The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

SitRep: Meet the Iraqi General Leading in Fallujah

Defining Combat; Trump’s Troop Cash; Eisenhower Sets Sail; and Lots More

Iraqi army general in charge of the Fallujah operation Abdel Wahab al-Saadi (C) walks among troops in an area on the southern outskirts of Fallujah on June 1, 2016 during fighting against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group.
Iraqi forces launched an offensive a week ago to recapture Fallujah, which became an IS group stronghold after its fighters seized the city in January 2014. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE        (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi army general in charge of the Fallujah operation Abdel Wahab al-Saadi (C) walks among troops in an area on the southern outskirts of Fallujah on June 1, 2016 during fighting against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group. Iraqi forces launched an offensive a week ago to recapture Fallujah, which became an IS group stronghold after its fighters seized the city in January 2014. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Syrian push. There’s been an agreement of sorts in northern Syria where Kurdish and Arab fighters will split the work to push the Islamic State out of the border region with Turkey. The area that U.S. officials have been calling the “Manbij pocket” -- a critical patch of land running along the Turkish border -- will be cleared by Kurdish YPG forces, but held and secured by Arab fighters. The plan is a critical concession to the Turks, who are opposed to Kurdish land gains, and to local Syrian Arabs, who fear being displaced.

American commandos will be involved in the new offensive, which Reuters says kicked off Tuesday, but they won’t engage in “direct combat,” a defense official insisted. The definition of “combat” has become a pretty fluid thing in Washington in recent months. Three Americans have been killed in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since October, but Pentagon and White House officials have tied themselves in knots trying to describe how Americans are dying in combat...who are not involved in combat.

 

Syrian push. There’s been an agreement of sorts in northern Syria where Kurdish and Arab fighters will split the work to push the Islamic State out of the border region with Turkey. The area that U.S. officials have been calling the “Manbij pocket” — a critical patch of land running along the Turkish border — will be cleared by Kurdish YPG forces, but held and secured by Arab fighters. The plan is a critical concession to the Turks, who are opposed to Kurdish land gains, and to local Syrian Arabs, who fear being displaced.

American commandos will be involved in the new offensive, which Reuters says kicked off Tuesday, but they won’t engage in “direct combat,” a defense official insisted. The definition of “combat” has become a pretty fluid thing in Washington in recent months. Three Americans have been killed in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since October, but Pentagon and White House officials have tied themselves in knots trying to describe how Americans are dying in combat…who are not involved in combat.

More “combat.” Speaking during a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, however, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. servicemen who have died over the past several months “had given their lives in combat on our behalf.”

Over the weekend, two more U.S. servicemembers were wounded in Iraq and Syria by “indirect fire” — probably rocket or mortar attacks — operating north of the Syrian city of Raqqa, and near Irbil in the Iraq’s Kurdistan, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Tuesday. No more information is available, other than the two did not return to their units. Davis did say, however, that the servicemembers were not “engaged in active combat.”

Meet the Iraqi general running the fight for Fallujah. As the Iraqi army pushes into the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah, they’re being led by Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab Al Saadi, a top general in Iraq’s elite counter terrorism forces. He previously led the successful assaults on the cities of Baiji and Tikrit — Iraq’s first victories against ISIS fighters last year — and is again at the front. A Baghdad-born Shiite, Saadi criticized the Iraqi military’s leadership last year, calling it old and outdated, and insisted that he refused Iranian help in taking Baiji, saying, “if I had accepted help from non-Iraqis, the history books will say the victory was not ours.”

He also dinged U.S. air support: “sometimes, they would carry out airstrikes that I never asked for, and at other times I begged them for a single air strike and they never did it,” he said. “I don’t think they trust Iraq’s government or military.” In Fallujah, ISIS fighters “are dug in,” he said recently. “We think they will fight to the last.” There are an estimated 1,200 ISIS fighters inside the city, where about 50,000 civilians remain trapped.

Trump and vets. Yesterday was quite a day in the annals of the U.S. 2016 presidential election. FP’s Molly O’Toole writes that in Donald Trump’s first public accounting of his fundraising for veterans groups, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee “said he did not want credit for trying to help American troops. Then he blasted the media for not giving it to him.” As the result of a January fundraising event, Trump raised $5.6 million for vets, but for months refused to say which groups he gave the money to. Now we know, and O’Toole does some digging into who the groups are.

