Situation Report: SEALs in Afghanistan accused of abuse; DefSec Carter in email flap; Baghdad rejects U.S. help; Putin admits troops in Ukraine; defense contractor drama; Germany flying over Syria; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Big news: Despite graphic and detailed testimony from several U.S. soldiers and Navy personnel that U.S. Navy SEALs viciously abused Afghan detainees and randomly shot at locals while deployed to a small outpost in Afghanistan in 2012, the commandos have been cleared of any wrongdoing, according to a potentially ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Big news: Despite graphic and detailed testimony from several U.S. soldiers and Navy personnel that U.S. Navy SEALs viciously abused Afghan detainees and randomly shot at locals while deployed to a small outpost in Afghanistan in 2012, the commandos have been cleared of any wrongdoing, according to a potentially explosive new report. One of the Afghan men allegedly beaten by the commandos would later die of his injuries.
The picture painted by the American servicemembers and several Afghan villagers portrays an undisciplined SEAL team itching for a fight, despite the mission to build relationships with the locals. But the Navy’s investigation into the actions of members of SEAL Team 2 would eventually throw out a Navy lawyer’s recommendation that the troops face assault charges, and since the inquiry wrapped up, two of the SEALs and their lieutenant have been promoted, “even though their commander in Afghanistan recommended that they be forced out of the elite SEAL teams,” the New York Times reports.
Dots and loops. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has become the latest Obama administration official dinged for using his personal email for official business, and it appears he only stopped talking on the unclassified net after the White House stepped in to ask what was going on.
While there’s no indication Carter used his non-government email to pass along classified information, defense officials tell the New York Times, the revelation comes on the heels of the ongoing scandal over then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton having used a private server for government business, and the embarrassing hack of CIA Director John Brennan’s equally embarrassing AOL account.
Carter used an iPhone and iPad to discuss “speeches, meetings and news media appearances,” with his staff, according to the report. It’s unclear when the secretary stopped the practice, but he continued using the email account “for at least two months” after the Clinton email situation was exposed in March. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough was told of Carter’s email sloppiness in May, and had the White House Counsel’s Office ping the Pentagon to find out what was going on.
Carter’s spokesman Peter Cook said that Carter now believes using his personal email was “a mistake,” and has stopped the practice. He added that all of the emails were backed up to Carter’s official email account, so they can be preserved as a federal record.
No deal. While the email story breaks, Carter is in Baghdad trying to manage the fight against the Islamic State, with varying degrees of success. His meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Wednesday didn’t quite go as planned, as his offer to send more front-line U.S. combat advisors and Apache attack helicopters to Iraq was flatly rejected by the Iraqi leader.
Abadi’s refusal of more U.S. help dramatically underscores the tensions that have built up between Washington and Baghdad, and hints at the influence Tehran holds over Iraqi leaders. Lt. Gen Sean MacFarland, the American general running the U.S.-led air war and training mission in Iraq, told reporters after the meeting that “there are a number of complex relationships that the government of Iraq has to tend to, and we are here in Iraq at the behest of that government.” Without mentioning Iran specifically, the general added that the U.S. has to be “attentive to some of the political realities that surround us every single day,” in today’s Iraq.
Welcome back as we come close to the end of another busy week here at SitRep. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
The business of defense
The world’s largest defense contractor is currently involved in two different legal battles with the U.S. government, though the likelihood of either breaking its way are pretty slim.
In September, defense giant Lockheed Martin filed a protest with the government after losing out on the bid to build 55,000 new vehicles for the U.S. Army. That protest was dismissed earlier this week. In response, the company has gone to the Court of Federal Claims, complaining that the Army didn’t play fair, and held back documents from government investigators until the last minute. The case isn’t holding up work on the effort to replace the Army’s Humvees with new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, however, as winning bidder Oshkosh has already started building the first 17,000 vehicles in the multibillion dollar program. Analysts don’t foresee Lockheed’s latest move as changing that.
