- 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.
Iraqi promises. In a recent phone call, President-elect Donald Trump promised Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi more U.S. support for Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State, Abadi revealed Monday.
During the call, Trump “assured me that the U.S. support will not only continue, but it is going to be increased. So, I think I am going to be looking forward to more U.S. support,” the Iraqi leader told the AP. Then-candidate Trump spent months on the stump railing against U.S. involvement in Iraq, calling the ongoing fight for Mosul “a disaster” and promising several times that he would “take the oil” from Iraq.
Trump apparently dropped the rhetoric and forgot those promises in his call with Abadi however, who called the incoming POTUS a “pragmatic man” who would rethink things once he was in office. But Iraq, Abadi said, “will not allow any country to take possession of their own resources.”
The fight in Mosul. Iraqi forces have slowed their move through the city as ISIS fighters are putting up a heavy resistance. In weeks of fighting, about 600 civilians have been killed, according to the Washington Post, “along with dozens of Iraq’s elite, U.S.-trained special forces soldiers — the vanguard fighters in the deadliest battle yet during Iraq’s two-year struggle to vanquish the extremists.”
Iraqi special forces units in the lead have taken a pounding in the fighting, and American aircraft have been “cratering” roads in Mosul to hold off massive car bombs that the Islamic State has used to ambush units. Thousands of civilians have fled the city, despite ISIS fighters using them as human shields and gunning down children as they flee.
The Institute for the Study of War has a good map of where Iraqi forces currently are inside the city.
Syria. Over in Syria, government forces are pushing deeper into the rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo, setting up the real possibility of the total collapse of resistance in the country’s largest city. A victory there would give President Bashar al-Assad control of the country’s largest cities and most of the populated western part of the country, but as the New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin points out, “Assad’s victory, if he should achieve it, may well be Pyrrhic: He would rule over an economic wasteland hampered by a low-level insurgency with no end in sight.”
Also, Assad’s survival would leave him in the debt of both Russia and Iran, and head of a rump state in a Sunni-majority country “and rejected by some of the main Sunni powers in the Middle East. That could mean he would face efforts from Iran to solidify its regional reach by expanding Shiite influence in Syria and demanding a role in conquered areas such as Aleppo, perhaps even assigning Iranian-backed Shiite militias there.”
Cabinet picks. Retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus met with Trump Monday as a potential Secretary of State pick. Leaving Trump Tower, Petraeus told reporters that Trump “basically walked us around the world, showed a great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there and some of the opportunities as well. Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Just after the meeting, a Defense Department official told the AP that there is a new leaks investigation related to the sex scandal that led to Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA. “Investigators were trying to determine who leaked personal information about Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with Petraeus led to criminal charges against him and his resignation. The information concerned the status of her security clearance, said the official.”
Rand Paul not feeling it. Republican senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul — who is emerging as a potential thorn in the side of the incoming Trump administration — slammed the potential pick on Monday, telling CNN, “they spent a year and a half beating up Hillary Clinton over revealing classified information and then they would appoint somebody who the FBI says not only revealed it, but then lied about it in an interview and purposefully gave it to someone who did not have the clearance to have that.”
Petraeus forged a deal last year with the Department of Justice that included a guilty plea for unauthorized removal of classified material and paying a fine. Paul has also said he would move to block the nomination of Rudy Giuliani for the State Department’s top spot, if he were to be named.
Naming names? Leaving Trump Tower late Monday, incoming VP Mike Pence promised that “there will be a number of very important announcements tomorrow.”
On the move. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin is on the road this week, traveling to Germany and Spain form Nov. 29 to Dec. 4. In Berlin, Slotkin will attend the Berlin Security Conference, followed by a stop in Madrid, Spain, where she will co-chair a meeting with members of the counter-ISIS coalition.
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: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
China and Singapore have locked horns over military cooperation with Taiwan after authorities in Hong Kong seized nine Singaporean armored personnel carriers headed home from Taiwan after joint exercises there. Officials in Singapore have protested the seizure but Beijing is unmoved, saying it needs the country’s further help in resolving the matter. Lest anyone doubt the motivation behind the incident, China’s state-run Global Times ran a piece declaring it “no longer reasonable for Singapore to continue” its military relationship with Taiwan.
As many expected, Canada is punting on a decision whether to buy the F-35 stealth fighter jet. Defense One reports that Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said the country will instead purchase F/A-18 Super Hornets as an interim replacement for its decaying fleet of CF-18 Hornets. In the meantime, Sajjan says Canada will restart the competition to fill out the rest of Canada’s fighter jet needs. Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-35, says it will compete for the contract and that the stealth jet is the “best solution to meet Canada’s operational requirements at the most affordable price.”
The U.S. Navy is once again calling out Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) over an incident of what it says is “unsafe and unprofessional” behavior. Anonymous defense officials tell Reuters that an IRGCN vessel aimed a weapon at a U.S. Navy MH-60 helicopter. Iran has reportedly carried out a number of provocative incidents near U.S. vessels recently, including firing rockets near U.S. destroyers in the Gulf, carrying out unsafe intercepts of U.S. Navy vessels, and briefly detaining American sailors whose boat had broken down in Iranian waters. Defense officials, however, said this latest incident “could be seen as an escalation” of tensions in the Gulf.
For the first time ever, Israel has carried out an attack against the Islamic State in Syria. Haaretz reports that Israeli aircraft bombed a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force that had been abandoned and taken over by Islamic State fighters. Israeli forces struck the building after fighters from the Islamic State fired across the border. Israel has reportedly carried out a number of strikes against Assad regime targets to interdict apparent weapons transfers en route to Hezbollah or in response to cross border fire but it has generally stayed out of the numerous conflicts underway in Syria’s civil war, including the war against the Islamic State.
A former Taliban official tells the Guardian that the militant group is facing a cash crunch despite gaining more territory. Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada tells the paper that the Taliban’s traditional donor base has lost interest in funding the conflict as the departure of a number of American troops, high toll of civilian casualties, and factional fighting among different Taliban splinter groups saps the group’s narrative of being a pure fighting force resisting a foreign occupation. Taliban fundraising was also hurt when a U.S. drone strike killed the group’s leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who had close relationships with many big donors.
Business of defense
American defense contractors are feeling pretty optimistic about the potential for defense spending under a Trump presidency, but what the future holds for foreign military sales is less clear. Defense News rounds up the reaction from defense industry analysts and finds that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and promises to ban Muslims from entering the country may prove an obstacle to sustaining or increasing arms sales to countries in the Middle East. Trump’s pledges to renege on American security guarantees could also lead countries in Asia and Europe to seek greater self reliance and invest in their own defense industries.
The Defense Department is cutting off its purchases of Russian helicopter equipment for the Afghan Air Force, DOD Buzz reports. The Pentagon had pushed back against efforts to stop buying Russian Mi-17 choppers from Russia’s arms exporter Rosoboronexport, arguing that they were cheaper and more appropriate for Afghanistan’s needs. But the defense budget recently passed by Congress includes $264 million to purchase Black Hawk helicopters for the Afghans instead of Mi-17s — a provision pushed heavily by lawmakers from Connecticut, where Sikorsky builds the helicopters.
Photo Credit: GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images