Court of opinion. The International Criminal Court wants to know why Djibouti didn’t arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited the tiny African nation earlier this month, and is giving the government there until next month to explain itself. FP’s Paul McLeary has the ICC document, and asked the State Department why U.S. diplomats agreed to attend the same event as Bashir. One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington has made its position with respect to hosting Bashir’s travel “clear” with allies, and has called on them to “not invite, facilitate or support travel by President Bashir.”

See you soon. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group leaves on a seven-month deployment to the Middle East on Wednesday, to support the U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State. The strike group replaces the USS Harry S. Truman carrier and its strike group, which is wrapping up its own seven-month deployment that was extended by 30-days last month by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Thanks for clicking on through as we kick off the summer 2016 edition 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

The U.S. military isn’t the only country seeing its recruiting pool expanding around the middle, Army Times reports. The People’s Liberation Army will now accept new troops who weigh 20 to 30 percent more than weight targets. The move would mark the fifth time since China has loosened its weight requirements for entrance to the military.

China’s air force is telling mil geeks to pump the breaks on claims that the country’s J-20 stealth fighter jet is already being used in training exercises, Reuters reports. The statement, made by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) on Chinese social media, came in response to some analysts’ claims that new, grainy imagery from a recent exercise showed a J-20 involved in the drill. Nonetheless, the PLAAF pledged that the J-20 would be available “in the near future.”

North Korea

North Korea has a new domestic Facebook knockoff and it’s already been hacked. Shortly after a research firm discovered the social media site, a Scottish teenager managed to take control of  the site, hosted on servers in China, by correctly guessing the username and password to an administrator account — “admin” and “password.” Control over the site is somewhat moot at the moment as it’s been down for the past few days.

North Korea wants to make America great again. Pyongyang’s state-run DPRK Today news outlet ran an editorial on Tuesday calling presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump a “wise politician” with “many positive aspects” to his “inflammatory policies,” according to the Washington Post. The state mouthpiece was particularly fond of Trump’s policy towards South Korea and North-South relations. In a series of statements, Trump has said he’d withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea and signaled that he was open to a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

South Korea

A South Korean newspaper claims that the country’s military is interested in converting one of its submarines to carry a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The Korea Joongang Daily reports that a military source says the country’s navy is putting a vertical launching pod on the Jangbogo-III submarine it’s building. The system is expected to be operational by 2020. North Korea, as well, has been developing a submarine capable of launching an SLBM, purportedly carrying out a recent test of the system in April.

NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance’s defense spending will go up for this first time in nearly ten years, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Member states have for the past few years lagged behind the two percent of gross domestic product targets set by NATO. The threat from an increasingly aggressive Russia, however, has a number of countries in the Atlantic alliance spending more on their militaries. The increases are seen particularly among Baltic and Eastern European member states.

But that good news is tempered by increasing tensions within the alliance over how to react to the Russian threat, the immigration wave, and where to position forces in Eastern Europe. “Despite the growing threats, many European countries still resist strong measures to strengthen NATO,” the New York Times reports. “Many remain reluctant to increase military spending, despite past pledges. Some, like Italy, are cutting back. France is reverting to its traditional skepticism toward the alliance, which it sees as an instrument of American policy and an infringement on its sovereignty.

Syria

With pressure mounting on the international community to airdrop aid supplies over cities being starved by Assad regime, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Michael Eisenstadt takes a look at what a humanitarian airlift campaign might look like. Assad regime troops have blocked access to ground convoys, and ruled out the possibility that an air bridge could address the problem. That leaves airdrops, which can be dangerous for locals when shipments drift off target or break free from their parachutes. The U.S. does have GPS-guided Joint Precision Aerial Delivery Systems, which can guide airdropped aid pallets to a location on the ground but they’re generally used for smaller deliveries and few in number, requiring them to be recovered. Ultimately, Eisenstadt recommends that the U.S. provide military aid to Syrian rebels to break the sieges if diplomatic initiatives to lift them continue to prove fruitless.

Niger

France is using a drone base in Niger to keep an eye on jihadists from al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, the BBC reports. Five French drones are stationed at Base 101, which carries out around 40 sorties per month as part of Operation Barkhane, begun in early 2014.

Business of defense

The Air Force announced on Tuesday that it’s spending $3.2 billion on a contract with Boeing for more smart bombs. The contract is for Joint Direct Attack Munition tailkits to convert unguided munitions into precision-guided ones. The contract comes as the U.S. has faced a growing shortage of precision guided munitions due to its unexpected war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has depleted much of the U.S. inventory. The Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen has also kept American defense firms busy trying to supply allies with munitions.

 

Photo Credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/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.

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.