SitRep: Iraqi Commandos Face Sharp Fighting as Civilians Flee; Raqqa Alliance Uncertain
Obama’s Legacy Building; New Chinese Hardware; And Lots More
Thinking about the day after. With time running out on his tenure at the White House, President Barack Obama will soon hand off his foreign policy legacy to the judgments of historians and the maneuvers of the next administration.
“But before that happens,” FP staffers write in an in-depth look at the state of play of Obama’s legacy-building attempts as he heads into 2017, “the White House is hellbent on completing an ambitious to-do list that will face a considerable head wind in Congress. The aim is to push forward policies Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won’t have the political capital to deliver if she wins the White House on Nov. 8. Or, alternatively, in the event of a victory by Republican nominee Donald Trump, to cement as many initiatives as possible before he takes office and throws out diplomatic and security priorities currently in place. Either way, Obama’s legacy is at stake.”
Top of mind, Iraq. One of the big items is how Iraq will look in 2017. Iraqi Special Operations troops fought their way deeper into the eastern part of Mosul on Friday, as thousands of civilians began streaming out of the embattled Islamic State stronghold. The Washington Post’s reporters on the ground send back a dispatch describing the flow out of the city, and the stiff resistance the Iraqi forces are facing in the six new neighborhoods they have entered. The Wall Street Journal also says that Iraqi forces are approaching the southern outskirts of the city.
FP contributor Belkis Wille has been talking to some of those who have fled Mosul, and reports that “thousands of men and boys have already been detained indefinitely by Iraqi security forces under vague allegations of being affiliated with the Islamic State. I have met with families of a small number of men being held; none of them had heard from their loved ones who, in most cases, had no idea where they were being held.”
Making peace after the peace. That gets to the next problem in Iraq: trying to forge some sort of political reconciliation between distrustful Sunni and Shiite populations. The New York Times’ Tim Arango reports from northern Iraq that even a decisive military victory over ISIS in Mosul will not change the political dynamics on the ground that made the group an attractive option for some Sunnis who distrust the Shiite-led government.
“Not only are there fears that another Sunni insurgency could rise after the Islamic State is beaten, but there also seems to be little beyond this immediate military campaign to unite the profoundly differing factions that have temporarily come together to fight the militants — government forces, Sunni tribesmen, Kurds, local Yazidis and Christians, and Iran-backed militias. Each has a different endgame in mind.”
Over the border. In Syria, FP’s Paul McLeary reports, the Pentagon and its allies are struggling to explain what next steps in the fight against ISIS are. While Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently said the assault on Raqqa would begin in the next several weeks, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Col. John Dorrian, noted Thursday that “right now, I don’t think that all the forces that will be involved in that liberation force for Raqqa have been trained.”
While there are 30,000 anti-ISIS militia fighters ready to move on Raqqa, ethnic Kurds make up about two-thirds of that force. That’s a problem not only for Raqqa’s Arab population, who have sparred with Kurds for generations, but also for Turkey, a critical ally who flatly rejects Kurdish participation in the battle.
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Anonymous intelligence sources tell Reuters that they believe Russia is trying to seed fake documents into the flood tide of hacked emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Sen. Tom Carper (D-De.) asked the FBI to investigate a letter printed on his senate letterhead reportedly telling Clinton “We will not let you lose this election.” Carper says the letter is forged and Reuters reports that the FBI has found other apparent fakes as it canvassed Democratic officials to verify the authenticity of purportedly private documents in its possession.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and the publisher of a number of hacked emails from the Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, pushed back against the idea that the data came from Russia on Thursday. Assange told the Russian-owned broadcaster RT that “we can say that the Russian government is not the source” of the hacked emails. In a separate statement, WikiLeaks wrote that the sources of the emails and documents it published “were not state parties.” Cybersecurity firms such as Crowdstrike and SecureWorks have attributed the breaches into the Democratic National Committee to Russian intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security and and Director of National Intelligence issues a joint statement concluding the same, writing that the publication of hacked emails on WikiLeaks and other sites is “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”
The Pentagon is moving a little more slowly than we had thought in deploying a key missile defense system to South Korea, an official with U.S. Forces-Korea told Reuters on Friday. The U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system won’t be deployed to South Korea for another eight to 10 months, the official said. Washington and Seoul had agreed to the deployment earlier this year to counter North Korean missile threats, but the announcement also angered China, who worries that the system’s powerful radar can see into its territory.
China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet was the belle of the ball at the Zhuhai air show, but it wasn’t the only piece of hardware on display. PopSci rounds up some of the more notable aircraft appearances. China also showed off its J-10B medium fighter and an H-6K bomber, which has made poignant appearances over disputed territory in the South China Sea this year. In the rotary wing category, China showed off its Z-10K attack chopper for the first time and the Z-19E light attack helicopter decked out with new anti-tank missiles. The Z-11WB scout chopper, however, offered the unique ability to drop folded-up SW-6 drones to carry out surveillance around the aircraft while in flight.
How many militiamen does Iran control in Syria? Twenty five thousand, according the head of the Israeli Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, Avi Dichter. Dichter said that the majority of fighters for Iranian-organized Shia militias in Syria come from Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Reuters. Iran controls two militias, the Fatemiyoun and Zeynabiyoun brigades, which recruit Afghan and Pakistani Shia, respectively, to fight in Syria. Dichter also claimed that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has lost 1,800 fighters since its involvement in the Syrian war but has improved its skills at conventional warfare in the process.
Iraqi forces have reported a second incident involving an Islamic State drone laden with explosives. Sky News reports that Iraq’s Brigadier General Haider Fadhi made brief mention of an incident involving the “suicide” drones. Fadhi said Iraqi security forces had already downed two explosive drones near Mosul. In October, two Iraqi Peshmerga troops were killed when an explosive drone made by the Islamic State detonated as they were disassembling it. The Defense Department has sent counter-drone equipment like Battelle DroneDefender rifle and an unspecified Air Force system to guard against the threat.
Spy vs Spy
If you connected to the wifi at the Hotel Président Wilson in Geneva during the diplomatic talks over Iran’s nuclear program, please deposit your laptop or phone directly into the trash. The Guardian reports that Swiss prosecutors have opened an investigation into who infected several computers at the hotel with malware during the 2015 nuclear negotiations with Iran. Prosecutors in Switzerland believe an intelligence service may have distributed the malicious software in order to spy on the talks. Investigators in Vienna have opened a similar case looking into allegations of eavesdropping during the diplomatic talks held there.
Photo credit: Ahmet Izgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary