Situation Report: Chinese planes, ships, pushing the envelope; Petraeus calls for cruise missiles; everything coming up Norway; 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
In the passing lane. Chinese President Xi Jinping is coming to Washington later this week, and his country’s military has been busily announcing his imminent arrival in a curious way. On Sept. 15, two JH-7 fighter planes from the People’s Liberation Army came within 500 feet of an American RC-135 surveillance plane flying over international waters in the Yellow Sea. “The maneuvers conducted by the Chinese aircraft during this intercept was perceived as unsafe,” by the U.S. crew, Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. But there was no danger of a collision, he added.
Can two play at this game? In another incident, earlier this month several Chinese warships cruised through U.S. territorial waters heading south out of the Bering Sea, making use of the “innocent passage” rule in maritime law allowing warships to pass within 12 nautical miles of a country’s coastline. The move came within days of the admission by U.S. officials that the U.S. Navy had not sailed within 12 nautical miles of the chain of controversial “islands” that Beijing has built in the South China Sea since 2012.
FP’s Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce offer a solid rundown of the security issues that Beijing and Washington will try and begin working through when Xi come to the White House.
Moving on. In a move that has been quietly rumored for some time, the Obama administration’s top strategy man for defeating the Islamic State is stepping down, FP’s Lara Jakes and Yochi Dreazen report. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen will leave his position shoring up international support for the coalition battling the Islamic State some time late this month or next, after a grueling year working to expand the alliance fighting the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. It is unclear who will fill Allen’s role. His deputy, Amb. Brett McGurk, has held key diplomatic posts in Iraq during the White House administrations of Obama and former President George W. Bush.
On tour. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is headed down to Norfolk, Va. on Wednesday with Norwegian Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Soreide, where the duo are scheduled to take a tour of the Norwegian spy ship Marjata IV, which is undergoing a refitting at the U.S. Navy facility there. The ship is expected to set sail in 2016, after which it’ll be a key part in Norway’s ability to monitor Russia’s maneuvers in the Arctic.
Bomb. Repeat. Bomb. In his first congressional testimony since resigning from the CIA, David Petraeus on Tuesday threw his support behind a stepped-up military intervention into Syria that would go well beyond what the Obama administration has so far been willing to do. The retired four-star Army general called for the establishment of safe zones in Syria for refugees and demanded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stop dropping barrel bombs on military and opposition targets. He said, “you can do this with, again, lots of different forms of cruise missiles coming off [American] of ships, subs and planes.” FP’s John Hudson has more.
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Tune in to the new Global Thinkers podcast, just released this morning! FP Story Editor Amanda Silverman has a conversation with FP contributor Elizabeth Dickinson and 2013 Global Thinker, journalist and activist Farea Al-Muslimi. They discuss the ongoing conflict in Yemen, the reach of Riyadh in the Middle East and how the West can pave a way forward. Listen and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher today: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI
Did you know that the U.S. Marine Corps stores thousands of Humvees, Abrams tanks, generators, tents, cranes, and other pieces of equipment deep underground in the Norwegian hills? Defense News’ Chris Cavas recently visited the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway to check in on how the gear is doing. Turns out there’s enough gear and fuel stored in the caves to support an expeditionary brigade of roughly 15,000 U.S. Marines and keep them supplied for up to 30 days. The first cave opened in 1982, and the whole series of eight caves was completed in 1988.
In light of Russia’s recent hijinks in Ukraine and along the borders with its neighbors in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, Norway is reaffirming its commitment to purchase 52 F-35 stealth fighter jets, the country’s defense minister told Reuters during a recent trip to a Lockheed plant in Texas. Norway’s Chief of Defense Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen also told the wire service that Russia has recently stepped up its submarine activity around the Arctic and integrating refueling, intelligence and other kinds of aircraft in its air operations over the Baltics.
