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The Cable

Situation Report: Russia first in the minds of Pentagon brass; new general moving up the ranks; Carter to Saudi; Aleppo and Donetsk with the long-form treatment; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Russia, with love? Yet another top U.S. general has named Russia as the top national security threat facing the United States, using almost identical language as several other four-stars in recent weeks to describe the place Moscow holds in the hearts of senior U.S. military leadership. In his confirmation ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Russia, with love? Yet another top U.S. general has named Russia as the top national security threat facing the United States, using almost identical language as several other four-stars in recent weeks to describe the place Moscow holds in the hearts of senior U.S. military leadership.

In his confirmation hearing to be the next chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Russia is “the only country on earth that retains a nuclear capability to destroy the United States, so it’s an existential threat to the United States.” He followed up by saying China, North Korea, the Islamic State, and Iran,“each in their own different way represent security threats to the United States.”

His comments reflect those made recently by the nominees to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, and his vice chair, Gen. Paul Selva, who have also singled out Vladimir Putin’s Russia as the biggest threat to the United States.

In another significant comment, on the contentious issue of American boots on the ground in Iraq, Milley said the use of American forward-deployed joint terminal attack controllers — who call in and direct firepower on enemy positions — “should be seriously considered.” He also said that Washington should consider sending “advisers going forward with [Iraqi] units” with the caveat, “there are lots of issues with the security of our people and the risks associated with that.”

High flyer. Defense Secretary Ash Carter landed in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for a series of meetings with King Salman and his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is defense minister and second-in-line to the throne. The meetings, which are focused on explaining the recent deal with Iran to curb that country’s nuclear program, are taking place in in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Once they wrap up, Carter will jet to Jordan, for more talks with officials there about how to combat the Islamic State.

One to watch. In a significant new promotion, SitRep has learned that the U.S. Army’s Lt. Gen. William Mayville has moved up to become the next Director of the Joint Staff at the Defense Department, replacing Gen. David Goldfein, who recently pinned on a fourth star and moved on to become the vice chief of staff of the Air Force.

A West Point grad and veteran of several tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mayville doesn’t have far to move his belongings, since he’s been serving as the Joint Staff’s director of operations for over a year. This latest promotion is a big one however, since the officer named as Joint Staff director is normally someone who senior leadership has tapped to keep rising through the hierarchy. A short list of recent alumni includes (ret.) Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who held the job just before taking over the war in Afghanistan in 2009, current Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin, Northern Command head Adm. William Gortney, and Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, who is commander of U.S, and U.N. troops in South Korea. Before heading over to the Joint Staff, Mayville commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Afghanistan, and served several tours in Iraq.

Good morning all, and thanks for opening up another exciting email from the Situation Report. We’re always on the lookout for anything noteworthy or ahead of the news cycle to flag, so please pass any items along to or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.


The Defense Department claims that a drone strike it carried out earlier this month killed Muhsin al-Fadhli, the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria plotting to carry out attacks against Western targets. U.S. officials claimed on Tuesday evening that the al-Fadhli was head of what some in government refer to as the Khorasan Group, a handful of al-Qaeda fighters that spun off from the Jabhat al-Nusra jihadist group in Syria. But FP’s Sean Naylor and Lara Jakes report that not all analysts are convinced that the hit will really do much damage to the highly decentralized group, and that it likely already has a capable replacement waiting in the wings.

Vanity Fair has a gripping look inside the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, Syria by Marwan Hisham with illustrations by Molly Crabapple. Hisham returns to Aleppo after a three year absence to find the city split between myriad squabbling rebel factions and regime fighters taking aim at them from sniper’s nests and helicopters carrying barrel bombs..


What is life is like in Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk People’s Republic? The Atlantic‘s Amie Ferris-Rotman goes inside the breakaway pseudo statelet and found that “Russia was everywhere, Ukraine was nowhere, and Donetsk’s clumsy patron manifested itself in ways both mundane and bizarre.”


