Situation Report: New details on Westgate attack; latest on intel scandal; Marines and Navy in cultural spat; Facebook at the Pentagon; rumors of more U.S.-trained Syrian fighters; and lots more
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
New details. It was two years ago that a handful of al Shabab fighters stormed into Kenya’s Westgate Mall, kicking off an hours-long killing spree at the upscale Nairobi shopping center that would claim at least 67 lives. FP contributor Tristan McConnell checks in with a great piece of reporting marking the anniversary, and providing new details on how the fighters were killed.
The Kenyan government didn’t play much of a part in ending the three-hour bloodbath, McConnell reports. By the time security forces arrived, the attack was mostly over thanks to an “unlikely coalition of licensed civilian gun owners and brave, resourceful individual police officers [who] took it upon themselves to mount a rescue effort.” While this little band of saviors would ferry dozens of people to safety, when Kenyan forces did arrive, “it was only to shoot at one another before going on an armed looting spree that resulted in the collapse of the rear of the building, destroyed with a rocket-propelled grenade. And there were only four gunmen, all of whom were buried in the rubble, along with much of the forensic evidence.”
Islamic State intel: this time with more footnotes! Analysts at the U.S. Central Command were continually made to go back and dig up more evidence for reports critical of the effectiveness of the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the latest Daily Beast scoop on the intel scandal reports. But analysis striking a more positive tone was pushed right up the chain of command.
The growing scandal over allegations by Centcom analysts that their supervisors cooked the books to make their work appear to more fully support the rosy pronouncements from the command’s leadership took another turn Sunday night, with allegations that “analysts also were urged to state that killing particular ISIS leaders and key officials would diminish the group and lead to its collapse. Many analysts, however, didn’t believe that simply taking out top ISIS leaders would have an enduring effect on overall operations.”
Top slots. Yes, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next Secretary of the Army is openly gay. But don’t let that be the only thing you think you know about Eric Fanning. The highly-respected Pentagon insider has held a variety of top spots all over the building, and by all accounts has earned his shot at every one. In a relatively short career that began on Capitol Hill before moving over to the Pentagon, Fanning has amassed an impressive multiservice resume, having served as Air Force undersecretary and acting secretary from 2013 to 2015, deputy undersecretary of the Navy from 2009 to 2013, and acting undersecretary of the Army since June 2015. He’s also (obviously) won the confidence of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who had him in a top spot on his transition team, and installed him as his first chief of staff before moving him over to the Army.
It gets lonely at the top. If confirmed, the Army will get a seasoned administrator at a time it could really use one for the budget and cultural fights that lie ahead. But looking around the building, we see that things aren’t quite so rosy over at the Navy. The service’s secretary Ray Mabus recently criticized the Marine Corps for — as he sees it — skewing a study that concluded mixed-gender infantry units don’t perform as well as single-gender units. And the Marines aren’t happy.
Complicating things is Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, who takes over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later this month. Dunford recently recommended to Mabus that women should be excluded from competing for certain front-line combat jobs, setting up a tricky showdown between Marine leadership and their service secretary. It also puts Dunford in the awkward position of defending a policy in his own service that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Special Operations Command have all said should be tossed aside.
Leaning in to the E Ring. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is coming to the Pentagon on Monday to take part in a closed-door “Lean In Circle” with a group of twelve female military servicewomen, along with Defense Secretary Ash Carter. “Lean In Circles,” according to a blurb put out by the Pentagon press shop, “are small groups that meet on a formal basis to foster a sense of organizational community and peer mentorship focused on supporting women in the workplace.” While the meeting is private, Carter and Sandberg will provide brief remarks — no questions allowed — to a press pool in the secretary’s dining room at 1 p.m. Carter will also have an announcement “related to Lean In Circles for the defense community,” the Pentagon press shop says.
