The Cable

Situation Report: Carter in Baghdad surprise; new threat assessment from FBI; militias run to recruitment centers; Aspen Conference kicks off; Navy ship in distress; downed Russian drone; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Wheels down in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Ash Carter Tweeted out a little video early Thursday morning upon landing in Baghdad on an unannounced leg of his three-day swing through the Middle East. Carter has already met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, the Saudi leadership in Jeddah, and Jordanian civilian ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Wheels down in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Ash Carter Tweeted out a little video early Thursday morning upon landing in Baghdad on an unannounced leg of his three-day swing through the Middle East. Carter has already met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, the Saudi leadership in Jeddah, and Jordanian civilian and military brass in Amman. He’ll meet with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, along with some Sunnis who Washington and Baghdad are trying to bring into the anti-Islamic State fold. The Baghdad airport has been getting some extra traffic lately, as outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey visited Baghdad just last weekend to discuss the fight against the jihadist group and the upcoming fight for the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

Plays well with others. In his meeting with the Saudis, Carter heard a much different tune on the Iranian nuclear deal than what’s been coming out of Riyadh so far, saying the Saudi officials offered praise for the agreement. The Saudis haven’t changed their dim view of the deal and still belief it will strengthen Iran, but King Salman reportedly doesn’t want to go out of his way to publicly aggravate the United States.

On the home front. While the Saudis may be working to keep their relationship with Washington on an even keel, Congress isn’t as concerned about keeping President Barack Obama happy. FP’s John Hudson surveys the landscape on the Hill and runs down the various options facing Republicans and Democrats before the September vote on the nuclear deal forged with Iran earlier this month.

Nothing’s Shocking. In the seemingly endless ranking of threats to American citizens that has been going on in U.S. national security circles these days, we have a new entrant: the Islamic State is now a bigger threat to the safety of Americans at home than al Qaeda, says FBI director James Comey.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday evening, (see below for Thursday’s lineup of speakers), the FBI chief is competing in the threat space with a host of Pentagon generals who have all confidently proclaimed that Russia is the biggest national security threat facing the nation. But to be fair, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The generals are referring in large part to Moscow’s nuclear capabilities, which are still very potent, while Comey’s threat picture is smaller, focusing on terrorist attacks on small groups of Americans. Comey said that it’s way too soon to determine how Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the gunman who killed four Marines and a sailor at a recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tn. last week, became radicalized.

Blowback. The horrific attacks by Abdulazeez have drawn a reaction that no one could have predicted: armed citizen militias normally suspicious of big government have donned their best camo and dusted off their AR-15 rifles, setting up shop in front of recruiting centers across the country while proclaiming themselves the self-appointed guards of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines inside the offices.

On Tuesday, the activist group Oath Keepers called out its members, demanding a citizen guard force take action. The group’s President, Stewart Rhodes, said that it is “absolutely insane” that recruiters aren’t armed, proclaiming that “they’d be better off if they were walking down the streets of Baghdad, because at least in Baghdad, they could move. Here, they’re stationary.”

Locked and loaded. One of the most active groups is the “3 Percent” movement, a loosely connected network of small, right-wing militias across the country who are turning out in big numbers. In Boise, Idaho, member Chris McIntire told a local news station, “we’re just citizens using our responsibilities and using our Second Amendment to protect our men and women.”

Another member of the 3 Percent, Clint Janney, stood in front of a recruiting center in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday wearing a 9mm handgun. “What the government won’t do, we will do,” he said. “We’re here to serve and protect.”

All for one? Not everyone shares their enthusiasm, however. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command told its recruiters on Monday to call local the police if armed civilians showed up outside their offices. Army spokesman Lt. Col Joe Buccino tells SitRep that the “security of these sites is the responsibility of the Army and law enforcement officials,” and that “armed citizens unaffiliated with the police may, in fact, complicate or compromise security.”

“We greatly appreciate” the support, Kelli Bland, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, emails SitRep. “But we are concerned that having armed civilians outside our recruiting centers could cause young Americans interested in joining the Army to decide not to visit our centers.”

While the Army is issuing guidance to its recruiters, the Defense Department as a whole is taking a slower approach. “We’re aware this is occurring,” Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said on Wednesday, treating the issue carefully. But he said that there is no official word from the department about how to handle the very odd situation. He added that the U.S. military does not think that all service members should be armed, since the costs involved and the extra training would be a huge drain on the Defense Department.

