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The Cable

SitRep: EgyptAir Wreckage Found; NATO Debates Libya Ops

Russia mad at NATO, again; more Libya operations; and lots more

Members of a brigade loyal to the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), an alliance of Islamist-backed fighters, stand on a pick up trucks mounted with machine guns during a military parade following battles against the Islamic State (IS) group, in the city of Sabratha, west of the capital Tripoli, on February  28, 2016.
On February 19, a US air strike near Sabratha targeted a suspected IS training camp, killing 50 people. / AFP / MAHMUD TURKIA        (Photo credit should read MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of a brigade loyal to the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), an alliance of Islamist-backed fighters, stand on a pick up trucks mounted with machine guns during a military parade following battles against the Islamic State (IS) group, in the city of Sabratha, west of the capital Tripoli, on February 28, 2016. On February 19, a US air strike near Sabratha targeted a suspected IS training camp, killing 50 people. / AFP / MAHMUD TURKIA (Photo credit should read MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)


Wreckage found. After some initial confusion, Egyptian authorities announced on Friday that they had indeed found wreckage from EgyptAir Flight 804 floating in the sea, about 180 miles north of Alexandria. Egyptian army spokesman  Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir said Egyptian planes and navy vessels found “personal belongings of the passengers and parts of the plane debris.”

Still no word on what caused the crash, but some U.S. and Egyptian authorities have said that the way the plane suddenly went down does suggest terrorism. If the plane was destroyed by terrorists, FP’s Dan De Luce writes, “authorities around the world will have to confront the fact that the last line of defense against such an attack would have been at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, nominally one of the most secure facilities in Europe. And they’ll have to confront the sobering reality that security at one of the continent’s busiest and best-protected airports failed.”

Libyan debate. The United States and its allies continue to wait to commit more military assistance to the nascent Libyan government, as the various players on the ground continue to struggle to bring it all together. There has been a small contingent of U.S. Special Operations troops in the country for months, working to establish local contacts, but the White House doesn’t want to do much more without a credible ally on the ground.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford told reporters traveling with him in Europe Thursday, “we’re just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn’t been an agreement. And frankly, any day that could happen.” Any operation would most likely focus on working with militias loyal to Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which has won backing from the U.N. “There will be a long-term mission in Libya,” Dunford said.

Nothing settled. NATO is more circumspect. Just days after the alliance — including the U.S. — said they would be willing to help Libya’s military, disputes remain over where any training should take place. The U.K. is ready to train troops on Libyan soil, but Germany insists training should be in Tunisia. “We have a NATO offer to the Libyan government to do more training and capacity building there, which the Libyans have not yet opened formal conversations with NATO about,” an anonymous U.S. State Department official told reporters.

American ISIS. “At one point towards the end as things were getting more and more serious, I did see severed heads placed on spiked poles.” That’s part of what “Mo,” an American citizen who joined the Islamic State in June 2014, told NBC News’ Richard Engel. The former Columbia University student lasted only a few months before fleeing Syria and making it to Turkey, where he turned himself in at the American consulate. He’s currently being held by U.S. authorities.

Navy is in. The U.S. Navy has joined the search for more pieces of the missing EgyptAir passenger jet, sending a P-3C Orion surveillance plane from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, a defense official said. The P-3C is a long-range surveillance aircraft that has played a key role in U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere. The U.S. Navy has three P-3Cs stationed in Sigonella and another in Souda Bay, Greece. There are no plans at the moment to send any Navy surface ships to assist in the search, but the Navy has several ships currently in the Mediterranean, including the destroyer USS Donald Cook, and the Sixth Fleet’s command ship, the USS Mount Whitney.

Leaflets over Raqqa. Here’s a reproduction of leaflets the U.S-led coalition is allegedly dropping over the Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, urging civilians in the city to flee. The activist group, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, tweeted the flyer on Thursday, which says (according to their translation), “its the time that u wait for long time, its the time to leave the city.” The flyers could mean that a more intense bombing campaign against ISIS might be coming soon.

RIP Morley Safer. Legendary journalist Morley Safer passed away on Thursday at 84. His reporting from Vietnam, in particular, changed the game. Safer’s piece from the Vietnamese village of Cam Ne in August 1965 showing U.S. Marines burning huts was later cited by New York University as one of the 20th century’s best pieces of American journalism, and after his helicopter was shot down during a 1965 battle in the Ia Drang valley, he did a story on the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry that remains a must watch.

