The Cable

Situation Report: Extra lines in the budget; intel chiefs grim assessment; more on U.S. deployment in Helmand; North Korea blowing up its own rockets; and lots more

By Paul Mcleary with Adam Rawnsley Last shot. Now that President Barack Obama has submitted his last federal budget to Congress, we know for sure that the supplemental wartime budgets he railed against as a candidate for president in 2008 have become a fixture of his — and likely his successor’s — yearly budgets. Obama’s ...

By Paul Mcleary with Adam Rawnsley

Last shot. Now that President Barack Obama has submitted his last federal budget to Congress, we know for sure that the supplemental wartime budgets he railed against as a candidate for president in 2008 have become a fixture of his — and likely his successor’s — yearly budgets. Obama’s $582 billion 2017 defense budget contains $58 billion for the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan — with hundreds of millions heading to the growing struggle with the Islamic State and other Islamist groups in Africa.

Overall, the Pentagon is planning to spend about $200 million on operations in North Africa, FP’s Paul McLeary writes, along with budget lines aimed at Djibouti, which has long been a base of operations for U.S. Special Operations Forces in Africa and a key launching pad for drone operations in eastern and northern Africa. There are also programs designed to counter threats presented by militant groups al Shabab in the east, and Boko Haram in the west, but defense officials are so far staying mum on the details.

There’s always more. The budget request included $7.5 billion for the Pentagon to fight the Islamic State, but don’t forget about the State Department. In State’s supplemental request, it asks for $50 million to “build the capacity of moderate partners inside Syria to counter ISIL,” through non-lethal assistance to the armed Syrian opposition. “This assistance will complement the train and equip efforts of the Department of Defense,” the diplomats say.

Running up the Hill. It was tough going up on Capitol Hill Tuesday as the country’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, along with the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Defense Intelligence Agency offered a pretty grim assessment of the global security threats that face Washington and its allies. FP’s Elias Groll runs down the list of threats. Spoiler alert: it’s a messy world, and the intel and spy chiefs weren’t about to sugarcoat that.

Afghanistan, always Afghanistan. We reported Tuesday that several hundred U.S. soldiers are heading to Afghanistan’s Helmand province to help bolster the fight there against a resurgent Taliban. There’s a bit more to the story: A senior Pentagon official told FP that the battalion-sized force will replace a U.S. Army infantry company that has been in Helmand for months. The company has been providing security for American trainers and Special Operations troops operating there. The deployment “is basically tripling” the number of U.S. soldiers in Helmand, the official said. The troops will likely not leave the base, the official said, but “they’ll do what needs to be done” to protect the outpost and the U.S. advisors who operate there.

Teflon Don. What do a couple of local vets in New Hampshire think of Donald Trump, the man who avoided serving in Vietnam and claims he understands the military after having gone to a military boarding school? He’s their guy. FP’s Molly O’Toole is on the ground in New Hampshire and files a report from one of the state’s polling places that helped Trump take the state in the Republican primary fight Tuesday night.

Making deals. Are Russian engineers working at a Syrian gas facility controlled by the Islamic State? It sure looks that way according to a report by FP contributors Ceren Kenar and Ragip Soylu. Rivals have always cut small, local deals during wartime, but what’s happening at the Tuweinan gas facility, roughly 60 miles southwest of the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, is something special. Click through for the rest of the fascinating story which “involves the Assad regime, Russian-Syrian businessmen, the Islamic State, and moderate Syrian groups, which together tried to activate the facility for the financial and logistical benefits it could provide for them.”

Morning, all. We’re into another week here full of Pentagon budget briefings and intelligence hearings on the Hill. 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.

Who’s where when

10:30 a.m. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh provide testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on the service’s 2017 budget request. Watch it here.

3:30 p.m. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Dr. Arthur T. Hopkins is joined by the Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Kenneth A. Myers III, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Dr. Wendin D. Smith to provide testimony to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on how the Pentagon will spend its money to counter weapons of mass destruction in 2017. Watch here.

