- 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.
With Adam Rawnsley
Gulf hack. The hack of Qatari government Web sites earlier this year was carried out by the United Arab Emirates, and not Russia, as had initially been suspected. The revelation — which will likely only deepen the diplomatic row between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors — comes after Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries slapped an economic blockade on the tiny Gulf monarchy.
U.S. officials who described the latest twist to the Washington Post said they’re unsure whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted the job out. The hacks took place on May 24, just after President Trump sat down with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified. The UAE on Monday officially denied responsibility.
Iran won the Iraq war. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Tehran saw an opportunity to use the chaos that resulted to increase its own influence in the region. And their plan appears to have worked, the New York Times reports. Iran has for years planted friendly ministers inside the Iraqi parliament and government agencies, and is training Iraqi Shiite militias to fight ISIS in Iraq, and for the Syrian government over the border.
Consider this: “At some border posts in the south, Iraqi sovereignty is an afterthought. Busloads of young militia recruits cross into Iran without so much as a document check. They receive military training and are then flown to Syria, where they fight under the command of Iranian officers in defense of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.” Iran is also training thousands of Afghan fighters to battle in Syria.
Secret Service pushes back on Trump lawyer. This is awkward. The U.S. Secret Service on Sunday firmly denied a statement from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer that its agents vetted a meeting between the president’s son and Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign, in which the Russians — claiming to represent the Kremlin — promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said later in the day that Trump Jr. was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump’s son and two senior campaign officials. Whelp.
Elsewhere, the New York Times profiled one of the Russians who were in the room with Trump Jr., campaign head Paul Manafort, and son in law and advisor Jared Kushner. They did the same with another Russian tied to the burgeoning scandal.
Civilian casualties spike under Trump. A new report from a researcher with independent watchdog Airwars claims that civilian casualties in Iraq have risen to an average of 12 per day since January, or 360 a month. Under the Obama administration, the average was about 80 a month.
More bad news in Syria. Turkish-backed rebels battled with Kurdish fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in northwestern Syria on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Things had been somewhat quiet in the area around Aleppo for the past several weeks, where an uneasy calm has prevailed.
Strikes. The U.S. killed the leader of the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate in a drone strike early last week, the Pentagon announced on Friday. Defense Secretary James Mattis described the death of ISIS-K leader Abu Sayed as “obviously a victory on our side in terms of setting them back.” The U.S. had killed the group’s two previous leaders, Hafiz Sayed Khan and Abdul Hasib, in strikes carried out over the past year.
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American intelligence officials tell the Washington Post that the United Arab Emirates was behind the hack of a Qatari state news agency that posted fake quotes from Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani praising Hamas and Iran. Americans spies picked up information on Emirati officials discussing the plan to plant the fake quotes in the website on May 23, shortly before the hack.
Art of the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Syrian ceasefire that President Trump’s agreed to with Russia is a bad deal in a rare public break with the Trump administration, according to Haarertz. Israel had insisted that any ceasefire deal include provisions to keep Iranian-backed forces away from the Israeli border, prevent Iran from fortifying its position in Syria, and not allow Russian troops to produce buffer zones.
Human rights. Locals along the banks of the Tigris are seeing a steady stream of bound human bodies of military-age men floating outside Mosul, raising fears of summary executions by Iraqi forces in the wake of Mosul’s liberation. Freelance reporter Fazel Hawramy has been monitoring Iraqi social media pages and highlighted video showing Iraqi forces torturing and abusing alleged Islamic State members in Mosul.
Observers. The Defense Department tested a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery last week in order to demonstrate to North Korea that the system, currently deployed in South Korea, can knock down ballistic missiles. But the THAAD test had another observer, according to CNN. North American Aerospace Defense Command tells the cable news channel that a Chinese spy ship showed up in international waters off the coast of Alaska.
Retaliation. Russia is raising the temperature over its diplomatic feud with the U.S. over the Obama administration expulsion of alleged Russian spies. If the U.S. doesn’t return a seized Russian diplomatic compound and allow an increase in the number of Russian diplomats in America, Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitry Kiselev recently said, U.S. diplomats will be expelled, and those who remain behind will be harassed.
Trouble in the alliance. NATO is trying to nudge Germany and Turkey to cooperate after Germany began pulling its troops from Incirlik Air Base following a diplomatic dispute with Ankara. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the two countries should have their foreign ministers meet for a sit down to resolve their differences following Germany’s refusal to extradite Turkish asylum seekers that Turkey accuses of participating in last year coup attempt and Turkey’s refusal to allow German members of parliament to visit troops at Incirlik.
Heatwave. Summer heat got you down? It could be worse. American U-2 spy planes supporting the anti-Islamic State fight are watching their tail wheels melt on the runway because temperatures in the Middle East are so high right now.
Afghanistan. Army Maj. Gen. Robin Fontes is now commander of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, giving her the highest position of any American female officer.
Iran. Iran jails Chinese-American Xiyue Wan, accusing the Princeton University academic of espionage charges. The U.S. State Department calls the charges “fabricated.”
She’s a rainbow. China’s Cai Hong (“rainbow”) series of armed drones has taken the export market by storm, with the CH-4 model proving especially popular among customers in the Middle East. This week, the newest member of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s Cai Hong drone family, the CH-5, underwent flight trials in Hebei Province and might soon be showing up in the skies over Middle Eastern conflicts.
Turkey. Turkey has carried out its first drone strike in combat, using its domestically-built Anka drone to fire a missile at members of the PKK terrorist group in eastern Anatolia, reportedly killing five.