The Cable

Situation Report: F-22s headed for Europe; new truce between the Koreas; Syrians say they were sold out by the Turks; Special Ops under investigation; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Airpower to Europe. The U.S. Air Force is getting ready to send its newest high-tech fighter plane to Europe for the first time, as NATO allies continue to cast wary glances toward Russia. “Russia’s military activity in the Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Airpower to Europe. The U.S. Air Force is getting ready to send its newest high-tech fighter plane to Europe for the first time, as NATO allies continue to cast wary glances toward Russia. “Russia’s military activity in the Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to our European allies,” Air Force Secretary Deborah James told a news conference at the Pentagon on Monday, adding that the upcoming F-22 deployment is “on the strong side of the coin.”

Sitting alongside James was Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh, who cautioned that the deployment wouldn’t be permanent, and that it would mostly focus on training with allies, in particular looking at the ability of the jets to communicate with the Eurofighter and other warplanes. He also said the F-22 wouldn’t be involved in policing the skies over the Baltics, a mission which regularly gets NATO and American aircraft up close and personal with Russian bombers and fighters who like to skirt NATO’s borders.

New deal. Same result. North and South Korea reached an agreement on Monday to get back to the already tense status quo after days of cross border shelling and the ratcheting up of wartime rhetoric from both sides. The latest crisis was sparked earlier this month after two South Korean soldiers stepped on landmines allegedly planted by the North near the border. Seoul responded by blaring pop music and propaganda from massive speakers along the border, which led to shelling by both sides. In the deal reached Monday, the broadcasts will stop, and the North expressed regret over the landmine incident.

It is believed that about 50 North Korean submarines left port over the past few days, however, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Much like the rest of the hermit kingdom’s military arsenal, FP’s Siobhan O’Grady reports, North Korea’s sub fleet is old, but still has enough capability to do some damage. And they’re out there, somewhere.

Add it up. With the announcement on Monday that Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow would support the Iran nuclear deal — becoming the 28th senator to publicly do so, the administration of President Barack Obama is now only six votes short of the 34 required to uphold a veto, which Obama is expected to issue once the Republican majority in Congress votes to reject the deal next month. FP’s Dan De Luce has more on the ongoing drama. Only two Democratic senators have come out against the accord so far – Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Stabenow outlined her decision in a lengthy statement, saying the accord — which would impose limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions — has flaws but represents the best chance to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

Cold case. Army criminal investigators are reopening a case against a U.S. Army Special Forces team that was accused by Afghan officials in 2013 of murdering 17 civilians, according to the New York Times. International Security Assistance Force officials said investigations had absolved the team of wrongdoing but investigators from the Army now tell the Times that new leads from case “demand further investigation.”

Thanks for clicking through on another installment of your faithful morning SitRep. As always, we’re 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.   

Syria

There are powerful new accusations that elements within the Turkish intelligence service betrayed a group of American-trained Syrian rebels to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, leading to their capture by the group. McClatchy‘s Mitchell Prothero reports the rebels believe Turkey sold out the U.S.-trained rebels because it didn’t want them to target the Islamic State, which has proven an effective fighting force against the Bashar al-Assad regime. American and Turkish officials denied the accusations on the record but some Turkish officials, speaking anonymously in the initial report, suggested the accusations were likely accurate and part of a larger plan to push the U.S. into supporting a Turkish-backed safe zone in northern Syria by undermining America’s rebel training efforts.

83 percent: that’s how much territory the regime of Bashar al-Assad regime has lost control of since the country’s civil war began, according to a new analysis by IHS Jane’s. The losses continued in 2015, with Syrian forces losing 18 percent of that territory from January through early August, reeling from gains by the Islamic State and rebel factions backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

Afghanistan

Afghan security forces are currently involved in 17 operations in 16 provinces, hitting the Taliban across a huge swath of the country. But if there’s one thing that Afghan commanders want help with, it’s air support. “Air support is quite important to our forces. Therefore the ministry of defense must raise the issue with foreign forces so that our military commanders directly request foreign troops for air support if needed,” military commentator Atiqullah Amarkhail was quoted as saying in Tolo News.

According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Central Command, there have been a total of 198 U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan this year, a pace that is down sharply from the height of American involvement in 2010 and 2011, when there were about 2,600 airstrikes a year. Afghanistan’s military has taken a beating in 2015, reporting 4,302 deaths and 8,009 injured since January, in what has been the bloodiest year for Kabul’s security forces since the ouster of the Taliban in 2002. Overall, 13,000 Afghan security forces have been killed over the past three years.

Air Force

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says the service’s inability to provide Congress with a consistent, accurate 10-year cost estimate for the forthcoming next generation bomber won’t affect their ability to plan for the aircraft. The Air Force initially told Congress the 10-year projection for the bomber would be $33.1 billion, only to ratchet that estimate up to $58.2 billion before finally dismissing both of those numbers in favor of the latest estimate: $41.7 billion. James presented the shifting estimates as a reflection of internal coordination rather than poor accounting.

The Air Force recently unveiled a new campaign telling troops to keep their traps shut on social media, as “loose tweets destroy fleets.” But a new report from The Aviationist‘s David Cenciotti suggests that U.S. military pilots may need to pay attention to more fundamental opsec issues. According to Cenciotti, some military aircraft, including tankers and special operations planes, have been leaving their transponders on while flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing anyone on the Internet to follow them via flight tracking websites.

Defenders of the A-10 Warthog, beloved by ground troops for its ruggedness and reliability, have long doubted whether the fancy new F-35 fighter plane is up to the job of providing close air support, much to the annoyance of an Air Force which has tried to cut the plane. The Defense Department’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has said it would like to resolve the dispute by designing tests to pit the two aircraft against each other in a close air support-off, according to Defense Industry Daily. But the plan is “silly” according to Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh, who told reporters on Monday that the F-35 is already certified as capable to provide close air support and was never intended to replicate the A-10.

Navy

August has been a busy month for women making history in the military. Women graduated from Ranger school for the first time, the Navy SEALs plan to accept women into their ranks, and now four sailors will become the first enlisted women to serve on board a U.S. submarine, according to USNI News. Female officers have served aboard submarines since the Navy changed its policy in 2010. The four enlisted women will serve aboard the USS Michigan guided missile submarine after finishing Basic Enlisted Submarine School.

Buying power

The Defense Department’s Defense Acquisitions Board — a panel of top military officers and civilian leaders from across the department — is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the path forward on the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. The meeting has been hotly anticipated for several months now, as a decision about which contractor will win the massive contact is expected to follow soon after the meeting. The JLTV program, which would replace the Humvee in Army and many Marine Corps formations, would provide the Army 49,099 vehicles and the Marines 5,500 over the next two decades. But it would also mean billions of dollars and steady work for the defense contractor who wins the contract. In August 2012, initial contracts were awarded to Humvee maker AM General, Lockheed Martin, and Oshkosh, with each team submitting 22 prototype vehicles for testing. One of those three will walk away the winner.

Revolving door

Vice President Joe Biden has hired Kate Bedingfield to serve as his communications director. She takes over from Shailagh Murray, who has moved on to become a senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Bedingfield previously did a stint as an associate communications director at the White House, before leaving to become vice president for corporate communications for the Motion Picture Association of America.

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

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