The Cable

Situation Report: More armor to Europe; spies in the sky (and in France); Iranian and Russian threats rattle; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Parking passes. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been making a big splash during his visit to Germany and eastern Europe this week, and he’s already announced two upcoming shipments of U.S. military equipment to bolster allies there even before he sits down at the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Parking passes. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been making a big splash during his visit to Germany and eastern Europe this week, and he’s already announced two upcoming shipments of U.S. military equipment to bolster allies there even before he sits down at the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

A day after pledging to send Special Operations forces, surveillance assets, and other equipment to backstop a new NATO rapid reaction force, Carter said during a visit to Tallinn, Estonia, that an additional 250 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers — along with 900 other vehicles – would be prepositioned in several countries on Russia’s western border.

While Carter and U.S. officials say the equipment is only meant to be parked in the region for U.S. troops to use during exercises, the deployment of sophisticated American armored assets to former Soviet satellites Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania is also a signal to Moscow that the U.S. Army is in the neighborhood to stay.

There are no new American troops being sent to Europe, but some of the 65,000 U.S. forces already stationed in western Europe will head east on a regular basis to fall in on the gear during the increasing number of training sessions. The moves add to other recent additions to the U.S. arsenal in Europe that include the February deployment of 12 A-10 fighters to Germany, and 12 F-15Es sent in March to take part in military exercises in the Baltics.

The night’s watch. While some U.S. forces are looking east, an increasing number of intel analysts are looking skyward. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told a defense conference in Washington on Tuesday that the Pentagon and the intel community are collaborating on a new operations center that will collect and analyze information coming in from all U.S. government space assets.

The center should be up and running in six months, and will allow civilian and military analysts to study “patterns of life” in key hotspots in near real time, Work said. He’s been talking about space quite a bit in recent months, even taking the unusual step of delivering a classified speech at an April space symposium promising that the U.S. would retain dominance over space in the coming decades, despite increasing threats from Russia and China. Check out the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Todd Harrison for more on “The Surprising Ways The U.S. Would Fight A War In Space,” from earlier this month.

In an interesting note, Work also said that Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James would soon add the title of “principal space advisor” to her nameplate, where she’ll give Carter “independent advice separate from the consensus process of the department,” despite the fact that she is the civilian head of the Air Force.

Wiki’d!

In another potential black eye for the U.S. government’s intel agencies, WikiLeaks released documents Tuesday it says show the NSA intercepted the communications of three French presidents between 2006 and 2012. In response, Paris dispatched officials to Washington for talks, while President François Hollande summoned the U.S. ambassador for an explanation. FP’s Elias Groll calls the report “fairly vague,” since the list released by the group includes only one relevant telephone number, “and the conclusion based on the report would seem to imply that three successive French presidents used the same cell phone number.”

The Situation report will not deploy any new assets to border regions any time soon, but it will accept words of wisdom, tips, ideas, think tank reports and interesting articles from around the globe. Send them along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Iraq

Are Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq sharing space with U.S. forces at the al-Taqqadum military base near Ramadi? Depends on which report you read. In fact, it depends on which Bloomberg report you read.

Here’s Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake on Monday. They report the Shiite fighters were in there and spied on American troops.

Here’s Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio on Tuesday, when the Pentagon said the militiamen are near the camp, but not being allowed inside.

Who’s right? You decide. Here’s how Capaccio clarified it in his own story: “NOTE: A Bloomberg View opinion piece, citing two administration officials who weren’t identified, said Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups were sharing [a] base with U.S. troops.”

On a more serious note, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Doug Lute said Tuesday that the alliance would begin offering training to Iraq in a variety of areas, including national security strategy development, and to bolster weak points like logistics and command and control.

Iran

With just a week to go before the final deadline for Iran and world powers to reach an agreement on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday issued a new set of demands. Like previous instances where Khamenei jumped into the fray with talk of tough “red lines,” the new demands sit far outside the realm of what the West would offer the Islamic Republic in the current negotiations. In a televised speech, Khamenei said economic sanctions imposed on Tehran should be lifted immediately after a deal is signed, and ruled out freezing Iran’s controversial nuclear work for an extended period of time. In an email to FP’s John Hudson, a senior U.S. administration official said that Washington wouldn’t move the goalposts this late in the game.
Syria

FP Mideast editor David Kenner files a meaty story after a recent sit-down with Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim. The rebel fighter said his forces are working to avoid past mistakes by respecting civilians and working with other rebel groups — even as those ties are strained by infighting, competition, and continuing reports over atrocities committed against civilians.

