.”
North Korea readies missiles. North Korea is gearing up for another test of its Musudan road-mobile ballistic missile. Anonymous intelligence officials tell Fox News that a launch will likely take place some time before the presidential election on Nov. 8. North Korea has ratcheted up its testing of ballistic missiles throughout the past year, putting a particular emphasis on the Musudan. The forthcoming launch would be the ninth for the missile. Early tests encountered frequent problems, sometimes blowing up at or shortly after launch. A test in late June, however, saw the missile reach a range of 250 miles — a partial success and a record for the system.
The ‘Blob’ is back. Syria hawks in Washington have had a frustrating time under President Barack Obama, but they’re hoping that the incoming administration — whichever one that might be — will come around to their way of thinking. The hawks face their “best opportunity in eight years to push for a greater U.S. military role in the Middle East, this time in Syria,” FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson write in a new piece in which they outline the options for Syria policy that a Clinton or Trump administration will face in January.
And here’s something to chew on. In a new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, researchers explored Americans’ views on ISIS and Syria. And they found that around 60 percent of those polled — 67 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of independents — would like to see the United States work alongside Russia in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, according to FP’s Emily Tamkin.
If nothing else, any cooperation might help control the growing costs of the war. According to Bloomberg, the Pentagon is preparing to ask for $6 billion more for the long wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Defense officials hope the White House submits their proposal to Congress soon after next week’s presidential election.
Soviet bases coming back online in Crimea. Moscow is rushing to repair its old Cold war-era bases on the Crimean peninsula, according to an investigation by Reuters. The work includes sending soldiers to man anti-ship missile defense sites around the country’s southern coast. “In a week touring the region, a Reuters reporter saw 18 sites, including naval bases, radar stations and airfields. Some were entirely new, some were old military sites that had been refurbished, and others were in the process of being refurbished.”
South Sudan to Turtle Bay. FP’s Colum Lynch reports on the shakeup at the U.N. following the release of a damning report on the failure of peacekeepers to protect civilians in South Sudan in July. The investigation found that a “lack of leadership” in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country was responsible for chaos that followed as U.N. troops fled amidst fighting between forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and those aligned with former vice president Riek Machar after a proposed peace deal fell apart. In response, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon fired the commander of the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission, Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki.
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
Two nonprofit research outfits have released a new study pulling back some of the curtain on China’s censorship of the Internet. The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Open Effect took a look at Chinese video streaming sites and found a list of different keywords the platforms use to censor the web. China outsources censorship to the private sector, holding companies responsible for the content they host, and that has led to a patchwork of censorship rather than central, vertical control. The upshot is that Citizen Lab and Open Effect found that the lists of censored terms often didn’t overlap between companies, as Chinese firms each carry out their own interpretation of the state’s wishes.
It looks like a giant golf ball propped up on an oil rig and it’s floating at an “undisclosed location” off the coast of South Korea. Stars and Stripes reports that the Sea Based Radar X — or SBX — departed for South Korea for a month-long stay just as the U.S., Britain, and South Korea gear up for the Invincible Shield exercise. SBX, a project of the Missile Defense Agency, is capable of tracking and assessing ballistic missiles, like the kind that North Korea has increasingly been launching into the waters off its eastern coast. Officials aren’t saying what its specific mission is but the North Korean Musudan ballistic missile test reportedly in the works might have something to do with it.
Russia has been talking (and acting) tough in Syria and the Baltics as relations between East and West continue their slide. But behind the martial stances lies a looming budget cut for defense. The Financial Times reports that Russia is planning to cut its defense spending by 27 percent next year, part of a broader round of belt tightening prompted by declining energy prices. Russia classifies some of its defense budget so it’s hard to assess the full extent of cuts but some expect resistance to military cutback from the Russian Duma.
Britain’s normally very reticent domestic intelligence service is opening up in a rare interview with the Guardian. MI5 director Andrew Parker offered the jarringly candid admission that “there will be terrorist attacks in Britain.” Parker says he’s seeing more attempt plots than ever before in his career — including a growth in violence in Northern Ireland — and that MI5 can stop most, but not all of the threats. The MI5 director also warned about the threat of espionage, influence operations, and propaganda.
The low-grade India-Pakistan border skirmishes have been getting worse ever since a September raid in Kashmir killed 19 Indian troops. The Wall Street Journal reports that artillery exchanges between the two sides are escalating, most recently killing seven civilians on the Indian side of the disputed border in Jammu and Kashmir. India claims its forces have killed 15 Pakistani troops. Both sides blame each other for the recent increase in fighting.
Iraq is deploying a new weapon in the fight to oust the Islamic State from Mosul: cell towers. When the jihadist group first took control of the city in 2014, it destroyed some cell towers in order to cut residents — and potential spies — off from the rest of the world. But the Wall Street Journal reports that Iraqi forces have started trucking them back in so that willing locals can drop a dime on their Islamic State captors. Iraqi intelligence has reportedly already leveraged illicit cell access to recruit sources and would-be helpers, according to Reuters, making contact with a group of Islamic State dissidents who were later caught and executed.