SitRep: White House Mulls Iran, Muslim Brotherhood Terror Nods; Yemen Bans U.S. Commandos; Trump Slams France, NATO
- 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.
The leaks continue. Another draft of a potential executive order has leaked from the Trump White House, calling for the State Department to consider designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization, several U.S. officials told a team of Reuters reporters.
“The officials said several U.S. government agencies have been consulted about such a proposal, which if implemented would add to measures the United States has already imposed on individuals and entities linked to the IRGC,” the news agency says. The draft is not completed, and it’s unclear if it will make it to the president’s desk, but the move would be an indication of how hard a line the Trump administration may take with Tehran. The IRGC is one of the most powerful institutions in Iran, holding sway over vital aspects of the country’s economy, and military.
Just last week in response to a long-planned ballistic missile test, national security advisor Michael Flynn declared Iran has been put “on notice” for its destabilizing actions in the Middle East. Flynn and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are longtime Iran hawks, and FP’s Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary have lots more on Washington’s new Iran hawkery here.
Going for it. The New York Times’ Peter Baker also provides more details of a plan to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. “Officially designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization would roil American relations in the Middle East,” he writes. “The leaders of some American allies — like Egypt, where the military forced the Brotherhood from power in 2013, and the United Arab Emirates — have pressed Mr. Trump to do so to quash internal enemies, but the group remains a pillar of society in parts of the region.” Some State Department and national security council officials have objected to the Brotherhood plan, according to the Times.
Launch scrub. Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin have obtained satellite imagery of a second Iranian missile that was on the pad and ready to launch earlier this month, but was scrubbed at the last minute.
Trash talk. FP’s Robbie Gramer lays out some of the rhetoric that has been coming out of Tehran during the latest escalation in tensions, including Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying Tehran had been working “for decades” to “divulge the true face” of the U.S. and the “depth of corruption” of its leaders. “Trump did it in a few days after coming to the White House,” he said. Khamenei cited a 5-year old Iranian detained for hours at a U.S. airport following Trump’s immigration ban as a case that “belies the American version of human rights.”
Yemen blowback. The government in Yemen is angry at the civilian casualties inflicted by U.S. SEALs last month in a raid on an al Qaeda camp and has withdrawn permission for the U.S. to run Special Ops ground missions against suspected terror groups in the country, American officials tell the New York Times.
“While the White House continues to insist that the attack was a “success” — a characterization it repeated on Tuesday — the suspension of commando operations is a setback for Mr. Trump, who has made it clear he plans to take a far more aggressive approach against Islamic militants,” the Times’ David Sanger and Eric Schmitt write. “It also calls into question whether the Pentagon will receive permission from the president for far more autonomy in selecting and executing its counterterrorism missions in Yemen, which it sought, unsuccessfully, from President Barack Obama in the last months of his presidency.”
Pentagon’s revolving door. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asked Ash Carter’s deputy secretary Robert Work to stay for the first several months of his tenure, due to disagreements between Mattis and the White House over who should work in the Pentagon. Now, the Washington Times reports, a Lockheed Martin exec. might be in line to eventually replace Work. Robert Rangel, who was named senior vice president of strategic enterprise initiatives at the world’s largest defense contractor might get the nod for the job which focused on day-to-day operations of the Pentagon and management of the budget.
Finally…From Politico, a look at What Steve Bannon Wants You to Read.
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Jim Mattis spoke with his Mexican counterpart Secretary of National Defense General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda on Tuesday, as an increasingly contentious relationship develops between the U.S. and Mexico. According to a Defense Department readout of the call, the two emphasized the “importance of the U.S.-Mexico defense relationship.” The friendly tone marks a contrast to the rhetoric coming out of the White House toward Mexico, as Trump presses ahead with plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a meeting with Trump.
Mattis may want to pick up the phone and dial his counterpart in France as reports coming in about President Trump’s phone call with French President Francois Hollande don’t sound good. Politico reports that Trump’s call descended into a rant against NATO, with the president saying that the U.S. “wants our money back” from the alliance because of members, like France, who fail to meet defense spending commitments. Trump also raised the subject of China for unclear reasons, lamenting that it was exploiting the United States.
A half dozen senators are looking to box in President Trump’s ability to loosen sanctions on Russia. CNN reports that a bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) will introduce the Russia Review Act on Wednesday, which would give Congress a veto over any lifting of sanctions. In the event Trump wanted to roll back sanctions put in place against Russia for its annexation of Crimea or alleged interference in the 2016, the legislation would force Trump to submit a report explaining why and give Congress a 120 day period to weigh in on the move.
The Army has published a blow by blow account of a battle in Kunduz, Afghanistan in November 2016 which claimed the lives of two Special Forces soldiers. The account details the raid in Boz Qandahari Village in Kunduz to clear safe havens being used by Taliban leaders. After a mile-long muddy track to the objective and clearing Taliban compounds, the 10-man Special Forces team along with its Afghan partners found themselves surrounded by Taliban, leading to a fierce firefight in which 27 Taliban and three local leaders from the insurgent group were killed. Capt. Andrew Byers, one of two Green Berets killed in the mission, was awarded the Silver Star for saving the lives of his men during the fight.
The Defense Department is going to pay the Trump family a hefty rent bill for some office space in Trump Tower, according to the Washington Post. The Pentagon is looking to use the space to provide “personnel and equipment” to support President Trump when he’s spending time away from the White House and, as it has for previous presidents. What’s different this time, however, is that the Trump family’s ownership of the building means the Pentagon’s rent bill, which could stretch to over a million dollars annually, will go right into the Trumps’ pockets, raises ethics concerns.
How much does a 355-ship Navy cost? Congress would like the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to find out. USNI News reports that Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) says that a CBO cost assessment of a larger Navy fleet and the logistical resources necessary to support it is already underway. Wittman also emphasized the importance of putting money into maintaining the current fleet, which has become an issue as budget craps strain maintenance resources. During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump promised to increase the number of Navy ships to 350, along with pledges to increase Army and Marine Corps end-strength.
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