- 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.
Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Bannon’s war. President Donald Trump’s top advisor sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently with a bold proposal: replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with private military contractors.
The idea was the brainchild of two men who have made tens of millions sending private soldiers to backstop America’s wars — Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater, and Stephen Feinberg, a financier who owns mega military contractor DynCorp International. The two men were asked to come up with plans for Afghanistan by Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner, according to a new account from the New York Times.
Mattis listened, but the Pentagon continues to work on its own plans despite obvious White House unhappiness with what it has heard so far. The Pentagon was prepared to brief Trump on its Afghanistan plan back in late May, but the proposal never made it to the Oval Office, and the White House and Pentagon continue to spar over what to do in America’s longest war.
New Trump/Russia allegations. The latest from the New York Times: “Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.”
Alt-right targeting government employees. Don’t miss this exclusive from Kate Brannen of Just Security, along with FP’s Dan De Luce and Jenna McLaughlin:
“Career civil servants often endure stressful working conditions, but in the Trump White House, some of them face online trolling from alt-right bloggers who seek to portray them as clandestine partisans plotting to sabotage the president’s agenda. The online attacks often cite information that appears to be provided by unnamed White House officials or Trump loyalists.
The trend has unnerved the career intelligence analysts, diplomats, security experts, and military officers who are accustomed to operating outside the political arena. Coupled with White House talking points accusing government employees of jeopardizing the country’s security through leaks to the media, the online abuse threatens to damage morale and politicize institutions long seen as impartial and above partisan combat.”
Mosul and its aftermath. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State in Mosul on Monday, but his country is hardly in the clear. FP’s Paul McLeary writes that the country’s Counter Terrorism Service will likely play a leading role in the coming fights for the ISIS-held cities of cities of Tal Afar and Hawija. “The U.S.-trained unt of about 17,000 soldiers reports directly to prime minister Abadi, making it easier for the U.S. to train and supply its troops, avoiding much of the Baghdad government’s parochial interests and bureaucracy. But the CTS has paid a heavy price for its successes, suffering a crippling 40 percent casualty rate during the fight for Mosul.”
Price of victory. A new Amnesty International report says that liberation has revealed the “horrifying scale of death, injury and suffering of civilians trapped in the battle for west Mosul.” Amnesty says it counted at least 426 civilian deaths caused by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition in the course of 45 separate attacks. Researchers also documented the Islamic State’s abuse of civilians, including forced displacement, starvation, summary execution, and the use of human shields. And who gains from liberation? According to Tehran, it’s their supply route from Iran, through northern Iraq, and on into Syria and Lebanon.
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Tragedy. A Marine Corps KC-130 tanker crashed in Mississippi, killing 16 people on board, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Marine Corps confirmed the casualties on Tuesday. Local officials say the aircraft suffered a structural failure while in flight.
Iran. Qasem Soleimani took something of a victory lap at a July 3rd speech marking Iran’s Qods Day. Soleimani boasted that its war in Syria has increased its influence in the country, improving “relations with hundreds of thousands” of fighters since the fighting began and that the Assad regime now “becomes stronger every day.” Soleimani also praised Iraq’s mostly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces, crediting them with the defeat of the Islamic State and likening the militias to Iran’s own Basij and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Gulf drama. In 2013 and 2014, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani signed an agreement to stop supporting “antagonistic media” reporting about the country’s Gulf neighbors as well as Egypt and cut off backing for the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition groups in Yemen, according to documents leaked to CNN. The agreements, hammered out between officials from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, single out Al Jazeera’s reporting as a particular thorn in the side of Doha’s neighbors. Shortly after the second agreement was signed, Al Jazeera shut down its Egyptian affiliate Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr.
Homegrown. Federal prosecutors are charging Army Sgt. Ikaika Erik Kang with pledging loyalty to the Islamic State and seeking to provide material support to the terrorist group. Court documents allege that Kang told undercover informants of his appreciation for the Islamic State and his hope to travel to Turkey to join the group. Investigators claim to have found 18 classified documents on Kang’s computer.
Have you tried unplugging it? NATO is providing Ukraine with new security hardware to help protect government networks after a series of cyber attacks hit companies and utilities in the country. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the new equipment will help defend “key government institutions.” A Ukrainian power facility was attacked in 2015 by hackers that some researchers have traced to Russia and the Petya wiper malware that spread around the world in June has disproportionately affected Ukrainian systems.
Navy. The U.S. Navy is putting out a call for new frigate designs, signaling it’s open to a break from the littoral combat ship. Defense News reports that the service is looking to squeeze as much value as it can for a new guided-missile frigate to carry out multiple surface warfare and anti-submarine missions.
Sanctions. The fight between the Trump administration and Congress over Russia sanctions is boiling down to a disagreement about waivers. The administration is pushing Congressional leaders to include a provision that would allow Trump to waive sanctions against Russian officials and industries on national security grounds.
Retaliation. Russia is considering booting 30 American diplomats in a delayed retaliation for former President Obama’s expulsion of their colleagues.
Think tanked. Why has the U.S. come to rely on Syria’s primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight the Islamic State more so than other rebel groups? The Atlantic Council’s Aaron Stein has a new report out based on interviews with military officials that examines how American commanders and special operations forces and came to embrace the SDF as its partner of choice against the terrorist group.
Hero. When the Washington Post ran a picture of a Trump administration official carrying a note with Defense Secretary James Mattis’s phone number in plain view, Mercer Island High school reporter Teddy Fischer leapt on the opportunity and dialed up Mattis, scoring an interview for his school paper, The Islander.
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