Syria

Residents of the encircled city of Aleppo are preparing for a humanitarian catastrophe, hoarding food in expectation that the Assad regime will lay siege to the city and starve residents by blocking food supplies, the AP reports. The dwindling supplies from Turkey have already caused price spikes for basics like bread. Forces fighting on behalf of the Syrian government have cut off Aleppo’s northern supply route with help from Russian airpower leaving only a dicey route to the east as a pathway for supplies into the city.

Iraq

The Mosul Dam is in danger of falling apart — as FP’s Keith Johnson recently pointed out — and could flood areas as far away as Baghdad, according to a report from the U.S. Army. The Islamic State’s brief takeover of the dam interrupted those injections, weakening the structure even further. Iraqi officials are hoping that an Italian firm can help repair some of the damage but the price tag for a lasting fix is estimated at around $2 billion, leaving only temporary solutions as politically feasible at the moment.

Don’t expect an assault to take back the Islamic State-held city of Mosul anytime in 2016, according to Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart. Testifying before Congress Tuesday, Stewart said that while the U.S. may be able to help Baghdad begin the process of taking the city with smaller operations this year, capturing Mosul is too complex to achieve in 2016, in his opinion. Stewart’s estimate comes despite Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s stated goal that the U.S. should accelerate the war against the Islamic State and take its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa.

Gulf

Missile defense is the hot new topic in the Gulf states as Iran continues to test and refine its ballistic missile defense capabilities, according to the Daily Telegraph. Along the Western shores of the Persian Gulf, from Kuwait down to the United Arab Emirates, the Sunni Arab states have purchased American PAC-2 or PAC-3 ballistic missile defense systems, investing billions in improving the ability to knock incoming missiles out the sky. The concern is driven by Iran’s growing ballistic missile arsenal, which it showed off in recent tests in October and November 2015.

Iran has broadcast footage of what it claims to be a U.S. sailor crying in detention after he was captured along with other U.S. Navy personnel when their boat drifted into Iranian waters in January. The broadcast appears to make good on a threat from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy leader Admiral Ali Fadavi to release more embarrassing footage of the U.S. sailors.

Poland

Poland’s military is hoping it can persuade NATO to deploy more troops to Eastern Europe by getting itself more involved in Middle East security, Reuters reports. The bank shot strategy wouldn’t involve sending Polish troops to do battle against the Islamic State but could include logistical assistance to Arab states facing down the jihadist group. Poland wants NATO allies to drop their objection to a permanent base in Eastern Europe, which alliance members have been resisting in deference to a 1997 agreement with Russia.

India

The U.S. is in talks to conduct joint patrols with the Indian navy in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, according to a Reuters scoop. The move would likely to royally annoy China as the U.S. seeks to present a united front against China’s expansive territorial claims in the region. Nonetheless, India has yet to carry out joint patrols with any other country, much less the United States, and an Indian navy spokesman told the wire service that there are currently no plans to alter that.

North Korea

How do you prevent adversaries from learning about your intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities from wreckage after a launch? Just blow it up. South Korean officials say that’s precisely what North Korea did after its recent rocket launch to put a satellite in orbit. The rocket’s first stage blew to pieces shortly after separation, leading some to erroneously believe that the rocket had failed. Instead, analysts think North Korea deliberately destroyed the first stage of the rocket to prevent its adversaries from recovering it intact and learning more about the North’s missile capabilities.

The spectrum of war

Army officials are worried that the U.S. is falling behind Russia in its electronic warfare capabilities, the Washington Post reports. Electronic warfare uses the electromagnetic spectrum to jam everything from radios to cell phones in order to deny enemies the ability to communicate. U.S. military adversaries have invested in jamming capabilities, with Russian equipment making an appearance in the conflict in Ukraine. But the U.S. has largely fallen behind, Army officials say, and some are arguing that the Integrated Electronic Warfare system, which can both carry out and identify enemy jamming, needs to be fully funded to cope with the threat.

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