Anonymous intelligence officials pump the breaks on some of the enthusiasm in the wake of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) victories in Syria. In recent weeks, YPG forces backed by U.S. air power have racked up victories at Tal Abyad, located on a strategic Islamic State supply route on the Turkish border, and at Ain Issa, just 30 miles north of the jihadists’ self-proclaimed caliphate capital in Raqqa. But Reuters finds an intelligence source who is a little more cautious than the White House and pointed to the Islamic State’s record of resilience on the battlefield, saying “in the past, [Islamic State] has sought to offset losses with attacks elsewhere.”

Nukes

“Can we have a national conversation about building new nuclear weapons?” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) asked an audience at The Atlantic Council on Tuesday. “That’s something we haven’t been able to even have a conversation about for a while, but I think we’re going to have to.” Thornberry said he’s concerned that nuclear modernization has fallen off the table at a time when the nuke workforce is aging, and the national infrastructure is suffering from years of dwindling investment and attention — all while  Russia is publicly ramping up its nuclear ambitions.

In a related note, NATO members are meeting Wednesday to discuss how to respond to the latest cascade of nuclear threats from Russia. Between new ICBMs, Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, and the ceaseless stream of veiled and not-so-veiled nuclear threats coming from all levels of government, the nuclear issue has been piling up without a formal, comprehensive response from NATO.

Who’s Where When

9:15 a.m. Adm. Michael S. Rogers, Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the NSA, delivers the morning keynote speech at the Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (“geoint” for those who know) conference at the Washington Convention Center.

12:00 p.m. Army Lt. Gen. John Johnson, director, Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, speaks at the Lexington Institute’s defense acquisition reform forum in the Hart Senate Office Building. The three-hour, rapid fire conference also features talks from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Christine Fox, the former acting deputy defense secretary, and the British Embassy’s minister for defense materiel, Steve McCarthy.

Hitting targets

For decades, American firepower stood alone in its ability to accurately reduce targets to smoking piles of rubble. But defense planners in Washington now are growing increasingly uneasy over some of the advances in precision strike they’re seeing from China and Russia, even if those countries are still not quite there.

Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) will drop a report Wednesday that looks at the implications of this coming “salvo competition” between global powers that can not only put munitions on target, but also slap down precision weapons being launched against their own positions. According to a tease sent out by CSBA, the authors advise against the Defense Department simply buying more of the same kinds of missiles and rockets that have worked so well over the past two decades. Instead, they urge the adoption of new “operational concepts, and field a new generation of offensive [weapons] that will maintain its precision strike advantage in future salvo competitions.”

Defense industry

Well, this is unpleasant. The U.S. government is suing BAE Systems, one of its biggest military contractors, for “submitting false or fraudulent cost or pricing data” to the U.S. Army in the course of inking a $1.7 billion deal in 2008 to build more than 10,000 transport vehicles. BAE, which makes the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Paladin mobile howitzer system, and other vehicles, denies the charges.

Tech
The Defense Department’s tech-focused incubator, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) kicked off its DARPABiT conference in New York on Tuesday. The two-day conference, put together by Darpa’s Biological Technologies Office, features scientists and industry leaders presenting on the future of biotechnology and its applications in the defense world. For the laymen among us, the highlight of the conference has been a glimpse at the Warrior Web suit, the agency’s stab at an Iron Man-style exosuit that would allow troops to haul more gear with less effort and reduce the risk of injuries.

Chuck Norris Alert!

Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, fear of tight spaces is claustrophobia, fear of Chuck Norris is called logic.

And as he cuts something of a Chuck Norris profile with sangfroid quotes, an Afghan soldier who killed six Taliban fighters during their attack on the government’s parliament building in Kabul has been lauded as a hero. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani congratulated Sergeant Isa Khan Laghmani, whose popularity has since gone viral with statements like: “I only used one-and-a-half or two rounds of bullets [to kill the attackers], so the government doesn’t think Isa Khan used a lot of bullets.”

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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