Situation Report: More details on U.S.-trained Syrians; women to train as SEALS; report on Afghan massacre; Marines consolidate commands; NATO kicks off another exercise and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Loose lips. The Defense Department has tried to keep a pretty tight lid on the activities of the handful of Syrian fighters it has trained to battle the Islamic State in Syria. But that hasn’t stopped a few of those trainees from talking to the media. First was the ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Loose lips. The Defense Department has tried to keep a pretty tight lid on the activities of the handful of Syrian fighters it has trained to battle the Islamic State in Syria. But that hasn’t stopped a few of those trainees from talking to the media. First was the commander of a group from Division 30, which is affiliated with the U.S. effort. Now it’s a man named Abu Iskander, who is part of the first class of 60 Syrians to graduate from a U.S. training camp in Jordan.
He confirmed to CNN a few things that had already been hinted at: the rebels are acting as spotters for the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Syria, and only about 40 fighters out of the initial class of 54 trainees remain together. He also insisted that while the Americans only want his men to fight the Islamic State, he’s ready to take on the Assad regime any time, any place. But the biggest reveal of the program — which has cost the Pentagon $41 million so far — is what the trainees are doing on a daily basis.
“I go to the front line against ISIS, and I give locations for the warplanes to bomb,” he said. “We have developed communication devices using satellites that can target from any place on the front line whether we see it or not.” Iskander added that “there are daily drone flights and they’re in the sky as I talk to you now. I speak to the Americans every hour, a total of four hours a day.” There are 70 more rebels being trained by U.S. forces who are scheduled to graduate shortly, he said.
Not just boys fun. A day after news broke that the first two female U.S. Army officers have made it through the Army’s Ranger course, the Navy’s Adm. Jon Greenert and the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, say that they’re willing to open up the six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training to women. In an interview with Defense News on Tuesday, Greenert said, “why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason.”
Red flags. There is no one reason why U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bales slaughtered 17 Afghan civilians in one night in southern Afghanistan in March, 2012. But a newly released report by U.S. forces in Afghanistan points to a number of red flags that were missed by his leadership team at the time.
Bales had been abusing steroids, sleeping pills, and alcohol during his time at a small combat outpost in Kandahar. And in a particularly damning critique of the base’s commanders, the report found that at least some of the steroids had been supplied by the Special Forces team his platoon was deployed with. The report also details some of the concerns that his fellow soldiers had with his behavior in the weeks before Bales snuck off base and shot a total of 22 Afghans. On a patrol early in the deployment, Bales told his soldiers to “shoot through” an Afghan soldier because “he is not a person,” according to an unnamed soldier quoted in the report. He also told other soldiers that he was not a racist “unless you count Afghanis [sic] and Iraqis,” the report says, quoting another soldier whose name was redacted.
Should I stay or should I go? In one of the Defense Department’s quietest deployments, a rotating cast of about 700 U.S. troops have been stationed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for the past three decades, acting as monitors of the ceasefire between Cairo and Israel.
But with increased fighting between jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State and Egyptian forces in recent months, the White House and Pentagon are growing increasingly worried about their safety, and have kicked off a review of the posture of the lightly armed force, weighing whether to give them more weapons and armor, or pull them out completely, the Associated Press reports.
One stop shop. The U.S. Marine Corps streamlined its command posture in Europe and Africa on Wednesday, uniting U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa under one commander, Maj.Gen. Niel Nelson, who will be based out of Stuttgart, Germany. Nelson takes over from Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, who has commanded Marines in Europe from his headquarters in Norfolk, Va., — and has been tapped to take over as Marine Corps Commandant this fall — and Maj. Gen. William Beydler, who leads Marines in Africa from Camp Lejuene in N.C. With Nelson stationed in Germany, the merger of the two commands puts him closer than his predecessors to the Marines and sailors who operate across Europe and Africa.