British authorities have arrested a man from Luton in southern England, charging him with attempting to join the Islamic State in Syria and plotting to carry out an attack against U.S. troops in the U.K. Western authorities are on edge following threats against military facilities. In France, authorities disrupted an alleged plot this month aimed at attacking a French military base along the Mediterranean and the US is still reeling from last week’s attack on a Tennessee Naval recruiting station.


Russia’s new stealth bomber may be in trouble. The National Interest flags comments from Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister saying the ministry is delaying the production of the PAK DA, its planned stealth strategic bomber, past 2023. The delay might be the fault of Western sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which have reportedly disrupted the production of other weapons systems. In the meantime, Russia will produce more upgraded units of its current Tu-160 nuclear bomber.


China is less than pleased with Japan’s latest defense white paper. The review claimed that China is using coercion to get neighboring countries to accept its disputed territorial claims in the waters off the Chinese coast. The report also accuses Beijing of drilling in the contested maritime gas fields. China blasted the report, calling Japanese foreign policy “two-faced” and “detrimental” to “peace and stability.”


The Pentagon acknowledged the crash of a U.S. Army drone in Samawah, Iraq on Tuesday, following the publication on social media of pictures showing the largely intact aircraft. An Army spokesman claimed the drone in question was an unarmed MQ-1 that had encountered “technical complications” during a mission. The Army markings on the drone in the images suggest the drone was like a U.S. Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle, a variant of the iconic Predator drone made by General Atomics.

Musical chairs

Christopher Maier is the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism, coming to the Pentagon from the National Counterterrorism Center where he was senior advisor to the director, Nick Rasmussen.

Aaron Hughes takes over as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy, coming over from his job as vice president, intelligence community support, In-Q-Tel, which is the U.S. intelligence community’s idea incubator and venture capital firm.

Business of defense

While the big news this week was the $9 billion sale of the Sikorski helicopter business to mega defense contractor Lockheed Martin, there’s another part of the deal that hasn’t received nearly the same attention. Lockheed has also announced that it’s seeking a buyer for the company’s $6 billion information technology and services businesses. That potential move is part of a larger trend in the defense industry to spin off government services businesses as government spending flattens out, Reuters’ Mike Stone and Andrea Shalal report.

L-3 Communications,, BAE Systems, Vencore Inc., SRA International. and Novetta Solutions “are among the companies that have been running auctions in recent months to sell either their government services units or themselves,” the dup report, adding, “underpinning these asset sales is a belief that only size can offset a decline in margins caused by the need to compete for fewer and less well paying government contracts.”

Who’s where when

10:00 a.m. The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a discussion on the future of the U.S. Army’s helicopter fleet, featuring Nick Lappos from Black Hawk maker Sikorsky Aircraft, and James Kelly, the Pentagon’s F-35 logistics team lead.

3:30 p.m. The Stimson Center is holding a talk on war costs and the future of defense spending with Stimson’s Matthew Leatherman, Amy Belasco, recently with the Congressional Research Service, and Stimson’s Laicie Heeley.


How do you cut loose when you’re a Russian-backed Ukrainian militia leader with a penchant for beating war prisoners, who famously doesn’t flinch at nearby artillery barrages? You dance like no one’s watching.

A video has emerged that shows infamous pro-Russian militant leader “Givi” doing something we would have to describe as dancing during a recent birthday bash. And once you see it, it can’t be unseen. The video is jarring because the commander — a former rope factory worker before the Russian invasion — has hardly cultivated a reputation as a fun-loving guy. He’s known for doing things like throwing captured Ukrainian soldiers from moving trucks and threatening them with a sword while beating them for the willing, eager cameras of Russian journalists.

Last fall, Givi was one of the key leaders tasked with flushing out Ukrainian soldiers from the Donetsk International Airport in eastern Ukraine. The months of hellish room-to-room and floor-to-floor fighting for the airport terminal would give rise to the national Ukrainian hero-myth of the “cyborgs,” (the name given to the Ukrainian airborne brigade who held out for over six months in the dystopian wreckage of the facility), who were finally chased out by Givi and his troops. While we wait to see that Moscow and their militia allies do next, Givi dances, waiting for the next fight.


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