Situation Report: New war for U.S.; Apaches to Baghdad; thousands of Iranians in the fight there too; Syria in middle of drug boom; Pentagon investigating Afghan child abuse scandal; China shadows U.S. ship; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley New war, old battlefield. And all of a sudden, the American involvement in the fight against the Islamic State looks very, very different. Less than a week after the death of Delta Force operator Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler in a raid on an Islamic State prison in Iraq, the ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
New war, old battlefield. And all of a sudden, the American involvement in the fight against the Islamic State looks very, very different. Less than a week after the death of Delta Force operator Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler in a raid on an Islamic State prison in Iraq, the Obama administration is sending senior officials out to announce it is willing to have U.S. troops take part in direct combat in Iraq, and possibly embed U.S. forces in Iraqi combat units.
The dramatic shift in thinking comes after a year’s worth of pledges from the White House of “no boots on the ground,” and as the Obama administration looks for ways to reinvigorate a stalled fight in Iraq, and an intensifying Russian military intervention in neighboring Syria. No numbers have yet been floated over how many more U.S. troops this combat and direct advising mission may require.
The big guns. Not only is the Pentagon preparing to put troops back in the line of fire in Iraq, but the White House is also mulling “deploying a small squadron of Apache attack helicopters to Iraq” in the coming months, along with “a small number of forces on the ground in Syria, embedded among moderate rebels or Kurdish forces there, for the first time,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Ballpark figures. The United States isn’t the only country putting more skin in the fight in Iraq and Syria. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that he believes there are “something less” than 2,000 Iranian troops in Syria advising — and fighting alongside — the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq, Dunford said he thinks there are likely “more than” 1,000 Iranians supporting the Baghdad government and groups of Iranian-backed Shia militias. The Iranian involvement has come at a price, however. U.S. intelligence officials estimate that at least six generals from Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been killed in Syria since 2013.
Beijing calling. China has expressed some real displeasure following the passage of a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer near an artificial island in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands on Tuesday. In a strongly worded statement, the Chinese government said the move “threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests,” and jeopardized the safety of people and property nearby. FP’s Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce write that Chinese warships shadowed the USS Lassen, which had been sent to assert the right of free navigation. China claims territorial sovereignty in the waters surrounding the man-made land mass and the Navy’s brush by the island was designed to signal both a challenge to China’s ability to claim territory based on the construction of the island, and also show support to the Philippines, a U.S. ally locked in disputes with China over ownership of territory in the region.
Potentially explosive new investigation. In the wake of the controversy surrounding the U.S. Army’s attempts to expel a Green Beret for beating an Afghan police official accused of chaining a young boy to his bed and repeatedly raping him — and then beating his mother when she came looking for him — the Defense Department’s Inspector General is getting involved, reports FP’s Paul McLeary. The IG is launching an investigation focusing on how U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have handled accusations of child rape by Afghan military commanders over the years. According to a notice posted on Tuesday, the investigators will look at “how many cases of child sexual abuse alleged against Afghan government officials have been reported to U.S./Coalition Forces Commands,” and “what actions were taken and by whom?”
What to do with a problem like Yemen? The Saudi-led war in Yemen has provoked a massive humanitarian crisis. But the Obama administration, which is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Gulf coalition’s efforts to oust the Houthi movement from power there, is split on what, if anything, to do about it. Officials are reportedly torn between the imperatives of not further alienating its Gulf allies — already annoyed by the U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran — and curbing a burgeoning crisis which has only grown over eight months of what many believe to be a stalled conflict.
Good morning, all, and welcome to another edition of SitRep. Thanks for clicking on through, and hope you find this little thing we have going on here useful. As always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along! Best way is to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
You won’t want to miss this week’s new Global Thinkers podcast. Head on over to iTunes or Stitcher to hear the lively debate between 2014 Global Thinker Anat Admati and the Peterson Institute’s Pedro da Costa, with FP’s Amanda Silverman hosting. They discuss why, even now, no one wants to stand up to Wall Street. Subscribe and listen to FP’s podcasts here: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI
Line of the day
“Enough’s enough. It’s time to get this contract awarded and under protest.”
That line, written half in jest, comes courtesy of defense analyst Roman Schweizer from Guggenheim Partners. He sent an investor’s note just hours before Tuesday’s announcement that the U.S. Air Force had selected Northrop Grumman over a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build the service’s new high-tech long range bomber. The $80 billion program — if the Air Force buys all 100 stealth bombers it says it wants — is the biggest thing going in the world of defense acquisition, and most analysts say they would be surprised if Boeing and Lockheed didn’t file a protest over losing the bid. Stay tuned.
For the first time, Iran might join talks between U.S., European, and Arab countries aimed at hashing out an end to the conflict in Syria, State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday. The U.S. and its European allies have gone through rounds of talks with Russia before to try to reach an accord on Syria’s future, to no end. But the invitation for Iran to participate is a recognition “at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran,” Kirby said. Duck and cover in anticipation of the ensuing firestorm from the ever-restless field of U.S. presidential hopefuls, friends.
Russia says it has suffered its first casualty in Syria and it’s the result of a suicide, but the family of the deceased man is disputing that account. Russian officials say Vadim Kostenko took his own life on a Russian base in Latakia after a stormy round of text messages with his girlfriend back home. Kostenko’s mother, however, has said she will “never believe this version,” and that he was happy last time they spoke. Last week, Reuters, citing pro-Assad military sources and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, wrote of allegations that three Russian soldiers had been killed by enemy artillery in Latakia.
Syria is awash in Breaking Bad-levels of amphetamine production and consumption, according to a report by Reuters. Both rebels and Assad regime forces use Captagon, a stimulant pill, to power through the fierce fighting but the recreational market for the drug in Syria has also boomed, creating a multimillion dollar industry for traffickers and producers in the country and displacing Lebanon as the region’s biggest manufacturer of the drug.
For the second time this month a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital has been attacked in a conflict zone. The Saudi-led (and U.S.-backed) coalition trying to oust the Houthi movement from power in Yemen destroyed an MSF hospital in the country. The aid group had already evacuated all personnel from the facility at the time of the bombing although its director suffered slight injuries in the incident. MSF’s country director Hassan Boucenine, said the attack constitutes a war crime.
Saudi jets bombed boats off the coast of Yemen which Saudi officials claim were smuggling weapons into the country. The Saudis claim the bombed boats were part of a group of seven vessels found near an island off the coast of Yemen’s port city of Al Hudaydah and the remaining ships fled once the strikes took place.
Who’s where when
2:00 p.m. Director Defense Innovation Unit – Experimental George Duchak provides remarks on exploring dual-use technology through DoD and Silicon Valley collaboration at the Unmanned Systems Defense conference at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City.
3:00 p.m. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Israel’s Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon conduct a joint press conference at Naval Air Station Patuxtent River, Patuxtent River, Md. Livestream here.
Documents unsealed in federal court allege that a Chinese spy tried to obtain drone engines and engines used in a host of American fighter jets and divert them to China, Defense News reports. Federal prosecutors allege that Wenxia “Wency” Man and Xinsheng Zhang tried to steal engines for the Predator, the stealth F-35 and F-22 jets as well the F-15 and F-16. An undercover Department of Homeland Security investigation pursued the two. Man is under arrest and Zhang is believed to be in China.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Russia is taking a page from the Pentagon playbook by offering up footage of its military operations in Syria that package the war as precise, anodyne, and successful, in order to whip up support for Russian intervention. Russian social media is abuzz lately with patriotic fans posting high production quality videos that show off purportedly precision strikes carried out by Russian warplanes in Syria.
The New York Times revealed last week that Russian subs are lurking near underwater Internet cables, with officials fearing that that Moscow could cut the cables in the event of a conflict. But according to a forthcoming paper from Chatham House, it wouldn’t be the first time. Think Crimea. The paper, “Russia’s New Tools For Confronting The West,” points out that last year, Russian special ops “selectively disrupted cable connections” at Crimea’s Simferopol Internet exchange point to cut off residents from non-Russian media sources. The result was Russia’s “total information dominance of the region.”
An article published in the joint Army-Marine Corps Cyber Defense Review says Army networks have a shocking number of software vulnerabilities thanks to an incentive structure that doesn’t encourage the discovery or reporting of them. Captains Michael Weigand and Rock Stevens, the authors of the piece, wrote that the Army’s absence of a centralized system to patch software once vulnerabilities are found leaves the service’s communications infrastructure at risk.
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