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SitRep: Terror Networks Crisscrossing Europe Shock Officials

Ash Carter's email fail; Lahore bombing claimed by Taliban offshoot; NORK rattle nukes; and lots moe

Policemen patrol on March 25, 2016 in front of the main station in Giessen. 
After a statement of the public prosecutor's office, a 28-year-old Moroccan was arrested here on March 24 in alledged connection to Brussel's attacks. / AFP / dpa / Boris Roessler / Germany OUT        (Photo credit should read BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images)
Policemen patrol on March 25, 2016 in front of the main station in Giessen. After a statement of the public prosecutor's office, a 28-year-old Moroccan was arrested here on March 24 in alledged connection to Brussel's attacks. / AFP / dpa / Boris Roessler / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images)

Catch-up. European security services continue to scramble to unwind the complex web of Islamic State networks and their support structures on the continent, days after bombings in Brussels killed more than 30 people. A series of arrests over the weekend across the continent nabbed money men, forgers, and various foot soldiers involved in the attacks, as well as several suspects in the Paris onslaught last November that left 130 dead. The raids are “yielding an unsettling discovery—a web of interlocking terror cells whose dimensions authorities say they are still trying to grasp.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who met with security officials in Paris and Berlin last week as part of a delegation from the Senate Intelligence Committee tells FP’s Dan De Luce and Elias Groll that he came away concerned that turf rivalries and politics prevent the flow of information not only among the 28 member states of the European Union, but even within countries — as was the case between the CIA and FBI before the Sept. 11 attacks. “Ironically, Brussels doesn’t even share within the country,” he said, adding, “The Europeans are where we were pre-911.”

Terror in Pakistan. A suicide bomber killed at least 65 and wounded around 300 people in a park in Lahore, Pakistan over the weekend. Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the brutal assault, which killed scores of children. “The target were Christians,” said a spokesman for the group. “We want to send this message to Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”

Catch-up. European security services continue to scramble to unwind the complex web of Islamic State networks and their support structures on the continent, days after bombings in Brussels killed more than 30 people. A series of arrests over the weekend across the continent nabbed money men, forgers, and various foot soldiers involved in the attacks, as well as several suspects in the Paris onslaught last November that left 130 dead. The raids are “yielding an unsettling discovery—a web of interlocking terror cells whose dimensions authorities say they are still trying to grasp.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who met with security officials in Paris and Berlin last week as part of a delegation from the Senate Intelligence Committee tells FP’s Dan De Luce and Elias Groll that he came away concerned that turf rivalries and politics prevent the flow of information not only among the 28 member states of the European Union, but even within countries — as was the case between the CIA and FBI before the Sept. 11 attacks. “Ironically, Brussels doesn’t even share within the country,” he said, adding, “The Europeans are where we were pre-911.”

Terror in Pakistan. A suicide bomber killed at least 65 and wounded around 300 people in a park in Lahore, Pakistan over the weekend. Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the brutal assault, which killed scores of children. “The target were Christians,” said a spokesman for the group. “We want to send this message to Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”

The year of the bomb. One year into the Saudi-led war on Houthi rebels in Yemen, and no one can truly say with confidence who is winning the war. But it’s clear who is losing: the country’s battered civilian population. More than 3,000 civilians have been killed, according to the United Nations, and thousands more injured. In total, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced, and 83 percent of Yemenis are reliant on some form of humanitarian assistance.

Following such destruction, FP contributors Rasha Mohamed and Rawan Shaif write, Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners claim that government forces have clawed back about 80 percent of the country. “But the Houthis remain in control of the key strongholds of Sanaa, Ibb, and Taiz. Moreover, armed groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State are gaining ground and support in the south and southeast parts of the country, taking advantage of the security vacuum to consolidate their power.”

Assad’s crew gains ground. After days of fierce fighting, forces supporting the regime of Syrian Bashar al-Assad have managed to wrest control of the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State. The jihadist group first took the city in May, 2015 but Syrian forces — backed by Russian jets, special operations forces, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias — launched a push to recapture it following the announcement of a cessation of hostilities with Syrian rebels. All told, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that ISIS lost around 400 fighters in the battle. The loss could be a major setback for the terrorist group, as control of the city puts some space between the capital of Damascus and ISIS-held territory in the west.

Eagles of the Whirlwind. A little-known Syrian militia allied with the Assad regime is steadily gaining ground and popularity. But it’s not just fighting to preserve Bashar al-Assad’s state – it’s trying to redraw the borders of the Middle East, writes FP contributor Nour Samaha. The Eagles of the Whirlwind, part of a secular Lebanese-Syrian party, numbers thousands of fighters, and has received weapons and training from the Syrian army, the Russians, and Hezbollah. But the vision of a “greater Syria” the group is gunning for may produce some unwanted blowback for Damascus in the end.

More ISIS leaders down. The growing U.S. war in Iraq and Syria has claimed another Islamic State leader. On Friday, Pentagon officials said a recent U.S. attack killed the Islamic State’s No. 2 leader, Haji Imam, a militant who has been involved in jihadi activity for over a decade in Iraq and Syria. “The assaults against the group’s leadership in Iraq and Syria represent a new phase in the war against the Islamic State,” notes FP’s Paul McLeary, “which until recently had largely consisted of airstrikes on buildings and groups of amassed fighters. Late last year, a group of 200 American commandos were dispatched to northern Iraq to start conducting kill-or-capture operations on senior leaders.”

