Situation Report: U.S. troops may have violated rules of engagement in Kunduz; Russia building arc of steel; U.S. and Russia struggling to talk it out; Green Beret gets reprieve; Pentagon not trying hard enough to buy new tech; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Drip, drip, drip. The American military personnel who gave the green light to hit alleged Taliban targets in Kunduz over the weekend may not have followed the standing rules of engagement, according to officials who have spoken privately with NATO and U.S. forces commander Gen. John Campbell. The New ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Drip, drip, drip. The American military personnel who gave the green light to hit alleged Taliban targets in Kunduz over the weekend may not have followed the standing rules of engagement, according to officials who have spoken privately with NATO and U.S. forces commander Gen. John Campbell.
The New York Times reports new details of what U.S. military officials think happened in the embattled city over the weekend, when an American AC-130 gunship mistakenly struck a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 22 civilians and injuring another 37. The rules stipulate that airstrikes can be used only to kill terrorist suspects, protect American troops and come to the aid of Afghan troops in significant fights, but not small skirmishes. And Campbell reportedly doesn’t think the situation rose to those levels.
While the general didn’t go into that kind of detail during his Senate testimony on Tuesday, he instead called for making the longest war in U.S. history even longer, proposing a significant U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the December 2016 withdrawal deadline set by President Barack Obama.
Demanding answers. Doctors Without Borders is holding a press conference in New York on Wednesday to publicize its “call for an independent, international investigation of the attack.” The group is expected to call for an independent fact-finding mission under rules of the Geneva Conventions, which would mark the first time such an inquiry would be launched under the international conventions.
Moscow calling. Russia is building an “arc of steel” from the Arctic on through to the Mediterranean Sea, says U.S. Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Navy forces in Europe and Africa. Speaking at an Atlantic Council event on Tuesday, he said that the arming of outposts from the far north, to Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast, on through Crimea and now into Syria has created a serious problem for NATO.
Ferguson delivered a sobering talk, flagging the continued “snap exercises” by Russian ground forces and “large numbers of ships get[ing] underway with little or no notice,” as particular areas of concern for his command. Any future conflict with Moscow will likely be “very focused and happen rapidly on the flanks,” he said, with no time for the West “to build up and then execute.”
Here, there, everywhere. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is hardly more sanguine over the rapidly morphing Russian threat, saying on Tuesday that the alliance has seen a “substantial buildup of Russian forces in Syria – air force, air defences but also ground troops in connection with the air base” at Latakia. Stoltenberg and Adm. Ferguson are very much on the same page, with the NATO boss expressing concern over the “increased naval presence of Russian ships and naval capabilities outside Syria or in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.”
FP’s Elias Groll drops an important piece running down some of those capabilities that we’re seeing deployed to Syria, including a slew of Moscow’s most advanced spy planes and electronic warfare equipment.
Radio cure. And we’re learning more about the two Russian incursions into Turkish airspace over the weekend, along with a fresh report of an unidentified fighter jet locking its radar onto eight Turkish jets on Monday. The Turks are saying that an unidentified Mig-29 locked its radar onto Turkish jets for more than five minutes over the Turkish-Syrian border, and that Syrian missile systems followed Turkish planes for more than four minutes on Monday.
Promises. Moscow and Washington appear to be all about holding talks with one another to “deconflict” air operations over Syria, but the two are now — in true Cold War style — complaining that the other side isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. In related news, Russian air strikes have also led to a coalition of 41 Syrian rebel groups to pledge to hit Russian troops based in Syria.
Choices to make. “There is an opportunity for Russia to be a collaborative, cooperative stakeholder in bringing stability,” Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told an audience at the German Marshall Fund on Tuesday. “Or it can go in the opposite direction and it will not just be we who have difficulties — the entire Sunni world will be opposed.” FP’s John Hudson has more.
Big Green holds off. In a surprise move, Army Secretary John McHugh announced Tuesday he had agreed to postpone discharging an Army Green Beret for beating up an Afghan police official who kept an Afghan boy in chains and repeatedly raping him.
McHugh acquiesced in the controversial case after Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tx.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked for a stay in discharging Sgt. First Class Chris Martland, which was due on Nov. 1. “Out of respect for Chairman Thornberry’s continued strong support for our military, and his personal appeal,” McHugh postponed Martland’s discharge from the Army for 60 days to allow him to file an appeal, a statement from the Army read.
