The Cable

Situation Report: Somalia strikes and the coming drone data; Libya plans revealed; Gitmo detainees return to the fight, the Pentagon’s new ship killing missile; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Class action. The Islamic militant group al-Shabab has been reminded in pretty dramatic fashion that it is probably a bad idea to gather in large numbers at a fixed location. American warplanes and drones swarmed one of the group’s remote training camps in Somalia on Saturday, breaking up a ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Class action. The Islamic militant group al-Shabab has been reminded in pretty dramatic fashion that it is probably a bad idea to gather in large numbers at a fixed location. American warplanes and drones swarmed one of the group’s remote training camps in Somalia on Saturday, breaking up a “graduation” ceremony for a group of fighters who were preparing to attack African Union peacekeepers and the American troops advising them, the Pentagon announced Monday. As many as 150 were killed in what amounted to the largest American strike on the group to date. The action comes as U.S. attention has started to fix on the Islamic State’s expansion into northern Africa, FP’s Paul McLeary writes, but it shows that the Pentagon hasn’t forgotten about the al Qaeda-backed Shabab, either.

A partial accounting. Eventually. Probably. Defense officials announced the strike at almost exactly the same moment that Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism and homeland security adviser, was telling an audience across town that the White House would release an estimate for how many people U.S. drones had killed since 2009. Sort of. The tally won’t include strikes in war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, instead focusing on places like Somalia, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. The announcement comes days after the Justice Department said it would — at some point — release more detailed information on how the government conducts lethal drone strikes as part of its global counterterrorism program. Monaco pledged to release the death toll data on a yearly basis, but given that the Obama administration has less than a year left in office, she couldn’t make any promises.

Adding to the list. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has presented the White House with a list of options for hitting the Islamic State in Libya, including airstrikes against as many as 30 to 40 targets around the country, the New York Times reported Tuesday morning. The list surprised some administration officials, who remain focused on helping to forge a unity government in Tripoli before launching a larger military campaign. The Islamic State has already secured a foothold in western Libya, where about 6,500 fighters have gathered, causing alarm among regional neighbors.

Money trail. An unpublished report by a U.N. panel responsible for enforcing existing North Korean sanctions “suggests that China has been lax in ensuring the current measures were carried out,” according to FP’s Colum Lynch, who obtained a copy of the document. The report also cites evidence that Pyongyang “moved tens of millions of dollars through a Singaporean branch of China’s biggest bank to evade sanctions.” Beijing has held up publication of the review for two weeks, though copies have started to leak.

Gitmo goes bad. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has confirmed that seven out of 144 Guantanamo prisoners freed under the Obama administration have returned to the fight. The new figures also show that 111 of 532 prisoners released by former President George W. Bush eventually returned to the battlefield, with 74 others suspected of doing so. The numbers, while not overwhelming, probably won’t do much for president Obama’s push to close the detention facility by the end of his term, by releasing dozens of prisoners to third countries and transferring the rest to federal or military prisons stateside.

Last shot. The last time Gen. Lloyd Austin sat down before the Senate Armed Services Committee, things didn’t go so well. The infamous Sept. 16 hearing featured the general’s admission to an incredulous Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that the Pentagon had spent tens of millions of dollars to train “four or five” Syrian rebels as part of a failed plan to train up an army of 5,400 anti-ISIS fighters. The training program — budgeted at $500 million — was scrapped soon after.

Austin is heading back to the Hill Tuesday morning along with leaders from the U.S. Africa Command and the Special Operations Command to talk ISIS, airstrikes, and budgets. It will likely be Austin’s last appearance on the Hill before he retires in the coming weeks. The Washington Post has a short profile of the quiet general, who has played a key role in the nation’s wars over the past decade.

Join the club. Finland is having a serious national debate over whether or not to join the NATO alliance, something the country has avoided doing for decades as it sought to keep things cool with both Russia and the West. FP’s Reid Standish has a great piece on how Finland has managed to balance relations — and economic ties — with both sides, but is rethinking things now that Russia has grown increasingly aggressive, and Moscow’s struggling economy makes a move to the West an easier play for the Finnish economy.

One for you, three for me. The Nigerian military is being counted on to play a major role in the fight against Boko Haram, the bloody-minded Islamist militant group. That plan might be more effective if military leaders can stop pocketing millions of dollars earmarked to buy guns and supplies, however. FP’s Siobhan O’Grady flags reports that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has charged former defense chief Alex Badeh of stealing $20 million from the budget. That $20 million “pales in comparison to the roughly $2 billion that Buhari alleges was stolen from the defense budget,” O’Grady writes.

