The Cable

SitRep: Trump Looking to Stop Arming Kurds; White House Steps Up Pressure on Iran

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Trump makes surprise deal. Turkish leaders said Monday they fully expect the United States to follow through on president Donald Trump’s surprise pledge last week to stop sending weapons to Syrian Kurdish fighters. American support might not matter all that much to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, as ...

Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa on September 4, as they battle to retake the  Syrian city from the Islamic State . (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa on September 4, as they battle to retake the Syrian city from the Islamic State . (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Trump makes surprise deal. Turkish leaders said Monday they fully expect the United States to follow through on president Donald Trump’s surprise pledge last week to stop sending weapons to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

American support might not matter all that much to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, as some of the group’s leaders say they would be willing to join forces with the Syrian government if their demands for a federal state in the north are granted by Damascus. It’s unclear what Syria’s allies in Iran or Russia think of that plan, as they’re working with Turkey to forge some sort of settlement to the fighting.

Either way, trouble lies ahead. In a region awash in weapons, the Kurds will likely find ways to keep the flow of weapons coming. FP’s Paul McLeary visited a U.S.-run training camp for the SDF in northern Syria earlier this year, where the Kurds said they fully expected to have to fight the Turks once they expelled the Islamic State from their country.

Open ended presence in Syria. American defense officials are expected to announce in the coming days that there are 2,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, as opposed to the official line that there are only about 500.

Nation building? The Washington Post: “The Trump administration is expanding its goals in Syria beyond routing the Islamic State to include a political settlement of the country’s civil war, a daunting and potentially open-ended commitment that could draw the United States into conflict with both Syria and Iran…U.S. officials say they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in northern Syria — where the Americans have trained and assisted the SDF against the Islamic State — and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas.”

Mike Mullen comes out swinging. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.) says White House chief of staff John Kelly’s attack on Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was “really a sad moment for me.”

Mullen, who has been staunchly critical of retired generals and admirals taking on senior roles in domestic politics, says the incident shows that Kelly is “clearly is very supportive of the president no matter what,” and “he was in a position to both defend the president in terms of what happened with the Gold Star family and then he ends up — and John ends up politicizing the death of his own son in the wars,” Mullen said.

White House looks to Iran. The Trump administration “is pressing to declassify intelligence allegedly linking Iran to short-range ballistic missile attacks by Yemeni insurgents against Saudi Arabia, part of a public relations blitz aimed at persuading America’s U.N. counterparts that Tehran is helping to fuel the country’s conflict,” FP’s Colum Lynch and Dan De Luce report in an exclusive story.

“The effort to cast blame on Iran comes at a time when the U.S.-backed Saudi military coalition in Yemen is facing mounting international condemnation for enforcing a blockade on vital ports that threatens to plunge the country into a massive famine.”

Locals near coming U.S. drone base in Niger are worried. There are hundreds of American troops in Agadez, Niger, furiously working to get a $100 million drone base up and running in 2018. But locals living near the base fear it could mean their city is now a target for militants. prowling the countryside.

Child sexual abuse in Afghanistan. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) says the Defense Department quietly pushed aside a damning report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on child rape by Afghan officials in favor of a relatively lighter-touch report put out by the Pentagon’s Inspector General. Aides to Leahy say the Pentagon initially bristled at the requirement for a SIGAR report into child sexual abuse by Afghan security forces, claiming that the organization lacked jurisdiction on the issue.

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

No heads up. The federal government didn’t bother to tip off dozens of U.S. officials it knew were being targeted by hackers working for Russian intelligence, according to a scoop from the AP. Only two out of 80 U.S. officials whose email addresses turned up in a list of Russian hacking targets said they were warned by the government.

South Korea blares its siren song. In the wake of a dramatic defection by a North Korean soldier across the Military Demarcation Line, South Korea is ratcheting up the pressure on the North by using loudspeakers to blast the news of the soldier’s escape at his former comrades. The latest broadcasts include details of the defecting soldier’s newfound comfortable lifestyle in the South.

You won’t have Ramzan to kick around anymore. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s hand-picked strongman in Chechnya, is saying that his bosses in Moscow need to find a new leader to run the place. Kadyrov has attracted international condemnation for human rights abuses in Chechnya, including the persecution of gays and the torture and murder of dissidents.

Austerity Britain. Britain’s deep cuts in defense spending are threatening to send the ruling Tory party’s defense wing into revolt as a senior British defense minister Tobias Ellwood hints he may resign over a proposed 12,000-troop cut to the British army. The defense ministry has been searching for ways to maintain its current force structure as the cost of upgrading the Trident nuclear missile eats up more of the defense budget.

Israel warns Iran. Israeli media is reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has conveyed a back-channel threat to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, warning him that Israel will get involved in the Syrian civil war if Assad allows Iran to establish a permanent military bases in Syria. Israeli TV reports that Iran has been looking to build arms factories and naval and air bases in Syria.

Iran threatens Europe. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the leader of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threatened to extend the range of Iranian ballistic missiles beyond 2,000 kilometers “if Europe wants to turn into a threat.” The threat follows a push by France to engage Iran in an “uncompromising” dialog about its ballistic missile capabilities, floating the possibility of a separate arms control agreement with Tehran which would cover its missile programs.

Attack in Egypt. The death toll in a weekend terrorist attack against a Sufi mosque in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula has reached a horrifying 300. Egyptian authorities say police found Islamic State flags found among the attackers, who detonated explosives and shot worshippers and first responders in the aftermath.

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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