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: or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley


Tough words from Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III Thursday, who insisted that Washington would have an obligation to take military action in the South China Sea should China try and force its claim over the Scarborough Shoal, which sits just off the Philippine coast. He suggested the U.S. “has to maintain its ascendancy, moral ascendancy, and also the confidence of one of its allies.”

Pics or it didn’t happen. In the wake of this week’s dicey intercept of a U.S. EP-3E Aries surveillance plane by a Chinese J-11 fighter jet (and China’s denial that the event took place), Breaking Defense reports that the Pentagon wants spy planes to start recording video of such incidents. The Naval Research Lab has already rushed out a Common Airborne Situational Awareness (CASA) pod designed to let American aircraft get footage of Chinese harassment. The hope is that the new CASA pods will give American pilots irrefutable proof should another incident take place.


NATO offered a formal invitation to Montenegro to join the alliance on Thursday, and Moscow isn’t happy about it. When an informal offer was floated in December, Russian Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov said the alliance is “ready to admit even the North Pole to NATO just for the sake of encircling Russia.” On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that NATO expansion “risks further increasing tensions on the continent.”


We don’t often have much on the comings and goings over at the State Department, but the White House announced a few nominations for ambassadorships Thursday we felt were notable: Sung Y. Kim has be named ambassador to the Philippines; Geoffrey R. Pyatt, currently ambassador to Ukraine, to head to Greece; Douglas Alan Silliman — currently ambassador to Kuwait– as ambassador to Iraq; and Marie L. Yovanovitch, ambassador to Ukraine.

North Korea

No more (legal) shopping sprees of European goods for North Korea’s senior military brass. The European Union (EU) added North Korean military officers to its sanctions list on Thursday for their involvement in the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The EU said the list of 18 newly sanctioned individuals are “mostly high-ranked military officials involved in key bodies,” responsible for the North’s weapons of mass destruction. The latest round of sanctions on North Korea brings the EU’s tally to 66 sanctioned individuals and 42 entities.


United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura says he’s considering the possibility of aid drops to starving, besieged cities in Syria, Reuters reports. de Mistura said that providing aid to Syrian civilians in desperate need is key to restoring the credibility of any future peace talks and that he’d be forced to resort to the aid drops if sufficient access by ground is achieved by June 1. The Assad regime opposes the airborne aid drops and has interfered with the provision of aid by ground convoys, at times removing food and medicine. The U.N. envoy labeled the aid drops as “the most expensive, the most complicated, the most dangerous option” that can only be used as a “last resort.”


Russia’s fulfillment of its S-300 air defense system contract with Iran is proceeding apace and should be completed by the end of the year, according to Russian state news. TASS news agency reports that President Vladimir Putin’s aide Vladimir Kozhin told reporters that Moscow has already sent one S-300 battalion to Iran and will finish the deliveries by the end of 2016.


The U.S. is conducting surveillance flights over Libya from a small island off the coast of Sicily, CNN reports. The flights, used to collect intelligence on the growing presence of the Islamic State in the country, have been flown out of the island of Pantelleria for the past year.

Air Force

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ budget expert Todd Harrison pens an op-ed arguing in support of the Air Force continuing to buy Russian engines for its space launch operations. In the wake of sanctions placed on Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea, some in Congress have called for the Air Force to stop buying the Russian RD-180 engines on which it depends to put military satellites into space. But Harrison writes that cutting off the supply of RD-180s would narrow U.S. options as the U.S. domestic launch industry is still in the early stages of providing alternatives. Rushing that development by limiting access to the RD-180, he writes, could place expensive and advanced satellite technology on as-yet unproven alternatives.

Benghazi inquiry

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, head of the Congressional inquiry into the 2012 Benghazi attacks against a U.S. consulate in Libya, is accusing the Pentagon of slow-rolling his committee’s investigation, the Hill reports. On Thursday, Gowdy said the Defense Department has for the past three months been unable to provide him with the names of all the drone pilots operating unmanned aerial vehicles near the attack in 2012. The Pentagon has called the request “unnecessary” and said it has provoked a slow, laborious search.


The Pentagon is worried about grunts’ ability to one day bond with battle buddy bots. Military Times reports that Pentagon officials are looking at ways to make sure troops can establish emotional bonds with robots so that soldiers can trust their unmanned system the way they trust a military working dog. The big hurdle in establishing those bonds is that the robotic prototypes are often frustrating and can require extensive supervision. Col. James Jenkins of the Marine Corps Warfighting Labs says getting troops to understand the limitations and advantages of a particular unmanned system up front can help nurture the develop those bonds.


Photo Credit: MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Image

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