The Cable

SitRep: A Marine Falls in Iraq as U.S. Gears Up to Aid Mosul Offensive

Also: inside ISIS terror plots; U.S. trying to train Syrian rebels again; NORKS fire more missiles; and lots more

marines

 

On and on. On March 19, the 13th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed in Iraq as part of his unit’s previously unannounced deployment to the country. Several other Marines were wounded in the Islamic State rocket attack on the American base, which sits near the town of Makhmour on the frontlines between Kurdish peshmerga forces and ISIS, southeast of Mosul.

The Marines are expected to begin using their artillery to support Iraqi and peshmerga troops operating near Mosul as they prepare for their eventual assault on the city, which ISIS has held since June, 2014. The U.S. has already deployed artillery to other bases in Iraq, but the location is the first known American outpost established specifically to provide artillery support to local forces. It is unclear how many Marines are at the base, and defense officials would not comment on whether the deployment increases the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq, which currently stands at about 3,800. After Saturday’s attack, reports emerged that even more Marines may be sent to Iraq to beef up security.

American military officials have previously said that the Nineveh Operations Center near Makhmour will eventually house about 4,500 Iraqi soldiers who will be in the lead of the fight for Mosul. As we reported in SitRep last month, the base also houses a new command center for the Iraqi army’s 15th Division, which ran through an American-led training program last year.

Giving it another go. President Barack Obama has signed off on a revised plan to train Syrian Arab rebels to fight the Islamic State, a move that comes just months after the Pentagon shut down a more ambitious, $500 million train-and-equip program that burned through hundreds of millions of dollars with little to show for the effort.

The new effort, FP’s Paul McLeary reports, “is part of a Pentagon push to capitalize on recent momentum in the long campaign in the Islamic State, which has been battered by coalition and Russian airstrikes, ground attacks by a Syrian army that has been refitted by Moscow, and ongoing assaults by U.S.-armed Kurdish, Yazidi, and Sunni Arab fighters.” The new plan also promises to be more narrowly focused than the previous one, which embarrassed the White House by producing only a handful of fighters.

Inside ISIS, inside Europe. Over the weekend, the New York Times dropped a chilling report that explored plans by a group of ISIS operatives working inside Europe to spread chaos. European and U.S. officials hope that Friday’s arrest in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam, who was on of the attackers who killed 130 people in Paris during a Nov. 13 rampage, will lead to more intel on how many operatives are at work on the continent, and how they operate.

The report says that “none of the attackers’ emails or other electronic communications have been found, prompting the authorities to conclude that the group used encryption.” Officials say that hope Abdeslam’s capture could help answer those questions.

Thanks for clicking on through this morning as we kick off a new round of SitReps. 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.

Turkey

Turkey has accused the Islamic State of carrying out the suicide bombing which killed four people — three Israelis and an Iranian — in Istanbul over the weekend. Turkish officials claimed the bomber was Mehmet Ozturk, a Turkish citizen from Gaziantep in his mid-20s who allegedly belonged to the jihadist group. The attack also injured 36 others, many of them tourists. The bombing’s impact on tourists appears to be calculated as Turkey’s T24 reports that the bomber stalked the Israeli tour group before detonating his weapon.

The Islamic State

The American man who surrendered to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq after allegedly joining ISIS in Mosul is part of an increasingly common phenomenon as the jihadist group’s adversaries notice signs of strain within its ranks, the AP reports. Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush of the Fursan al-Haq Brigade in Syria tells the wire service that he’s noticed members of the group give up more easily lately and that some have even defected. The anecdotal weakening of resolve among ISIS fighters is matched by data showing the group has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and 14 percent in Syria.

North Korea

Once again, North Korea has fired missiles into the ocean off the country’s east coast in the direction of Japan, Yonhap News reports. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired five missiles of indeterminate make from the city of Hamhung early Monday morning. North Korea has already tested a 300mm multiple launch rocket system and two Nodong ballistic missiles just this month and has threatened to carry out further ballistic missile and nuclear tests in the near future. The North has been especially provocative lately while the U.S. and South Korea carry out their annual joint military drills.

South Korea’s analysis of North Korean drone wreckage reveals that the aircraft in question aren’t capable of carrying weapons. South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development repaired three North Korean drones which flew across the demilitarized zone in spring of 2014, and found that the vehicles couldn’t carry weapons and had a payload capacity of just two pounds. What’s more, their sensors were built in the 1980s. The official said that the South has had difficulty tracking North Korean drones but is working on installing radars capable of detecting them.

South Korea

North Korea’s recent bout of missile and nuclear tests has some in South Korea wishing out loud for a nuclear deterrent of their own, apart from the security guarantees provided by the United States. Prominent members of South Korean society, like the conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper, have been beating the drums for the South to get its own nukes. But some see the nuclear yearning as little more than a pressure tactics designed to spook the Chinese into putting more pressure on North Korea to curb its increasingly belligerent behavior.

South Korea is touting a new special operations unit, dubbed “Spartan 3000,” which would be capable to destroying “key military facilities” in North Korea in the event of war. The unit has gotten a workout alongside its American counterparts during this month’s joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises and South Korean officials say it will be ready to operate anywhere on the Korean peninsula within 24 hours notice.

Philippines

U.S. and Philippine officials recently reached agreement to allow U.S. forces to have access to five Philippine military bases — some on the disputed South China Sea. Access to the bases — which include four air bases and one army outpost — will mark the first time American forces will be able to operate in the country in a quarter century. Significantly, among the bases is Antonio Bautista Air Base on the western island of Palawan, which sits by the South China Sea, thereby giving American aircraft quick access to the contested waterway and improving their ability to fly surveillance missions.

South China Sea

Another day, another incident involving a Chinese fishing vessel. Indonesia is seeking an explanation for an incident in the Natuna Sea in which a Chinese coast guard ship rammed a Chinese fishing boat being towed by Indonesian authorities, the Straits Times reports. Indonesia had detained the boat and its crew, with Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti accusing them of “illegal and unregulated fishing.” Indonesia has largely sat out the increasingly testy conflict over Chinese territorial claims, which include areas around the Natuna Islands, but officials there are incensed over the recent ramming incident and plan to summon Chinese officials for an explanation.

Nukes

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has lent some tentative support to the idea of a national nuclear modernization fund, Defense News reports. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services committee last week, Carter supported the idea of a Navy fund dedicated to support a follow-on to the Ohio class submarine. The idea of a nuclear fund has come up in large part because some estimates show the cost of nuclear weapons modernization rising sharply over the next 10-25 years. The Air Force has also pushed for its own nuclear modernization fund to support the purchase of the B-21 next generation bomber.

Doof Wagons of the Caliphate

The open source intelligence hounds at Oryx Blog take a look at the improvised armored vehicles of the Islamic State in Libya, in what could be mistaken for a scene straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road. The latest homebrew vehicle is a Frankenstein’s monster made out of a 6×6 truck, a BMP turret, and miscellaneous slat armor and was spotted in Derna, Libya where the group is active.

Photo Credit: USMC

 

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