Situation Report: Jihadist bomb maker remains elusive; Russian military-themed Disneyland; debate over Iranian nuke reporting; moves at the Pentagon; and more
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson There is another. Relying almost exclusively on airstrikes to fight America’s wars may have its limits – and a fair share of critics – but for the jihadists on the receiving end of precision-guided munitions, it’s hard to argue with an outcome of ending up dead. The United States ...
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
There is another. Relying almost exclusively on airstrikes to fight America’s wars may have its limits – and a fair share of critics – but for the jihadists on the receiving end of precision-guided munitions, it’s hard to argue with an outcome of ending up dead. The United States scored two significant victories in the past week after launching airstrikes in Libya and Yemen that purportedly killed two senior al Qaeda leaders, but as FP’s Yochi Dreazen reports, there’s still a major prize out there for U.S. counterterrorism officials, and he may just be the most dangerous of them all.
Ibrahim al-Asiri, a shadowy former Saudi chemist thought to be hiding in Yemen, has been targeted by American airstrikes several times in recent years, but he continues to develop and deploy new, almost undetectable explosives that he has sent on a variety of foiled missions to take down American airliners and cargo planes. While U.S. officials are concerned about Asiri’s twisted creative genius, they’re just as worried about his ability to school a new generation of jihadists in his innovative bomb techniques. And the longer he’s out there, the larger the threat grows.
Countdown. Remarks on Tuesday by Secretary of State John Kerry that the United States would no longer be “fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another” in developing their nuclear program has fueled some sharp criticism from nonproliferation experts. They argue that the U.S. is giving away too much “on a critical point of principle that accommodates Iranian intransigence and weakens the International Atomic Energy Agency,” report FP’s Lara Jakes and Colum Lynch.
Good morning from the good people of the Situation Report, who remain fixated on accounting for what folks in This Town are up to. We’re always happy to hear from you with announcements, tips, and reports, high-level job changes and the like, so shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Try as it might to avoid it, the U.S. Army has been forced by an act of Congress to appoint an outside commission to take a hard look at itself and how it is planning on operating in the future. And on Wednesday, the commission will do so behind closed doors. The eight-member National Commission on the Future of the Army has called a meeting in Washington to hear from the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, as well as several Defense Department agencies, including the Transportation Command and Northern Command.
While the Army really did everything it could to get around appointing the commission — which is taking an especially hard look at the controversial transfer of Apache attack helicopters from the Army National Guard to Big Army — the commissioners aren’t exactly an unsympathetic audience. The panel includes retired four-star Army Gens. Carter Ham (who ran Africa Command from 2011-2013) and Larry Ellis, along with two retired Air Force generals, the recently retired sergeant major of the Army, and several former Defense officials.
On Thursday, the commission will hold a day-long public hearing in northern Virginia where the public will be allowed to speak, which could be interesting. The committee is required to submit a report with recommendations by February 1, 2016, to Congress and President Barack Obama.
At a time when having a steady, experienced hand on the Pentagon’s intelligence apparatus would seem like a priority, the Defense Department has been without an undersecretary of defense for intelligence since late April, when Michael Vickers retired. A source tells SitRep that the vetting process on a replacement is nearly complete, however, and that an announcement should be coming within the next week or two. There are a few names out there that should be at the top of the list, including Marcel Lettre, who is currently occupying the office in an acting capacity, and Vickers’ former top assistant Garry Reid.
One critical policy slot that was just recently filled is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, which was vacated earlier this year by Matt Spence. Andrew Exum, who spent a bit of time at the Boston Consulting Group and was a special advisor for Middle East policy at the Defense Department in 2012-2013, took over the job in May. Readers who’ve been around a while probably recognize his name from the knock-down fights over Washington’s counterinsurgency strategy over the past decade, much of which was hashed out on his biting Abu Muqawama blog. The Arabic-speaking Exum also served as an Army Ranger with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tuesday was the first day behind the State Department briefing room podium for retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, who was ousted from the spokesman’s slot at the Pentagon in February by new Defense Secretary Ash Carter. While Kirby looked sharp in his new civilian suit with a surprisingly hip skinny tie, he didn’t get to say anything of substance. Stepping up to the mic, he immediately handed the proceedings over to his new boss, Secretary of State John Kerry who made a live video appearance from Boston, where he’s recovering from a broken leg. It must have been quite a change from his former boss at the Pentagon — however brief that relationship was — who has stayed as far away from the briefing room as possible.
Who’s Where When
9:00 a.m. Andriy Taranov, deputy head of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the collapsing of Minsk II ceasefire signed in February.
10:00 a.m. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East.
12:30 p.m. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian businessman who was imprisoned by Vladimir Putin’s regime, speaks at the Atlantic Council about Russia’s strategic interest in the West.
2:00 p.m. U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Vic Mercado and Rear Adm. Peter Fanta testify before the HASC’s Seapower and Projection subcommittee on the Navy’s capacity to project power.
The business of defense
Canada is making some interesting moves when it comes to intellectual property rights and foreign military contracts. David Pugliese reports for Defense News on some new rules that stipulate foreign defense companies doing business with the Canadian military “must be willing to turn over intellectual property rights and help domestic firms make sales in international markets.”
As the U.S. Air Force does everything possible to convince Congress to scrap the A-10 fighter plane so beloved by lawmakers’ constituent workforces and ground pounders who need air support, the plane’s maker, Boeing, is trying to help. (While helping itself.) And its answer is to start selling off the old birds to foreign countries who would better appreciate them. It may be a long shot, but the Air Force is ready to unload its 300 aging Warthogs, which it sees as little more than a logistics problem sucking up billions of dollars in maintenance costs and mechanics that it desperately wants to transfer to the F-35 program.
Russian President Vladimir Putin used a visit to a new $360 million military-themed amusement park near Moscow on Tuesday to announce that his country’s armed forces would receive 40 new intercontinental nuclear missiles by the end of this year, FP’s Elias Groll writes.
The announcement comes just months after Putin pledged to add 50 new ballistic missiles to the Russian stockpile, and adds to the growing tensions with the West over increased Russian aggressiveness on NATO’s eastern and northern flanks. The United States is hardly standing idly by in the slow burn of increasing tensions, announcing earlier this week that it was considering stationing hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles in several eastern European countries that could supply up to 5,000 U.S. troops deployed to the region.
An alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arab rebel groups have made some critical gains in northern Syria in recent days – including cutting an important Islamic State supply line from Turkey — and are coming closer to knocking on the door of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s main stronghold in the country. But there are no guarantees that the coalition will last, and there have already been reports of Kurdish fighters clearing Arabs out of some of the conquered territory.
During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power backed up reports that the Syrian regime in Damascus has continued to use chemical weapons against civilians. And Secretary of State John Kerry added on Tuesday said he was “absolutely certain” that the Syrian government had attacked its own people with chlorine bombs.
Until recently, the U.S. Central Command was limited to spending just $404 million of the $1.6 billion that Congress allocated in the 2015 budget to train and equip Iraqi forces. But the command has just been given the nod to increase that amount to $970 million. Even that is contingent on Baghdad and U.S. allies contributing another $648 million to the effort, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio writes.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted down an amendment that would have allowed the Obama administration to send direct aid to Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq. Failing by a 54-45 tally, the proposal would have granted a temporary authorization for President Barack Obama to supply weapons and training directly to the Kurds, as opposed to working through the Shiite-led Baghdad government.
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