The Cable

Situation Report: Some Gulf allies roll into town; Iraq ground fire concerns; Special Ops to Japan; and more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Adding it up. It’s now been just over nine months since a U.S.-led coalition began pounding the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from the air. And in that time, the mission, which one Pentagon wag then dubbed “Operation: Dude, That’s My Humvee?” has hit 6,278 targets — including ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Adding it up. It’s now been just over nine months since a U.S.-led coalition began pounding the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from the air. And in that time, the mission, which one Pentagon wag then dubbed “Operation: Dude, That’s My Humvee?” has hit 6,278 targets — including 288 U.S. Humvees the Islamic militants snatched from the Iraqi Army. The whole thing has cost Washington over $2.3 billion ($8.6 million a day) to keep the rocks bouncing, and there’s no end in sight.

First things. In Iraq, which the White House says is its first priority, the Islamic State still holds the cities of Mosul and Fallujah, and appears poised to take control of the Baiji oil refinery. The refinery and the city of Ramadi remain “highly contested” Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Monday, and the fight could go either way.

Video of U.S. planes in action over Iraq. Those bombs just don’t appear out of nowhere. They’re dropped by American pilots flying aircraft in at times close proximity to Islamic State fighters, who are very happy to fire back. The group recently released a video of fighting in and around the Baiji refinery that showed U.S. attack aircraft taking sustained ground fire. (Start at the 3:35 mark.) In response to an email query about the ground fire, U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Caulk replied that “we don’t have a releasable number for surface-to-air fire (SAFIRE) events. While the ground fire in the video may seem severe, the picture looks very different from the air. Our pilots occasionally report ineffective small arms or anti-aircraft artillery fire.”

We’re coming! Soon-ish. In another sign that the Asia “rebalance” is still on despite the fact that the Middle East is burning, we found out Monday that American special operations forces are bringing some of their newest aircraft to Japan.

Just not until 2017.

Ten of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC) 50 CV-22 tiltrotor Osprey aircraft are headed for Yokota airfield near Tokyo. The Pentagon announcement comes on the heels of Japan’s plans to spend $3 billion to buy 17 of the speedy V22 Osprey from the U.S.

While the U.S. Marine Corps already operates 24 Osprey from the Futenma base on Okinawa, the move expands the AFSOC footprint in the region, with the Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group having long operated out of Kadena Air base in Okinawa. But with U.S. operators based in South Korea and Okinawa, the deployment can be seen as effectively splitting the large geographic distance between the two, making quick relief of those special ops ground forces potentially pretty tough.

“This is another example of the challenge of SOF airlift (which really only exists to get ground SOF into and out of hostile areas) that is not collocated with the ground forces” it will support, emails David Maxwell, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel who now teaches at Georgetown University. “But that is the nature also of being in theater and subject to host nation political constraints. I would rather have them in Yokota than not in theater at all.”

Always. Be. Closing. Today marks the kickoff of the increasingly contentious two-day Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at Camp David, where President Barack Obama will host the leadership of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to talk through security issues. Originally billed by the White House as a sitdown among heads of state, there’s been some backsliding on the original hype. Saudi King Salman has already pulled out of the meeting, sending his 29 year-old defense minister instead. And Bahrain’s king has also declined to attend, sending his defense chief. The Pentagon confirmed Monday that Defense Secretary Ash Carter will also attend, but a spokesman declined to say who else from the department might be there. FP’s John Hudson outlines some of the tensions, and the uncertainty, over what will actually be accomplished over the next two days.

Say it ain’t so. It looks like all sorts of defense officials are pushing back against Seymour Hersh’s inflammatory story in the London Review of Books on Monday claiming that just about everything you’ve been told about the U.S. SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan is a lie. FP’s Sean Naylor catalogs the outrage.

It’s Situation Report time! Tell the kids to go draw a picture or “play the quiet game” for a few minutes while you scroll through your phone with us, won’t you? Let us know what’s on your mind at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary

Revolving door

“Porter Goss, a director of the CIA under the Bush administration, has been hired by Turkey’s government to lobby Congress on matters including counter-terrorism, energy-security, and stability in the the NATO-member’s region,” Bloomberg’s Isobel Finkel reports.

Yemen

Hostilities continue in Yemen, where Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition forces “traded heavy artillery and rocket fire in border areas,” a day before the proposed humanitarian cease-fire is to take effect on Tuesday, according to Al-Jazeera. Many are skeptical of the deal: a group of 17 international aid agencies say five days is not enough to provide adequate humanitarian assistance, and Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin said he believed the Houthis “had no desire for a ceasefire deal.”

Cyber

At a cybersecurity forum at George Washington University on Monday, chief of U.S. Cyber Command — and head of NSA — Adm. Michael Rogers said hackers (and other perpetrators of cyber attacks) will “pay the price,” for their actions. “What concerned me” Defense News quotes him as saying, “was, given the fact that this is a matter of public record, if we don’t publicly acknowledge it, if we don’t attribute it and if we don’t talk about what we’re going to do in response to the activity … I don’t want anyone watching thinking we have not tripped a red line.”

Israel

Israel will be buying four patrol boats from the marine division of Germany’s ThyssenKrupp to protect natural gas fields in the Mediterranean, The ticket price on the deal is approximately $480 million. ThyssenKrupp has also committed to around $181 million worth of reciprocal purchasing in Israel, AFP reports.

Georgia

About 200 U.S. Army troops from the 3rd Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade (some of whom are also currently in western Ukraine) have kicked off a joint military exercise in Georgia with local forces after the U.S. shipped a company’s worth of heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles across the Black Sea, Reuters reports. The purpose of the mission is to train a company of Georgian soldiers to be able to operate as part of NATO’s Response Force, a Pentagon official confirmed Monday.

Terrorism


It would appear that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi alive and well, according to reporting from The Daily Beast.  He continues to lead the group, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday, adding, “the U.S. military has no reason to believe he was injured in a coalition airstrike.”

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