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SitRep: Pentagon’s Kunduz Report Revealed, Aleppo Pounded by Airstrikes

sanctions trouble for Washington; McCain scraps with fellow Republican over Army nominee; high-tech Chinese weapons on display; and lots more

Syrians run for cover amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Al-Qatarji in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 29, 2016.
Fresh bombardment shook Syria's second city Aleppo, severely damaging a local clinic as outrage grows over an earlier air strike that destroyed a hospital. The northern city has been battered by a week of air strikes, rocket fire, and shelling, leaving more than 200 civilians dead across the metropolis. The renewed violence has all but collapsed a fragile ceasefire deal that had brought an unprecedented lull in fighting since February 27.  / AFP / AMEER ALHALBI        (Photo credit should read AMEER ALHALBI/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians run for cover amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Al-Qatarji in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 29, 2016. Fresh bombardment shook Syria's second city Aleppo, severely damaging a local clinic as outrage grows over an earlier air strike that destroyed a hospital. The northern city has been battered by a week of air strikes, rocket fire, and shelling, leaving more than 200 civilians dead across the metropolis. The renewed violence has all but collapsed a fragile ceasefire deal that had brought an unprecedented lull in fighting since February 27. / AFP / AMEER ALHALBI (Photo credit should read AMEER ALHALBI/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians run for cover amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Al-Qatarji in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 29, 2016. Fresh bombardment shook Syria's second city Aleppo, severely damaging a local clinic as outrage grows over an earlier air strike that destroyed a hospital. The northern city has been battered by a week of air strikes, rocket fire, and shelling, leaving more than 200 civilians dead across the metropolis. The renewed violence has all but collapsed a fragile ceasefire deal that had brought an unprecedented lull in fighting since February 27. / AFP / AMEER ALHALBI (Photo credit should read AMEER ALHALBI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Reckoning. The head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel will take the podium at the Pentagon Friday to announce punishments handed out to 16 U.S. servicemembers involved in last October’s bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. The strike left 42 civilians dead. In a preview of what’s to come, FP’s Paul McLeary writes that no criminal charges will be filed. Instead, punishments range from letters of reprimand to counseling, according to defense officials. The highest officer disciplined is a two-star general, along with members of the crew of the AC-130 gunship which blasted the hospital, and members of the Army Special Forces team on the ground in Kunduz who called in the attack.

War comes back to Aleppo. Over the past week in Aleppo, Syria, over 200 civilians have been killed by regime airstrikes, including a horrific strike on another Doctors Without Borders hospital that left at least 27 dead. FP’s John Hudson points out that with the cease-fire between Damascus and a coalition of rebel groups “effectively over, the contested city of Aleppo has become one of the primary battlefields between the regime and opposition.”

 

Reckoning. The head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel will take the podium at the Pentagon Friday to announce punishments handed out to 16 U.S. servicemembers involved in last October’s bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. The strike left 42 civilians dead. In a preview of what’s to come, FP’s Paul McLeary writes that no criminal charges will be filed. Instead, punishments range from letters of reprimand to counseling, according to defense officials. The highest officer disciplined is a two-star general, along with members of the crew of the AC-130 gunship which blasted the hospital, and members of the Army Special Forces team on the ground in Kunduz who called in the attack.

War comes back to Aleppo. Over the past week in Aleppo, Syria, over 200 civilians have been killed by regime airstrikes, including a horrific strike on another Doctors Without Borders hospital that left at least 27 dead. FP’s John Hudson points out that with the cease-fire between Damascus and a coalition of rebel groups “effectively over, the contested city of Aleppo has become one of the primary battlefields between the regime and opposition.”

The Institute for the Study of War has come out with a new map of Aleppo and northern Syria, along with an analysis of the fighting which concludes, “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Moscow and Tehran have set the stage for an imminent offensive to complete the encirclement of Aleppo City,” and are poised to “deliver a decisive blow to the powerful armed groups in Aleppo City that drives the opposition towards radicalization and a merger with Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Cash rules. Do economic sanctions work? Washington says that financial pressure was a big factor in getting Iran to sit down at the negotiating table to complete the deal to curb its nuclear program, but some American allies aren’t so sure. FP’s David Francis and Lara Jakes run down some of the latest back and forth between U.S. policymakers and their increasingly skeptical European friends over sanctions against Russia.

Email trouble for the SecDef. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) isn’t done with the issue of Defense Secretary Ash Carter using personal email for work, something the secretary did for several months last year after taking office. The senator issued a statement to The Hill contending that “the Defense Department is downplaying Secretary Carter’s use of personal devices for official business, but I have concerns.” Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added, “many emails appear to contain subject matter that extends beyond mere routine administrative work. That means there was at least some sensitive information on his email.”

Git-no. FP’s Molly O’Toole jumps into SitRep mode this morning, writing that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) took aim at a longtime Senate colleague Thursday for blocking one of President Barack Obama’s nominees, Eric Fanning, his pick for Army secretary. Pat Roberts, a fellow Republican from Kansas, has long blocked Fanning’s advancement over the Obama administration’s plan to move a number of Guantanamo detainees to a facility in the U.S., with Fort Leavenworth in Kansas floated as a potential alternative.

