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SitRep: Trump Calls Meeting on Afghanistan Strategy; Bannon Outlines Foreign Policy, Possibly By Mistake

SitRep: Trump Calls Meeting on Afghanistan Strategy; Bannon Outlines Foreign Policy, Possibly By Mistake

 

By Paul McLeary

Afghan strategy coming? President Donald Trump will huddle at Camp David on Friday with his National Security Council for the latest go-around on his administration’s struggle to form a strategy for the 16 year-old war in Afghanistan. One key advisor who won’t be there is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is traveling in Asia this week.

But expect all options to be on the table, including former Blackwater head Erik Prince’s idea to replace the 8,400 U.S. troops there with mercenaries. “It’s part of the options being considered,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters earlier this week.

Bannon uncensored. This time, it was presidential advisor Stephen Bannon’s turn to call up a magazine reporter and give an interview he later claimed he didn’t realize was an interview. And like former White House comms chief Anthony Scaramucci, Bannon’s chat with Robert Kuttner of the liberal American Prospect was a doozy.

On North Korea, Bannon broke from president Trump’s “fire and fury” line. “There’s no military solution” to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, he said. “Forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about…they got us.” Bannon also said he’s pushing hard for the administration to take a harder line on trade with China, and not fall into the old trap of thinking Beijing will help with North Korea.

Enemies and purges. Bannon, who has plenty of high profile foes in the president’s orbit — including Rupert Murdoch, who reportedly has urged Trump to fire him, and national security advisor H.R. McMaster who recently sidestepped several questions about if he can work with Bannon — also talked about purging the State and Defense departments.

“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.” Thornton is a long time foreign service officer who has been filling the position since March, waiting for Trump to nominate a replacement.

He also ripped on white supremacists, “Ethno-nationalism-it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much…These guys are a collection of clowns.” Interesting take for the former Breitbart chief, who once called his site a “platform for the alt-right.”

Generals tweet for tolerance. Each one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officers in the country, have pointedly repudiated the racist rallies in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend by issuing a series of tweets decrying racism. In the process, they distanced themselves from the president, who has drawn parallels between the white supremacists and counterprosters.

Another empty seat at the DoD. Over at the Pentagon, a long time military spokesman has been ousted after the White House rejected his “packet” to take over a high-profile public affairs position. FP’s Dan DeLuce and Paul McLeary write that “the abrupt departure of Steve Warren, an Army colonel who established a rapport with Pentagon correspondents over the course of his career, coincides with broader complaints raised by journalists about how the department is providing information and handling media access to Defense Secretary James Mattis.”

Saudi under fire again (still). The Saudi-led military coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen committed “grave violations” of human rights against children last year, killing 502, injuring 838, according to a draft report by the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres obtained by FP’s Colum Lynch. “The killing and maiming of children remained the most prevalent violation” of children’s rights in Yemen, according to the 41-page draft report obtained by Foreign Policy. “In the reporting period, attacks carried out by air were the cause of over half of all child casualties, with at least 349 children killed and 333 children injured.”

Top Dem Slams Tillerson for Empty State Department: Seven months into the Trump administration, the State Department is still floundering under a conspicuously large batch of vacant posts. A top Democratic lawmaker slammed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Trump administration for not filling the posts. “If the State Department were a private company, it is hard to imagine that it would be allowed to operate for the better part of a year, and maybe longer, without critical senior management,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Tillerson. Eighty-six out of 131 State Department positions that require Senate confirmation have not been nominated. The vacancies “could very well undermine our ability to further our nation’s security and prosperity,” he said. — Robbie Gramer.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Yemen suffered more airstrikes in the first half of this year than in the whole of 2016, increasing the number of civilian deaths and forcing more people to flee their homes, according to a report by international aid agencies.

NATO ally Turkey and Iran have agreed to boost military cooperation after talks in Ankara this week between the Iranian armed forces chief of staff and Turkish leaders, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Thursday.

“A right-wing activist who brought attention to debunked conspiracy theories — and who gained new prominence when he was retweeted by President Donald Trump this week — is a U.S. naval intelligence officer detailed to a reserve unit, Navy service records obtained by NBC News show. “John Michael Posobiec III’s security clearance is currently suspended, according to a U.S. official, who did not disclose the reason for the suspension. Posobiec told NBC News that he was never given an explanation but suspects it was because he had become ‘more outspoken on Twitter.’”

A federal judge Wednesday delivered a victory to the U.S. government in its effort to arrest terrorism suspects overseas for trial in civilian courts, ruling that prosecutors can use the statements of the accused ringleader of the 2012 attacks on an American compound in Libya. He was interrogated aboard a U.S. Navy ship.

The U.S. Air Force is in the middle of testing four different planes to find the best attack and surveillance aircraft. The ongoing “fly-off” will determine which might be used for a future replacement for the venerable A-10, which continues to light it up in Iraq and Syria. “We’re experimenting and innovating, and we’re doing it new and faster ways,” says Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force. According to the USAF’s Col. Sharon Evans, analysis from the experiment will be formulated this fall and completed in December before going to Congress. — Jesse Chase-Lubitz

 

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images