The Cable

Situation Report: Ash Carter opens up on Turkey and Russia; Pentagon drops new Pacific strategy; American suicide bomber strikes in Iraq; Ukraine stays hot; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Nobody’s business but the Turks. Turkey may have opened up its airfields to U.S. F-16 fighter planes and drones, but the NATO ally still needs to “do more” in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters on Thursday. In one of the ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Nobody’s business but the Turks. Turkey may have opened up its airfields to U.S. F-16 fighter planes and drones, but the NATO ally still needs to “do more” in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters on Thursday.

In one of the sharpest public criticisms of the reluctant ally by an American official to date, Carter said that Washington is working hard with the Turks to get them to take ownership of the fight that is raging along its borders, and sending thousands of refugees into Turkish displacement camps. “This needs to be done,” Carter said. “It’s overdue, because it’s a year into the campaign. But they’re indicating some considerable effort now,” he said. “That’s important, but it’s not enough.”

Carter also said Turkey must do a better job of policing its long border with Syria to halt the flow of fighters and supplies to the Islamic State. Militants and supplies have been making their way back and forth across the border for years, and as a fellow NATO member, Turkey has to work to lock it down “more than it has been controlled over the last year.”

Naming names. In his first solo press conference since taking the helm at the Pentagon in February, Carter also agreed with a host of top generals who have recently testified to Congress that Russia is the most serious threat facing the United States today. In doing so, the secretary also edged toward outlining the closest thing to a Russia policy we have heard in some time.

Carter said his preferred approach is called “strong and balanced.” The “strong” part involves working with allies to build up a credible deterrent to Russian aggression along NATO’s eastern border by hardening defenses, while conducting a constant series of training events to boost the capabilities and confidence of partner nations in Eastern Europe.

And the “balanced” part involves working with Russia where possible, “because you can’t paint all their behavior with one brush,” he said. “There are places where they are working with us: in counterterrorism in many important respects,” along with containing North Korea, and in negotiations with Iran over the future of their nuclear program.

The shipping news. Everyone loves a weighty new Defense Department strategy document, and the 40-page (warning: PDF!) “Asia Pacific Maritime Security Strategy” released Thursday evening doesn’t disappoint. The paper calls out China on the string of islands that it is building in the South China Sea. As of June, Beijing has reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land by piling rocks and sand on top of reefs. The new islands now feature airstrips and other military-focused construction, but the Defense Department insists that it will not recognize the new landmass as part of Chinese territory. Significantly, the document says that the U.S. will continue to ignore repeated Chinese claims of sovereignty, and will operate near the islands as it wishes by continuing to “fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law, as U.S. forces do all around the world.”

That’s another week in the books. As we go softly into that good weekend, we hope that you’ll circle back around on Monday morning to check out SitRep. As always, we remain interested in any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information that you may have at your disposal. Please pass them along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.   

Who’s where when

1:00 p.m. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear is slated to conduct a press briefing on the maritime security strategy report at the Pentagon.

Iraq

The Long War Journal‘s Caleb Weiss reports that the Islamic State is claiming an American suicide bomber blew himself up in a recent car bomb attack on an Iraqi army barracks in Baiji, Iraq. The group named the bomber only as Abu Abdullah Al Amriiki and released a photo of the alleged American Islamic State member alongside a video of the attack.

Israel

Rocket fire hit northern Israel on Thursday, reportedly fired from the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel is accusing the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad of carrying out the attack, though the group denies responsibility. Israel responded to the attacks with rocket fire and artillery aimed at targets across the border in Syria. Who or what the Israeli strikes hit remains in dispute. Rebels in Syria say the attacks hit Syrian military facilities but Agence France-Presse reports that the Syrian government is claiming the strikes killed five civilians. News organizations appear unable to independently verify the claims.

India

Indian officials were at the Pentagon last week for the first in what is being billed as “an ongoing series of meetings aimed at establishing broader cooperation on the design, development and production of aircraft carriers,” between the United States and India, Reuters reports. The three-day visit included a trip to the shipyard in Newport News, Va., where Huntington Ingalls is building the USS Gerald R. Ford, the latest U.S. aircraft carrier. The Indian officials also sat down with Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall, who walked them through how the U.S. manages the development of its aircraft carrier fleet.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un has officially ordered North Korea to war footing following an artillery exchange along the border with South Korea on Thursday. Kim declared that Pyongyang had already commenced a “quasi state of war” and demanded that South Korea cease propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ by Saturday evening. The trigger for the recent flareup in tensions came earlier this month when two South Korean troops stepped on landmines planted by North Korea on the southern side of the border, prompting South Korea to resume its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts at the border. South Korea is also currently conducting annual joint exercises with the United States, a constant irritant to Pyongyang which often elicits more aggressive behavior on its part.

Peru

The skies over Peru are about to get a little more dangerous as the country’s congress just unanimously approved a bill that would allow the Peruvian Air Force to shoot down suspected drug-smuggling planes for the first time since 2001. Peru halted the tactic that year after the Peruvian Air Force, working with a CIA support team, misidentified a plane carrying an American family of missionaries as drug smugglers and mistakenly shot it down, killing a woman and her infant daughter.

The business of defense

The Hill reports that United States Investigative Services (USIS), the background investigations contractor that signed off on security clearances for NSA leaker Edward Snowden and the Washington Navy Yard shooter, will forfeit $30 million in a settlement with the Justice Department. The money will come out of payments still due to the company from the Office of Personnel Management. An investigation last year found that the company had been sloppy and negligent in rushing through background investigations for security clearances.

It looks like NATO has hired a new public relations firm. Washington-based public affairs firm Agenda and its partner Engine have been awarded a five-year deal with NATO “to provide a wide range of communications services” to the alliance. Not bad work if you can get it.

Think tanked

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East fellow Marina Ottaway has come out with a new report, dubbed “Al-Sisi’s Egypt: The Military Moves on the Economy.” The Egyptian leader is looking to kickstart the moribund Egyptian economy, and is counting on a series of large, ambitious projects under military supervision to get things moving. “Although al-Sisi does not dismiss the importance of the private sector in his speeches,” Ottaway writes, “the policies he has put in place so far favor the military economy.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) released a short backgrounder on the impact of the revelation of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death for the Taliban. ISW writes that the news of Omar’s death could “exacerbate existing fractures within the Taliban and accelerate a power grab” and  “ultimately make permanent major divisions within the group.” The internal fault lines within the group apparently revolve around the issue of whether to engage in negotiations and kick off a political process with the current Afghan government, as Pakistan reportedly is strongly encouraging, or adopt a maximalist approach and continue fighting.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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