The Cable

Situation Report: No Iran deal yet; Obama to the Pentagon; U.S. drones over Somalia; Iraq accidentally bombs Baghdad; Russian military deals; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley On and on and on. The talks in Vienna grind on for another day between the P5+1 group and Iran on curbing that country’s nuclear program, with no big breakthroughs to report. While the two sides continue to hash out the details of possible sanctions relief and the rules ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

On and on and on. The talks in Vienna grind on for another day between the P5+1 group and Iran on curbing that country’s nuclear program, with no big breakthroughs to report. While the two sides continue to hash out the details of possible sanctions relief and the rules for international inspectors, the White House and State Department have been in full pitch mode at home in a bid to shore up support with a skeptical public. But the aggressive push has ruffled feathers up on Capitol Hill and drawn the ire of analysts who feel that they’ve been unfairly tarred as critics, FP’s Dan De Luce reports.

If negotiators manage to hammer out a deal by July 7, Congress will then have 30 days to review the agreement, but even if the Republican majority votes against the accord, President Barack Obama can drop a veto on it. “Although a short-term political victory seems assured,” De Luce writes, “even supporters of a nuclear agreement worry that the absence of any bipartisan consensus could create risks down the road — particularly if a Republican president is elected to succeed Obama in 2016.”

Another chapter in the drone war.  FP‘s own Ty McCormick scores an exclusive on a secret U.S. drone base in Somalia. Somali officials confirmed that the United States flies drones out of an airport in Kismayo, part of a larger special operations footprint in the country designed to take on the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab terrorist group. The article also reveals that the U.S. has likely been working with a shadowy private military contractor to train up a battalion of Somali special operations troops in what officials call “the most significant” such effort thus far.

Welcome! It’s a big day at the Pentagon on Monday. President Obama is scheduled to make a rare visit to huddle with military and civilian leaders on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and will brief the press late in the afternoon from the building once those talks wrap up. The visit comes just a day before Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before a likely testy Senate Armed Services Committee on progress in the fight.

The security staff at the Pentagon will be pulling double duty as French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will also be in the building at the same time to kick off a busy day that includes meeting with Carter in the morning, followed by a rare joint press conference at 11 a.m. before swinging by the White House to meet with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. He’ll top off the day with a talk at the German Marshall Fund on “the future of French-American cooperation on defense and security,” late in the afternoon.

This is not the target you’re looking for.A bomb accidentally released from an Iraqi Air Force fighter plane fell on a residential area in Baghdad on Monday, killing seven, the Iraqi government has confirmed. The Iraqi Su-25 fighter plane, which is said to be the bird involved in the incident, has had an interesting history. Iraq took delivery of three of the aircraft from Iran last year, with Iraqi officials at the time explaining that the planes were among those Baghdad flew to Iran during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. They went into action against the Islamic State as soon as they got back to Iraqi airspace, however, with reports circulating that they were being flown by Iranian pilots, at least initially.

Its a new week here at the Situation Report, and we’re ready for nuke deals, French visits, Congressional testimony and whatever else the week brings. Thanks for clicking through, and as always, pass on any tips, reports, stories, and news, we’re all ears over at  paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Iraq

Who said that the U.S. military trainers and advisers in Iraq haven’t been doing much to truly transform the Iraqi military? The Baghdad government has ripped a page right out of the Pentagon’s playbook by standing up a Military Media Unit to manage the press. The new team will not only push press releases from the Minister of Defense and Interior Minister, but also — significantly — the Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units.

Sunni leaders in Anbar province claim that Iraqi forces killed a number civilians in two separate incidents over the weekend. In one incident, an Iraqi airstrike in Islamic State-controlled Ramadi reportedly killed dozens of civilians. And in Fallujah, witnesses say that dozens of civilians were killed in an Iraqi artillery barrage. The Iraqi government denies the reports and media outlets haven’t been able to independently confirm the claims.

According to the Iranian news agency Tasnim, the spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan said over the weekend that Iraqi warplanes bombed an Islamic State car bomb factory near Kirkuk over the weekend, destroying 100 vehicles.

Europe

We all know that the U.S. Army has been pretty active in eastern Europe over the past year or so, spreading out in a series of small, but important, training exercises across the Baltics and elsewhere in a show of American presence. Well, the Marine Corps isn’t one to let a challenge go to waste, and it’s sending four tanks, a company of grunts, a few howitzers, and armored vehicles to Bulgaria to train with local troops. “This measure further emphasizes the point we’ve stated all along,” Marine Capt. Richard Ulsh of Marine Forces Europe & Africa emailed FP, “which is that we will face security crises together, but now we will do it with tanks and artillery.”

Asia

For the first time, Japanese troops are participating in the biennial U.S.-Australia “Talisman Sabre” exercise. Just 40 troops from Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force will be participating in the three-week exercise featuring 30,000 personnel from the United States and Australia. Nonetheless, the exercise is a sign of the increasing military coordination between Australia and Japan in recent years, with an eye towards showing China that its neighbors pack some military punch, as well. For its part, China seems none too pleased with the exercises. Over the weekend, two senior People’s Liberation Army generals dropped a lengthy essay in the South China Morning Post saying China needs to “learn lessons” from its war with Japan (in the 1940s) and beef up its naval forces.

Russian military deals

The head of Russia’s state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation says that Moscow is now in the market for designs for two new classes of submarines, which include an “underwater interceptor” and an “aircraft carrier killer.” The subs are part of a $350 billion push to modernize Russia’s military forces by 2020. The interceptor submarine design is intended to protect Russia’s ballistic missile submarines while the carrier killer, true to its name, would be used for “defeating coastal and surface targets,” particularly aircraft carriers.

Russia may be isolated, but it isn’t without friends. It looks like Armenia has been granted a $200 million loan from Moscow to purchase weapons from Russian manufacturers. While not exactly a windfall for the Russian defense industry — the deal is spread over 13 years — it comes on the heels of a similar $1 billion pact signed with Azerbaijan in 2013.

The Iraqi Army is also a customer. Baghdad took delivery of four more Russian military helicopters on July 2, thought to be Mi-28NE Night Hunters. It is thought that Baghdad has signed agreements for about 40 Russian-produced helicopters in recent years, including both the Night Hunters as well as Mi-35 attack choppers, with the first deliveries having taken place last last year.

Syria

American airstrikes pounded targets in Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, in what a Pentagon spokesman called the “largest deliberate engagements” in Syria so far. Reports of a handful of civilian deaths have come from both Islamic State and activist groups in the city, but news outlets have yet to be able to independently verify the accounts.

Troops from Hezbollah and the Syrian military have teamed up for an offensive along the Lebanese-Syrian border to preserve the terror group’s lines of communication with the Assad regime. Hezbollah has reportedly lost over a dozen personnel trying to clear out Zabadani, a border town controlled by the al-Qaeda-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra.

Islamic State

One of the best sources of intelligence about how the Islamic State operates is the widow of a senior leader in the group, currently being held in U.S. custody. The Daily Beasts Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef report that Umm Sayyaf, the wife of Islamic State financier Abu Sayyaf, who was killed in a Delta Force raid back in May, is spilling the beans on Islamic State operations and personnel. While Sayyaf held no formal role in the group and didn’t command forces, she acted as a ‘principal adviser’ for her husband and controlled Islamic State’s networks of female personnel.

The United States and Europe aren’t the only countries worried about the growth of Islamic State. The group is on the agenda for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Ulfa, Russia. The leaders, alongside officials from Central Asia, will discuss the threat Islamic State poses to the region and particularly Afghanistan, where China has significant commercial investments.

Nigeria

A suicide bomber killed five worshippers in a Nigerian church in a suspected attack by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. The attack comes on the heels of a string of attacks by the group this week targeting that have claimed the lives of over 200 people.

Hacked!

The Hacking Team, a controversial Italian surveillance company that has been said to work  selling spyware to various governments including Ethiopia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, has apparently been hit with a pretty serious hack. On Monday morning, company staffer Christian Pozzi pushed back against the authenticity of the whopping 400 gigabyte torrent file purporting to contain company data, claiming that it contained malware. Documents released online Sunday night have also tied the company to government agencies in Egypt, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and Sudan, Russia, and the United States.

 

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

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