Situation Report: Breaking news in Jordan; Pentagon’s new plans for Europe; Washington open to sending more troops to Syria; Gitmo fight looming; Netanyahu comes to town; planes and drones to the Middle East; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley BREAKING: Multiple reports claim that a Jordanian police officer shot and killed two Americans at a police training center near Amman, Jordan, before killing himself on Monday. The U.S.-funded facility in Muaqar trains Iraqi and Palestinian security forces. The Jordan Times reports that the Americans are contractors. And Reuters ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
BREAKING: Multiple reports claim that a Jordanian police officer shot and killed two Americans at a police training center near Amman, Jordan, before killing himself on Monday. The U.S.-funded facility in Muaqar trains Iraqi and Palestinian security forces. The Jordan Times reports that the Americans are contractors. And Reuters reports that there may be more casualties, as “at least three other U.S. service personnel” could be injured. The U.S. Central Command has not returned a request for comment.
New threats, the usual response. U.S. military leaders are looking for ways to meet Russia’s aggressive moves in Eastern Europe and the “hybrid war” tactics Russia has been using in Ukraine, which includes electronic jamming, cyber, and special operations forces working in conjunction to destabilize local governments. The answer from the Pentagon? More infantry brigades, more helicopters, and more artillery. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander said over the weekend he wants more U.S. Army brigades to start flowing into Europe in the coming months on a rotational basis, and U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley wants to add attack helicopter units, engineering teams and artillery brigades, according to the Wall Street Journal.
More troops to Syria? Defense secretary Ash Carter told ABC News’ Bob Woodruff in a recent interview that he might be open to sending more U.S. troops to Syria: “If we find additional groups that are willing to fight ISIL and are capable and motivated, we’ll do more. The president has indicated a willingness to do more, I certainly am prepared to recommend he do more, but you need to have capable local forces; that’s the key to sustainable victory,” he said.
Forced closure. President Barack Obama is reportedly considering taking executive action to shut down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and not many on Capitol Hill are thrilled about the idea. Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tx.) told “Fox News Sunday” that he fully expects the president to go ahead with the move, even though congress has barred him from housing the remaining detainees in the United States. “I do think you’re going to see an executive action coming down to close down Guantanamo,” McCaul said on Sunday.
McCaul said that moving the detainees to U.S. prisons would be “highly reckless and irresponsible,” since he says it would increase to risk of terrorist attacks within the United States. But he’s counting on popular discontent to stop the president, saying, “I would hope the American people would rise up in numbers so strongly” that Obama will back down. A team from the Defense Department has already visited seven military and civilian prisons within the United States to assess their ability to house the Gitmo detainees. On Friday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ak.) released a statement saying he would fight “any efforts by the Obama Administration to close the terrorist detention facility.”
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Internet sleuths have found Russian soldiers in Syria operating in the north of Syria thanks to sloppy opsec. The Confliction Intelligence Team, a collection of Russian investigative bloggers, scoured pictures posted online and found three Russian troops in photos who had geotagged photos indicating that they were in Hama, Homs and as far north as Aleppo — well outside the main hubs of Russia’s presence in Latakia.
Reuters has also obtained a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluding that an infant in Marea, Syria died from exposure to sulfur mustard, potentially confirming the use of chemical weapons in Syria. OPCW’s mandate doesn’t include assigning responsibility for the attack but a previous story by the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers reported that the attack on Marea came from artillery fired by the Islamic State.
American intelligence officials are doubling down on their assessment that a bomb brought down a Russian airliner over Sinai province, telling CNN that they are now “99 percent certain” of the conclusion. French news outlet France 2 also reported that European investigators who have examined the plane’s black boxes have concluded that the crash was not an accident.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Washington on Monday, reportedly looking to patch up relations with the Obama administration and talk military aid increases after an acrimonious dispute over nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Netanyahu is looking to seal a 10-year defense aid compact with the United States and hopes to increase U.S. military assistance from $3 billion a year up to $5 billion. Israel is also reportedly looking to get more F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy Matt Spence argues that Obama and Netanyahu should use the visit to reinvigorate the relationship between the two countries, including getting U.S. and Israeli tech firms to work together to push innovation. Washington should also “convene a quiet trilateral security dialogue with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia in a third country like Jordan” to work on the most pressing security issues in the region, like Iran and the Islamic State.
Russia and Iran say they’ve signed a contract for delivery of the S-300 air defense missile. The sale of the S-300 to Iran has been something of a soap opera over the years. After initially pledging to sell the systems to Tehran, Russia reneged on the deal in 2009 following U.S. pressure and a pledge by the Obama administration to relocate a missile defense system from Eastern Europe that had been an irritant to Moscow. The missiles can reportedly put non-stealth aircraft at great risk, complicating any potential plans for future U.S. air strikes in Iran.
A Taliban faction unhappy with Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s ascension to leadership of the group after the revelation earlier this year that former leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had died in 2013 has taken up arms against the group with help from members of the Islamic State. Last week, the dissident faction elected Mullah Mohammad Rasool as leader of their group, rejecting Mansoor’s authority. But on Sunday the feud escalated into outright violence in Zabul province, with a total of roughly 50 dead in clashes between the two sides.
Business of defense
It’s time for the Dubai Air Show, which means it’s time for U.S. defense companies to tout all of the business they do — and hope to do — with clients in the Middle East. Textron CEO Ellen Lord says that the company is working on deals with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar for its small Shadow or Aerosonde drones. Since regimes in the region have been squeezed a bit by the fall in oil prices, the company is looking at different options, including leasing, to help make orders more palatable for the suddenly cost-conscious Gulf countries. Buyers in the region are also increasingly asking about buying armed drones, but the company hasn’t requested permission from the U.S. government to start selling weaponized drones internationally just yet.
But not everyone is happy. Boeing’s vice president for international business development Jeff Kohler, told reporters at the show that the company is unhappy with how long it is taking the Obama administration to approve fighter jet sales to Gulf allies. “We’re a little frustrated, and I know the customers are in the region,” he said. A whopping $3 billion deal for 28 F/A-18 fighter jets to Kuwait, and another for a number of F-15 fighters for Qatar, have been hung up in U.S. regulatory processes for months.
Amid all the weapons wares on offer at the Dubai Airshow, China’s first stealth fighter is not finding a warm reception among potential customers. Chinese officials are showing off the FC-31 at the show, but so far, there are no confirmed buyers for the multirole jet, made by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). AVIC representatives say they’re in talks with the Chinese military and there are rumors of Pakistani and Iranian interest, but Defense News found little enthusiasm overall for the FC-31 at the air show.
San Diego, California-based drone maker General Atomics is expanding its footprint in the Middle East, opening up a new office in the United Arab Emirates, which is likely a sign of the region’s growing demand for unmanned systems. The company makes the U.S. Air Force’s Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones.
Sorry, the UFOs have not come to destroy the earth just yet. West Coast residents were treated to mysterious lights in the sky this weekend, courtesy of the United States Navy. The source of the disturbance, which more imaginative left coasters believed to be an alien spaceship, was instead a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The lights in the sky came from a Trident II ballistic missile test fired from the USS Kentucky ballistic missile submarine. The videos are pretty cool, though.