Situation Report: Meet the men reviewing Hillary Clinton’s private emails; Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate claims to behead Croat prisoner; Russian media blames CIA for Malaysia Airlines disaster; Odierno says so long; and more.
By David Francis and Adam Rawnsley Ask your server. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton caved under increasing pressure and gave her entire private email server over to Justice Department investigators. Now, Obama appointees Steve Linick, the State Department’s internal watchdog, and Charles McCullough III, who oversees the 17-agency intelligence community, are leading separate inquiries into Clinton’s use ...
By David Francis and Adam Rawnsley
Ask your server. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton caved under increasing pressure and gave her entire private email server over to Justice Department investigators. Now, Obama appointees Steve Linick, the State Department’s internal watchdog, and Charles McCullough III, who oversees the 17-agency intelligence community, are leading separate inquiries into Clinton’s use of private email while she was secretary of state, FP’s John Hudson reports.
Clinton has resisted such deep investigations for months, but she’s under the gun as the two watchdogs, FBI officials, and Republican lawmakers raise more and more questions about her use of a private server. Their findings could seriously damage the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee for the White House.
The Islamic State claims a beheading in Egypt. Sinai Province, the group’s Egypt affiliate, released a photo Wednesday that appears to show the head of Tomislav Salopek, an employee of the French geosciences firm CGG, kidnapped last month in Cairo, resting on top of his body. Last week, the Sinai Province threatened to kill the Croatian citizen if the Egyptian government did not release three female prisoners. The August 7 deadline passed without movement.
Salopek’s gruesome death, if confirmed, marks the latest escalation in the increasingly bloody conflict between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Sinai Province. FP’s Elias Groll has more details here.
A rethink in northern Syria. The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan reports that after a series of setbacks, Pentagon officials are reexamining how they will use the U.S.-trained New Syrian Force to take on the Islamic State. The group disbanded after early missions ended badly: They fell victim to a surprise attack from the terror group, and five have been abducted. DoD officials stress they don’t plan on canceling the program. They’re just not sure how to make it better.
Meanwhile, the New York Times’s Rukmini Callimachi reports on how the Islamic State uses sex slavery in conquered areas of Iraq and Syria as a recruiting tool. “Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.” It’s a tragic and disturbing story, to say the least.
The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a truck bomb that killed 76 and wounded at least 200 people at a market in Baghdad’s Sadr City district Thursday, Reuters reports.
Spies like us. The Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda posted some interesting audio to their site Wednesday. It allegedly contains communications between two alleged CIA spies, identified as David Hamilton and David L. Stern, discussing “preparations” for an operation that involves shooting down a plane — Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014 — with a surface-to-air missile. The spies also discuss Plan B, which involves placing a bomb inside the plane. The audio is reportedly an effort to shift blame from Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine — widely thought to be responsible for the shootdown that left 298 dead — and the Kremlin.
To a sophisticated listener, the recording appears to be a fake. Accents change throughout, and the dialogue sure sounds like its scripted. But, if it is fake (and it almost surely is), it’s indicative of how Russian President Vladimir Putin can feed conspiracy theorists in his own country who view the crisis in Ukraine as an American invention. Check out FP’s Reid Standish’s report here.
So long, farewell. Gen. Ray Odierno gave his last press conference as Army chief of staff, capping off a nearly four-decade career in the military. Iraq and the challenge of stabilizing it have been central to Odierno’s service as a senior military officer, rising from commander of the 4th Infantry Division during the 2003 invasion to commander of Multinational Forces during the surge. In a farewell appearance before reporters, he was reflective on the future of both the conflict in Iraq and the Army.
Asked to assess the status of the war against Islamic State, Odierno offered mildly that the group “has been blunted somewhat” since U.S. airstrikes began, crediting Kurdish and, to a lesser extent, Iraqi security forces for clawing back some territory from the group. He suggested a more active role for U.S. troops should be on the table if the war continues to stagnate. “I believe that if we find in the next several months that we’re not making a progress that we had, we should probably absolutely consider embedding some soldiers with [Iraqi forces] and see if that would make a difference,” he said.
