Situation Report: Iran talks drag on; new Marine Corps boss coming; changes for U.S. ops in Africa; updates from Saudi, Syria; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Iran update: World powers and Iranian negotiators continue to hash it out in Vienna, trying to hammer out a deal over Tehran’s nuke program by July 7. Reports Thursday morning have Secretary of State John Kerry huddling with his advisers before a series of meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Iran update: World powers and Iranian negotiators continue to hash it out in Vienna, trying to hammer out a deal over Tehran’s nuke program by July 7. Reports Thursday morning have Secretary of State John Kerry huddling with his advisers before a series of meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later in the day, but British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters that “I don’t think we’re at any kind of breakthrough moment yet.”
One of the remaining sticking points in the negotiations, FP’s Colum Lynch reports, is the sophisticated, worldwide Iranian nuclear technology smuggling apparatus that is still very much in place. “World powers are grappling with how to monitor Iran’s nuclear energy system — and give the Islamic Republic legal channels to purchase raw materials for its upkeep — without letting Tehran divert equipment to a secret weapons program,” he writes.
The new boss. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the nomination of Lt. Gen. Robert Neller to be the next Marine Corps commandant, replacing Gen. Joe Dunford, who has been tabbed as the next Joint Chiefs chairman when Army Gen. Martin Dempsey steps down later this year.
Neller has bounced around from operational deployments to time spent in the Pentagon over the past several years, most notably having served as deputy commander of Marine forces in Iraq’s Anbar province during some of the hardest fighting a decade ago — and where hundreds of U.S. troops are deployed again to train Iraqi security forces.
Good timing. Neller’s ascension comes just as the Marine Corps leadership structure is going through some big changes. Currently, he’s head of the Marine Corps Forces Command and Marine Corps Forces Europe, which is a big dual hat to wear — especially since he’s based in Norfolk, Va., and the two jobs force him to focus not only on training and equipping Marines for global ops, but also running the show in Europe.
SitRep has learned that whoever replaces Neller at the Corps’ forces command won’t have to worry about the Europe piece. Later this month, the service is expected to announce that the convoluted command structure it has been maintaining in Europe and Africa — with one general running European operations and another running the show in Africa — will change in a pretty significant way.
As it stands now, Neller oversees Europe from Norfolk, while Maj. Gen. William Beydler commands Marines in Africa from Camp Lejeune, N.C. But the Corps is revamping that, and will place a single two-star general based out of Stuttgart, Germany, (home of Africom) to command Marines in both Europe and Africa.
Pushing papers. There wasn’t much fanfare over the new national military strategy document dropped by the Defense Department on Wednesday, but to be fair, there probably wasn’t supposed to be. Emailed out about an hour before Carter and Dempsey held a press briefing at the Pentagon, the 24-page document — which boasts a surprisingly bold purple cover — doesn’t contain any funding requests, make changes to doctrine, move troops around the globe, or aspire to be much more than to provide a very broad sense of how the Joint Staff sees the current state of play in the world. Still, it’s a useful paper to flip through for a sense of where the Pentagon’s head is.
The document, approved by Dempsey, updates the last strategy that then-chairman Adm. Mike Mullen released in 2011. If you have the time, however, we really suggest reading the two side-by-side for a sense of how much has changed in the past four years.
As FP’s Paul McLeary points out, talk in 2011 about partnering with Russia has been replaced by grim warnings over a “low but growing” risk of war with another major power, and complaints over Russia’s penchant for conducting foreign policy with T-72 tanks and BUK missiles. The security risks posed by North Korea and Iran remain, but added to the list are the Islamic State and an almost resigned attitude over Washington’s inability to predict threats, given the “unpredictable” nature of non-state actors.
SitRep wishes everyone out there a safe and happy 4th of July weekend, full of burgers, dogs (or, ahem, just as delicious vegan and gluten-free substitutes), fireworks (where legal), and other responsible ways of celebrating the freedom to read morning newsletters. We’re off duty on Friday but will be back at it Monday, and as always, want to hear what you have to say. Send freedom along to email@example.com, or on Twitter : @paulmcleary.
As we head into the long weekend, however, we’re reminded again of the long reach of international terrorism. Police officials across the country are on heightened alert this weekend after the Department of Homeland Security warned that the Islamic State has called for attacks in the U.S. over the holiday, and authorities assume there are some lone wolf supporters of the group out there.
On the 25-year anniversary of its founding, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group announced that it is returning to Africa, its original area of operations. The demands of the past 14 years saw 3rd Group personnel increasingly deployed to the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan. But with U.S. involvement in the war there winding down, the unit is returning to focus on northern and western Africa. The move will also allow the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, which has taken on more responsibilities in Africa in 3rd Group’s absence, to refocus more on its traditional area of operations in Europe.
The Saudi military reported the death of one of its soldiers in a missile strike along the southern border with Yemen. The Saudis’ account offered few specifics on the incident, but Houthi rebels who’ve been fighting a Saudi-led military campaign since they seized control of Yemen’s government released a video earlier this week showing the launch of a SCUD-B ballistic missile.
As chatter heats up about a possible Turkish ground campaign in Syria to set up a buffer zone, Syria’s Kurds are publicly pushing back against the idea. The Democratic Union Party released a statement saying it has no intention of establishing a state, as Turkey has feared, and that a buffer zone would only complicate the already tangled politics of the conflict in Syria. The party also said its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units, which have been on an American-assisted roll against Islamic State as of late, “are ready to repel any aggression by any party.”
Egypt launched a major campaign against jihadists in Sinai who are affiliated with the Islamic State, following the assassination of a prosecutor in Cairo and a series of complex attacks in the province this week. Egypt has faced a jihadist threat in Sinai province, with a brewing insurgency, since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the political chaos that followed in the wake of his departure. But the skill and ferocity of this week’s attacks, which included assaults on military checkpoints and police stations, has shocked Egypt and led to suspicions that the Islamic State is providing more than just ideological inspiration to Egypt’s jihadists.
The San Diego Union Tribune has a long and gut wrenching investigation into the crash on an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor in October, which led to the first American casualty from Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State. The investigation found that pilots accidentally started the aircraft in maintenance mode as it took off from the USS Makin Island in the Persian Gulf. The mission mode selection deprived the Osprey of critical engine power, leading it to plunge into the water as it left the deck. Crew Chief Cpl. Jordan Spears was lost at sea after his vest failed to inflate upon bailing out of the aircraft. The commander of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit cited both the aircraft’s crew for failing to adhere to checklists and the Osprey’s design, which allowed the aircraft to take off without sufficient engine power and or warning to a crew.
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