The Cable

Situation Report: The American way of war; the American way of defense lobbying; Iraq and Iran cozy up; U.N. waiting for Saudi money; and more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Check back later. Top U.S. military leaders punted any real questions about their strategy in Iraq and Syria down the road during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, in effect telling lawmakers that the Pentagon’s plan is right — except when it isn’t. Defense Secretary ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Check back later. Top U.S. military leaders punted any real questions about their strategy in Iraq and Syria down the road during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, in effect telling lawmakers that the Pentagon’s plan is right — except when it isn’t.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he needs more time before he can assess progress. “I honestly think it’s reasonable for you to ask in weeks,” he said of a status check on the almost year-old train and equip program in Iraq. While the mission to train Iraqi security forces hasn’t gone as planned – partially since Baghdad isn’t sending enough recruits – the recent outreach to Sunni fighters in Anbar province shows some promise, he said, even if it hasn’t really started yet.

But there may be a problem. Defense Department officials have said recently that the Sunni fighters may be subject to the same laborious vetting process currently being used to screen Syrian rebel fighters waiting for U.S. training. If true, that means we’re months away from seeing the Sunni tribesmen working directly with U.S. troops.

This is how we do it. During his own testimony on Wednesday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey did a great job of outlining the resource-heavy American way of war. When asked about placing air controllers with Iraqi and Kurdish forces to help them call in more precise airstrikes, Dempsey said that embedding even one American troop “would require a lot of hidden support.”

This isn’t just about deploying a few air controllers directly into the fight. “It’s about putting a medevac capability, and a combat search-and-rescue, a personnel recovery capability and a [quick reaction force]. So 15 people might require 150,” on the back-end for support.

We’re all friends here, right? While the Defense Department, White House and Congress continue to debate over when, how, and where to assist Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took off for Tehran on Wednesday to talk about Iran’s role in training and funding various Shiite militias to help fight off the Islamic State.

Abadi met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who promised to continue supporting Baghdad as he seized a golden opportunity to take a shot at the United States. The Supreme Leader claimed that Washington’s goal in Iraq — as he said it was in the 2003 invasion — was to “plunder Iraq’s wealth,” according to his official website.

Words mean things. Meanwhile, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, struck the word “quagmire” from prepared testimony to describe the state of the U.S.-led effort against the Islamic State for fear of the political ramifications of the word, Fox News reports.

The Situation Report is keeping on keeping on. Let us know what you think about the whole endeavor, and pass along any tidbits of news, reports, white papers, interesting stories or items of interest you think are worth flagging. Hit us up at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Who’s Where When

10:00 a.m. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey delivers the commencement address at the National Defense University graduation ceremony at Fort McNair, Washington.

The business of defense

Lots of money is on the line in a competition to supply the U.S. Army with high-tech engines for thousands of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters in the coming years – along with even more lucrative maintenance contracts for those engines for decades to come. And at least one of the competitors has already lined up its first squad of lobbyists.

The Advanced Turbine Engine Company – a joint venture between Honeywell International and Pratt & Whitney – has hired Cornerstone Government Affairs lobbyists (and former Hill and Pentagon staffers) Joseph Barton, Michael Higdon, John Keast, John Leggieri and James Richards to pitch Congress on their version of the engine over competitor GE Aviation’s model, according to recently filed registration documents.

The White House’s 2016 budget request seeks $51 million in funding for initial design work for the engine, and a whopping $720 million in development costs by 2023.

A recent analysis of donations from the defense industry to political action committees for the first quarter of 2015 found that Honeywell’s spending sits atop the list of corporate PACs that have contributed the most money to members of Congress. The company spent $553,999 between Jan. 1 and March 31, while fellow defense giants Northrop Grumman spent $416,900, and Boeing $304,500. Raytheon also contributed $238,500.

Yemen

Saudi Arabia has yet to start delivering any of the $274 million in badly needed humanitarian aid it pledged to provide to Yemen back in April, FP’s Lara Jakes writes. The Saudi donation came in response to a U.N. appeal to the international community for help in supplying food, water, and medicine to the estimated 21 million Yemeni who need aid after enduring months of daily bombing runs from the Saudi Air Force. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the fighting with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since March, according to the World Health Organization.

While the debate over the aid rages on, more deadly bombings have taken place in Yemen over the last several days, Al-Jazeera reports. A group claiming to be linked to Islamic State has claimed responsibility. The attacks targeted mosques of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam — the religion of the Houthis– just as the holy month of Ramadan begins.

The CIA didn’t know that it was hitting al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader Nasir ­al-Wuhayshi in a drone strike in Yemen last week. The Washington Post reports the CIA was working off an analysis of patterns of behavior of suspected jihadists rather than hard intel about al-Wuhayshi’s comings and goings.

Afghanistan

If you don’t find the Taliban sufficiently Islamist, one of the few places that will likely welcome your views with open arms is the Islamic State. And that’s what some Afghan jihadists are finding as they belittle the Taliban as mere stooges for the Iranians. A strange and paranoia-filled story from the Daily Beast.

Russia

Russian tycoon-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky told a gathering at the Atlantic Council on Wednesday that Moscow’s “current confrontation with the West is absolutely artificial. The cooling of relations has been inspired by those Russian elites who want to hold on to power.” He says the Kremlin desperately needs an enemy to distract the attention from the official corruption at the top of Moscow’s power structure.

FP’s Reid Standish has a great rundown of a massive arms expo that Moscow has been holding over the past several days, showing off some of the fruits of tens of billions of dollars in new defense spending in recent years. In the market for microwave guns, acrobatic robots, or particle beams? Vladimir Putin knows some guys who can hook you up.

Cyber

Following the recent hack of the personal information of millions of current and former U.S. government workers, it may be cold comfort to find out that Canada, too, is struggling with a series of cyber intrusions. On Wednesday, government websites “went dark” for several hours, the BBC reports. The Anonymous hacker collective has claimed responsibility, saying the attack comes in response to Canada’s recent passage of a new anti-terror bill.

Gaza

The ruling Hamas party denies that the Islamic State is active in the Gaza Strip, even as it fights off small groups of jihadists who at least claim allegiance to the radical group. Hamas is also dealing with radical elements within its own ranks that want a return to the shooting war with Israel. Gregg Carlstrom reports for FP from Gaza.

Think tanked

The Council on Foreign Relations has come out with a timely new report by Daniel P. Serwer, “Libya’s Escalating Civil War,” pointing out that if not for the Islamic State’s rampage through Iraq and Syria, Washington would be much more concerned about the prospect of Libya becoming a breeding ground for extremist Islamist violence.

Finally…

This one goes out to all of our Marine Corps friends out there. Last month, a drunken Marine apparently wandered into an airplane hangar at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, and set off an alarm that filled the building with thick fire suppression foam. The unidentified Marine has since been arrested, and no real damage has been reported to the aircraft in the hangar. The Marine’s career, such as it is, probably can’t say the same.

 

 

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