The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Situation Report: U.S. Special Ops and its long history in Syria; support for drone strikes crosses ideological divide; Washington considers China hacking sanctions; U.A.E. goes big in Yemen; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Strike force. During the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq in the mid-2000s, American special operators moved in and out of Syria, breaking into jihadi safe houses and picking up intel that Washington then used to pressure the Assad regime, FP’s Sean Naylor writes in his new book, ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Strike force. During the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq in the mid-2000s, American special operators moved in and out of Syria, breaking into jihadi safe houses and picking up intel that Washington then used to pressure the Assad regime, FP’s Sean Naylor writes in his new book, RELENTLESS STRIKE: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.

In a riveting excerpt run in FP on Monday, Naylor introduces us to “Orange,” a secretive JSOC team that worked closely with the NSA as it spied on jihadists in Syria and Lebanon. The team moved through the region posing as businessmen in order to avoid scrutiny, but it also launched deadly missions from over the border in Iraq to hit high-value targets. In on scene, Naylor also tells the story of one U.S. operator who was assaulted and shot in while walking the streets of Beirut, but managed to stitch himself up and hold out for two days in order to wrap up his surveillance mission before flying home.

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Strike force. During the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq in the mid-2000s, American special operators moved in and out of Syria, breaking into jihadi safe houses and picking up intel that Washington then used to pressure the Assad regime, FP’s Sean Naylor writes in his new book, RELENTLESS STRIKE: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.

In a riveting excerpt run in FP on Monday, Naylor introduces us to “Orange,” a secretive JSOC team that worked closely with the NSA as it spied on jihadists in Syria and Lebanon. The team moved through the region posing as businessmen in order to avoid scrutiny, but it also launched deadly missions from over the border in Iraq to hit high-value targets. In on scene, Naylor also tells the story of one U.S. operator who was assaulted and shot in while walking the streets of Beirut, but managed to stitch himself up and hold out for two days in order to wrap up his surveillance mission before flying home.

Sales team. Meet Adam Szubin, Obama’s point man to sell the Iran deal to Israel. FP’s David Francis profiles the much put-upon administration official who has been tasked with selling to Iran deal to the skeptical ally. In his trip to Israel this past weekend, Szubin planned to meet with Netanyahu’s national security advisor, Yossi Cohen; the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold; and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a leading opponent of the Iran deal.

Drone business. If Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were to make it to the White House, one thing the Independent Senator wouldn’t do is end the drone war. In a Sunday morning interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Sanders said “there are times and places where drone attacks have been effective,” but “there are times and places where they have been absolutely counter-effective and have caused more problems than they have solved.”

Sanders has made real noise in the Democratic primary field, surprising some by making a strong showing with his brand of left-leaning populism. In the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll, Sanders is running a mere seven points behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. On Sunday, he appeared to support the drone program overall, saying, “I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively.”

Everybody hurts. The administration of President Barack Obama has put together a package of tough economic sanctions aimed at freezing the financial and property assets of Chinese companies or individuals who take part in cyber attacks against the U.S., the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports. The revelation comes just weeks before Chinese President Xi Jinping of China is due to arrive in Washington for his first state visit. A final decision on whether to issue these sanctions is expected soon.

Our friends in Congress are due back in town soon with a full agenda staring them in the face. On the books is everything from saving the federal budget from sequestration; the Iran nuke deal; a new war powers resolution; and on and on. While we hack through all of that, we’re counting on you for 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.   

Gulf

The countries of the GCC met earlier this month in Kuwait in another attempt to push ahead on the long-promised project to integrate their air and missile defense systems. But as usual not much happened, according to Awad Mustafa of Defense News. The big hurdle that the partners can’t seem to get past is the establishment of a command-and-control center in Abu Dhabi, staffed by Saudi personnel. But “not all member states agreed to that and refused to submit control of their air defenses,” one official said.

Yemen

An operation that began with fewer than 100 troops from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) in July has become a major deployment complete with tanks, U.S.-made armored vehicles, and Apache attack helicopters. The U.A.E. has gone all in on its fight with Houthi rebels in Yemen, and pro-government Yemeni fighters have taken to flying the U.A.E. flag and wearing clothes emblazoned with the tiny country’s flag as they push north out of the port city of Aden and into the Houthi-controlled mountains, writes the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov.

While the Emiratis have gone big into southern Yemen, Saudi Arabia is taking more of a hit-and-run approach, dipping Special Operations forces into the border region in Yemen’s north, Saudi military officials tell Reuters.

