The Cable

Situation Report: Drones to Iraq; al-Baghdadi to Raqqa?; intel from B-1 crews; and lots more

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson Bring in the drones. In January 2014, the United States sent 14 unarmed ScanEagle drones to Iraq as a part of a larger weapons deal to assist then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in quelling what was then seen as a rekindled Sunni rebellion in western Iraq. We haven’t heard much ...

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson

Bring in the drones. In January 2014, the United States sent 14 unarmed ScanEagle drones to Iraq as a part of a larger weapons deal to assist then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in quelling what was then seen as a rekindled Sunni rebellion in western Iraq.

We haven’t heard much about those birds since the initial announcement was made, but last week, on May 7, the Defense Department said that Iraq had completed the $10 million deal with the Washington-state based ScanEagle maker Insitu Inc. to operate the drones, along with providing enough maintenance personnel to support the “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance services program and force protection services for the government of Iraq,” at Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad.

The ScanEagle has been a workhorse for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The five-foot long, 30-40 lb. drone is capable of staying aloft for 24 hours at a time.

In other ScanEagle news, does anyone else wonder what happened to the 12 ScanEagle and NightEagle drones that the Yemeni government bought in September 2014? Some $500 million worth of U.S. military equipment was lost earlier this year when Houthi rebels took over a series of military bases there, but we haven’t heard many details.

Standing room only. It wasn’t the greatest view, but the steps of the River Entrance at the Pentagon was a nice little spot to watch the 70 WWII-era planes fly over Washington last Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. A good chunk of the press corps and a few hundred other Pentagon staffers shuffled out of the building around lunchtime to see the show, and we found ourselves standing just a few steps down from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who was safely ensconced in the shade while we worked on a “good base tan” to start beach season.

Carter actually stood just a few feet behind a small group of reporters — we’ve discovered over the past three months that he certainly doesn’t like standing in front of us — while his chief of staff Eric Fanning (until recently the Undersecretary of the Air Force) was out in his shirtsleeves chatting up a group of Air Force officers. The scene made us a little regretful that we’re not up to date on the full list on Air Force one- and two-star generals, since there were lots of brass from the air service milling about, unencumbered by their staffs.

We also had a front row seat for the Curtis Helldiver that had to peel off and make an emergency landing at National Airport. It flew almost right over the Pentagon on its safe descent on to the runway. No one was hurt, thankfully.

Who’s on first? On Sunday, The New York Times’ Helene Cooper reported that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz would not attend the much-hyped Gulf Cooperation Council meeting that President Barack Obama is hosting at Camp David this week, in a move being seen as a snub to the Obama administration.

Just wanted to point out that FP’s own John Hudson reported last Thursday that  “a U.S. official told Foreign Policy the White House had not yet confirmed the attendance of a number of key officials in the GCC — a union that includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.”

The weekend’s over and it’s time once again to start getting your daily fill of the mayhem and destruction — and occasional tentative stabs at hope and understanding — that our fellow human beings inflict on one another. Too dark? Let me know at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary

Think Tanked

At 9:00 a.m. at the Brookings Institution, the shop’s Kenneth Pollack, senior fellow, Center for Middle East Policy talks “The future of Iraq: A conversation with Sunni leaders,” with Rafi al-Issawi, former Iraqi deputy prime minister and minister of finance, and Atheel al-Nujayfi, Governor of Ninewah Province. At 10:00 a.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright and Sean O’Keefe, former administrator of NASA, talk about “U.S. Strategy for Civil and Military Space.” And then at 10:30 a.m., The Center for Cyber & Homeland Security at the George Washington University hosts the “State of the Cybersecurity Union,” with Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.

Counterterrorism

The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer reports from Turkey that he’s hearing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “has been moved from Iraq to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the terror army’s de facto capital, amid tight security two months after sustaining serious shrapnel wounds leaving his spine damaged and his left leg immobile, say jihadist defectors.”

“Those guys are badass,” a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber crew member recently told U.S. News & World Report’s Paul D. Shinkman about Kurdish fighters in the Syrian city of Kobani. Shinkman took a trip down to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas to talk to B-1 crews recently back from bombing runs over Syria, with one officer telling him that the Syria mission “gave us a recharge on the whole conflict, even in Afghanistan…we weren’t in a rut – we were still executing missions, but there was something different this time.”

AFP reports that “the global terrorist threat has entered a ‘new phase,’ where media-savvy Islamist extremists are successfully drawing lone wolf attackers to their cause, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security [Jeh Johnson] warned Sunday.”

This was echoed by Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) who told CNN, “the combination of those two groups [Al Qaeda and ISIL] — their appeal to the lone wolfs and we see them acting in Belgium and in France and in Canada and the United States, so the threat factors and the nature of the threats are far more complicated and far more serious today than on September 12, 2001.”

Europe

Norway’s modernization plans for its defense forces have been making waves these last few weeks. Over the weekend, Defense NewsVago Muradian spoke with Norway’s chief of defense, Adm. Haakon Bruun-Hanse, about a recently released report detailing the Norwegian military’s capabilities and weaknesses.

In Macedonia on Sunday, eight policemen and 14 gunmen were killed in an attack that authorities say was led by five Kosovars who were members of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, the BBC reports. More than 30 Macedonians and one Albanian were involved in the attack that left more than 37 additional officers wounded. “It’s total destruction,” one Macedonian is quoted as saying.

Last month, roughly 40 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo took over a police station, demanding the creation of an Albanian state within Macedonia. Tensions have been running high since an uprising in 2001.

Yemen

The Los Angeles Times’ Zaid Al-Alayaa and Patrick J. Mcdonnell report that Yemeni rebels have agreed to a five-day, humanitarian cease-fire proposed by the Saudis.

Nigeria

A gunmen opened fire outside the College of Administrative and Business Studies in Potiskum, Yobe state, Nigeria, the AFP reports, killing 12. The shooter blew himself up when he ran out of ammunition, but there were no additional casualties.

Egypt

Egyptian presidential spokesman Alaa Yousef said on Saturday that “Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed as firm relations between Cairo and Moscow, expressing his country’s support for Egypt,” according to Egypt’s State Information Service. During a meeting between Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the two leaders discussed bolstering their “already strong ties,” and “other issues of common concern.”  During the visit to Moscow, Sisi also met with his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang.

The business of defense

“In the span of just a few weeks, a flurry of orders has reset the global fighter market,” writes Defense News in what’s bylined as a “staff report.” Since mid-February, Egypt, India, and Qatar all announced that they were planning to buy dozens of French-made Dassault Rafale fighter planes. In April, the United Arab Emirates said it was restarting talks with Dassault about the Rafale. Then, just last week it leaked that Kuwait was on the verge of buying up to 40 Boeing-made F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet strike fighters from the United States. “It’s a shocking amount of activity for a fighter market that often sees just one or two procurements a year globally, and one analysts say is being driven by world events,” in the Middle East, the story says.

One more thing

Finally, we know that it’s Seymour Hersh, but his new story in the London Review of Books about all of the lies behind the official narrative(s) of the bin Laden raid is a good read. Take it as you will.

 

 

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