The Cable

Situation Report: More chemical weapons in Syria; Islamic State kicked out of Baiji; French weapons for Lebanon, Chinese oil pumping through Pakistan; and more

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson New Day Rising? On April 19, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that Iraqi forces “regained full control” over the Baiji oil refinery after having cleared the massive facility of Islamic State fighters. The facility has been a flashpoint for months, with Iraqi forces inside slugging it out with ...

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson

New Day Rising? On April 19, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that Iraqi forces “regained full control” over the Baiji oil refinery after having cleared the massive facility of Islamic State fighters. The facility has been a flashpoint for months, with Iraqi forces inside slugging it out with waves of Islamic State fighters — backed by car bombs and artillery fire — coming after the beating heart of the Iraqi oil industry and therefore, its entire economy.

Over the past nine days, coalition aircraft have pounded Islamic State position with 47 airstrikes in and around Baiji. And CENTCOM also said that Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. “reconnaissance (and) advise and assist elements” have “seized dozens of square miles” from Islamic State in Northern Iraq, widening their buffer zone around Kirkuk, a claim backed up by several news reports this morning.

This all in keeping with the word that came down last week from American and Iraqi officials in Washington, who said that fights for Baiji and Anbar province will come first, followed by a push to retake the northern city of Mosul.

FP’s David Kenner delivers a crushing read, jumping off from Dr. Mohammed Tennari’s testimony last week about a March chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians by the Assad regime. Kenner spoke with Tennari by Skype from his field hospital in Sarmin, Syria, saying of treating the victims that “there were no wounds, no bleeding, they were just struggling to breathe…their lungs were filled with liquid as well — it was suffocation, to the point where the heart stopped beating.”

French Kicks. Lebanon has received the first shipment of what will be $3 billion in Saudi-financed French military equipment (say that three times fast.) The crates of anti-tank guided missiles were delivered on April 20 in a ceremony overseen by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Lebanese counterpart, Samir Mokbel. France is slated to deliver 250 combat vehicles, seven Cougar helicopters, three corvette warships and other equipment over the next four years. (Pics of the event here.)

Saudi Arabia is so eager to push back against the Islamic State’s advances in Syria — which have bled into Lebanon —  that the royal family has opened its wallet to help out Beirut. In what must be a bitter pill to swallow for the U.S. defense industry, France has also contracted for seven years of training for the 70,000-strong Lebanese army, and up to 10 years of very lucrative equipment maintenance.

How did we miss this? About 300 U.S. Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in western Ukraine on April 10 to kick off Operation Fearless Guardian, the predictably awkward name given to the mission of training Ukrainian National Guard troops. About 50 of those soldiers actually drove the 1,850 kilometers from their post in Vicenza, Italy to the Yavoriv training range, having lumbered through Austria, Germany, and Poland in order to get there. (Click the link to see Humvees that will make you nostalgic, or anxious, about the mid ‘00’s.)

Road trips like these are a new thing for the Army Europe, but something they really seem to enjoy. The 2nd Cavalry Regiment — which was once kind enough to drive me around Iraq for a couple weeks — recently completed its own “Dragoon Ride” where about 400 soldiers took a 1,100 mile road march through from Estonia, romping through Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic, back to their base in Germany.

Good Monday! Anything to add, offer, praise or critique? The Situation report is a hungry beast and we gotta keep it fed on a daily basis. Try us at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter @paulmcleary.

Iraq

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah Brigades are deploying fighters to Ramadi to help beat back an Islamic State offensive, and has been publicizing tactics on its Web site. One recent video shows Hezbollah Brigade artillery units “launching rockets against Islamic State forces in the Sijariyah district in eastern Ramadi. The district is considered to be under Islamic State control” the Long War Journal writes.

Iran is also cooperating with other nations to curb the spread of the Islamic State. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announced an “informal arrangement” to share intelligence on Australians fighting with the terrorist organization, according to the BBC.

Cyber

“How do you make an enemy air defense system go completely blank in the first minute of the conflict?” U.S. Air Force chief Gen. Mark Welsh asked last week, according to Politico’s Phil Ewing. “How do you make a radar show a thousand false targets that all look real so you don’t know where the real package is in the middle of that? How do you keep enemy surface to surface missiles from ever launching?” Lots of questions from military leadership, but few answers.

Middle East

One of Yemen’s military commanders announced Sunday that his 15,000 troops near the Saudi border still support ousted president Abed Rabboo Mansour Hadi, reports Lebanon’s Daily Star, adding “as of last week, most of the army divisions along Yemen’s eastern Arabian Sea coast quit their posts and handed security of their bases and Yemen’s Masila oil fields, the country’s largest, to armed Sunni tribes.”

Israel is investing in a 3-D printing ‘consortium’ that pairs some of the nation’s top industries with academic leaders in order to advance technology. The goal? To 3-D print titanium aircraft components within three years, according to Niv Elis of the Jerusalem Post.

Ukraine

‘Words are our weapon:’ a video from a Kiev-based band openly mocks the songs sung by Ukrainian separatists goes viral.

Asia

News on U.S.-Japan partnerships will be big this week, as bilateral talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership continue in Tokyo. The talks between Tokyo and Washington come a week before President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a summit in Washington. JIJI reports that the U.S. and Japan are considering joint surveillance missions in the South China Sea, and intend to include them in the revised bilateral defense cooperation guidelines later this month.

April 20 marks the start of 10 days of joint military exercises with U.S., Philippine, and Australian defense forces on the island of  Palawan, in the West Philippine/South China Sea. More than double the size of last year’s exercise, a Philippine military official wanted to be clear that the increase in size “has nothing to do with China’s saber-rattling,” says the Manila Times, but it does seek to “widen awareness on implications of Chinese incursions that may cause military confrontation.”

Multiple IEDs have killed at least one civilian in the Philippines, writes the Daily Tribune.

China

Chinese President Xi Jinping is traveling to Islamabad Monday to unveil a massive $46 billion investment package to build highways, oil pipelines and railways that not only would give China quicker access to oil coming through Pakistani ports, but would also nearly double Pakistan’s current power capacity. The Express Tribune says that all of this will come swith a cost: about 12,000 new security forces to protect Chinese workers, especially where the project runs through insurgency-wracked Balochistan province.

Arctic

On April 24, Secretary of State John Kerry will take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Canada for a two-year term. The council is made up of seven other Arctic Member States and six Permanent Participants of the Council. The U.S. chairmanship priorities include addressing the impacts of climate change; Arctic Ocean safety, security and stewardship; and improving economic and living conditions for people in the Arctic.

But Canada has different ideas. The CBC reports that Ottawa will use the meeting “as an opportunity once again to deliver our tough message to Russia for their aggression against Ukraine,” said federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s representative to the group.

Who’s Where When

President Barack Obama meets at the White House Monday with crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. The deep pocketed UAE is a key ally in the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and is also flying sorties along with Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Revolving Door

Rebecca Hersman has joined the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as Director of the Project on Nuclear Issues and Senior Adviser in the International Security Program. Hersman arrives fresh from the Department of Defense where she served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

 

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