SitRep: Putin Snubs Obama Nuke Summit, Turkish President’s Thugs Let Loose in D.C.
Also: North Korea jams radars Qatar on a spending spree, new Islamic State bombs in the works, and lots more
No nukes. As President Barack Obama hosts leaders from dozens of countries at a summit in Washington this week to discuss nuclear security, the nation with the world’s biggest atomic arsenal — Russia — will not be at the table. FP’s Dan De Luce and Reid Standish write that Russia’s boycott of the Nuclear Security Summit “reflects a widening rift between Moscow and Washington that has undermined the U.S.-led effort to lock down radiological material, effectively destroyed prospects for arms control between the two powers, and even raised the risk of a potential nuclear confrontation not seen since the Cold War.”
There’s no word if Putin is spending the week with rumored new squeeze, Wendi Deng, instead.
Banned in D.C. As the nuke event quietly took place across town, a planned speech by the controversial Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan descended into violence and chaos Thursday, with one journalist physically removed from the event site by Turkish security personnel, another kicked by a guard, and a third — a woman — thrown to the sidewalk in front of a Washington think tank where he was to speak. FP’s Yochi Dreazen, David Francis and Paul McLeary were at the event at the Brookings Institution, and captured it both from inside the building and on the street.
Of the speech itself, Dreazen writes that “Erdogan returned to a familiar theme: bashing Washington for supporting the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish group he derides as terrorists. Kurdish militants have been tied to several recent bombings inside Turkey, including an attack in Ankara last month that killed at least 28 people.” Erdogan met with Vice President Joe Biden earlier in the day, but wasn’t granted a sit-down with President Barack Obama, widely considered a snub for Erdogan’s increasingly anti-democratic policies.
Cold case. The second season of the Serial podcast is over, but the U.S. Army’s case against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl remains, along with the national debate over what kind of fate he deserves. In the final episode released Thursday, host and journalist Sarah Koenig wrestles with the question that has led so many to condemn Bergdahl: whether or not any U.S. soldiers died searching for the soldier in eastern Afghanistan. It quickly becomes clear, FP’s Paul McLeary writes, that there are different ways to measure such a thing, and each measurement can deliver the answer one most wants to hear.
Deep pockets. As it waits for the White House to sign off on a deal for dozens of F-15 fighter planes, Qatar went on a spending spree this week at a defense trade show in Doha. The kingdom spent almost $9 billion on drones, small boats, missiles, and most significantly, the signing of a deal for 24 French-made Dassault Rafale fighters armed with long-range cruise missiles worth $7.6 billion. Not bad for a week’s work.
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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based human rights nonprofit, reports that a U.S. drone strike hit a car carrying a senior envoy for the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The organization writes that the drone strike targeted Abu al-Haijaa al-Tunisi on his way from the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, Syria, killing him and another man in the car. The terrorist leader was reportedly en route to Aleppo on Baghdadi’s orders to oversee the fighting there.
Footage from Russian television shows the presence of an Iskander missile system at Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Latakia, Syria, according to the sharp-eyed observers at IHS Jane’s. The system can fire short range ballistic missiles in the Iskander-M version or cruise missiles in the Iskander-K version. It’s hard to say from the footage, however, which version has been deployed to Latakia. Syria has reportedly asked to purchase the export version of the Iskander-M but there’s no indication a sale has ever taken place.
Beginning in 2014, archaeologists and employees of Syria’s antiquities department launched a bold covert operation to remove as many archaeological treasures as possible from museums around the country in order to protect them from the Islamic State. The AP reports that ministry staff emptied out 300,000 artifacts from 29 out of 34 of the country’s museums, sending them to Damascus for safekeeping lest the Islamic State destroy them. Archaeologists who sympathized with Syrian rebels have also sought to protect ancient sites from the regime’s barrel bombs by shielding Byzantine mosaics with sandbags.