We’re back at it, friends. Thanks so much for clicking on through yet again today as we start another week. As always, please pass along any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information that you may have at your disposal. Best way is to send them to email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that a group of about 75 U.S.-trained Syrian rebels has crossed over the border from Turkey into Syria, ready to take on the Islamic State. The rebels crossed over the border riding in pickup trucks armed with heavy machine guns, the group reported. The small number makes sense, as U.S. officials have recently confirmed that about 100 to 120 fighters are being trained in Turkey. But if the report is true, however, their not very secretive movement back into northern Syria is worrisome. In July, about 54 U.S.-backed fighters were cut down within days of their arrival in Syria, and now only number about nine guys, according to the U.S. general running the war. The U.S. has spent about $43 million on the training program so far.
Human Rights Watch released a new report on Sunday in which the group confirms earlier reports that that two Iranian-backed Shia militias went on a sectarian rampage against the Sunni inhabitants of Tikrit and surrounding towns earlier this year. After taking the area back from the Islamic State, fighters from the groups went about destroying homes, businesses, and property in a spree of destruction that led to the disappearance of 160 residents, the report contends. The group points the finger at Kataib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq for carrying out many of the abuses and uses satellite data to confirm accounts of destruction.
It’s not just Syrians and civilians who are showing up among the ranks of refugees headed to Europe in a bid to flee violence in the Middle East. Reuters interviewed some of the refugees and combed through their social media profiles to find a number of deserters from the Iraqi military and police within the waves of migrants. The wire service couldn’t put an exact figure to the total number of migrants from the ranks of Iraq’s military and police, and Iraq’s defense ministry estimated the losses in the “tens.” The reports are consistent with previous accounts of frustration within the services at corruption and overall ineffectiveness of the country’s military and police forces.
The New York Times published a grueling piece on Sunday outlining the cost of the Defense Department’s policy instructing troops to ignore child rape perpetrated by Afghan security forces. The practice of some Afghan militia and police commanders of keeping so-called “tea boys” has hardly been a secret during the past 14 years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, but this is the first report we’ve seen of U.S. soldiers being punished by their command chain for speaking out against the systematic rape of young boys. The Times profiles the cases of two Marines and a Special Forces soldier who spoke out, and the results aren’t pretty.
Just because Mullah Omar’s family kissed and made up with his successor doesn’t mean everybody else is fine with the new leader. A spokesman for a faction of Taliban commanders unhappy with Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s leadership of the movement told Reuters that recent talks with dissident Taliban leaders and Mansour’s representatives had gone nowhere and that the Taliban may fracture into two separate factions. Mullah Akhtar Mansour took the reins of the Taliban after Afghan intelligence revealed this summer that Mullah Omar, his predecessor, had been dead for some time.
Over the weekend, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) announced the successful test of its Persistent Close Air Support prototype on board an A-10 Warthog. The project allows joint terminal attack controllers on the ground to call in airstrikes to the aircraft using an Android tablet. Sound like sci-fi? Well, the future has already arrived in a slightly cruder form. This summer, fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria directed airstrike information to U.S. warplanes with the help of Google Maps and Samsung tablets.
Cloak of invisibility
The Army’s interest has been piqued by a U.C. San Diego researcher’s development of a kind of stealth cloak, which scatters radar and light waves in order to hide whatever’s underneath it. Army Times reports that the device, more formally referred to as a dielectric metasurface cloak, could be used to help hide military equipment and that its developer plans to submit a proposal to the Defense Department for further exploration of the technology this month.
While there’s little progress expected on the espionage front, the U.S. and China may have nonetheless found some common ground on cybersecurity. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that the two countries have been negotiating a possible joint announcement during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to the United States that both nations broadly support a United Nations code of conduct whose principles include a prohibition against the use of malicious software to cripple civilian infrastructure in wartime.
Things are about to get more tense in Eastern Europe as Russia has announced that it plans to set up a new air base in neighboring Belarus, bringing Russian military equipment right to NATO’s doorstep. Although traditionally a close ally of Russia, Belarus has nonetheless been a little queasy about Russian influence in the country in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, Putin announced plans for the base following a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and has instructed Russian diplomats to open talks with their counterparts on an agreement for the facility.