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Situation Report: Ammo drops to support the coming push for Raqqa; U.S. Army’s jamming problem; Beijing and Moscow, coming apart?; top SEAL in hot water; Kerry back to Vienna; NATO ops; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Who’s on first? Earlier this month, U.S. military planes dropped about 50 tons of ammunition to the Pentagon’s friends in the Syrian Arab opposition, and despite claims from some Kurdish commanders that they have managed to get their hands on the ammo, U.S. officials continue to insist that isn’t ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Who’s on first? Earlier this month, U.S. military planes dropped about 50 tons of ammunition to the Pentagon’s friends in the Syrian Arab opposition, and despite claims from some Kurdish commanders that they have managed to get their hands on the ammo, U.S. officials continue to insist that isn’t true.

But there is some confusion about who is fighting as part of the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition, and if the Kurds are included in their number. Last week, Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for the US military’s Central Command, told reporters that Kurdish forces have at times fought “in concert” with the Syrian Arabs, but were not included in the airdrop. On Wednesday, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition bombing the Islamic State Col. Steve Warren said that the rebel groups that make up the Syrian Arab Coalition are only made up of Syrian Arab fighters. “Nobody else is a member.”

More talk. About 20 leaders from those Syrian Arab groups were recently pulled out of Syria for a week’s worth of talks and training from U.S. personnel. Those leaders are getting set to lead their roughly 5,000 fighters in an assault on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa, though Warren admitted that that number “will need to be beefed up,” before the fight begins.  One group not expected to be in the fight are the Kurds. “Whether or not Kurdish fighters are willing to move that far south, frankly, is an unknown at this point,” Warren said. “But we do know that Syrian-Arabs are ready. They’re willing.” And they have the ammo. We think.

This is Radio Clash. The head of U.S. Army Europe has called the ability Russia has shown in Ukraine to jam everything from cellphones to military radios to drones “eye-watering.” And officials in the Pentagon are scrambling to understand how to counter the advances in electronic warfare (EW) that Moscow has displayed both there and in Syria. But it’s slow going. While the U.S. Army only has a few hundred dedicated EW troops trained up, the Russians and Chinese have made a more concentrated investment in the capability in recent years.

The two potential U.S. adversaries “have companies, they have battalions, they have brigades that are dedicated to the electronic warfare mission,” the Army’s Col. Jeffrey Church said in an interview with FP’s Paul McLeary. Those units are deploying “with specific electronic warfare equipment, with specific electronic warfare chains of command,” he said.

Just enough, not too much? But two can play at that game. Kind of. The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. has tweaked the counter-artillery radar systems it is planning to ship to Ukraine so that the systems can’t peer into Russia — an apparent bid to limit their potential use for any offensive across the border. The move has annoyed Republican critics of the Obama administration who are critical of its unwillingness to ship lethal and more advanced equipment to Ukraine in the face of Russian-backed assaults. The Defense Department is warning Ukraine that Russia may seek to target the radars systems and American troops are training their Ukrainian counterparts in how to keep the systems safe from enemy assaults.

Together, apart. The Chinese and Russians are often linked in the popular imagination as almost interchangeable threats to American power, rolled out in stump speeches and presidential debates as emerging behemoths that are challenging American leadership in the world. The two have often acted together at the United Nations Security Council to block western European initiatives, but as FP’s Colum Lynch notes in an engaging exclusive story, no two nations can remain in lockstep for long, as individual policies, goals, and national interests will always trump all else.

A senior Security Council diplomat tells Lynch that Beijing and Moscow are still aligned on a range of issues stretching from Iran to North Korea, “but the diplomat said the alliance is weakening as the two countries find their priorities “diverging” on a range of issues, from South Sudan to Ukraine and Syria, where Beijing favors a more intensive diplomatic push to end the fighting between Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and his enemies.” Critically, the source noted, “something is definitely happening. There is a separating of China and Russia.”

All together, now. Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to Vienna to sit down with his counterparts from Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey on Friday to talk through the increasingly confused war in Syria. The meeting comes just days after Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad dropped in on Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for a day of awkward smiles and firm handshakes, where Russian leadership doubled down on its support for keeping the regime in power.

SEAL in hot water. Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, a rising star in the covert world of naval special warfare, is receiving a delayed promotion to two star Admiral. The reason for the two-year delay in his promotion is that Losey was only recently cleared by the Navy after a series of “separate, years-long investigations that involved more than 100 witnesses and 300,000 pages of e-mails,” reports the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock. The Defense Department’s Inspector General office called out Losey for illegally retaliating against underlings for reporting on his alleged travel policy infractions, going so far as to proclaim that he will “cut the head off this snake” in a bid to uncover those who reported him.