ISIS militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul have been using a university lab there to do research and churn out a new generation of bombs, according to Iraqi officials. The Wall Street Journal reports that Gen. Hatem Magsosi, Iraq’s top explosives officer, said “the facilities at the University of Mosul have enhanced Islamic State’s ability to launch attacks in Iraq and to export bomb-making know-how when its fighters leave the so-called caliphate and return to their home countries.” The bombs include peroxide-based chemical bombs and suicide vests similar to the ones used in the Brussels and Paris attacks.
France’s foreign minister has floated the possibility of a French military intervention to support the U.N.-backed unity government in Tripoli. Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France “must be prepared to respond if the national unity government of (prime minister-designate Fayez) al-Sarraj asks for help, including on the military front,” according to Agence France Presse. The authorities in charge of Tripoli, including militia leader Khalifa al-Ghwell, have opposed al-Sarraj and the U.N.-backed unity government.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have applied joint sanctions against the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist organization. LeT, an Islamist terrorist organization widely believed to be supported by Pakistani intelligence, was responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The sanctions announced on Thursday targeted James Alexander McLintock and his organization, the Al-Rahmah Welfare Organization, which allegedly serves as a front for funding both al Qaeda and LeT. Also sanctioned for supporting LeT were Abdul Aziz Nuristani and the Jamia Asariya Madrassa as well as Naveed Qamar and Muhammad Ijaz Safarash.
China’s Defense Ministry has created a new Overseas Action Department to handle operations overseas, Reuters reports. The department will be in charge of handling China’s “non-war” responsibilities abroad, including peacekeeping missions, evacuations from conflict zones and joint drills. China’s military has already participated in a number of such missions, engaging in anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa and evacuating its citizens from Libya in 2011 as the country’s civil war threatened Chinese workers there.
In what feels like an increasingly routine practice, North Korea fired a short range missile into the waters off its eastern coast, facing Japan. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff say that the system was a surface-to-air missile. The test follows a string of recent provocations, from ballistic missiles fired into the ocean to the unveiling of a 300mm multiple launch rocket system as well as a nuclear weapons test and satellite launch.
North Korea has been jamming GPS signals in South Korea for the past month, Yonhap News reports. South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning says that the jamming has affected 58 planes and 52 maritime vessels. North Korea has expressed its irritation at the annual joint U.S.-South Korean military drills currently underway and has used its GPS jamming capabilities to register its displeasure. The North jammed GPS devices in 2011 during the joint drills, affecting some troops’ mobile phones and communications equipment.
In February, a group of six Saudi cousins who had secretly joined the Islamic State kidnapped and killed another cousin, Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, who they shot and killed. In a video, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam. And the incident isn’t an isolated thing. The New York Times reports that among 20 terrorist episodes in Saudi Arabia since late 2014, the killing “was the third in which citizens had secretly joined the Islamic State and killed relatives in the security services. In each case, they justified their acts by saying Saudi Arabia practiced a corrupted version of the faith, a charge aimed at a kingdom that holds itself up as the only true Islamic state.”
The CIA is in trouble after leaving “explosive training material” in the engine of a Loudon County school bus. The agency placed the explosives around the bus’s engine after it borrowed the vehicle for a training exercise involving bomb-sniffing dogs. Some of the material slipped down off the engine and was missed when the CIA removed it from the engine compartment. The bus subsequently carried children to school and back for two days before the explosives were finally removed. A CIA statement claims that the explosives “did not pose a danger to passengers on the bus.”
Another day, another senior military officer forced to tell the world ‘no, we don’t do that’ in response to a statement by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In a town hall event earlier this week, Trump suggested using nuclear weapons against the Islamic State, saying “somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” Asked Thursday if the coalition has ever considered using nuclear weapons against ISIS, British Maj. Gen. Doug Chalmers, deputy commander for strategy for the U.S.-led military operation in Baghdad, at first appeared shocked by the question, finally telling reporters, “the simple answer is no.”
Photo credit: KEVIN DIETSCH-Pool/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary