The Cable

Situation Report: Top U.S. defense leaders crisscrossing Mideast; no big weapons deals expected; Lockheed shopping for chopper maker; friendly fire in Afghanistan; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley War plans. There’s a new plan for kicking the Islamic State out of Iraq. It may not necessarily be bold, but Iraqi and coalition officials insist that it’ll be effective. FPs Dan De Luce — who spent his weekend traveling with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

War plans. There’s a new plan for kicking the Islamic State out of Iraq. It may not necessarily be bold, but Iraqi and coalition officials insist that it’ll be effective. FPs Dan De Luce — who spent his weekend traveling with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey as he flew to Baghdad and Kabul — has the details.

In a series of interviews with Dempsey and U.S. military officials on the trip, De Luce is able to piece together a bit of the internal debate at the Pentagon and within the Iraqi military about how to prioritize the fight against the Islamic State. Dempsey said that he brought up the subject of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq and allowing them to “go farther forward,” but the idea was rejected. The Iraqis, too, have been debating whether or not to try and take back the city of Fallujah before Ramadi, finally settling on a push for Ramadi, while Shiite militias encircle and isolate Fallujah. The Ramadi offensive has been slow in getting started, however, with government forces only flicking at the edges of the city since the start of the fight on July 13.

Importantly, Dempsey — who is on what is expected to be his last major trip to the two countries that will in large part come to define his legacy — also expressed some frustration with how the Shiite-led government of Haider al-Abadi has integrated Sunni tribal forces into the plan, saying that, “I’ve been disappointed at the pace of some of the necessary legislative initiatives, some of the decision making, some of the leadership changes, some of the disagreement in the Iraqi political structure.”

Tag team military diplomacy. While Dempsey spent the weekend with allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Israel, on the first leg of a trip that’ll take him to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The trip isn’t expected to result in any new arms deals — some had speculated Carter might try to sooth frayed nerves over the nuclear deal with Iran by offering weapons packages — but it’s an important one in taking stock of where various allies are in accepting the deal.

But there has hardly been a slowdown in the arms business in the region. In May, Washington announced weapons sales to Saudi and Israel for $1.9 billion each. Israel will receive thousands of new missiles and powerful penetrator bombs that can reach facilities deep underground, while Saudi is buying helicopters and rockets.

Top talks. Washington and Jerusalem don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the Iran pact, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having made a cottage industry out of trashing the accord. “I’m not going to change anybody’s mind in Israel,” Carter told reporters while en route to Jerusalem. “We can agree to disagree.”

Carter will travel to northern Israel with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Monday to tour military bases along the border with Lebanon before sitting down with Netanyahu on Tuesday. He’ll then head for Saudi Arabia and Jordan to talk about the Iran agreement and the fight against Islamic State.

Backup on the way. After Dempsey and Carter return home, Secretary of State John Kerry will hop on yet another airplane and jet to the region early next month to meet with members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. And those meetings, in turn, are expected to help set the table for meetings that President Barack Obama is expected to hold with Middle East leaders — including Netanyahu — in September at the U.N. General Assembly.

Big votes. FPs Colum Lynch reports that on Monday, the U.N. Security Council is “virtually certain to unanimously pass a new resolution codifying key elements of Tehran’s nuclear pact with Washington and other key powers that formally ends Iran’s standing as a serial violator of the world body’s edicts,” meaning that Tehran “will no longer have to wear the label of an international scofflaw.”

Hello from the crew manning the Situation Report for another busy week. We’ve got our goggles on, but don’t hesitate to pass on anything that you think may fly under our radar. Pass it along at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Business of defense

Defense giant Lockheed Martin is about to get even bigger. Reuters scoops that Lockheed will buy United Tech’s Sikorsky for over $8 billion. The deal will help Lockheed get a bigger foothold in rotorcraft, including Sikorsky’s Black Hawk helicopter line. While the Defense Department can try to block the move, executives Reuters spoke through said they expect the deal to sail through.

Chattanooga fallout

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has ordered Marine Corps recruiters to stop wearing their military uniforms, while also closing down all offices within 40 miles of the facilities in Chattanooga. In a related move, governors in at least a half-dozen states have now ordered National Guardsmen to be armed after an attack on two military facilities in Tennessee on Friday that left four Marines, and one sailor, dead. Going a step further, Florida Gov. Rick Scotton Saturday instructed recruiters in the state to immediately relocate to armories.

Libya

Libyan planes have attacked two ships, sinking one and damaging another, according to military spokesmen for the government in eastern Libya. A government spokesman claimed the ships were carrying personnel and equipment for “terrorism in the eastern region,” but it is still unclear what the planes targeted and why. Libya has been plagued by civil conflict and rival claims to governance after the ouster of its dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Oil shipping companies have complained in the past about Libyan warplanes bombing their ships off the country’s coast.

MANPADS

How far have the thousands of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) squirreled away in Libya’s arsenals spread? Britain has told its government ministers that it is “too late” to control the proliferation of the shoulder-fired surface to air missile, according to the UK’s Sunday Times. Instead, the Royal Air Force is sending “counter Manpads teams” to foreign airports to train local authorities in how to thwart MANPADS attacks against civilian aircraft.

Not all attempts at stopping proliferation are necessarily doomed, though. Defense Department documents recently obtained by Small Arms Survey’s Matt Schroeder show that U.S. MANPADS programs in Iraq between 2003-2004 yielded hundreds of the weapons — significantly more than those recovered through raids and seizures.

Afghanistan

On Monday morning, reports started to trickle out of Afghanistan that American helicopters had opened fire on an Afghan Army outpost in the eastern province of Logar, killing at least seven Afghan soldiers and wounding five others. In March of last year, another American airstrike in Logar mistakenly killed five Afghan soldiers. Afghan officials say that they’re having a hard time reaching the site due to ongoing fighting with Taliban forces.

The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, says that  the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan could delay president Obama’s plans to withdraw the 9,800 U.S. troops there by the end of 2016.

Asia

U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Scott Swift took a very public spin in a spy plane flying over the South China Sea in a move that seems sure to annoy China. Adm. Swift flew for seven hours over the waters where China has lodged a number of disputed territorial claims, flying in one of the Navy’s new P-8A Poseidon surveillance planes. China has protested the surveillance flights before, along with the presence of other U.S. military assets in the region, but the Poseidon excursion seems designed to signal to the Chinese that the U.S. Navy doesn’t plan to stop its surveillance flights anytime soon.

Finland

In yet another sign of the growing unease felt by Russia’s neighbors, Finland will deploy quick reaction units to its border with Russia. The rapid reaction units are intended to act as a kind of tripwire in the event of an invasion. The move comes as Finnish politicians are pressing for an increase in the country’s defense budget following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent provocative moves towards its neighbors in the Baltics and Scandinavia.

Colombia

The business of drug smuggling in Colombia is getting more high-tech as drug cartels are building their own mini navy. The Colombian navy recently discovered smugglers building unmanned submarines that haul smaller narcotic payloads but carry less risk for the illicit shippers and less evidence for authorities to trace back.

New war

The Army’s elite Asymmetric Warfare Group, a small unit of troops and contractors dedicated to developing outside-the-box approaches to fighting America’s adversaries, is setting its sights on the Islamic State. The Army originally tasked the Fort Meade-based unit with developing defenses against improvised explosive devices. Now the group is trying to understand how the Islamic State fights, flying members to Iraq to speak with U.S.-trained Iraqi troops and develop innovative methods of countering the jihadist group.

Revolving door

The Project On Government Oversight is coming out with a new report on Monday looking at a program being run by the National Association for Corporate Directors (NACD) designed to smooth the path for retiring U.S. military officers into the top ranks of the defense and private industries. The group’s “From Battlefield to the Boardroom” program invites executives of top defense companies to participate in a series of meetings with recently retired officers. The steering committee of the program includes a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and a retired Marine Corps commandant.

 

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