Reply all. Defense Secretary Ash Carter used his personal email to conduct some Pentagon business all the way through December, according to 1,336 pages of emails from Carter’s personal account which were released late Friday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from a variety of news organizations. He stopped the practice after it was revealed in December that he was using the account for professional purposes. There’s no indication that Carter passed on classified information in the emails, though they do show how often he has been in contact with Silicon Valley execs, who he is attempting to woo into doing more business with the military.

Thanks for clicking on through this morning as we work through another week 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.

Syria

The Syrian civil war has added a whole new layer of complexity as CIA-backed Syrian rebel forces are fighting rebels backed by the Pentagon. The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA-backed Fursan al Haq has been involved in periodic combat against the Pentagon’s Syrian Democratic Forces. The intra-proxy combat took place in Marea, near the city of Aleppo, as the  Syrian Democratic Forces sensed an opening to expand their territory amidst the Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria and advanced on the town, home to Fursan al Haq fighters, beginning in February.

Back in October, Russian TV showed footage from a commercial drone highlighting the extent of the damage in Aleppo, at the time the scene of intense fighting from Russian and Iranian-backed forces. Now that Palmyra is the focus of an offensive by the Assad regime and its allies, Russian TV is once again broadcasting drone footage of the ancient city and the destruction that the Islamic State and the effort to oust it have brought.

Japan

Japan just opened a radar facility on Yonaguni island in the East China Sea near Taiwan, Reuters reports. The facility is close to a set of disputed islands claimed by both Japan and China (labeled Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China). The station would provide Japan with a clearer picture of activity in the region and is likely intended to help keep an eye on Chinese military activity. The move is likely to annoy China, which the U.S. and Japan have criticized for “militarizing” the South China Sea by deploying anti-ship missiles, fighter jets, air defense systems, and advanced radars to a series of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Iraq

Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced on Friday that he and Defense Secretary Ash Carter have recommended that the U.S. send more troops to the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq. The recent death of a U.S. Marine at a then-undisclosed firebase in Iraq involved in direct combat revealed that the Pentagon’s hasn’t exactly been straight about the extent of U.S. operations in the country. The additional troops would add to the nominal 3,870-troop limit on U.S. forces in Iraq, which is actually closer to 5,000 when “temporary” deployments are added to the figure.

Death by CAPTCHA

The dark web, a network of websites hosted anonymously on the Tor network, hosts a grab bag of illicit content and marketplaces where buyers can purchase everything from drugs to weapons to child pornography. But according to new study out of King’s College London, the privacy-preserving hosting service has only a small number of websites devoted to jihadi propaganda. Why are jihadis and jihadi wannabes not opting to host sites on the Tor network? Study authors Thomas Rid and Daniel Moore can’t say for sure, but they speculate that the slow speed and overall inconvenience of hosting and accessing sites on the Tor network is a turnoff for the marginal terrorist browser.

Libya

A leaked memo from a briefing given to a U.S. lawmaker in January by Jordan’s King Abdullah reveals plans for Jordanian special operations forces to operate in Libya alongside their counterparts from Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS). Under the plan, Jordanian troops would help the SAS with language skills as “Jordanian slang is similar to Libyan slang,” according to the document. The memo contains a number of other intelligence leaks, including Jordan’s wish to let certain jihadist websites stay up and running in order to collect intelligence, and the king’s view that Israel turns a blind eye to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front because of its combat effectiveness against Hezbollah in Syria. Abdullah also told legislators that he believes Turkish policy endorses the movement of terrorists into Europe.

Cold War retro chic

It feels like 1960 all over again. U.S. European Command chief Gen. Philip Breedlove is asking the Pentagon to send U-2 spy planes to Europe to provide additional intelligence on the Russian buildup there. Breedlove says the high-flying surveillance plane, first introduced in 1957, is needed alongside RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft to augment intelligence capabilities on the continent. While there’s no suggestion that Washington plans to make U-2 flights over Russian territory, the Twitter account of Russia’s embassy in Canada simply couldn’t resist referencing the Francis Gary Powers incident, in which Soviet air defenses shot down a CIA U-2 flying over Yekaterinburg.

Russia

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the country is looking to strengthen its military deployments from the Pacific Ocean to the border with Eastern Europe, the AP reports. The buildup includes sending 1,100 new weapons systems to Russia’s Western Military District and the previously-announced deployment of anti-ship missiles and drones to the disputed Kuril Islands near Japan. Farther north, Shoigu says Russia will also increase its presence in the Arctic, with supplies already sent to Wrangel Island and Cape Schmid.

North Korea

North Korea’s propaganda drumbeat continues apace as the Hermit Kingdom has released a low budget trailer for the nuclear destruction of Washington, DC. The four minute video, dubbed “Last Chance” and published on the state-run YouTube channel DPRK Today, depicts a North Korean submarine launching a nuclear missile that wipes out the nation’s capitol. It’s part of a growing apocalyptic cinematic oeuvre from the North, with a similar video having been broadcast in 2013.

With Adam Rawnsley

Photo credit: BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images

Tag: EU

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