Situation Report: France running bombing runs over Iraq; top SEAL under investigation; State Dept. setting up new policy shop; Syria deal inching closer; China complains over B-52 flight; $17B in waste in Afghanistan; and lots more
By Paul McLeary wit Adam Rawnsley Boots on the waves. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, as the carrier conducts flight operations against the Islamic State. The visit presented a significant photo op moment, as the ship is the first non-American ...
By Paul McLeary wit Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary wit Adam Rawnsley
Boots on the waves. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, as the carrier conducts flight operations against the Islamic State. The visit presented a significant photo op moment, as the ship is the first non-American vessel to take command of the task force carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. The deployment of the French ship has also filled a gap in sea-based air power after the USS Theodore Roosevelt left the gulf in early October, leaving the coalition with no carriers there until the French ship arrived earlier this month. The USS Harry S. Truman recently passed through the Suez Canal, however, and should join the De Gaulle in the next several days to start conducting airstrikes.
The visit came after Carter flew out to the USS Kearsarge, also in the Persian Gulf, where the secretary expressed his condolences over what appears to have been an errant U.S. airstrike in Iraq which killed Iraqi forces fighting against the Islamic State near Fallujah. “These kinds of things happen when you’re fighting side by side as we are,” Carter said. The strike “has all the indications of being a mistake of the kind that can happen on a dynamic battlefield,” he added.
Strike out. On top of the visits to ships at sea, Carter also met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, where his offer of more U.S. troops and attack helicopters was flatly rejected by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Carter also visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan late last week.
Matters of State. FP’s John Hudson gets the scoop on a shakeup at the State Department aimed at putting more punch in the department’s ability to deliver solutions to the White House on some of the world’s thorniest problems, including ending the civil war in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry plans to appoint his Chief of Staff Jon Finer to lead the Office of Policy Planning, the State Department’s in-house think tank, which has been criticized in recent months for churning out policy memos that have little immediate impact on ongoing department initiatives. By putting Finer in charge of policy planning, Hudson writes, “Kerry can turn the office into a kind of mini-National Security Council full of policy experts he can deputize for fast-developing crises.” The move follows a recent meeting at the White House where the president demanded more policy options on how to handle the Syria crisis. The meeting convinced some at State that “the president believed some of his aides were self-censoring recommendations they thought the White House was disinclined to hear,” Hudson reports.
Syria deal. Talks in New York talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war are exposing the sprawling strategy gulf in the coalition against the Islamic State, reports FP’s Colum Lynch. Any potential progress made by the group of nations — which includes the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other key powers — is often hampered by competing interests and core disagreements, like what should be done with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Still, the U.N. Security Council has adopted of a U.S.-drafted resolution endorsing a peace strategy in the four-year-old civil war that has claimed more than 250,000 lives. But even one of the architects of the emerging peace plan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, urges caution: “we are under no illusions about the obstacles that exist,” he told the council after the vote. “There obviously remain sharp differences within the international community” about the way forward.
More Hill problems for the Pentagon. Just when it looked like the logjam of confirmations for senior Pentagon officials being held up by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill was starting to clear, a controversy surrounding a top U.S. Navy SEAL officer has put the hold on the nomination of Janine Davidson to be Under Secretary of the Navy.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Friday that he would block Davidson’s nomination until the Navy revisits its decision not to punish an Admiral accused of illegally retaliating against whistleblowers who worked for him. Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, head of Naval Special Warfare Command and a former commander of SEAL Team 6, finds himself in hot water after the Pentagon’s inspector general found he violated whistleblower protection laws by firing, demoting, or punishing staffers who he suspected reported him for what amounts to a small travel-policy violation. The Pentagon investigators recommended punishment for Losey, but the Navy instead recommended him for promotion. The Navy is now taking a new look at the charges, and his promotion.
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Israel reportedly killed senior Hezbollah militant and former Israeli prisoner Samir Kuntar in an airstrike in Damascus on Saturday. Kuntar was arrested and imprisoned by Israel for a 1979 attack on an Israeli family, in which he murdered three people, including a four year old girl. Kuntar was released in 2008 as part of an Israeli negotiation with Hezbollah for the return of remains belonging to two Israeli soldiers lost during the 2006 Lebanon war.
The Washington Post follows up on one of the most prized tools of leverage and control in the Syrian war: wheat. Rebels and the government have fought over flour mills and wheat farms in the same way armies fight over oil supplies, all in a bid to control the supply of bread. The wheat trade continues between enemies and across battle lines, despite the war, with the Islamic State exploiting its control of large parts of Syria’s agricultural breadbasket to sell wheat to the Assad regime and buyers in Turkey and Iraq for a tidy profit.
Note the symbolism. Iran’s Fars News Agency carries a report from a Lebanese newspaper stating that Russian jets will escort Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s plane through Iraqi airspace and to Iran on a forthcoming visit “in late December and early January.”
The diplomatic clash between Baghdad and Turkey over Turkish troops at a training base near Mosul appears to have ended as Turkey has now removed its troops from the facility. Officials in Baghdad objected strongly to Turkey’s unilateral deployment to northern Iraq and both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden called on Turkey to accede to the Iraqi central government’s request to leave.
The Islamic State
The Defense Department is weighing whether or not to ramp up cyber attacks against the Islamic State, according to a scoop from the Los Angeles Times. At issue is whether to use the vast offensive capabilities of U.S. cyber spies to shut down networks used for propaganda and recruitment, or to leave them open in order to gain intelligence on potential terrorist plots. The push for a stepped-up campaign against the Islamic State online came after the White House requested new options against the group in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings.
A massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is targeting Turkey’s domain name servers, affecting sites using the .tr top level domain. While the source of the attack remains unclear, some have speculated that Russia could be carrying out the DDoS as part of its retaliation for Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian-Turkish border.
The armed drone club is getting a bit bigger. Turkey released a new video showing a missile test being carried out by the Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle, or UCAV, Turkey’s first domestically-developed armed drone. The video shows the UCAV firing a Turkish anti-tank missile at a designated target in a field.
Another satisfied customer. IHS Jane’s reports on a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council in which former Obama administration National Security Advisor Marine Gen. Jim Jones (ret.) and Nawaf Obaid, a former foreign policy advisor to Saudi diplomats, both said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have purchased armed CH-4 drones from China. China has been selling quite a few CH-4s lately, including to Nigeria, Iraq and Pakistan (allegedly the basis for Pakistan’s “Burraq” drone), as the U.S. has removed itself from the market with restrictive drone export rules.
A long investigative report by the folks over at ProPublica finds that the United States has blown through $17 billion in wasteful spending since 2001 in Afghanistan. Those staggering numbers were compiled by Megan McCloskey, who adds that U.S. investigators have “only examined a small percentage of the $110 billion effort to rebuild and remodel Afghanistan. The waste totals are likely much higher.”
India’s defense ministry cleared the $4.5 billion deal to buy the export version of Russia’s most advanced air defense missile system, the S-400 Triumf, according to Defense News. The Indian defense ministry recently okayed the purchase but Russia appears less enthusiastic about the deal. Russian diplomats would reportedly prefer to prioritize finalizing the contract for Russia’s PAK FA 5th generation stealth fighter.
Oops. We think? The Defense Department says a recent passby of an island that China has built in the South China Sea by a U.S. B-52 bomber was a mistake. China complained loudly over the flight, which Beijing called “a serious military provocation.” The incident comes in the wake of some tough talk in Washington about not respecting the territorial claims China has made over the artificial islands. China issued similar complaints in October when a U.S. naval ship sailed close to the islands in a ham-fisted attempt to challenge Chinese authority over the waters nearby, which international law does not recognize.
Congress moved to cut $30 million from the fiscal year 2016 budget of the JLENS cruise missile detection radar system. JLENS captured the attention of the broader public in late October when the balloon-carried radar system broke loose from its tether and left a trail of destruction across two states. The cut leaves $10.5 million left in funding for the radar system.
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