Situation Report: Obama comes out swinging; stay weird, Jade Helm!; jihadists snub new Taliban boss; Pentagon email still a mess; an outline of Libyan failure; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley The hard sell. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama delivered by far his most forceful defense of the landmark nuclear deal that his negotiators reached with Iran in July, comparing critics of the deal to those who pushed for war with Iraq in 2003. The tone of the argument — ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
The hard sell. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama delivered by far his most forceful defense of the landmark nuclear deal that his negotiators reached with Iran in July, comparing critics of the deal to those who pushed for war with Iraq in 2003. The tone of the argument — delivered at American University in Washington where President John Kennedy made his pitch for a nuke test-ban treaty with the Soviets in 1963 — surprised some analysts who didn’t expect him to so forcefully challenge the deal’s critics. Obama also issued a direct appeal for Americans to lobby their congressional representatives to support the deal, reflecting an anxiety in the White House about how lawmakers will vote, writes FP’s Dan De Luce and John Hudson.
More trouble in jihadistan? A rare joint statement from three al Qaeda affiliates issued Wednesday to mark the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar is as notable for what it says as for what it leaves out, notes FP’s Sean Naylor. The al-Nusra Front in Syria, the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the North African al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb all praised Omar for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and refusing to turn him over to the United States after the 9/11 attacks. But, significantly, the statement completely ignores the existence of Omar’s successor and former deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour — a sign the new leader has so far failed to convince al Qaeda militants of his power.
Takeover. The weirdness and paranoia surrounding the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Jade Helm training exercise continues. On Wednesday, police in Mississippi arrested a man they say fired shots two days in a row near Camp Shelby, a training center that hosts about 4,600 active-duty, National Guard and reserve soldiers. The man claims that his battered old red pickup truck was merely backfiring.
Tensions are high after the killing of four Marines and a sailor at a Navy operational center in Tennessee last month. Adding to the stress is the fact that Shelby is part of the controversial, three-month long Jade Helm, which features U.S. Army Special Operations soldiers moving in and out of a handful of states, several of which — for training purposes — have been classified as “hostile” territory according to unclassified maps released by the Pentagon.
They’ve got it all figured out. Some conspiracy theorists have used the maps as evidence that the exercise is really a plot by the government to impose martial law and begin the wholesale roundup of citizens. They point to closed Walmart stores as potential sites for concentration camps. The outcry prompted Republican presidential hopeful and Texas Senator Ted Cruz to demand answers from the military, while saying that he understands why his constituents so distrust the U.S. government. But it’s not all a laughing matter. Three men in North Carolina were arrested last weekend after federal agents uncovered their plot to ambush and kill military personnel, who they thought were part of the Jade Helm effort. The event runs through Sept. 15, so this all might not be over yet.
Next up. The U.S. Army’s III Corps will send 450 soldiers to Kuwait in September to coordinate the fight against the Islamic State. The unit will staff the headquarters for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, which is running the training program for the Iraqi Army and the air war there and in Syria.
The group is led by Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, who, as a Colonel stationed in Ramadi in 2006, was instrumental in reaching out to local Sunni tribes while building small combat outposts in the city to disrupt al Qaeda fighters. The strategy is widely seen as a precursor to the Surge later orchestrated by Gen. David Petraeus and now-Army chief Gen Ray Odierno. III Corps’ last deployment was to Afghanistan in April 2013, where is provided the headquarters function there. The commander? Then-Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, who takes over from Odierno later this month.
We’re holding steady over here on the Situation Report desk, cranking it out and keeping our ears open for anything noteworthy, interesting, or weird, to flag. If you see something we don’t, or think something is flying under the radar please pass it along: email@example.com, or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
As we debate and deconstruct the costs and complications of U.S.-led training missions in Syria and Iraq, the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan delivers the most detailed report yet about another American training program that never got off the ground. There was a time, a few years back, when President Barack Obama saw Libya as a project that could be tackled with teams of U.S., British, Turkish and Italian military trainers, who could rebuild the Libyan Army to help provide some stability to the floundering country. But problems in finding and vetting qualified recruits — and attempts by U.S. Africa Command officials to establish a larger footprint than anyone really wanted, doomed the effort before it began. One U.S. defense official said, “I think what people saw is that we are this huge clanking bureaucracy that has standards that are impossible for others to meet, and we’re really not capable of agile training missions.”