McCain vowed that this year’s annual defense authorization bill will again block Obama from moving any detainees to the U.S., imploring, “the United States Army needs this man.” Unmoved, Roberts retorted, “my hold on Eric Fanning’s nomination is not in relation to his expertise, or his character, and it’s certainly not intended to bring undue stress to our United States Army.” Continuing, “if there’s any anger, any frustrations, they should be directed at a White House that intends to…bring this terrorist threat to our shores.”

“We’re shooting a hostage that is being held that has nothing to do with the decision making process,” McCain scolded. “We are abusing our power and authority as the United States Senate.” Fanning remains in limbo.

Thanks for clicking on through as we wrap up 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

China

It’s defense trade show season and that means a close-up look at the latest and greatest weapons countries have to offer. At DSA 2016 Kuala Lumpur, PopSci takes a look at China’s robotic offerings. Poly Technologies’ High Speed Intercept Boat, a trimaran unmanned surface vessel which comes equipped with various machine guns and the option to mount a fun-sized guided missile. Also on display was China’s version of the American Switchblade drone, the CH-901. It’s a loitering munition that can hang out in the air above a target for extended periods for a chance to act like a missile and crash its explosive warhead into it.

North Korea

The United Nations Security Council is set to take up the issue of North Korea’s ballistic missile launches on Friday after a third failed attempt to launch a Musudan missile failed on Thursday. South Korea’s military believes the repeated missile launches, including one earlier in the day on Thursday and another on April 15 close to Kim dynasty founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday, are aimed at trying to bank a successful test before the Workers Party congress. The Musudan is a mobile intermediate range ballistic missile, which North Korea has been working on since at least 2010.

Russia

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has threatened Sweden with if it chooses to join NATO. Speaking to a Swedish newspaper, Lavrov said Russia would “take the necessary military-technical action” along Russia’s borders if Sweden ever joined the Atlantic alliance, declining to go into specifics. Lavrov added, “there’s nothing personal in it; it’s just business.” Russia has grown increasingly anxious as Sweden has drifted closer to NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, going so far as to practice a mock nuclear attack on Sweden in 2013. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work recently wrapped up a two-day trip to Sweden to huddle with regional allies.

Ukraine

The United Nations estimates that the war in Ukraine has cost the lives of 9,333 people since it began and injured over 20,000, the AP reports. U.N. assistant secretary general for political affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun offered the estimates during a Security Council meeting addressing the conflict, saying that the fighting in Ukraine is escalating to 2014 levels. Ukrainian and Russian diplomats blamed each other for the conflict and traded barbs during the Security Council meeting.

Iraq

Vice News obtained the headcam video from an Islamic State fighter engaged in a battle against peshmerga forces in March. The raw, unedited video of Islamic State features fighters bumbling about the battlefield, fumbling for rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and Kalashnikov rifles and blinding each other with RPG backblasts. The video has since gone viral, offering a marked contrast to the disciplined and fearsome image projected in the Islamic State’s officially-produced propaganda videos.

Social media may have played a role in aggravating tensions between Kurdish forces and Shiite militias who clashed in Tuz Khurmatu, near Kirkuk last weekend, Niqash reports. The area has been a flashpoint for clashes between Shiite and Kurdish forces before. Early clashes on Sunday were quickly resolved until social media began filling up with false claims of greater casualties and pictures of casualties from other conflicts being passed off as the results of the fight. The posts likely fanned the passions on both sides, prompting another breakout in the fighting that ultimately killed over two dozen fighters.

The Islamic State

After claiming a dramatic drop in the monthly arrivals of foreign fighters to the Islamic State, the U.S. is starting to walk back numbers in support of the claim, Reuters reports. On Tuesday, the Pentagon said monthly foreign fighters had dropped to 200 a month, down from 2,000 a month last year. On Thursday, however, coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the current monthly traffic was closer to a quarter of its 2,000-strong peak, or roughly 500. Warren, however, did not offer a more precise estimate.

Israel

Israeli officials have issued a warning saying that they will respond with force if an Islamic State-affiliated jihadist group in Syria near the Israeli border begins working with chemical weapons. The officials tell Israeli media that they’ll intervene if they see the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade attempting to acquire, test, or use chemical weapons. The Islamic State, itself, has used chemical weapons in the form of sulphur mustard in Syria and against Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq.

Army

The Army will not kick out Sgt 1st Class Charles Martland, the Special Forces soldier who beat up an Afghan police commander accused of raping a child in 2011, Fox News reports. The Army had reprimanded Martland for his actions and planned to run him out of the service. It ran into trouble, however, when news of the case was publicized and the service faced overwhelming opposition in the public and in Congress. There are currently two separate investigations being run by the Pentagon and a congressionally-mandated watchdog group into how much U.S. forces in Afghanistan have known about reports of systemic child abuse by Afghan forces over the years.

Budget

It looks like it’s curtains for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense System  (JLENS), the radar-carrying balloon that broke loose from its tether earlier this year and stole our hearts. The House Armed Services Committee included language in its version of the defense authorization bill to slash the program’s funding from $45 to $2.2 million, which would effectively kill the program. JLENS was supposed to help the Pentagon spot incoming cruise missiles and other low-flying aircraft like drones but investigations by auditors found the radar system had trouble spotting the threats.

 

Photo Credit: AMEER ALHALBI/AFP/Getty Images

Adam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.

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