SitRep: Election Day Choices; The Grim Accounting in Mosul
New Chinese Drones; Manila Walks it Back a Bit; And Lots More
It’s here. It’s Election Day, so if you’re not one of the millions who have already sent in your ballot or voted early — it’s time to get after it. Vote. And once you come home, know that Foreign Policy has made the entire site free on Nov. 8 and 9 for all comers, so click on through as we write our way through election day and whatever comes next.
It’s been a long and bruising election season, to say the least. On national security issues — which have really only been swiped at sporadically throughout the campaign — it’s the Trump vision of questioning international alliances, possibly taking a new look at Russia, and demanding that NATO and other allies pay Washington for sticking around, against Clinton’s call for no fly zones in Syria, taking a harder stand against Russia, and doubling down on the fight against ISIS that is at play.
More Mosul. The stories coming out of Mosul are getting more gruesome by the day. Islamic State fighters have reportedly forced around 1,500 families and almost 300 captured Iraqi army troops to retreat with them toward Mosul airport, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said Tuesday.
The prisoners “are either intended to be used as human shields or – depending on their perceived affiliations – killed,” she said. There have also been reports that ISIS abducted as many as 30 sheikhs in Sinjar last week, and 18 of them may have already been murdered.
And as Iraqi troops fight their way further into the city, they’re uncovering new horrors. The latest is the discovery of a mass grave on the campus of an agricultural school south of Mosul. The grave holds roughly a hundred bodies, all of them decapitated. Iraqi officials so far haven’t been able to say whether the deceased are military members or civilians but forensic investigators are headed to the scene in order to conduct an examination of the remains.
Status check. The Institute for the Study of War has a good map of where the Iraqi Army, special forces, and Kurdish Peshmerga are in and around the city here.
Where in the world? Everyone loves to keep tabs on where Iranian Quds Force leader Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani is. And reports out of Iraq say he’s there, despite the fact that he’s banned from international travel under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. The Long War Journal flags a report out of Iraq where Akram al Kabi, head of an Iranian-backed militia, claims he’s seen Soleimani. As the LWJ says, “Soleimani was purportedly spotted near Mosul on Oct. 17, the day of the siege’s launch, and was confirmed to be in the Kurdistan Regional Government territory on Oct. 23, before flying to Tehran on Oct. 28 to visit the families of Iranian soldiers killed in Syria. Confirmed photos of Soleimani in Iraq since his visit to Tehran have yet to emerge.”
Not so bad? Despite the constant threats by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to walk away from his country’s long-standing military alliance with the United States — a key part of American military presence near the South China Sea — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday that things actually aren’t so bad as all that.
Most significantly, a 2014 agreement that allows prolonged deployment of American forces in the country “will remain,” he told reporters, “but we will reduce the number of activities,” and joint exercises that take place between the two nations. “We will also retain small unit exercises, like special operations, counterterrorism and anti-narcotics,” he said, despite Duterte demanding recently that U.S. Special Operations Forces leave the country.
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The China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) showed off its latest armed drone at the Zhuhai air show for the first time. Jane’s was on hand to get a look at the UAV and chat up Chinese industry officials. The CH-5, CASIC’s largest drone so far, boasts a 2,000 km range thanks to satellite data links and a 60 hour endurance. With three hardpoints on each wing, the CH-5 can carry up to 16 munitions in total. CASIC’s previous armed drones, including the CH-3 and CH-4, have proven popular among a range of governments, with Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Egypt and Turkmenistan among its reported customers.
China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea have made relations with its neighbors frosty but Malaysia isn’t letting the neighborhood dispute get in the way of procurement. Bloomberg reports that Malaysia struck a deal with Beijing to buy four Chinese Littoral Mission Ships. Malaysia has been warming to a closer military relationship with China, including several recent joint military exercises. But analysts tell Bloomberg the ship purchasing deal will likely come down to cost, with China able to offer the cheapest ships for Malaysia’s needs. China will build two of the Littoral Mission Ships in the People’s Republic with the other two planned to be built in Malaysia.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says the “taboo” against the use of chemical weapons is weakening thanks to their continued use in Syria’s civil war. The AP reports that the secretary general’s comments came in a letter introducing a report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the U.N. Security Council. The report indicates that the OPCW is currently studying four alleged incidents of chemical weapons use, three in Aleppo province and one in Idlib. Ban wrote of his fears that the continuing usage could “normalize” the weapons in the Syrian conflict and that perpetrators “should be held accountable.” OPCW previously concluded that the Assad regime and the Islamic State have used chemical weapons in the war.
The Defense Department says American Apache attack helicopters have joined the battle to take back Mosul from the Islamic State. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is using Apaches to take out vehicle-borne suicide bombs and provide close air support. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook was sparse on details as to where Central Command was employing the choppers or how close they’ve gotten to Islamic State fighters. But he did say the Apache helped to provide “a psychological advantage” by being able to engage targets safely from standoff range in order to support troops involved in the assault.
The U.S. hasn’t launched an airstrike in Libya since October 31, but the Pentagon is not declaring an end to the air campaign quite yet. Reuters reports that the air campaign in support of Libyan forces looking to oust the Islamic State from the city of Sirte come to a nominal end at the end of October, after aircraft from the USS Wasp launched some 350 airstrikes against the jihadist group. But Pentagon officials have said that U.S. aircraft would jump back into the fight if need be. Troops from Libya’s internationally-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli have managed to isolate the remaining Islamic State holdouts to a single neighborhood within the city.
The Marine Corps’s variant of America’s most expensive weapons system ever is on fire. Military.com reports that an F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 burst into flames while in flight in late October. The fire reportedly began in the aircraft’s weapons bay and caused at least $2 million in damage. Just another day in the messy, broken-down, and over-budget life of the F-35.
Photo credit: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary