The Cable

Situation Report: All combat jobs in U.S. military open to women; story of one victim of the attack on the Kunduz MSF hospital; more fights over servicemembers reporting child rape in Afghanistan; European countries throwing in against ISIS; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley BREAKING: Proving that the U.S. war in Afghanistan is still very far from being over, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan announced Friday that a joint force of American and Afghan Special Forces raided a Taliban prison in Helmand Thursday night, freeing 40 Afghan Police,  Army and Border Police ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

BREAKING: Proving that the U.S. war in Afghanistan is still very far from being over, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan announced Friday that a joint force of American and Afghan Special Forces raided a Taliban prison in Helmand Thursday night, freeing 40 Afghan Police,  Army and Border Police members. Details are thin, but a release described “a helicopter assault mission in Nawzad district, Helmand Province.” No word as to any U.S. or Afghan casualties.

Historic day, missing chairman. The presentation might not have gone down the way some would have liked, but on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter took the podium at the Pentagon to announce a historic change in the U.S. military: combat positions — including Navy SEAL, Army Rangers, and Air Force Special Operations jobs — are being opened up to women. The move doesn’t come without some drama, however. FP’s Paul McLeary notes that Carter stood alone in the Pentagon briefing room, without the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, at his side.

When he was commandant of the Marine Corps earlier this year, Dunford sent a report to Carter that opposed opening up combat jobs to women, and his absence on such a historic occasion Thursday spoke volumes over his current stance on the issue. Adding to the tension, some members of Congress are already calling for hearings. Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, said he plans to call Pentagon officials before his committee “to discuss the review process and how today’s decision was reached.” But the new rules still take effect in 30 days, with full implementation expected by April 1.

The man on the operating table. The pictures are hard to look at. A man’s body, strapped to an operating table, covered only in concrete dust and pieces of fallen ceiling, alone in a destroyed room. When a U.S. AC-130 gunship opened fire on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Oct. 3, an estimated 30 staff and patients died, and FP contributor Andrew Quilty tracked down the story of one. Baynazar Mohammad Nazar. The man on the table. A husband and father of four children. Quilty returned to Kunduz a few weeks after the attack and spent time with Nazar’s family as they lurch into an uncertain future, delivering a powerful story about the human aftermath of a U.S. airstrike. Quilty had also been the first journalist to enter the wrecked hospital a week after the attack, and sent back haunting images of the human toll of warfare.

Putin tosses haymakers. In his annual State of the Nation speech on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to even mention the ongoing war in Ukraine, saving all of his (albeit limited) rhetorical verbal firepower for Moscow’s fight against Islamist militants, and his new target: Turkey. “We always considered, and will always consider, treachery to be the ultimate and lowest act,” he said. “Let those in Turkey who shot our pilots in the back know this.” In one pointed moment, he declared “Only Allah, most likely, knows why they did this. And evidently Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by depriving them of their intelligence and reason.” FP’s Reid Standish writes that after a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24 that had crossed into Ankara’s airspace, the Kremlin responded with a wide array of economic sanctions targeting $30 billion in trade between the two countries.

More fallout from Afghan sex abuse scandal. In another case of the U.S. military moving to remove a servicemember after concerns were raised over the sexual abuse of Afghan children by U.S.-backed members of the Afghan police, the Navy has decided to remove a Marine Major they say shared classified emails about Sarwar Jan, an Afghan police officer and suspected child rapist.

And an influential congressman is now calling for an independent investigation into charges that U.S. troops in Afghanistan were told to look the other way while Afghan commanders abused young boys.

Maj. Jason Brezler, an officer who had returned home in 2012, emailed classified information to Marines in Afghanistan to warn them about Jan, who was suspected of selling military gear to the Taliban, taking bribes, and sexually assaulting young boys. Just weeks after his email, one of the boys held by Jan picked up a gun and killed three Marines at a remote outpost in Helmand. Killed in the attack were Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, 29, Cpl. Richard Rivera, 20, and Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley, 21.

Now, a letter from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca.) to Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday — obtained by FP — is calling for an independent investigation into U.S. support for Jan, and the scandal over American troops possibly being forced to look the other way while sexual abuse was allegedly being practiced on their bases.