Thanks for clicking on through for another edition of 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: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Who’s where when

9:30 a.m. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander, U.S. Central Command; Gen. David Rodriguez, commander, U.S. Africa Command; Gen. Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command gather before the Senate Armed Services Committee in what should be a spirited affair. Watch here.

Syria

Late last month, the State Department tweeted to Syrians, offering contact info and asking them to report any violations of the recently-inked cessation of hostilities the U.S. negotiated with Russia. Now State would like Syrians to know that they’ve finally hired actual Arabic speakers who can understand those reports when they come in. The turnabout comes after Syria Direct, a non-profit Syrian journalism organization, reported on a number of attempts by locals to report violations of the ceasefire, which ended with callers concluding “we don’t think they understood what we were saying.”

The Islamic State

One of the U.K.’s top cops warned that the Islamic State is hatching increasingly ambitious plots directed at the West, with the group aiming to carry out “enormous and spectacular attacks,” the Daily Telegraph reports. Terrorism arrests in Britain have risen 57 percent in the past three years, with women accounting for 14 percent of those arrested. The increasing participation of women in terrorist offenses is a relatively new phenomenon in British counterterrorism, and signifies how the Islamic State’s messages are resonating with a wider array of people.

The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State last year in a move that had some worrying the affiliation would expand ISIS’s reach. But AFP takes a step back for a look at how the group’s fortunes have changed in the past year, finding Boko Haram hasn’t gotten much out of its pledge of allegiance. Experts say the move has mostly turned out to be a “marketing label,” and that the affiliation has failed to bring in much additional money, fighters, or weapons. In the meantime, some see Boko Haram reaching out to work with other militant groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

South Korea

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) says that North Korea has hacked the phones of senior South Korean government officials, South Korean financial networks, and begun preparations to hack critical infrastructure systems controlling railways. The revelation comes as the South Korean intelligence service is pushing for a new cybersecurity bill to grant it more powers to combat North Korean hackers. The NIS said that the attacks against senior leaders’ phones was carried out by sending text messages with links to malicious software.

Old dogs sink ships

The U.S. Navy has breathed new life into an existing air defense missile by turning it into a ship killer, Breaking Defense reports. The SM-6 missile was designed to knock out planes and cruise missiles, but a new test against a decommissioned frigate acting as a dummy target showed that the SM-6 can be used as an anti-ship missile, as well. The additional capability allows U.S. Navy ships to be more flexible in the kinds of targets they can engage, and is another move in what is shaping up to be a mini arms race with the Chinese navy to develop weapons that can target ships at longer distances.

Wish lists

Pentagon officials aren’t happy about the services’ unfunded priorities lists, National Defense magazine reports. The somewhat oxymoronic lists tell Congress what each service would like to buy if it had more money. Speaking at an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Policy Robert Scher said that in a zero sum budget scenario like what the Defense Department currently faces, additional spending on an “unfunded priority” would have to come at the expense of money slated for other programs.

Trumped

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, is slamming Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and his promises that the military wouldn’t refuse his (potentially illegal) orders as president. Trump said he’d order the use of techniques “much worse” than waterboarding, insisting the military “won’t refuse” to carry out his orders. The Washington Post reports that Gen. Hertling has taken issue with Trump’s comments, saying “somebody needs to remind Mr. Trump that the military is not his palace guards.” Hertling also pushed back against Trump’s suggestion that torture is an effective interrogation method and questioned the candidate’s understanding of national security issues.

Foreign diplomats are starting to get anxious about the possibility of a Trump presidency, and are communicating their concern to their American counterparts. Reuters spoke to three anonymous U.S. diplomatic officials who admitted that foreign diplomats from a number of countries, including India, South Korea, Japan, and Mexico, have expressed alarm at Trump’s whipping up public sentiment against foreigners and foreign countries.

Air Force

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is holding the U.S. Air Force’s feet to the fire over the new B-21 bomber, asking officials how they can be sure that the next generation bomber won’t suffer through billions of dollars in cost overruns like the perpetually troubled F-35. The Air Force Times reports that McCain said he’s “seriously concerned about the acquisition strategy” for the new bomber. Of particular concern is the structure of the B-21 contract, which offers bonuses for contractors meeting development milestones and which detractors say are given all too easily, despite poor performances.

 

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