Situation Report: Putin Syria ploy; top U.S. general wants more bombing in Afghanistan; American ISIS fighters having a rough week; robot skin gets creepy; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Reduction, not withdrawal. Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised us all again Monday with the announcement that his warplanes and troops would begin pulling out of Syria. Underscoring that promise, on Tuesday Russian news channels broadcast video of soldiers packing up cargo planes and warplanes taking off from the airbase ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Reduction, not withdrawal. Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised us all again Monday with the announcement that his warplanes and troops would begin pulling out of Syria. Underscoring that promise, on Tuesday Russian news channels broadcast video of soldiers packing up cargo planes and warplanes taking off from the airbase in Latakia for the long journey home.
The Russian involvement in the war is hardly over, however. Russian Senator Viktor Ozerov said as many as 800 soldiers would likely remain in Syria to guard the air base and Russian port facilities, and deputy defense minister Nikolai Pankov said Tuesday that Moscow’s warplanes would “continue carrying out strikes on terrorist facilities” in Syria.
FP’s John Hudson and Paul McLeary write that the move pressures the regime of Bashar al Assad to finally enter talks with rebel groups in Geneva this week ready to make a deal, since the protective blanket of unconditional Russian support has finally been pulled. In related news, it turns out that since about Feb. 27, Russian planes have focused their bombing primarily on Islamic State targets for the first time, according to Pentagon officials.
Re-up the war in Afghanistan. Just before handing over command of the war in Afghanistan earlier this month, U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell sent some proposals back to Washington calling for new authorities to hit the Taliban. According to the Washington Post, Campbell wants to reverse the prohibition on striking Taliban fighters and leadership figures, while also placing American advisers with conventional Afghan forces closer to the front lines. Some Pentagon officials have complained that Campbell bypassed traditional channels in sending his request directly to the White House, something Campbell denies. The Taliban has surged in recent months, taking back swaths of Helmand province and hitting government troops hard elsewhere in the south, east, and north of the country.
Not a club you want to join. So far, this hasn’t been the best week for American citizens who support the Islamic State. First you had the surrender of Mohamad Jamal Khweis to Kurdish forces near Sinjar, in Iraq. A native of Alexandria, Va., Khweis appears to have surrendered himself to a peshmerga checkpoint at dawn on Monday, saying he was an ISIS fighter who has had enough. The 26 year-old remains in Kurdish custody, while officials in Washington figure out if he is who he says, and if the Kurds — who have suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS — want to give him up.
Also on Monday, 25 year-old Mohamad Saeed Kodaimati of San Diego was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for making false statements to FBI and State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Kodaimati, a naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty in October 2015 of lying to government officials about what he was doing in Syria, and who he knew there.
According to the Department of Justice, in his plea agreement Kodaimati admitted that he was in contact with members of ISIS, and “while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with [al Qaeda affiliate] Al Nusrah fighters.”
Not done. The Islamic State might be losing ground in Iraq, but it is hardly through spilling blood. The terror group managed to kill about 50 Iraqi troops near Ramadi on Monday, three months after Baghdad said its forces had cleared the city of Islamic State fighters. The attacks on multiple sites just outside the city show that ISIS may be struggling to hold ground in some parts of Iraq, but remains deadly.
Finally. Probably. It looks like Omar al-Shishani — the ISIS military leader American drones hit earlier this month — has died of his injuries, according to U.S. defense officials. His death might just be the biggest blow the U.S. has dealt the leadership of the Islamic State, as Shishani has been a major figure in the terror group’s military hierarchy since he came on board in 2013, and has been described as its “minister of war.”
Thanks for clicking on through for another edition of SitRep as we kick off a new week. 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.
Chemical warfare was still taking place in Syria to the tune of 69 attacks last year, bringing the estimated total for the five-year war up to 161 attacks, according to a new report by the nonprofit Syrian American Medical Society. The organization’s data shows that chemical weapons killed at least 1,491 people. The vast majority of attacks or 77 percent have taken place since the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118, requiring the Assad regime to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.
The U.S. and Russia are feuding at the U.N. Security Council over whether to apply sanctions against Iran in response to its recent series of ballistic missile tests. The dispute boils down to differing interpretations of Security Council resolution 2331, which calls on Iran to abandon its missile work. The Russians see that language as more of a suggestion, while the U.S. interprets it as a prohibition. For its part, Iran is also claiming to be absolved of any missile prohibitions under resolution 2331, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pinky swearing that Iran will “never use any means to attack any country,” including missiles.
The attackers from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who killed 18 people at a hotel resort in Ivory Coast this weekend spent the last hours before the attack knocking back beers at a beachside bar, the Guardian reports. The men abruptly knocked over their table to begin their attack, murdering a child as their first victim before moving on to kill another child, a deaf boy. The attack claimed the lives of 15 civilians, three special forces members, and three attackers.
China has a new spy plane, the manned CSA-003 “Scout” electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The twin engine turboprop plane uses an Austrian Diamond DA42 plane as basic frame and adds a suite of electronic intelligence sensors and satellite data links. The small plane can be used for intelligence-gathering and on border patrol missions.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the blue-sky Pentagon research shop that brought you a little thing called the Internet, is quite popular abroad. Russia announced it wanted its own advanced research outfit in 2012, Japan and South Korea have their own, and now China is looking to stand up its own DARPA, according to ScienceInsider. The push for a Chinese DARPA is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent reform push in the People’s Liberation Army. China’s DARPA will take the form of a committee called “junweikejiwei” but unlike its American counterpart, its budget will remain a state secret.
This party is just getting started. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed that the country will carry out yet more nuclear and ballistic missile tests “soon,” according to the state news agency KCNA. The tests will be “conducted in a short time to further enhance the reliance of nuclear attack capability,” the government mouthpiece said. Gauging the heat stability of missile nosecones is of particular importance for the next round of tests. North Korea has already carried out an underground nuclear weapons test and ballistic missile test this year.
Lede of the day
Courtesy of the New York Times’ Charlie Savage: “A striking fact about post-9/11 life is that Americans can wake up and discover that they are already at war with yet another Islamist group in yet another part of the world — based not on congressional debate but on an executive branch decision that the group is sufficiently linked to Al Qaeda.”
Skin-jobs (it’s a Blade Runner reference, people)
Because the world of defense robotics just wasn’t weird and gross enough, scientists funded by the Army and Air Force are developing a skin for robots that can sense pressure and apply camouflage like a chameleon. The skin, developed by scientists at Cornell University and the Italian Technology Institute, uses thin rubber sheets with illuminated pixels to change camouflage patterns. Robot skin, according to the researchers, can help humans make emotional connections with robots and the addition of illuminated skin will allow the ‘bots to change color to the mood of humans around them.
Is the National Security Council too big? These former generals and defense officials say yes. Breaking Defense reports on an open letter put together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and signed by 28 former Pentagon bigwigs for the 30th anniversary of the landmark Goldwater-Nichols act which reformed the structure of the military. In a panel discussion at CSIS accompanying the release of the letter, the size of the National Security Council, the White House staff that manages national security policy, was a particular concern. Staff there has ballooned from 40 to 400 people in the period since President George H.W. Bush took office. CSIS president John Hamre took aim at the NSC’s role in national security bureaucracy, saying its “excessive demands” are “warping” the Department of Defense.
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