SitRep: U.S. Troops in the Thick of it in Mosul and Raqqa

SitRep: U.S. Troops in the Thick of it in Mosul and Raqqa


With Adam Rawnsley

Advise and assist. The days of U.S. troops advising Iraqi forces in Mosul remotely are long over. Col. Pat Work, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division which is spread throughout the city told the Associated Press’ Susannah George that “ISIS has no boundaries, so our adviser network can’t have any boundaries. And so part of it is getting out there daily to see it.” More here:

Work’s one-on-one meetings inside Mosul come with a huge operational footprint. During his visit Friday a team of dozens of U.S. soldiers — most young men on their first deployment — provided him security and handled logistics. At each patrol base inside Mosul where U.S. troops work with Iraqi forces there can be dozens to over a hundred soldiers deployed to protect a team of just 10 advisers.”

What’s next for Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has emerged as a surprisingly strong leader over the past two years, keeping the U.S. and Iran from antagonizing one another, overseeing the rebuild of the Iraqi security forces, and generally keeping a lid on Shia/Sunni violence. For now. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling, writing from Mosul, has more on Abadi’s rise, and what can still trip him up.

Old habits. But a new Human Rights Watch report signals trouble ahead: witnesses in Mosul say that “Iraqi forces beat unarmed men and boys fleeing the fighting within the last seven days, and said they also obtained information about Iraqi forces executing unarmed men during this time period.”

Syria. In Raqqa, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces continue to edge into the heavily fortified city. U.S. military commanders recently took a small group of reporters with them to Taqba and Ain Issa, two cities liberated from ISIS for a first-hand look. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes:

“The confrontation with Syria and Russia that led to the shoot-down of a Syrian fighter jet just south of here two weeks ago seems to have eased, at least for now. Despite the Russians’ public protests, they quietly agreed last weekend on a roughly 80-mile “deconfliction” line that stretches from a few miles west of here to a village on the Euphrates called Karama. That line appears to be holding, and it’s a promising sign that broader U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria may be possible.”

The New York Times’ Michael Gordon adds another interesting tidbit. The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, has set up a hotline with his Russian counterpart, Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin where the two can hash out issues when they arise.

Over to you, Moscow. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres during a private State Department meeting last week that the fate of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad now lies in the hands of Russia, FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer write in a new report. Tillerson added that the Trump administration’s priority is limited to defeating the Islamic State, according to three diplomatic sources familiar with the exchange.

Tweet this. While President Trump has been busily tweeting out attacks on the free press and doing his best to undermine the credibility of the media he appears frustrated he can’t control, we assume he’s also been prepping for a major visit this week to Europe.

How important is the trip? The visit starts Wednesday in Warsaw where he’ll delivers a major address in the Polish capital. He’ll then move on to Hamburg, Germany, for the G-20 meetup where he’ll meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and other leaders. He spoke by phone with his Chinese and Japanese counterparts Sunday evening.

Afghanistan strategy watch. Chairman of the Joint Chief Gen. Joseph Dunford recently wrapped up a trip to Kabul, where he likely hashed out some of the final recommendations for the U.S. strategy in the 16-year old war.

Helmand. The commander of 300 Marines newly deployed to Helmand province recently told FP’s Paul McLeary he already has the full authority to get his troops out and about with Afghan troops in the fight. “So far we really haven’t seen much of a need to do it,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Roger Turner, “but if there’s a need to be somewhere we have the authority and capability and capacity to be where we need to be.”

He also advocated for a larger American footprint, in keeping with reported Pentagon plans to add 3,000 to 5,000 more troops in the coming months. “With a little bit larger force over here we would be in a position to have more flexibility” to do some of the advising he believes would help the Afghan forces push back against two years of Taliban offensives.

Russia probe chugs along.  Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Sunday on CNN he believes it will be “a couple of months” before we have “more clarity” in the Senate’s probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. He added that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is at the “stage of starting to talk to some of the individuals who are affiliated with the Trump campaign that, at least in the press, have been mentioned that they might have had contacts with the Russians.”

Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley. PROGRAMMING NOTE: SitRep is taking a knee on Tuesday, July 4, but will return Wednesday with FP’s indomitable David Francis helping guide the ship for the rest of the week. 

FONOPS. The Trump administration has carried out its second freedom of navigation operation, sailing the USS Stethem within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the South China Sea, which China claims as part of its territory. The move comes just days after the White House approved a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan which angered Beijing, and slapped sanctions on four Chinese entities over business dealings with North Korea. China’s foreign ministry reacted angrily to the operation, sending military ships and aircraft to “warn off” the U.S. presence and issuing a statement promising that Beijing “will continue to take all necessary means to defend national sovereignty and security.”

Damascus. A suicide car bomb in Damascus killed an estimated 19 people on Sunday. The bomber approached the city along with two other suicide bombers, detonating in Tahrir Square after police stopped the other two vehicles. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack thus far.

Attribution. The FBI says hackers who planted an inflammatory forged news story on a state-run Qatari news site weren’t working for the Russian government. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani tells CBS News that he does have evidence that “there are some countries involved” in carrying out the breach, suggesting that Qatar’s neighbors may have participated.

…two and a half, two and three quarters. Qatar’s neighbors are still irritated by Doha’s foreign policy and they still want it to agree to a lengthy list of demands to curb its relationships with militant groups and the Muslim Brotherhood. But Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt now say they’re extending the deadline for another two days. The extension comes after Qatar delivered an official — and thus far unknown — response to the demands.