The Cable

Situation Report: Carter gets through another Hill appearance; new book by former intel chief; NATO training against Russian tactics; India comes to the Pentagon; House wants to supply Kurds; new North Korea moves; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Take the Hill. No one expected it to be a sedate affair, but the appearance by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday remained civil, despite the committee’s obvious frustration with the war ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Take the Hill. No one expected it to be a sedate affair, but the appearance by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday remained civil, despite the committee’s obvious frustration with the war against the Islamic State. While Carter and Selva took their lumps, the secretary also pushed back, FP’s Paul McLeary writes, blaming Congress for delaying the disbursement of $116 million to train and equip more moderate Syrian forces, and complaining of the slow pace of confirming nominees for senior leadership jobs at the Pentagon. Carter said the Senate has slow-walked 16 nominees — some since March — including open positions for the secretary of the Army and undersecretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Love and rockets. Also on the Hill, lawmakers slammed the Obama administration Wednesday for failing to respond more aggressively to reports that Iran had launched a second medium-range ballistic missile last month — which would be a violation of U.N. resolutions, says FP’s John Hudson. Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the United States was reviewing the reports but had not yet confirmed their accuracy. If accurate, “Power said the United States would bring evidence against Iran at a meeting next week of the U.N. Security Council, which could result in punitive action.”

Cleared hot. Retired U.S. Army general Michael T. Flynn, the outspoken and at times controversial former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has signed a deal with St. Martin’s Press to write a book entitled “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies,” due out in July 2016.

In a statement that came with Wednesday’s announcement, Flynn said he’s writing the book “to show that the war is being waged against us by enemies this administration has forbidden us to describe: radical Islamists.” He also wants to “lay out a winning strategy that is not passively relying on technology and drone attacks to do the job. We could lose this war; in fact, right now we are losing. The Field of Fight will give me [sic] view on how to win.”

Shiny new things. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been sinking billions into revamping the Russian military machine over the last several years, and Moscow’s entry into the war in Syria has been a coming out party for the gear those investments have produced. The launch earlier this week of cruise missiles from a brand-new Russian sub parked off the Syrian coast is just the latest in a series of “look at me” moments we’ve seen since Moscow’s bombing campaign started in late September, FP’s Reid Standish writes in a solid piece. There has been quite a bit of Russian kit on display, including sub and ship-launched cruise missiles, new missile defense systems, and a new fleet of drones, but the piece also locates an obvious but less-discussed reason for Moscow’s chest-thumping: pure gamesmanship. Moscow wants the world to see that it has finally tossed off the musty old Soviet overcoat and is ready again to be a global military power.

Somebody’s watching me. Moscow wants the world to notice its new capabilities, and U.S. and NATO troops are more than happy to oblige, taking the opportunity to go to school on the new look Russian military. Alliance troops have already started training against the latest Russian battlefield tactics and technologies, using what they’re learning from Ukrainian troops who have been fighting Russian forces and their separatist allies for over a year in Ukraine’s east, says a top U.S. military official.

Speaking with reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said a program in western Ukraine — where hundreds of U.S. troops and Special Ops forces are training Ukrainian military and police units — has been an invaluable learning experience. The Russian use of drones to direct artillery fire and electronic jamming capabilities in particular have been a real eye-opener, and “we’ve already plowed that into our own training” at the American-run Hohenfels training site in Germany, Hodges said.

Land grab. But it’s not simply a matter of new equipment and tactics that worry U.S. and NATO military planners. Hodges has previously warned of the dangers inherent in a narrow strip of land dubbed the “Suwalki Gap” that nests in the seam between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the northwest and Moscow-friendly nation of Belarus to the southeast, which, if closed, would all but cut off the NATO Baltic countries form the rest of Europe. FP wrote about Hodges’ concerns over the gap in September, and while we’re at it, we ran down the Army’s worries about falling behind the Russians in the electronic warfare game, as well.

In a related bit of news, a new United Nations report estimates that over 9,100 people have been killed since the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, with 1,000 of those deaths coming since September. An estimated 20,797 have been injured.

Spread out. The Pentagon is considering establishing a string of small bases throughout the Middle East and Africa from which to conduct special operations raids and surveillance activities, according to a new report by the New York Times. The plan wouldn’t be too costly, military officials promise, and would greatly expand the ability of the U.S. to respond to a wide range of issues quickly.

House call. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has long been known as an advocate for deepening ties between the U.S. and India, so it was no surprise when he signed a new defense agreement with India during a June visit there. Both countries have been warily eyeing Beijing’s rapid military modernization, and the plan calls for the joint development and manufacture of things like jet engines, aircraft carrier design and construction, and is meant to be the seed for a wider tech sharing plan.

And now, Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar is heading to the Pentagon for a follow-up visit. After a Thursday morning full of meetings,  Carter and Parrikar will head over to the Pentagon briefing room for a rare joint press conference at 10:50 a.m. After that, they’ll fly out to the USS Eisenhower to view flight operations while the ship is at sea.

Thanks much for clicking through this morning, the early morning crew here at SitRep HQ is back again for another installment of this little thing we have going on. 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

Russia is pushing back against reports that it plans to open more air bases in Syria, according to Tass. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said “there is no urgent need” for new bases, citing the short distance between Russia’s current base in Latakia and rebel-held areas. In early November, NBC reported that Russia had sent attack helicopters to Tiyas in preparation for a push against the Islamic State’s presence in Palmyra and had opened another base at Sharyat, close to Homs. Kuwait’s Al-Rai newspaper followed up a month later with a story about Russian plans for opening a base at Sharyat.

Syrian government forces and rebels in Homs are concluding a temporary ceasefire agreement to allow rebels safe passage to evacuate the city, effectively returning the entire city to government control, the AP reports. According to the Homs governor, 320 rebels — in addition to roughly 300 civilians — will leave the city under a deal overseen by the Red Crescent and the Islamic State.

Iraq

Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq are threatening Turkey over its deployment of troops to a training facility for Iraqi forces near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul. Reuters reports that the militias are threatening to attack Turkish forces unless Turkey abides by a 48 hour deadline issued by officials in Baghdad to withdraw from Iraq.

When Iraq’s peshmerga forces recaptured the city of Sinjar from the Islamic State, they cut off one of its supply routes along Highway 47 from Syria into Iraq. But the jihadist group has created a new line of communication to ferry supplies from its capital in Raqqa to the city of Mosul, according to Voice of America. Peshmerga forces say that the group is now using civilian cars traveling from the town of Ba’aj near Mosul through Qirwan near the border with Syria.

The U.S. is currently bound by law to send arms to its Kurdish peshmerga allies in Iraq through the central government in Baghdad, but a new law winding its way through Congress is looking to bypass Baghdad and arm the Kurds directly. The Hill reports the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill by unanimous voice vote allowing direct arming of the peshmerga. Officials in the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad oppose the bill as a threat to their authority to make policy on a nationwide basis.

North Korea

North Korea is “ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb” according to comments made by its dynastic dictator Kim Jong Un on Tuesday. North Korea has successfully tested atomic weapons before, but the BBC follows up with nuclear experts who are doubtful that the North Korean military has managed to develop a hydrogen bomb, viewing the claims as chest-thumping propaganda.

North Korea has nearly finished upgrades to its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, according to a review of new satellite imagery by the North Korean military-watcher nerds at 38 North. Work on fuel storage facilities and the launch pad will allow North Korea to carry out launches of larger rockets, which many view as effectively ballistic missile tests, in early 2016.

Gitmo

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a new video featuring a former Guantanamo detainee, Ibrahim Qosi, who is also known as Sheikh Khubayb al Sudani, according to the Long War Journal. Qosi copped a plea deal with prosecutors at Gitmo in 2010 and was released from custody back to Sudan in 2012. He linked up with AQAP in 2014 but the recent video, in which Qosi encourages lone wolf and self-starter attacks in the west, is the al-Qaeda fighter’s first video appearance with the group.

Tech
IBM is now working with IARPA, the intelligence community’s advanced research arm, to build super-fast quantum computers. Defense One caught the announcement that IARPA is issuing a grant to IBM for research into quantum computing, which can exponentially increase the speed of computer processors — an achievement which would allow an array of new capabilities, including faster code-breaking.

Finally…

Weep for the Pentagon Public Affairs Officer, who has to hack through a new 140-page public affairs doctrine manual. The new book is about double the length of the previous doctrine which was published in 2005. If this is your sort of thing, the good people at Secrecy News got a hold of a copy and posted it this week. The big takeaway? The doctrine prohibits public affairs personnel from using “military deception” on reporters or the public as a way to get a message across. But don’t worry, reporters have another term for how some interactions with military public affairs go…

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