Lockheed is also teamed with fellow defense behemoth Boeing in protesting their loss of the contract to build the Air Force’s $80 billion Long Range Strike Bomber. While Boeing is in the lead on that program, the loss to Northrop Grumman stung the pair, who have decided to push back by holding up the program by forcing the government to take another look.
The U.S. is helping its Syrian Arab allies gear up for an offensive against the Islamic State in northeast Syria, according to Reuters. The wire service reports that the U.S. has shipped a fresh batch of weapons and ammunition to Arab members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a 5,000 strong force that is allied with Kurdish fighters, to help take the town of al-Shadadi, which ISIS uses as a staging ground for equipment. If captured, the victory would help the isolate the Islamic State’s capital in Raqqa.
A German A310 tanker refueled jets participating in bombing runs over Syria on Tuesday, marking the official start of Germany’s involvement in the air war against the Islamic State in Syria. Berlin will also begin running reconnaissance flights for the international coalition in January. President Obama has reportedly asked Germany to contribute more to the war against the Islamic State but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed back against suggestions for greater involvement, saying the German military is already doing enough.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has slammed Russia for its policy of hitting Syrian rebels in areas where the Islamic State is not present. Hammond said three quarters of Russian airstrikes target rebel groups unaffiliated with ISIS — a move he characterized as effectively helping the terrorist group by “weakening the opposition” groups who are opposed to it.
Vice President Joe Biden put the squeeze on Turkey to make peace with Baghdad and remove all of its troops from a contentious training facility for anti-Islamic State fighters near Mosul. During a call with Biden Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi emphasized that Turkey’s deployment of troops to the training base had occurred without the blessing of officials in Baghdad. (And it didn’t help that Baghdad’s friends in Tehran appeared to be unhappy with the deployment.) A statement released by the White House later noted that Biden said Turkey needs to remove any troops not approved by the Iraqi government.
That training base near Mosul came under attack Wednesday from the very enemies it was training local fighters to take on. A former governor of Ninevah Province told the AP that the Islamic State carried out a lengthy mortar attack on the camp, killing three fighters receiving training and wounding 10, including some of the Turkish trainers whose presence has angered Baghdad. Turkish officials said they fired back at their attackers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Turkish military is gearing up launch a new military offensive in the southeastern Turkey against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a Kurdish terrorist group which aims to create a Kurdish homeland. Over the past few months, Turkey has launched airstrikes against Kurdish groups in Syria, some of them aligned with the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State. The U.S. has at times bristled at Turkey’s alleged preoccupation with fighting Kurdish separatists at the expense of fighting the Islamic State.
What if you put on an anti-Islamic State coalition but forgot to tell someone they were a part of it? That’s the problem Saudi Arabia is dealing with after announcing the creation of a counter-ISIS coalition comprised of 34 predominately Muslim countries. Shortly after announcing the organization, officials from Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia said they had not quite agreed to join the initiative. Saudi officials said the coalition will have a joint operations cell based in Riyadh to assist in counterterrorism operations around the world. At least for those countries who have been told they’re part of the team.
More rhetorical fireworks from Russia aimed at the United States, this time over U.S. missile defense. Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops, claimed Wednesday that Russian missiles can defeat U.S. missile defense technology. Karakayev said that Russia had upgraded its missiles with “brand new and effective means” to take into account U.S. missile defense technology, and that a swarm of Russian strategic missiles would undo American missile shields “anywhere in the world.”
After years of denials, captured Russian soldiers and indiscreet military selfies, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally fessed up to the presence of Russian military personnel in Ukraine on Thursday. “We never said there were no people [in Ukraine] who were carrying out certain tasks including in the military sphere,” Putin said during a question and answer with media, according to a translation by Reuters. Contrary to Putin’s admission, Moscow has frequently denied that its troops have been deployed to Ukraine.
China is none too pleased about a planned U.S. weapons sale to Taiwan and is trying to leverage its economic might with the threat of sanctions to put a stop to the deal. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang threatened to sanction any defense companies involved in supplying weapons as part of the proposed sale to Taiwan.
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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