- 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.
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Trump and Iran. The White House national security team has reportedly drawn up the outlines of a new policy that would allow U.S. military commanders to respond more aggressively to Iran, especially in places like Yemen, and in stopping weapons shipments to Palestinian militants and rebels in Yemen, a team from Reuters reports.
“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said a senior administration official. The plan would also give military commanders plenty of leeway to act as they see fit without direction from the White House.
“The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi‘ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said. In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.”
Yemen. The grinding, 30-month Saudi-led war in Yemen has been something of a win for the Iranians, as it has seen their major regional rival, Saudi Arabia, expend blood and treasure on a conflict that has brought nothing but international condemnation. FP’s Dan De Luce, Paul McLeary and Colum Lynch track how Washington got mixed up in the fight, despite reservations from policymakers at every step of the way.
While the U.S. sells weapons to the Saudis and refuels its warplanes in the air, Washington is actually more invested in the fight against al Qaeda. U.S. commandos on the ground in Yemen are working alongside Emirati forces, doing logistics, analyzing intel, and helping to direct the fight, much like they have been doing in Syria with local forces, one defense official tells FP.
Syria. U.S.-backed militias and the Syrian Army and its Iranian-backed fighters are less than 10 miles apart from each other as they converge on the Islamic State stronghold of Deir Ezzour in eastern Syria, which still holds around 2,500 Islamic State fighters, writes FP’s Rhys Dubin.
Syrian government forces advancing from the west initially broke a years-long siege of the city last week, and also captured significant swathes of neighboring territory. Meanwhile, Russia and Jordan are working on plans for a cease fire zone in southwest Syria near the Jordanian border.
North Korea. The Trump administration “clawed back a plan to impose a total oil embargo and other harsh sanctions on North Korea in an effort to avoid a major diplomatic rift at the United Nations with China and Russia,” writes FP’s Colum Lynch. “But it succeeded in securing unanimous U.N. support for a resolution that aims to cut North Korean refined oil imports by nearly a third, and bars hundreds of millions of dollars in Pyongyang’s export of textiles.”
Facing the prospect of a double veto, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, scrapped a provision in a draft Security Council resolution that would have banned all North Korean oil imports and permitted American warships to use force to board vessels that have violated existing U.N. sanctions. The United States also jettisoned a plan to impose an asset freeze on the North Korean leader and his government.
Personnel. Some of President Trump’s lawyers wanted him to pressure his son-in-law Jared Kushner to resign from his job as a White House aide, fearing that his presence in the White House after meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign and subsequent omissions on his security clearance paperwork could draw greater scrutiny from the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Back again. Derek Harvey, last seen being forced out of his job as the senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council by H.R. McMaster, is heading back to Capitol Hill to join the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Who’s where when. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet at 9:30 a.m. to consider two diplomatic nominations. John R. Bass, to be Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Justin Hicks Siberell to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Livestream here.
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Budget. The Senate will have a chance to add amendments to the defense budget bill this week, teeing up fights over a handful of issues ranging from transgender servicemembers to Russia and the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Sens. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) have announced they would push a measure to prevent the Pentagon from firing or taking away benefits from transgender troops for two months after a report on the impact of President Trump’s order to bar them from serving comes due. Democrats are also pushing an amendment to block cybersecurity cooperation with Russia and ban the transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia.
Aid. A Senate Appropriations subcommittee is pushing back against the Trump administration’s efforts to kill the Foreign Military Financing program, which provides money for some foreign countries to purchase American-made weapons. The administration had hoped to convert the grant program into a loan program but the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee rejected the approach in its markup.
No deposits. Banks in China are starting to prevent North Korean customers from opening up new accounts in sign that Beijing may be responding to pressure to use its influence on the North following recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests, according to the Financial Times. The move represents a stricter crackdown on North Korean finances than that called for by United Nations sanctions, which still allows some North Korean customers to use the international banking system.
Sanctions. In the meantime, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on Monday applying new sanctions to North Korea in retaliation for its test of an apparent thermonuclear weapon. The sanctions restrict the North’s ability to import oil from abroad and sell textiles.
Lobbying. The FBI is investigating whether a Russian news outlet violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by acting as a lobbying arm of the Russian government. Yahoo News reports that FBI officials interviewed former Sputnik White House reporter Andrew Feinberg, who turned over internal documents and correspondence from the outlet. I
Information war. A Russian company which spreads anti-American and pro-Russian propaganda used Facebook to do more than just spread fake news during the 2016 election, according to a scoop from The Daily Beast. The news outlet reports that Facebook shut down a number of posts advertising events by accounts the social media company believed to be posted by the troll farm, including one for an anti-Muslim rally at the Twin Falls, Idaho City Council office scheduled in August 2016.
Germany. Despite fears that Russian intelligence would run the same hacking and disinformation playbook it allegedly used during the recent U.S. and French presidential elections, Germany’s election thus far appears to have defied expectations with little evidence of Russian intelligence meddling.
Drill season. Sweden is currently carrying out its largest military drill in two decades in a sign of the growing unease about Russian aggression among European countries.
Plot. Saudi Arabia says it broke up a ring of “Saudis and foreigners” plotting to attack Saudi defense ministry offices in the capital of Riyadh, seizing suicide belts and small arms after arresting the suspects.
Buffer zone. Israel may be hoping that its aid programs helping neighboring Syrians across the border will help it create an inhospitable political climate on the Syrian side in the event that troops from Hezbollah take up residence there. Israeli officials stress the humanitarian aspects of its provision of fuel, money, food and health care to Syrian Arabs near it border, but the program could help Israel build important relationships in an area that could turn into a flashpoint for future conflict.
Left hanging. Mexico is rescinding its offer of aid to the U.S. after Hurricane Harvey flooded large parts of the Houston metropolitan area. Despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s indication that his state would welcome the help, the Trump administration never responded to the offer.
Terrorism. British authorities are charging three men, including two British Army soldiers, with terrorism offenses, accusing them of belonging to a neo-Nazi group.
Information war. At least 1,500 new Twitter accounts have sprung up and begun posting anti-Rohingya news and hashtags in the wake of a crackdown by the Myanmar military against the Muslim minority group. The sudden uptick in activity has lead some experts to suspect that the accounts are automated “bots” controlled by a single user rather than organic posting.
Fabric of history. The story of Afghanistan’s military history as told through the lens of Afghan rug weavers.
Photo Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages