SitRep: Long War Gets Longer, Special Ops Leaders Brace For It
Raqqa not yet in crosshairs; Vietnam being careful about the way ahead; and lots more
Power play. The rise of Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada as the new head of the Taliban shows that the insurgent group’s old guard is still very much holding the reins of power — and deciding the future of the Afghan war, writes FP’s Dan De Luce. Two members of the Taliban’s (relatively) young guard were seen as potential replacements: Sirajuddin Haqqani, the hardline head of the insurgency’s military operations, and Mohammad Yaqob, the son of the group’s reclusive founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. But they were instead appointed as his deputies. All this means that little is likely to change in the near-term, analysts say.
No inside track. But the inner workings of the Taliban senior leadership remain a mystery to the outside world, said Rebecca Zimmerman, a senior analyst at the RAND Corp. She also said the Afghan government and its NATO allies would have a short window to exploit any benefit from the death of the Taliban’s leader, either on the battlefield or politically. “The big question now is what are we going to do to wring some advantage from this?” Zimmerman told FP.
Longer(er) long war. The continuation of the Taliban’s old school leadership means that the fighting will drag on and on. Afghanistan is already America’s longest war, and the burden of fighting that conflict has fallen squarely on the shoulders of America’s Special Operations Forces. The commandos continue to deploy in large numbers not only to Afghanistan, but to Iraq, Syria, east and north Africa, and elsewhere.
“We’ve got plenty of work to do and we don’t see that slowing down any time soon,” Maj. Gen. Darsie Rogers, head of special operators in the Middle East and Afghanistan, said this week at the annual SOFIC special operations conference in Tampa, Fla. Rogers said he has troops deployed to 11 countries around the region.
Newly-installed commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Gen. Tony Thomas added, “we are very, very kinetic right now; very direct action because we are trying to rectify five failed states and an extremist phenomenon that’s gone rabid. Once we get that back in the box, eventually, I hope, we can have the right sort of access, placement, connective tissue, to retain stability.”
Managing the ask. In a sit-down with SitRep during the conference, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, head of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command, said, “in 2001 we said this is going to be a long war,” and “nobody can tell you whether we’re in the middle, or three quarters of the way down. I don’t think I see the light at the end of the tunnel so we are really paying a lot of attention to how much we’re asking of our soldiers.”
Quotable: “If we get this right, the Army will kill the archer instead of dealing with one of the its arrows.” — U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command on Wednesday, describing the Army’s role in providing coastal defense artillery in the Pacific region.
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Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc says his country won’t pursue a military buildup in the South China Sea, despite its territorial disputes with China, Reuters reports. Rather, Phuc said that Vietnam would seek to resolve its issues with China first through “peaceful measures, diplomatic measures and even justice measures.” The country’s warming relations with the U.S. and President Obama’s recent lifting of a decades-long arms embargo has opened the way for Vietnam to modernize its Russian-supplied military with American equipment.
The arms embargo is gone and now Vietnam is reportedly window-shopping for American weapons, according to Defense News. Defense industry sources tell the news outlet that Vietnam has expressed interest in buying F-16 fighter jets, P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, torpedoes and drones. Vietnam is looking to buy the gear under the Pentagon’s excess defense articles program, which offers surplus American military hardware to allied countries, often for free.
President Obama offered an apology to Japan for the rape and murder of a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa allegedly carried out by a former U.S. Marine. Okinawans have grown increasingly angry over the years following high profile incidents in which members of the U.S. military have attacked locals on the island, which is home to more than 50,000 American troops. Obama, in Japan this week for a G7 meeting, offered his “sincerest condolences and deepest regrets” for the killing of the 20-year old woman and pledged U.S. cooperation in the investigation.
The U.S. may be lagging behind in the race to operate in the Arctic but Russia is wasting no time buying equipment for use in the frozen tundra. UPI reports that the Russian military is adding five Mi-8AMTSh-VA helicopters specially equipped to fly in the cold weather of the Arctic. The contract with manufacturer Ulan-Ude will see choppers delivered through 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pardoned Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko and sent her back home. The Russian-backed Donbass People’s Militia captured Savchenko in 2014 and shipped her to Russia, where what is largely viewed as a sham trial was held, convicting her of the death of two Russian radio journalists. Russian prosecutors accused Savchenko of directing mortar fire onto the two journalists’ position. But her release was hardly a humanitarian gesture. Savchenko was exchanged for two Russian soldiers captured in eastern Ukraine, Capt. Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Sgt. Aleksandr Aleksandrov, who were flown back to Russia with much less fanfare.
Syria’s U.S.-backed anti-Islamic State fighters aren’t going to be marching on the self-styled caliphate’s capital of Raqqa anytime soon, says a spokesman for the group. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, reported recent offensives by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and leaflets dropped by U.S. planes on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, telling locals to get out of town, have the city on edge. The moves have prompted some to flee and led to speculation that a push on the city was imminent. But SDF spokesman Talal Silo says the group has no plans for that yet and is currently preoccupied with fighting the Islamic State in areas north of Raqqa.
Libyan militia official says that British special operations forces blew up an Islamic State suicide truck bomb on May 12. Commander Mohammed Durat of the Third Force, aligned with Libya’s internationally-recognized government, says that the special ops troops hit the vehicle-borne bomb with a missile before it could reach the city of Misrata. The U.S. and Britain have both sent special operations troops to Libya to help local forces tackle the Islamic State. Britain’s defense ministry declined to comment on the account.
Raytheon wants to resurrect a vintage Cold War tank and kit out for sale around the world. Popular Mechanics reports that the defense contractor wants to retrofit M60 Patton tanks, first introduced in 1960, with modern parts for the vehicle’s aging frame. The life extension program would add upgraded electronics and the 120mm M256 cannon from the M1A1 Abrams tank, which replaced the M60. A number of countries throughout the Middle East still own M60s, giving Raytheon a large potential market for the program.
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