The Cable

SitRep: Uncertain Ceasefire in Syria; American Troops on Raqqa’s Doorstep; Carrier Gap in the Gulf

Mosul Fight Back On; Corruption in the Chinese Army; And Lots More

Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016. 
US-backed Syrian fighters and Iraqi forces pressed twin assaults against the Islamic State group, in two of the most important ground offensives yet against the jihadists. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), formed in October 2015, announced on May 24 its push for IS territory north of Raqa city, which is around 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of the Syrian-Turkish border and home to an estimated 300,000 people. The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- largely considered the most effective independent anti-IS force on the ground in Syria -- but it also includes Arab Muslim and Christian fighters.

 / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN        (Photo credit should read DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016. US-backed Syrian fighters and Iraqi forces pressed twin assaults against the Islamic State group, in two of the most important ground offensives yet against the jihadists. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), formed in October 2015, announced on May 24 its push for IS territory north of Raqa city, which is around 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of the Syrian-Turkish border and home to an estimated 300,000 people. The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- largely considered the most effective independent anti-IS force on the ground in Syria -- but it also includes Arab Muslim and Christian fighters. / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN (Photo credit should read DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Syria truce. The Syrian government announced a new ceasefire on Thursday, which was negotiated by Russia and Turkey to halt the fighting against rebels across the country starting at midnight. Turkish officials are pushing for a complete withdrawal of Hezbollah from the country as part of the talks, and the news comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin says he plans to reduce the Russian military footprint in the country.

But problems remain. No one is quite sue which — if any — of the rebel groups fighting the regime of Bashir al-Assad have signed on to the truce. And no mention has been made of what constitutes a violation of the ceasefire.  Washington has been completely frozen out of the process. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Syria and the rebels would hold peace talks in Kazakhstan, but he did not announce a date.

Road to Raqqa. American troops are mere miles from the outskirts of the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria, embedded with the Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces as they push toward the city. On a recent trip to the front lines near the city, the Washington Post’s Liz Sly reports that you can see the Americans “hurtle past” as they assist the 13,000 Arabs and 45,000 Kurds with the YPG who make up the group.

But the locals aren’t happy about the Kurdish push, and neither is the Turkish government. But things are working out so far, as the SDF is slicing through ISIS-held villages on the road to Raqqa even if the fight for the city remains months away. But there is increasing tension. The Kurds are pushing “deep into Arab areas as it presses forward against the militants, raising questions among observers about the long-term sustainability of the gains,” Sly writes.

Mosul back on. Iraqi forces are again on the move in eastern Mosul after a two-week lull to reinforce and reset after months of heavy fighting and heavy losses. For the first time, Iraq’s federal police have joined the fight in the city, moving from their positions south of Mosul to back up the Golden Division, the country’s elite counterterrorism force which has undertaken the brunt of the fighting in Mosul, following its leading role in the fights for Fallujah and Ramadi.

Carrier gap. There is no U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and won’t be until after the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. The “gap” in coverage following the recent departure of the Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group appears to have less to do with any plan to skimp on coverage than it does with screw-ups in repair work and training schedules for the USS George H. W. Bush, which is still in Norfolk, Va. It’s unclear when the ship will leave port to head to the Middle East, but Defense News’ Christopher Cavas reports that Navy officials — who wouldn’t comment on the schedule delays — don’t expect the ship to leave for at least another month.

SitRep will be going dark for a few days, and will return on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Have a great weekend and here’s to a safe and happy New Year!

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: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley

China

Chinese President Xi Jinping anti-corruption drive appears to have snagged a senior general in the People’s Liberation Army. China’s defense ministry announced that Gen. Wang Jianping is under investigation for taking bribes from unnamed parties, according to the AP. Gen. Wang is a member of China’s Central Military Commission and his former patron, Zhou Yongkang of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, received a life sentence on corruption charges in 2015.

The wages of war

New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers continues to be one of our foremost voices telling us the stories of our wars and their aftermath. In a new story for the Times’ magazine, “The Fighter,” posted online Wednesday night, Chivers tells the story of Sam Siatta, a former Marine Corps marksman who deployed to southern Afghanistan in 2009, and after killing as many as seven Taliban fighters — including one man who might not have been a combatant — struggles to re-enter society. With the wars in Iraq far from over but even farther from the minds of most Americans, this stuff is a must-read.

Ukraine

Hackers broke into the network of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring the fighting in Ukraine. OSCE officials say they first noticed the breach in November and managed to trace the external communications of hackers inside their network but nonetheless couldn’t attribute responsibility for the break-in. Nonetheless, France’s Le Monde says unnamed intelligence sources have identified the hackers responsible as the same Russian intelligence group allegedly responsible for breaking into Hillary Clinton’s campaign network and the Democratic National Committee.

Syria

Russia, Iran, and Turkey are planning on carving up Syria into zones of influence according to Reuters. The plan being hammered out by the three powers would leave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power with reduced executive powers. Another part of the plan would have Assad step down before the next election and allow the election of another candidate from Syria’s minority Alawite community. Russia is reportedly pushing to launch a separate track of talks with Syrian rebels that would cut out the U.S. from the negotiations, a suggestion which has irritated American officials.

 

Photo Credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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