The Situation Report wishes you another good morning, and as usual we’re thankful that you’re along for the ride. We’re always on the lookout for anything noteworthy or ahead of the news cycle to flag, so please pass any items along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Ukraine

Another drone down. A Russian drone appears to have crashed in the Ukraine, according to pictures and a video released on social media on Wednesday. The wreckage seen on social media closely resembles an Israeli UAV known as the Bird Eye 400, which Russia produced locally under the name Zastava as part of a larger UAV contract with Israel. The downed Zastava is just one of a number of Russian drone models which have either crashed or been shot down by Ukrainian troops since the conflict started.

The Obama administration is getting ready to send counter-battery radar systems to Ukraine to strengthen its defense against Russian artillery. The AN/TPQ-36 and 37 Firefinder radar systems can pinpoint the origin of incoming artillery shells, allowing Ukrainian troops to direct return fire more accurately. The Joint Chiefs and Defense Secretary Ash Carter reportedly support sending the radar systems to Ukraine but the Obama administration is still opposed to sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.

U.S. Navy

USNI NewsSam LaGrone has the scoop — and some stunning pictures — on the explosion of a missile on board the USS The Sullivans late last week. The guided missile destroyer was in the midst of an exercise off the coast of Virginia when a Standard Missile-2 exploded on board, starting a fire. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident. The Navy says it plans to investigate the cause of the explosion.

Syria

Financial TimesErika Solomon has a fascinating piece looking at the rise of Iranian militias as corruption has seeped into Syria’s attempts to raise its own forces. Members and sponsors of Syria’s National Defense Forces are growing increasingly crooked, selling equipment on the black market, renting out their services as de facto private security and looting local property. In order to build a more credible and effective fighting force, Iran is sponsoring the growth of a number of militias in the country and in the process gaining greater control and influence in the country.

Hungary

The U.S. Army is continuing its pivot to eastern Europe with a thrust into Hungary this fall, Col. John Meyer, commander, 2nd Cavalry Regiment told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. In September, the unit will drive its Stryker infantry carriers from their home base in Germany through the Czech Republic and into Hungary for a series of exercises with the Hungarian Army in an exercise dubbed “Brave Warrior.” Meanwhile, the Hungarian media have been buzzing with unconfirmed reports that U.S. Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles will be stationed in Hungary early next year, in another purported move by Washington to shore up new allies against a possible Russian incursion.

Turkey

Monday’s apparent Islamic State-linked suicide bombing against Kurdish activists in the Turkish city of Suruc is putting pressure on Turkey’s Syria policy. Kurds angry at the Turkish government’s allegedly lax attitude towards the presence and activities of Islamic State in the country are protesting across the country and on Wednesday the Kurdistan Workers Party claimed responsibility for the murder of two Turkish policemen in retaliation.

The Islamic State is also taking a harsher tone with Turkey. The latest issue of its Turkish-language PDF magazine Konstantiniyye takes aim at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accusing him of trying to “confront the Islamic State by displaying erratic behavior.”

Who’s Where When

9:30 a.m. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert Neller appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his nomination hearing to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Aspen Security Forum kicked off on Wednesday in bucolic Aspen Colorado, and there’s a full slate of national security luminaries speaking through Saturday evening. We have Thursday’s lineup, and have translated all times into EST:

11:00 a.m. Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security speaks about “Homeland Security in the Age of ISIL.”

1:00 p.m. A panel mulling over “Special Operators and Intelligence Analysts: the 21st Century’s Lead Warriors,” featuring Kathleen Hicks, Director, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michael Lumpkin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, and Michael Vickers, former Under

Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

2:45 p.m. John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Caroline Krass, General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency speak on “The Role of Law and Law Enforcement in Securing the Nation,” moderated by Ken Dilanian, Intelligence Writer, for the AP.

3:45 p.m. John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL; Lukman Faily, Ambassador of Iraq to the US, and Daniel Glaser,

Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, Department of the Treasury try and answer the question: “Iraq/Syria: Worse Now Than Before?”

7:15 p.m. Michael Rogers, Director, National Security Agency; Commander, US Cyber Command.

It’s all being streamed live.

Think tanked

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has a short, but informative little piece “Your Country Needs You: Iraq’s Faltering Military Recruitment Campaign,” that’s well worth your time this morning.

 

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