Greetings from sunny Bassel al-Assad air base, Syria, where the weather is warm and the Russian warplanes are plentiful. Open source weapons-watching blog Oryx rounds up the latest on the new arrivals at the facility, including a lovely recent shot of the sun on the tarmac there next to some Su-30 and Su-25 jets fresh from Russia.
It’s not just the existing Syrian bases that will be playing host to Russian forces. The Wall Street Journal reports on new satellite imagery that shows Russia is now hard at work building out two other bases, the Istamo weapons storage complex, and the Al-Sanobar military complex, north of their current foothold in Latakia, in order to host Russian troops.
McClatchy reports on the Pentagon’s claims that a recent airstrike in Syria targeting David Drugeon — the al-Qaeda bombmaker and French citizen whom French intelligence trained to act as an informant against the group — has killed him. Drugeon betrayed his handlers, joined al-Qaeda and was sent by the group to Syria as part of the groups of jihadists U.S. intelligence refers to as the Khorasan Group. This marks the third time in which the U.S. has targeted Drugeon in an airstrike.
On top of all of the other difficulties they face, the Afghan Army and police are experiencing a critical shortage of cold-weather clothing. As a result of a mix-up in the ordering system as it was handed off from U.S. forces to the Afghan Ministries of Defense, hundreds of thousands of coats, hats, and gloves were never ordered over the past several years. In a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) chief John F. Sopko writes that the shortages date back to 2011. The U.S. Defense Department currently has 335,054 cold-weather coats on order for the Afghan Army, but deliveries are not expected to arrive until March 2017.
The Saudi-led coalition trying to oust Houthi fighters from power in Yemen is beginning to show signs of strain, the Associated Press reports. The coalition, made of Gulf military forces and local allies, has stalled in its attempt to take Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, and troops are reportedly frustrated at poor coordination within the coalition and alarmed at recent friendly fire incidents involving their own fighter jets.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says that, despite a truce between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels that’s kept things quiet lately, Russia is still arming its proxies there. “Russia continues to support the separatists, provide them with weapons, with different kinds of equipment, training, forces,” Agence France Presse quotes the NATO chief as saying during a recent press conference.
The Washington Post reports that the U.S. has shipped Abdul Rahman Shalabi out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and back to Saudi Arabia, bringing the number of prisoners approved for transfer from the prison by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to a grand total of eight. U.S. forces captured Shalabi in Pakistan in 2001, and fellow detainees accused him of being a bodyguard for former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, which Shalabi denied. A review board cleared him for release in June, citing his willingness to participate in a Saudi rehabilitation program. His release comes after Defense Secretary Carter reportedly earned the ire of the White House for his alleged slow-rolling the release of prisoners cleared for transfer out of the detention facility.
News of the weird
Maxim landed a bit of an exclusive on Tuesday, reporting that the popular public radio investigative podcast Serial — which became famous for chronicling the investigation and trial of a Baltimore man for the murder of his girlfriend — looks to be gearing up to take on the case of Bowe Bergdahl. The controversial U.S. soldier is currently fighting off possible jail time for having walked away from his post in Afghanistan, after which he was kidnapped by the Taliban and eventually ransomed back to the U.S. in exchange for the release of five senior Taliban prisoners.
Sarah Koenig, the host and producer of the podcast was recently spotted at Bergdahl’s trial. Also in attendance was Mark Boal, the screenwriter behind the controversial special ops thriller Zero Dark Thirty, about the quest to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. The Bergdahl case has always been acrimonious and some members of his old unit are speaking out in advance against any attempts by Koenig and Boal to depict the events surrounding his alleged desertion and capture.
National Defense University Press has released a new book, Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War, edited by Richard D. Hooker, Jr. and Joseph Collins. According to National Defense University, the project grew out of two questions posed to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey — “What were the costs and benefits of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what were the strategic lessons of these campaigns?” — and the book shows off some of the work of NDU’s Institute for National Strategic Studies in attempting to answer those questions.