Hunter said that any such investigation “must now occur outside of the control of the Department of Defense.” The congressman also recommended the DoD and FBI investigate reports of child sex abuse at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand, where the deadly incident took place, and “whether anyone in the U.S. military was aware of the crimes and if there were any actions taken to alert military officials or authorities.”

The case fits in with a larger effort by the Defense Department’s Inspector General, who recently launched an investigation into how U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have handled accusations of child rape by Afghan military commanders. That probe was sparked by the case of Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, who along with then-Capt. Daniel Quinn, admitted to beating an Afghan police commander in Kunduz in 2011 after superiors refused to act on their reports of child rape and imprisonment.

Martland has appealed the Army’s decision to involuntarily separate him, and the service has until Jan. 1 to make a decision as to whether he stays in the service, or is removed.

Here we are again for another morning of SitRep, and we’re glad to have you along for the ride. As always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ! Best way is to send them to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Syria

The Paris attacks have pushed European countries to join the war against the Islamic State in Syria, with France and the United Kingdom already carrying out airstrikes and Germany signaling it may contribute troops to carry out reconnaissance missions. Now Agence France Presse reports that the Netherlands is feeling the pressure from France and the U.S. to join the coalition. Dutch F-16s are already carrying out airstrikes against the jihadist group in Iraq, but Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has said that the country’s cabinet needs time to debate the merits of broadening the country’s operations into Syria.

Germany, apparently, need no more convincing. The German Parliament Friday voted 445 to 146 to send reconnaissance planes, a frigate and aerial refueling aircraft capacity to the Middle East to help the bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria. Berlin will not conduct direct bombing raids, however. The vote wasn’t a huge surprise, given Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition” government of center-right and center-left parties.

Iran

Russia’s Tass news agency reports that Russia has begun supplying Iran with S-300 air defense missiles. Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told Tass that “the contract is in action. They’ve begun.” Iran has for years sought the mobile air defense missile system, which can put non-stealth aircraft at great risk. Russia initially cancelled a contract for the system with Iran in 2009 in exchange for the United States’ relocation of a ballistic missile defense system from eastern Europe. But this year, Russia signaled that it was renewing plans to sell the system to Iran.

Europe

A “senior European counterterrorism official” tells CNN that the Islamic State has set its sights on the U.K. as a followup target to the attacks in Paris. The official says that the jihadist group’s leadership has directed British fighters for the Islamic State to return to the U.K. to carry out the attack. The cable news network also reports that a Tunisian man based in Raqqa, Syria is the Islamic State’s external operations chief and may have directed the attacks in Paris.

France declared a state of emergency after the Islamic State-linked attacks in Paris and the French government is working on a draft law, seen by Agence France Presse, which would enshrine those emergency powers into the French constitution. The emergency powers currently give French police the authority to make arrests and carry out searches without judicial authorization, but the draft law would also give the French government the authority to strip dual citizens of their French citizenship if convicted of terrorism offenses.

Japan

Japan will spend more than $40 billion on defense next year, the largest sum in the country’s post World War II history, according to Reuters. The defense budget includes funding for the controversial U.S. base on the island of Okinawa as well as money for the defense of islands bordering Chinese maritime claims.

RUMINT

Special Operations Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel is rumored to be the Obama administration top choice to head up U.S. Central Command. Votel’s prominence among candidates to succeed current Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin is a reflection of his commando pedigree and the Obama administration’s preference for a special operations approach to the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Congress

Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham wants to introduce a separate war authorization for the fight against the Islamic State, according to the Hill. Citing “doubt” about executive authority in the conflict, Sen. Graham’s authorization would offer broad authority for a U.S. president to carry out the war, with no limits on the duration or location of the conflict nor would it restrict the use of U.S. ground troops. Sen. Graham says he’d like for the bill to go through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee first, but neither committee chair Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) nor Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have expressed any enthusiasm for offering a war authorization.

Army

Two recent fatal helicopter crashes have forced the Army to ground its aircraft in the U.S. pending an investigation into the incidents and safety procedures across the service, according to the AP. Four soldiers died in a Black Hawk crash at Fort Hood, Texas last week and two Army pilots were killed on Wednesday when their AH-64D attack helicopter crashed during “routine training” at Fort Campbell in Tennessee.

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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