Happy Wednesday from the crew at SitRep. While we’re not lacking for things to do over here, we’re still interested in any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information to email@example.com, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
If you have ideas about how to blast rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) out of the sky before they hit helicopters, holler at the folks in the Office of Naval Research as the research outfit is looking to build a Helicopter Active Rocket Propelled Grenade Protection (HARP) system. While many U.S. military helicopters have countermeasure systems that deal with shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, they work by confusing the missile’s guidance systems. With RPGs, though, there’s no guidance system to counter and so HARP will have to destroy incoming projectiles before they reach their target.
The world gasped in revulsion on seeing the Islamic State capture and destroy parts of Palmyra, Syria, home to a collection of historically significant Roman ruins. But the group’s violation of Syrian history and humanity reached a new low on Tuesday when the jihadists murdered Khaled Asad, Palmyra’s 82 year old director of antiquities, beheading him and hanging his remains up at the ancient site.
In a sign of the growing anxiety over Russian aggression in eastern Europe, NATO kicked off the month-long Swift Response 15 exercise on Tuesday, the alliance’s largest airborne drill since the end of the Cold War. According to the U.S. Army, the exercise will involve 4,800 troops from the alliance operating in Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and Italy, including American soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
“Loose tweets down fleets,” says the U.S. Air Force. Popular Mechanics flags a new U.S. Air Force campaign warning grunts about the dangers of loose talk on social media with a play on the World War II-vintage “loose lips sink ships” propaganda posters published by the War Department. The OPSEC warnings specifically mention “ISIS sympathizers, ‘lone wolves,'” as threat actors which could benefit from troops’ chatter about their activities off-base.
More horror from Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist terrorists, as dozens of civilians are reported dead following an attack by the group on a village in the country’s northeast Yobe State. Witnesses claim as many as 60 children may have drowned fleeing Boko Haram fighters who opened fire on the military, but the Nigerian military has been unable to corroborate the reports.
The already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen may be spiraling even further out of control, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. On Tuesday, the Saudi-led coalition bombed the port city of Hodeida, destroying maritime infrastructure for one of the few gateways for aid deliveries into the country. A new report from Amnesty International also accuses the coalition of committing war crimes for allegedly indiscriminately targeting cities. Amnesty caveated its accusations against the Saudi-led coalition by noting that “all the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians.”
If you’ve been paying attention to the Chinese military at all lately, you know that enforcing the country’s expansive claims to territory outside its traditional economic exclusion zone are a top priority. Now those claims are being hammered home in a new People’s Liberation Army recruitment video flagged by J. Michael Cole from the Thinking Taiwan Foundation. The video shows scenes of the disputed Diaoyutai island (alternately called the Senkaku Islands) claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea. In a section about China’s maritime claims, the video blares at prospective recruits that “we will not yield even the tiniest speck of our resources” — an apparent reference to China’s contested claims to undersea energy resources.
Politics of security
Republican Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush is concerned that the NSA might not be collecting enough information on the communications of private citizens, warning that “evildoers” are able to exploit the American reluctance to sweep up more information. At a national security forum in South Carolina, Bush — who is trying to establish an aggressive foreign policy to draw distinctions between himself and President Barack Obama, while not sounding too much like his brother, George — delivered his opinions on the surveillance program.
Bush also expressed support for sending more U.S. troops and equipment to Eastern Europe to push back against Russia, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin should know there’s “a price to pay” for his moves in Ukraine and elsewhere. “Rather than reacting to the bad behavior, I think we need to be more forward-leaning as it relates to what the consequences will be,” Bush said.
RT @brett_mcgurk: Completed historic all night meeting w/5 Kurdish political parties. Solid progress on key issues. The U.S. encourages unity & compromise.
A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that while the United States and Australia continue to deepen their defense ties, one area that’s lacking is a rethink of how the allies might combine their amphibious capabilities. By combining efforts to develop ways to move their naval and land forces around the Pacific, the two could change the calculus of security in the region, giving the allies a seaborne quick reaction capability that can move to meet security challenges and conduct humanitarian missions.
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