SitRep: Turkish President Rips Obama as Qatar Waits for its F-15s
Also: new drone numbers in America's wars; more new weapons in Yemen; and lots more
Well, this is awkward. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a private dinner with some of the biggest names in the Washington think tank world this week in an effort to rehabilitate his image. And he took the opportunity to slam the Obama administration’s policies in Syria. FP’s John Hudson gets the scoop on the off-the-record dinner at Washington’s St. Regis Hotel, where "a defiant Erdogan ripped the American media’s coverage of his administration’s policies and bashed the White House’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria."
Well, this is awkward. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a private dinner with some of the biggest names in the Washington think tank world this week in an effort to rehabilitate his image. And he took the opportunity to slam the Obama administration’s policies in Syria. FP’s John Hudson gets the scoop on the off-the-record dinner at Washington’s St. Regis Hotel, where “a defiant Erdogan ripped the American media’s coverage of his administration’s policies and bashed the White House’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria.”
Turkey continues to be furious that Washington has been backing Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, as Erdogan views them as terrorists aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a militant group struggling for autonomy. One anonymous attendee tells Hudson, “He kept coming back to that issue: Terrorists are terrorists — there are no good ones. … He pretty much threw the administration under the bus.”
Erdogan is in Washington to meet Vice President Joe Biden and attend the administration’s 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. But he’s not expected to meet with President Barack Obama — a slight that has been widely perceived as a sign of Obama’s frustration with Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian actions.
No sale. The tiny kingdom of Qatar has been quietly trying to buy dozens of U.S. warplanes for two years now, only to have the deal get hung up at White House. The Obama administration has faced plenty of pressure from members of Congress who want the deal for up to 73 F-15E Strike Eagle fighters to go through in order to shore up regional defenses against Iran, but FP’s Dan De Luce reports that Israel, along with several Gulf states, have “privately expressed reservations about the deal because of Qatar’s relationships with Islamist groups like the Taliban and Hamas,” as well as its warming relations with Tehran.
The Qatari attorney general recently met with Treasury Department Secretary Jacob Lew to discuss cooperation on cracking down on terrorist financing, and Qatar’s ambassador said in a statement to FP that his country is “deeply appreciative of the strong support that the sale of F-15 fighter jets has in the United States Congress, and we believe that it will be completed this year.”
Doubling down. Over the past two months, a loose coalition of Hezbollah militiamen, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops, and Shiite militias from Iraq have thrown down against Syrian rebel groups while bolstering Bashar al-Assad’s depleted army. Backed by a massive Russian bombing campaign, the force has broken the will of many anti-Assad rebels, pushing them out of key areas that had threatened the Syrian regime.
As FP contributor James Miller points out, rebel groups “that were rapidly advancing just weeks before Russia’s air campaign began have been in full retreat. Rebel battle lines that had held for years were smashed, disorganized, or surrounded.” This means that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first mission, “the crushing of the Western-backed moderate Syrian rebel groups — was largely accomplished, but Moscow is not yet done in Syria. It has just moved on to the next goal.”
Shiny. The thousands of U.S. troops the Obama administration has deployed to Iraq or Syria already get combat pay and are authorized to wear combat patches. But now, they’re eligible for a new medal honoring the mission that the White House insists is absolutely, positively, not a combat one, FP’s Paul McLeary writes.
Skimming off the top. The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for 15 years, and has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in an attempt to rebuild it. But a watchdog who oversees the U.S. effort there warned it could all be for naught, writes FP’s David Francis.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, speaking Wednesday at the University of Pittsburgh, said government corruption in Afghanistan is an “existential” threat both to the future of the country and American efforts to stabilize it. “I thought I knew all about corruption, but I can tell you that what I have seen and heard in the last four years in Afghanistan puts to shame what we call corruption here,” Sopko said. “And this pervasive corruption poses a deadly threat to the entire U.S. effort to rebuild Afghanistan.”