Good morning all! Thanks for joining us yet again here at SitRep. We like to think that we cast a pretty wide net over here, but if you have any juicy tidbits, or national security-related events pop up on your radar, please pass them along! Best way is to send them to or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Looking for more foreign policy scoop and inside analysis? FP’s podcasts this week explore America’s recent legacy in the Middle East, with David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake and Tom Ricks. In a new series, The Backstory, photojournalist Andrew Quilty, who captured the first photos inside the recently bombed MSF Hospital, takes us through the horrific damage he encountered. Listen and subscribe to FP podcasts here:


Behind all the handshakes in Wednesday’s footage of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Moscow visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin lurks a relationship of mutual suspicion, the New York Times reports. Diplomats and Moscow political insiders told the Times that Russia’s efforts to prop up Assad’s rule isn’t so much a reflection of its affection for the man himself as it is of Moscow’s interest in the preservation of Russian influence in the region. White House officials, however, insist that the lack of a Putin-Assad bromance does not mean that Russia is open to negotiating away Assad’s rule in a future Syria.

Reuters crunched the numbers on Russian airstrikes in Syria and found that 80 percent of them don’t target the Islamic State, the stated casus belli for Russia’s involvement in the conflict. The news agency found the location of 64 strikes from data published by Russia’s defense ministry, only 15 of which were in areas where the Islamic State is known to be active. The data buttresses claims by a number of analysts that Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is aimed more at defending the Assad regime from more moderate rebel factions rather than stamping out the Islamic State.

The Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say a Russian airstrike in the town of Sarmin in Idlib Province hit a SAMS hospital, killing 12. SAMS, which has been providing humanitarian medical services in the region, claims that Russian warplanes deliberately targeted their hospital on Tuesday and that Russian air strikes also hit the only two remaining hospitals in Aleppo on Monday.


Last week, Scottish prosecutors identified two new suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland after a Frontline documentary featured new evidence in the case. But now Libyan officials are hinting that they might not be willing to extradite any suspects, with Britain’s Daily Telegraph reporting that a spokesman for the Libyan government in Tripoli said they would rather any suspects “be tried on Libyan soil.” Nonetheless, Libyan officials have also said they’re willing to cooperate in an investigation, but have yet to receive any formal notification about the two new suspects.


The alliance has just kicked off its largest exercise since 2002, throwing 36,000 troops, 140 aircraft and more than 60 ships into the mix for a 5-week test in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. But the fictional war is being overshadowed by the real war that Russia is waging at the other end of the Mediterranean in Syria. While NATO isn’t involved in the bombing campaign against the Islamic State there, it is trying to prove its relevance in the 21st century through exercises like this. “We need to develop a strategy for all kinds of crises, at 360 degrees,” said French Gen. Denis Mercier, the head of NATO’s office focused on future threats. “We need to react in the south, in the east, the north, all around.”


A new study from the International Organization for Migration estimates that roughly 700 Kenyans have quit the Islamic State and al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based Islamist terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. The report, written with help from Kenya’s Interior Ministry and drawn from interviews with defectors, concluded that most of those who left said they did so after realizing their recruiters had lied to them about the terms of their involvement with the groups. The report concludes that the defectors offer a valuable resource for countering further recruitment by terrorist groups but also present a challenge for reintegration back into Kenyan society.


The U.S., Britain, France and Germany are asking the United Nations Security Council to investigate Iran’s recent test of a ballistic missile, the Associated Press reports. Iran’s test constitutes a “severe violation” existing U.N. Security Council sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to the countries. Iran tested the medium range “Emad” missile on Oct. 11 and experts estimate its range at around 2,500 kilometers.


When it comes to the relationship between the U.S. and Chinese navies, it’s not all tension and sabre-rattling. In fact, this week, the People’s Liberation Army played host to American Navy brass, offering a discrete tour of its only aircraft carrier. The delegation of 27 American officers toured the Liaoning and held discussions on “exercise management, personnel training, medical protection and strategies in carrier development,” a Chinese navy official said on its official Web site. We’ll see how long the goodwill lasts, as the U.S. Navy prepares to start sailing within 12 nautical miles of the string of artificial islands Beijing has built in the South China Sea.

Marine Corps

Tragic news from the United Kingdom as a U.S. Marine pilot has died in an F-18 crash in Cambridgeshire, England on Wednesday. Details on the incident are still scant but the F-18 from the Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 232 from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at Miramar, California reportedly took off RAF Lakenheath and the pilot ejected sometime thereafter.

Air Force

Air Force acquisition brass are hinting that they’ll announce in the next few days whether Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman has won the expected $55 billion contract to build the service’s the next generation bomber. The program, which has already flirted with delays in announcing who will get the massive contract, is the biggest thing going in Pentagon acquisition circles, with each plane expected to cost between $550 million and $600 million. Yes, each.

Tweet of the day

The U.S. Mission to NATO and the U.S. embassy in Brussels feel the BBBBBBBRRRRRRRRTTTTT

RT @USNATO A-10 Warthogs deployed to Incirlik Base in Turkey–>  via @AirForceTimes #BBBBBBBRRRRRRRRTTTTT

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