Good morning from the crew over here at SitRep. As always, your voices are welcome. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Catch the latest Global Thinkers podcast episode, released today. Wendy Young, 2014 Global Thinker and President of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) talks with FP Voices columnist Lauren Wolfe and FP’s Deputy Editor for Print Seyward Darby about the critical immigration crisis in Europe, specifically focusing on women and children. Listen and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI
Try harder, fail more
Defense Secretary Ash Carter says that he is all about pushing the envelope on new technologies, but his deputies are growing increasingly worried that the Pentagon isn’t pushing hard enough.
Leading the charge is Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, who released his latest report this week outlining the highlights and lowlights from this past year in defense acquisition. While there haven’t been any disasters or cancelled programs over the past year — save for the slow burn of F-35 problems — Kendall is worried.
The lack of problem children in the defense acquisition pipeline underscores Kendall’s suspicion that the Pentagon is actually not trying hard enough. “We have been pursuing less complex systems,” he writes in his introduction to the latest “Performance of the Defense Acquisition System” report out this week. “In some areas we may not be pushing the state-of-the-art enough in terms of technical performance,” we writes, which “endangers our military technical superiority. In my view, our new product pipeline is not as robust as it should be at a time when our technological superiority is being seriously challenged by potential adversaries.”
It’s not quite a 4g inverted dive with a MiG-28, but it’s still uncomfortably close. CBS News reports — complete with a handy graphic — that American F-16s flying out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey came within 20 miles of Russian planes while flying over Syria. Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters that Russian jets are even more adventurous with American drones, coming within just “a handful of miles” of the aircraft.
The investigative site Bellingcat found the coordinates for locations in Syria bombed by Russian jets shown in videos released by Russia’s Ministry of Defense and found that the releases do not reflect an air campaign focused on Islamic State targets. Two claimed to show strikes in Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, but took place over a 100 miles away in an area with no Islamic State presence and six took place in other areas with no known Islamic State footprint.
Back in August, Fox News got the scoop that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Qods Force and subject to U.N. travel sanctions, had, in fact, traveled to Moscow for a meeting with Russian officials. Now Reuters claims to know why: Soleimani was in town as an emissary of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in order to help coordinate Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war. Reuters writes that Soleimani has since racked up his frequent flier miles with return trips to Moscow and Damascus.
If you’ve seen the Islamic States propaganda videos and imagery, you know that the group tends to roll with a lot of Toyota Hilux pickup trucks. They’re a popular vehicle among militant groups, but ABC News reports that the Treasury Department is now pursuing an investigation into how the Islamic State has managed to get its hands on so many of the trucks, many of which look as though they’ve still got that new car smell.
The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers looks at a chemical weapons attacks carried out by Islamic State artillery in the town of Marea, Syria last August and finds that government officials believe the terrorist group “has developed at least a small-scale chemical weapons program.” The quantity of the Islamic State’s chemical arsenal is unknown and its provenance — looted or manufactured — is equally unclear. The quality of the chlorine and sulfur mustard weapons used by the Islamic State is generally poor but it’s no less terrifying to the many civilians now forced to live under their shadow.
Add Romania to the list of European countries shifting uncomfortably in their chairs and beefing up their military capabilities in the wake of aggressive Russian behavior in eastern Europe. Vice News flags recent reports in the Romanian press revealing the country will increase defense spending to counter the threat from Russia. Romania is increasingly worried that Russia may try to carve up the neighboring Moldova and gain a foothold there by supporting separatists as it has in Georgia and Ukraine.
Russia raised eyebrows in Europe recently when Vladimir Putin instructed his diplomats to negotiate a basing deal with Belarus for the stationing of Russian military aircraft, which would bring Russian forces that much closer to NATO’s doorstep. But in the face of domestic protests over the plans ahead of elections, the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko is now backpedaling on plans for an airbase, saying “We don’t need a base at the moment.”
A South Korean official in the country’s Unification Ministry tells Yonhap News that, contrary to widespread speculation, North Korea will likely not conduct a missile test on Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s reigning Korean Workers’ Party. The claim is in line with recent satellite imagery analysis conducted by 38 North showing the country’s rocket launch site hasn’t undergone the kind of preparations necessary to conduct a test by Saturday. That doesn’t necessarily mean the occasion will pass without Pyongyang showing a little leg on its latest military hardware. Yonhap‘s source says the North plans to show off its newest weapons in a parade, including its recently-tested submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The Associated Press dropped a lengthy investigative piece on Tuesday about sting operations conducted by Moldovan police which found criminals with Russian connections trying to sell radioactive material to informants posing as terrorists, including as representatives of the Islamic State. The crooks tried to find a jihadi market for small quantities of cesium, which can be used to create the much-talked about “dirty bombs” that contaminate areas with dispersed radioactive material on detonation.
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