Afghanistan

Last week, the Taliban took control of the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, Afghanistan, but Afghan forces took the city back this week with the help of coalition airstrikes. Locals had apparently warned NATO troops about the Taliban’s progress in the region prior to the capture of Musa Qala, but the loss of the city quickly triggered support from international forces.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice gave Pakistan both a warning and an invitation on Sunday. Rice told Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the White House would appreciate a visit from him in October, but also cautioned Pakistan over the attacks that have taken place recently in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul. The U.S. is reportedly threatening to withhold $300 million in aid to the country unless it cracks down on the Afghan Taliban leadership living in Pakistan.

South Korea

What sound makes the regime of Kim Jong-un fear for its very survival? Not the roar of a B-52 engines or the snap of bootheels at the DMZ, but the bouncy hooks of K-Pop music. The New York Times takes a look at what it calls “the Hello Kitty offensive” employed by South Korea. After two South Korean troops were injured by North Korean landmines, the South briefly blared propaganda across the border for the first time, including K-Pop music interspersed with insults towards the Kim regime. The music is subversive, South Korean officials believe, because it shows off the free and prosperous lifestyle of people in the South in contrast to the bleak realities faced by those in the North.

Syria

The Islamic State has destroyed another piece of Syria’s ancient heritage this weekend, damaging the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, according to The Guardian. Earlier this month, the group blew up the Baal Shamin temple in the city and beheaded an octogenarian Syrian archaeologist after he reportedly refused to tell jihadists where the most valuable artifacts from Palmyra had been hidden.

Syria has long been shunned by fellow Arab countries following its descent into a bloody war against its own people, but there are signs of a slight thaw in relations between Damascus and Egypt as Cairo faces down its own insurgency from jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State. The Jerusalem Post flags reports in the London Arabic daily Al-Quds Al Arabi claiming that the two countries are cooperating on their mutual problems fending off the Islamic State. The Post also points out that Egypt’s burgeoning security relationship with Syria aligns neatly with its increasingly close relationship with Russia, a determined supporter of the Assad regime.

The Oryx Blog chases down hints of a more direct Russian role in supporting the Assad regime’s fighting in Syria. The site recently found imagery of Russian BTR-82A infantry fighting vehicles being used in the fighting in Syria’s Latakia Governorate. But in a news report on the fighting in Latakia put out by the Media Wing of the National Defence Force, Russian-language speakers can be heard shouting at the crew of a BTR-82A, raising the question of whether Russian personnel are taking part directly in the fighting in Syria.

Russia

Russia has wrapped up its MAKS aerospace exhibition, and while the event had plenty of glossy promotional materials for Russian weaponry, it was sorely lacking in big ticket announcements. The air show saw plenty of visitors from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America but few were apparently willing to bite on contracts for Russian hardware.

Look Out Below

Last week, China fired the Yaogan Weixing-27, widely-believed to be a spy satellite, into space aboard a Long March 4C rocket. Unfortunately for one farmer living near the city of Ankang, one of the engines from the Long March rocket crashed through the man’s roof. The farmer was fortunate in that no one was hurt by the crash but the hydrazine fuel used in the rockets can be very toxic.

Here in the U.S., the Army is asking those in parts of upstate New York to keep an eye out for an M36 Captive Flight Training Missile lying around, as they seem to have dropped one from an Apache helicopters on its way from Fort Drum to Stewart International Airport. The missile is an inert training dummy but the Army would nonetheless very much appreciate getting it back.

Think tanked

North Korea. Intel analysts have been puzzling over this one for decades, and are likely no closer to cracking the nut now than they were 20 years ago. Still, Kim Jung-un is an interesting guy with some dangerous toys — as we found out recently when he allegedly put about 50 submarines out to sea in another round a saber-rattling that rattled some cages in Washington and Seoul.

The Center for Naval Analysis has a new look at efforts to deter the North Korean regime, coming to the conclusion that as Kim Jong-un continues to consolidate his power in the coming months and years, South Korea and the United States “should expect that provocations will continue to be a part of North Korea’s strategy.” There’s no one size fits all deterrent for a regime whose internal wranglings are a mystery, however. The report concludes, “although Kim Jong-un is a young leader and in many respects an unknown quantity to the outside world, there is good reason to believe that the dynamics of decision-making on provocations have not changed dramatically.” Which means, of course, that the guessing game grinds on.

End hits

Who’s Got the Foreign Policy Chops? Rubio and Walker Make Their Pitch. Republican presidential hopefuls are laying out vastly different strategies for battling Hillary Clinton on foreign policy, with one opting for the high road and one going for the jugular, FP’s Dan De Luce writes.

Hack Attack: Pentagon Kills Top ISIS Cyber Warrior. FP’s Paul McLeary looks at the changing face of proportionality when the trifecta of the Islamic State, drones, and hacking are involved.

In Ghana, Student’s Radicalization Prompts Fears ISIS Is Infiltrating Universities. Ghana, a country that wasn’t on many security radars until recently, might unexpectedly be facing its own Islamic State problem, FP’s Siobhan O’Grady reports.

 

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