Situation Report: Overhaul in Iraq plans; the jihadist recruiting pipeline; the U.K. gets anthrax; Dempsey gets a new spokesman; and more more more
- 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 Ariel Robinson
Don’t call it a comeback. It’s a change in plans, Defense Department officials insist, not a change in strategy. A still-to-be-finalized Pentagon proposal to send between 400 and 1,000 more American troops to Iraq — depending on which report you read — to train Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal fighters is being billed not as a recognition of failure, but a continuation of success.
The idea to rapidly train as many as 10,000 mostly Sunni fighters and 3,000 new Iraqi soldiers in the coming months comes as part of a bid to retake the city of Ramadi, which fell to a handful of Islamic State fighters in May. The Shiite-led government in Baghdad has for years failed to nimbly to train and arm the Sunni tribesmen, and hundreds of American soldiers and Marines have been sitting idle at the al Asad training facility in western Iraq for weeks, waiting on more Iraqi recruits to train.
Into the fight. But a Defense Department official said Tuesday that recent Iraqi trainees at al Asad were pulled out to take part in fighting in Karmah and Samarra and to provide security for a Shiite pilgrimage in the area, and should return to training in the coming weeks.
A total 8,920 Iraqi troops have received training at four different sites throughout Iraq, and another 2,601 are currently in some stage of training.
The news of the coming shift in U.S. policy comes just days after President Barack Obama stirred up some controversy at the G-7 summit in Germany when he said that Washington didn’t have an overall strategy formulated to deal with the train and advise mission in Iraq.
Blame game. For more on this, read FP’s Lara Jakes’ exclusive sit down with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, Baghdad’s highest-elected Sunni official. Jabouri unsurprisingly supports the training of more Sunni fighters, and he chastised Washington for “the slow procedures that are taken to confront Daesh,” using a term more common in the region for the Islamic State. “Frankly speaking, the blame must be placed on the United States to a large degree [in] finding a clear strategy that supports Iraq,” he told Jakes.
Body count. While the Iraqi Army is licking its wounds and holding ground where it can with the help of thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters (remember them?), the Islamic State’s pool of recruits appears almost limitless. FP’s Sean Naylor reports that some experts believe the extremist group adds about 1,000 fighters to its ranks each month, and that doesn’t even include the temporary alliances that it forces with local tribes, criminal gangs, and other jihadist groups who cling to the brand for a sense of purpose or importance.
That number fits nicely with some recent comments by U.S. officials claiming that airstrikes are schwacking up to 1,000 jihadists a month, and that as many as 10,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since the start of the air campaign last August.
The Situation Report is trained and ready to jump into the content wars, so just give us a shout with ideas, tips, suggestions, and links to stories you think may be flying under the radar. As ever, we’ve hovering over our phones at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary
The State Department’s Brett McGurk tweeted this morning that he and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin are in Baghdad, meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The meeting comes just a few days after President Barack Obama famously appeared to snub Abadi during a suuuuper awkward photo op at the G-7 summit in Germany.
You can now add the U.K. to the growing list of countries to which the U.S. Army has inadvertently shipped live anthrax. In an unfolding screw-up that just keeps getting worse, the Defense Department admitted Tuesday that the U.K. had joined Australia, Canada, and South Korea on the dubious list. And that’s not all. Live samples, which have all come from the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, have now been confirmed at 68 labs in in 19 states and the District of Columbia. (On Monday the numbers were 66 labs and 18 states.)
And it looks like Congress is finally sitting up and starting to pay attention. On Wednesday afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a closed-door hearing with U.S. Navy Commander Franca R. Jones, director of medical programs and nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs at the Pentagon, to start asking exactly what happened.
Who’s where when
10:00 a.m. The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers and Matt Schroeder from the Small Arms Survey will be at the Stimson Center to talk about the shoulder fired missile threat in the Middle East.
10:30 a.m. Heidi Shyu, the U.S. Army’s chief weapons buyer, is at the Atlantic Council talking about “Modernizing Army Acquisition.”
On the move
In another swap out at the Pentagon, FP has learned that the spokesman for Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is moving on next month. U.S. Air Force Col. Ed Thomas will be replaced by U.S. Navy Capt. Gregory Hicks, who is currently serving as communications director for Gen. Philip Breedlove at the U.S. European Command.
Don’t mess with Canada
Canada announced that it has now flown over 1,000 sorties in Iraq and Syria, while topping 100 air strikes against Islamic State targets. Back in October, Ottawa deployed six CF-18 Hornet jet fighters, one aerial refueller and two surveillance aircraft to support the U.S.-led coalition. The fighter planes have flown 661 of the sorties.
Supporting those planes are 600 Canadian personnel on the ground, including 70 special operators who are in northern Iraq working with Kurdish fighters. The Canadiens so far are the only western country that has admitted getting into firefights with Islamic State trigger-pullers, and have also taken a casualty. Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron was killed in early March in a friendly fire incident with Kurdish troops.
The future of deadly laser weapons looks pretty bright for the U.S. military, if only to keep pace with advances being made by potential adversaries like China and Russia, Ariel Robinson writes for National Defense magazine. While those countries have been pouring funds into research, the U.S. is a bit more hesitant to commit the billions of dollars it would likely take to bring these high-energy weapons through the long, slow, and expensive design and development process.
Spotted at the Pentagon
The Pentagon’s beloved New Balance outlet is following in the footsteps of Best Buy and the lamented fancy chocolate shop, and is shuttering its doors. The good news? Sneakers are now on sale for $30, tweets one reporter with the inside word.
While world leaders got together at the G-7 summit in Germany over the weekend, the outcast Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that it’s not Moscow that has expansionist goals, but the United States. His proof? The Americans have military bases all over the globe, Putin says, while there are only “two Russian bases in other countries.” One is in Tajikistan, which he dismisses as a mere remnant of Soviet times, and the other is in Kyrgyzstan. The residents of eastern Ukraine may have other opinions about that.
According to the Aviationist, Russia has grounded all of its strategic TU-95 bombers after one skidded off the runway and caught fire. One crewmember was killed.
More Islamic State
The BBC published a special report Tuesday featuring short interviews with Mosul residents discussing how the Islamic State took over their lives. The report includes interviews with six Iraqis from different backgrounds recounting what happened in their city and how they reacted.
Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt fired rockets at an airport in the Sinai peninsula used by U.N. peacekeeping troops, Reuters reports.
Political relations between Washington and Jerusalem may be icy, but U.S. and Israeli military brass seem to share a “core Israeli fear that sanctions relief for Iran following a nuclear agreement would allow Tehran to give more money to its military and its guerrilla proxies,” Reuters tells us.
It looks like a French TV news station, TV5 Monde, was attacked by Russian-based hackers, the BBC reports. The same group, called APT28, has also been identified as the entity behind previous attacks on the U.S. defense industry, Eastern European governments, and NATO.
It was a quiet, but hugely important, moment Tuesday for the Department of Defense when Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the department had updated its equal opportunity policy to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members would be protected from discrimination and harassment. This means that the military — like the rest of the federal government – now has added sexual orientation to race, religion, color, sex, age, and national origin in its discrimination policy.
Speaking during a DoD Pride Month Ceremony at the Pentagon, Carter said that “we must start from a position of inclusivity, not exclusivity. Anything less is not just plain wrong; it’s bad defense policy, and puts our future strength at risk.”