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The Islamic State
Roughly a fifth of U.S. Air Force Predator and Reaper drone missions during Operation Inherent Resolve have resulted in airstrikes against Islamic State targets, Air Force Times reports. Together, the drones have carried out approximately a third of all the Air Force’s sorties, followed by the F-16, F-15, and A-10 Warthog. Sortie numbers, however, may be somewhat misleading as aircraft like the B-1 bomber account for a mere 5 percent of Air Force sorties but have released 35 percent of all weapons used by the flying branch in the war, more weapons than any other aircraft. The Air Force has dropped nearly 5,000 munitions during the war against the Islamic State this year.
Missiles > talks
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has some harsh words for critics of Iran’s ballistic missile program, saying, “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors.” Reuters reports that the comments were a slap at former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who recently criticized Iran’s missile program. Khamenei argued that without missiles, Iran wouldn’t have any deterrent capability and would be vulnerable to intimidation. Iran has clashed with the U.S. and Europe over its recent ballistic missile tests, with the U.S., U.K., France, and Spain seeking international sanctions against the Islamic Republic for its program.
The U.S. stepped up its air war against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with six airstrikes against the group in March — the same number as the U.S. carried out from October 2015 through February, according to data collected by the Long War Journal. The strikes come as AQAP has taken more territory in Yemen since the beginning of the Saudi-led war against the Houthi movement last year, with the group seizing Zinjibar, Mukallah, and Houta. Many observers have argued that the war in Yemen has created chaos that allowed AQAP to flourish.
Armament Research Services (ARES) flags a video from the AQAP-linked Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen showing one of the group’s fighters using an advanced, Jordanian-made RPG-32 rocket launcher while fighting Houthis in the town of Taiz. The weapon is relatively advanced, with only two known operators, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. How the weapon fell into the hands of al Qaeda-linked fighters is still a mystery.
The Russian government has been using private military contractors in its its fight to support the Assad regime in Syria and the war in Ukraine, according to a Russian newspaper. The contractor in question is called Wagner and it’s headquartered in the same town where Russian military intelligence’s 10th special forces brigade trains. Wagner contractors tell the newspaper Fontanka that they’ve lost a number of colleagues in both Ukraine and Syria, and shared pictures of their posthumous awards allegedly signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
China has moved from deploying weapons to a disputed South China Sea island to test-firing them, according to several reports. China recently tested a YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile from Woody Island, claimed by both Vietnam and Taiwan. China also recently shipped surface-to-air missiles and an associated radar system to the island, as well as J-7 and J-11 fighter jets as part of what the U.S. has called the “militarization” of the South China Sea. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook wouldn’t confirm or deny the report, citing the sensitivity of intelligence issues.
The Philippine military is considering whether to buy a submarine in its pursuit of a stronger military to hedge against the rise of China’s territorial ambitions. President Benigno Aquino floated the prospect of a submarine force on Wednesday, citing the need to modernize the country’s armed forces. The sub would be the first for the Philippines and likely an expensive purchase for the country’s relatively small defense budget.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work is concerned that other countries might allow robots to make independent decisions on when and what to kill. But Work said Wednesday that letting robots kill autonomously isn’t something the U.S. is interested in. Nonetheless, it may appeal to authoritarian regimes because it would allow them to concentrate military decision making within a smaller group of people, mitigating the risk of overthrow. Speaking generally about the future of warfare, Work said the technologies coming from the commercial sector have added greater complexity to the battlefield than during the Cold War, when the U.S. and Soviet Union had a greater ability to control the development of military-relevant technologies.
But for all the anxiety over robots, Work also says that the Pentagon is “absolutely confident that deep-learning machines will let us get after ISIS.” Work said that artificial intelligence can help sift through the mountains of data now available thanks to the Internet and digital technology and make connections to identify potential plots and attackers. While computers can help make connections, decisions about the validity of those associations would be left up to human analysts.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s assertion that the pen of a reporter, allegedly assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, may have concealed a bomb, the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers uses the occasion to reflect on two historic explosive devices relevant to the presidential candidate’s anxieties.
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