In another scary but ultimately false alarm, an Iranian frigate pointed weapons at a U.S. Navy helicopter as it landed on what naval officials are saying was a “coalition warship” in the Gulf of Aden on July 25. The helicopter from the USS Farragut as never fired upon, and after spending some time on the deck of the ship, took off without incident. According to CNN, members of the Iranian ship’s crew had cameras pointed at the helicopter and allied ship. According to the report, U.S. defense officials are befuddled by the incident. One anonymous Pentagon mused, “were they just trying to get cool pictures pointing at us? Were they making a propaganda film? Was some guy taking pictures to send to his girlfriend? We don’t know.”
If you’re in the market for a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, France now has a couple to spare after officially canceling a contract with Russia. In 2011, Russia ordered two of the helicopter-carrying ships from France for a reputed $1.3 billion. The scheduled delivery of the ships, however, coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and the U.S. and European sanctions that followed. France came under heavy pressure to nix the deal and, after some will-they, won’t they drama, the deal is now dead for good. The two parties have agreed to cancel the contract and France has returned Russia’s money.
When it comes to Russian money, President Vladimir Putin is having a hard time generating cash flow these days after a series of natural gas pipeline deals have fallen through, FP’s Keith Johnson writes. At a time when Moscow is trying to fund and supply a grinding fight in eastern Ukraine and deal with its helicopters and warplanes literally falling out of the sky due to faulty parts and lax repair standards, the failed deals should be a real cause for worry.
The first Iraq war vet elected to Congress has been give the nod by the White House to serve as the next Under Secretary of the Army. Pennsylvania Democrat Patrick Murphy served in the House from 2007 to 2011, after having served in the Army and Army Reserve for eight years, which included a tour in Iraq in 2003 as a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he earned the Bronze Star.
Also nominated to be Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence is Marcel Lettre, who has been occupying the office in an acting capacity since Michael Vickers resigned in April. SitRep flagged this likely nomination back in June.
Building bridges to Silicon Valley has been one of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s priorities. In April, Carter announced that a new Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIU-x), would be the home for that outreach, and be based in northern California. On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that George Ducha will take the helm at DIU-x with Rear Adm. Daniel “Brian” Hendrickson as his deputy. Ducha has a deep defense technology background, having formerly served as the chief of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Hendrickson is a former Navy SEAL who has served Assistant Vice Commander at Special Operations Command.
Who’s where when
If you were planning on heading over to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning for the hearing about how the Navy proposes to buy and build the next-generation Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier program, don’t. The committee, citing the “Senate schedule,” decided to postpone the hearing, staffers announced on Wednesday night.
The Islamic State has released another disturbingly familiar hostage video, this time featuring a Croatian citizen and demanding the release of female prisoners held by the Egyptian government. The hostage is Tomislav Salopek, an engineer for a French energy firm in Egypt who was reportedly kidnapped in Cairo in late July. The video reveals no clues as the Salopek’s location.
CNN has more on the hack of unclassified email networks at the Pentagon. The hackers, thought to be Russian, were looking to break into the email accounts of personnel from the Joint Staff. The hackers reportedly got in through spear phishing — sending fake emails loaded with malicious links or software — which made use of “a new and different vulnerability.” That latter description sounds like the hackers used a zero day vulnerability, a heretofore unknown software security vulnerability.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi pinky swears that the country is all but done with building islands in the middle of the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Wang made the comments in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia amid a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose members are growing increasingly concerned about China’s assertive territorial claims and the military implications of its island construction off their shores. American officials told the Wall Street Journal that they’re not quite buying Wang’s pledges and can’t tell how long they’ll last.
Borhan Osman of the Afghan Analysts Network has a fascinating look at some of the intra-Taliban politics behind the resignation of Syed Tayyeb Agha, the leader of the group’s political office in Qatar. According to Osman, the Pakistani government began leaning hard on members of the Taliban’s leadership back in March, telling them to negotiate with the Afghan government or face unspecified “consequences.” As a result, some members of the Taliban fled to Iran — which has taken a more forgiving attitude towards the Taliban as the Islamic State has inroads in the region — in order to resist the pressure. Mullah Omar’s successor, Akhtar Mansur, is apparently seen as a proxy by Syed Tayyeb Agha and others in the movement as an instrument of Pakistan’s pressure to negotiate with the Afgan government.