- 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.
Office space. We’re almost a week into transition planning for President-elect Donald Trump, and there’s no clear picture who will staff Washington’s national security apparatus come January 20. Plenty of names have been floated for Secretary of Defense, including former senator and representative Jim Talent, who looks to have the deepest defense-related resume of any of the candidates said to be in the running, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, a longtime Trump ally.
One veteran Republican think tanker tells SitRep that Talent “is the Flounoy of the right,” referring to Hillary Clinton’s presumed SecDef pick, Michele Flournoy, one of the most respected national security thinkers in Washington. Talent, who spent time at the Heritage Foundation after leaving Congress in 2007, would likely also attract people on the fence about working in a Trump administration, as would another rumored choice, Stephen Hadley, a national security advisor for former president George W. Bush.
The analyst added that Sessions wouldn’t likely have the same effect, a problem since “the bench is short” for talent to staff senior jobs at the Pentagon given the dozens of Republicans who signed “never Trump” pledges over the past year.
Culture wars. Another early Trump supporter, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) — also rumored to be in the running for a top Pentagon spot — told the San Diego Union Tribune’s Carl Prine, “I’m excited about a warrior culture, a warrior mentality put back into the (military), as opposed to a corporate culture ruled over by the bureaucrats and lawyers,” adding, “the warrior culture is going to get infused into (the department) again. It’s probably going to take a while because a lot of guys who had that mentality are no longer there, but maybe people’s true colors can show now, a little bit.”
The Pence factor. One person who might have a large role to play in national security issues is incoming Vice President, Mike Pence. The Lawfare blog’s Jane Chong points out how much Pence’s thinking on key issues like Russia, NATO, and U.S. involvement in Syria appeared to differ from those of his boss while out on the campaign trail, but “whether the disagreement comes to anything now will turn on whether Trump’s stated positions were, in fact, bluster borrowed for purposes of cultivating an authoritative, know-something posture during the campaign, or if they represent genuine convictions on which he means to run his presidency.”
Sneak attack, and secret plans. On 60 Minutes Sunday night, Trump again refused to offer any blueprint for fighting ISIS, saying “I’m not going to say anything. I don’t want to tell them anything. I don’t want to tell anybody anything.” And he again said he knows more than the U.S. military brass when it comes to fighting the terrorist group. Trump started by saying, “we have some great generals. We have great generals,” before host Leslie Stahl reminded him that he claimed to know more than those generals about ISIS. “I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job,” he said, a curious line for the now president-elect.
Meanwhile, in Syria. Some U.S.-backed Syrian rebels are bracing for Trump to cut off their funding, as he recently indicated he may. And some of them seem to be looking forward to it. The New York Times’ Anne Barnard reports from Beirut, “seeking a silver lining, some rebels express hope that American allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey would then go it alone and defy United States orders not to provide more sophisticated weapons to rebels — though in the short term, such a cutoff could mean losing supplies of American antitank guided missiles.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to talk Syria with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru November 19-20, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
Deaths in Jordan. A big part of the U.S. support for Syrian rebels has come in the form of training and advising fighters to take on the Islamic State, some of which is done by the CIA. The three Special Forces soldiers killed in a shooting outside a military base in Jordan last week were reportedly working for the CIA on just such a program, the Washington Post reports.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Lewellen, Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe and Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, members of the 5th Special Forces Group, were helping the CIA train anti-Assad regime Syrian rebels. The CIA has offered few details on the incident and whether it may have been the result of a planned terrorist attack. But Jordanian sources tell the Post that the shootings could’ve been triggered by an alleged weapons discharge within the three soldiers’ vehicle and confused Jordanian forces anxious after a recent suicide attack on guards by the Jordanian border
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
A suicide attack on a U.S. base in Bagram Afghanistan killed four Americans on Saturday, two service members and two contractors. The BBC reports that the attacker who detonated his vest inside the facility was a member of the Taliban who worked inside the post in an as-yet unknown job. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing and has frequently used insiders at American and Afghan facilities to carry out attacks.
China is building a new base unusually close to the border with North Korea, according to UPI. Locals say the Chinese military has been trucking in supplies and relocating residents to make room for the new facility in the city of Longjing. No one quite knows what the base is for or why it’s being built and North Korean troops across the border have been keeping a close eye on construction. A local source tells Radio Free Asia, somewhat breathlessly, that the base is a sign China is preparing for the collapse of North Korea.
Worried about American stealth fighter jets and bombers attacking your country? The China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) is offering a solution for export that might help with that. IHS Jane’s reports that China is now making CETC’s anti-stealth YLC-8B and SLC-7 radar systems available for export. The radars are purportedly capable of detecting American F-35 and F-22 jets, although evidence proving or disproving the claims is lacking so far.
He’s been called the Donald Trump of the Philippines, but Trump’s electoral victory doesn’t mean that Philippine President Duterte is going to start backpedaling on his anti-American rhetoric. Bloomberg reports that when asked if Trump’s victory meant he’d change tack on pledges to move away from Washington and closer to China, Duterte offered a polite nod to the president elect saying they share a “passion to serve” but warned there’ll be no change in his plans and that he intends to “pursue what I’ve started.” Since his election, Duterte has railed against the U.S. and said the Philippines needs to cut back on its military alliance with it in favor of closer relations with China and Russia.
Russia says it needs permission from the United Nations before it sells new fighter jets to Iran. Russia’s ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan tells the Tehran Times that Moscow would like to sell Su-30M fighter jets to upgrade Iran’s aging fleet of fighter jets but it needs a sign-off from the Security Council before any deal can go through. A U.N. resolution implementing the nuclear deal signed with Iran lifted sanctions barring weapons purchases by Iran but required that the Security Council approve sales to Tehran. When Russia and Iran first began talking about a possible Su-30M sale, the U.S. said it would attempt to block the sale as a violation of the resolution.
Moscow and Tehran are also in talks over an arms deal worth around $10 billion that would include Russian T-90 tanks, artillery systems, planes and helicopters, according to RIA, a Russian news agency.
The Islamic State is putting up an even fiercer fight than expected in its defense of the city of Mosul. The Washington Post describes Iraqi commanders as “shaken” by the tenacity of the jihadist group. Islamic State fighters have exploited the presence of Mosul’s civilians in the city in order to frustrate troops, sending them out in batches to halt assaults and using them as shields when moving about the dense urban environment. They have also made use of networks of tunnels, both underground and between buildings, to move throughout the city and attack Iraqi forces.