Odierno also referenced his anxieties about the Army’s budget in the face of sequestration and, as he put it, an “uncertain and dynamic” threat environment. “We are sacrificing the long-term viability of our military to meet current environmental requirements,” he warned and repeated his view that Army end-strength should not be allowed to slip below 450,000 troops.
Happy Thursday, everyone. I’m sure SitRep chief Paul McLeary is eager to get back to his newsletter; he returns Monday. Until he does, please direct any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information to firstname.lastname@example.org, or get social with us on Twitter: @davidcfrancis or @arawnsley.
The American F-16 fighter jets that arrived in Turkey earlier this week flew their first combat missions on Wednesday, taking off from Incirlik Air Base to strike at unspecified targets in Syria. Pentagon officials told the Associated Press that the fighter jets, transferred from the 31st Fighter Wing in Aviano, Italy, could be used in the future to strike at targets inside Iraq as well. Until Turkey cleared U.S. warplanes to take off from its air bases, American and coalition aircraft have taken off for flights over Syria from bases and carriers in the Gulf.
The ceasefire that wasn’t ever quite a ceasefire is falling apart in Ukraine as skirmishes between Ukrainian and Russian-backed rebel forces are heating up, the Daily Beast reports. Russian and European leaders had hammered out an agreement with Ukraine and its rebels to halt the fighting back in February, but the accord never quite stuck. Nonetheless, fighting between Ukrainian forces and their Russian-backed opponents has been unusually intense, leading to fears that the conflict in Ukraine might soon escalate.
Foreign Policy‘s in-house nuclear expert and columnist Jeffrey Lewis takes a look at new satellite imagery of North Korea’s mining and milling facilities over at the analysis website 38 North and finds that the country may be ramping up its production of uranium. The imagery shows that since 2013, the North has been refurbishing buildings in Pyongsan used to produce uranium yellowcake, suggesting that Pyongyang might plan on extracting more uranium out of a nearby mine. What North Korea plans to do with any new yields of yellowcake — whether to use it as fuel for nuclear weapons or reactors — remains unknown.
The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is Friday, which means all eyes are on what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will say in his statement for the occasion. In past anniversary statements, Abe has been less than contrite about Japan’s wartime behavior, glossing over the country’s use of sex slaves taken from countries under Japanese rule. Despite the historical distance, Japan’s failure to acknowledge the wrongs done to its neighbors during the conflict remains very much an irritant in its diplomatic relations with China, Korea, and others in the region — especially as Abe builds up Japan’s military and moves to revise its post-war pacifist constitution.
Does Boko Haram have a Mullah Omar problem on its hands? The Los Angeles Times reports that Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Islamist terrorist group, hasn’t been seen since March, leading to rumors that Shekau, like Omar, may be dead or otherwise incapable of fulfilling his leadership duties. Chad’s President Idris Deby fanned the rumors in a press conference Wednesday, questioning whether Shekau is still alive and suggesting that a Boko Haram figure named Mahamat Daoud may now lead the group. As the Times cautions, though, Shekau has been rumored dead before, only to reappear very much alive.
More bad news from America’s aid projects in Afghanistan. The Defense Department’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a review letter rapping the United States Agency for International Development for its operation of the $335 million Tarakhil power plant near Kabul, which “continues to be severely underutilized.” The plant’s apparently anemic power output has declined over time. More disturbing, though, the intermittent use of the plant has damaged its equipment, incurring yet more costs and potentially putting the facility at risk of “catastrophic failure.”
Who’s where when
2 p.m. Three Obama administration officials with portfolios on nonproliferation and sanctions policy will be at the Center for Strategic and International Studies for a discussion on “The Iran Deal: Key Issues and Controversies,” moderated by national security expert Anthony Cordesman. The event features Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to the president and national security adviser to the vice president, Jon Wolfsthal, senior director for arms control and non-proliferation at the National Security Council, and Chris Backemeyer, deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department. You can watch it live here.