Situation Report: Jabhat al-Nusra to leave frontline positions near Aleppo; Turkey shaken by series of attacks; Afghanistan blames Pakistan for surge in violence; and more.
By David Francis and Adam Rawnsley No country for old foes. Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, announced it would leave its frontline positions against the Islamic State north of Aleppo, FP’s Elias Groll reports. The reason? Washington is targeting Nusra’s positions in Syria. The situation in Syria’s north and northwest is changing rapidly, ...
By David Francis and Adam Rawnsley
By David Francis and Adam Rawnsley
No country for old foes. Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, announced it would leave its frontline positions against the Islamic State north of Aleppo, FP’s Elias Groll reports. The reason? Washington is targeting Nusra’s positions in Syria.
The situation in Syria’s north and northwest is changing rapidly, as Kurdish forces have made gains against the Islamic State there. Nusra’s move adds to the chaotic scene. The al-Qaeda affiliate claims it has no other option but to up and leave its posts.
What’s next? Nusra can’t find accommodation with Turkey, where U.S. fighter jets recently arrived. Ankara and Washington announced the creation of so-called “safe zones,” areas absent the Islamic State, located along the Syria-Turkey border. Details are sketchy at this point, but we know they include a section south of the border about 60 miles wide. Kurdish forces, including the YPG, would reportedly be forbidden from entering the area.
These safe zones are likely to be backed, in some fashion, by U.S. and Turkish forces. Their role has yet to be defined, but the creation of the sites, and the possibility of increased troops, puts a lot more U.S. and Turkish skin in the game.
However, the New York Times’s Ben Hubbard cast some doubt on Nusra’s claims. “On Monday, a Defense Department official said the United States did not believe the statement. ‘We’ve not yet seen any movements on the ground that would indicate they are following through with it,’ the official said.”
Friends and enemies. A series of attacks across Turkey that targeted Turkish security forces and a U.S. consulate left six people dead. As the Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker reports, the Kurdish separatist group PKK is thought to be responsible — not the Islamic State. But the attacks could undermine a country that is quickly becoming one of the most important American allies in the fight against the terror group.
Show of force. The Islamic State claimed credit for a suicide bombing in the central Iraqi city of Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, that left at least 30 dead. CNN has the details here.
Blame game in Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani responded to a series of bomb attacks that killed dozens in recent days by accusing its neighbor Pakistan of not doing enough to stop Taliban militants, the Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Habib Khan Totakhil report. “We hoped for peace, but war is declared against us from Pakistani territory,” Ghani said at a press conference on Monday.
More details on Kabul: Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesperson, released more information on Friday’s attack on U.S. Special Forces that left one American soldier dead. His name is First Sergeant Andrew McKenna, 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). “The attackers did get on the base through a breach created by a vehicle-borne IED. The total number of attackers is unknown, but four of them were killed in the attack,” Davis said. “Enemy initiated attacks consist of indirect fire, direct fire, and improvised explosive device attacks.”
Thanks for reading this Tuesday morning. SitRep chief Paul McLeary is still vacationing somewhere more exciting than the Beltway, which has entered its summer lull. Please direct any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information to email@example.com, or get social with us on Twitter: @davidcfrancis or @arawnsley
On Monday we reported the death of the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, took place at the end of July. It was confirmed then; he died more than two years ago. Our apologies for the mistake.
No sooner than the Joint Chiefs of Staff get their email network back up after scrubbing it of (allegedly Russian) hackers, there’s a new email breach to talk about. NBC News reported on Monday that since 2010, China has been peering into the private email accounts of “many” Obama administration national security and trade officials. The story, sourced to an anonymous senior intelligence official and a top-secret National Security Agency document, says Chinese hackers used the compromised accounts and contact lists to send out malware-laden emails and breach more accounts. The hackers, however, were reportedly unable to break into their victims’ government email accounts.
The Daily Beast’s Tim K. Mak and Nancy Youssef report that the White House is none too pleased with Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s allegedly glacial pace of releasing detainees from Guantánamo. The White House is trying to clear out as many detainees as possible before the end of Obama’s presidency in a bid to make good on the president’s campaign promise to close the military detention facility. Fifty-two detainees out of the remaining 116 whom the government has cleared for release remain in limbo, awaiting authorization from Carter. DoD officials counter that the defense secretary isn’t fully convinced it’s safe to let some of them go.
Nuke group shake-up
The political fallout from the Iran nuclear deal has filtered down to one of the more notable advocacy groups calling for a tougher approach to Iran. United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) announced on Monday that its current chairman Gary Samore, a former top Obama National Security Council adviser on nonproliferation, is resigning from the group “to avoid any conflict with UANI’s work in opposition to the [U.S.-Iran nuclear] agreement,” according to a statement. Samore has come out in favor of the nuclear deal, but he’ll be replaced as chairman by former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), an opponent of the accord. UANI raised eyebrows earlier this year when the Justice Department moved to quash a lawsuit against the group, which monitors alleged Iranian sanctions violations, on the grounds that it could reveal state secrets.
A U.S. F-16 fighter jet crashed in Germany early on Tuesday, but the pilot safely ejected, parachuting to the ground with only minor injuries. The jet took off from nearby Spangdahlem Air Base near the city of Trier.
This year’s annual Defense Intelligence Agency Black Dart exercises have wrapped up, capping off a week of testing new ideas on how troops can blast drones out of the sky, an increasing must-have technology for militaries around the world. Judging by this video of a Navy MH-60R chewing through a drone with an M-240 door gun, that seems like a pretty effective way to get the job done.
Laws of war
Your humble SitRep team has been called plenty of names in our careers before, but none so ominous-sounding as “unprivileged belligerents” — a classification which the Pentagon now says it can apply to reporters on the battlefield, according to a new manual on the laws of war. The label is just one example of what the New York Times editorial board calls a troubling approach to journalism evident in the Defense Department’s new legal guidance to troops. At other points, the manual likens reporting to espionage, suggests journalists work “with the permission of relevant authorities,” and recommends censorship or “other security measures” in order to curb the publication of sensitive information.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) released a new report predicting that the nuclear triad — the missile, bomber, and submarine delivery methods for nuclear weapons — will cost approximately $700 billion over the next 25 years and make up no more than five percent of overall defense spending. CSBA’s numbers suggest that cutting back on one of the legs, as some in Congress have called for, would not provide significant savings for the Defense Department in the short term as sequestration constrains the defense budget.
Michael Knights and Alexandre Mello of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy take a long look at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) war in Yemen so far. Back in March, the Saudis formed a coalition of mostly Arab countries to dislodge Houthi forces from power following their overthrow of Yemen’s Saudi-aligned President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. Knights and Mello write that, after supporting and consolidating anti-Houthi forces in the country’s south, the Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, supported by UAE armor and artillery, could soon make a push northward to try and capture the capital of Sana’a.
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