SitRep: New Afghan War Plan Coming Soon
al-Shabab Strikes Amid Growing U.S. Involvement in Somalia; North Korea, Calls for NATO Action; and Lots More
Afghan plan coming soon. Prepare yourself for the next round of debate over U.S. policy in Afghanistan, as the U.S. commander in Kabul gets ready to present his recommendations on the way forward.
Gen. John Nicholson is wrapping up his 90-day evaluation of the situation in Afghanistan this week, his spokesman Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland told reporters Wednesday, though he said Nicholson “does intend to keep it classified, and he does intend to keep it private so he can have those frank discussions with his military leadership.” War plans, as we’ve all seen over the past 15 years, don’t remain secret for long once they hit Washington, however.
Nicholson’s hotly-anticipated review of the war is expected to recommend keeping more troops in the country than President Barack Obama’s plan currently calls for, along with giving U.S. pilots more leeway in striking Taliban and Islamic State targets from the air. There are currently 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a number expected to drop to 5,500 troops by the end of the year. Unless….
Goes boom. There’s been yet another American airstrike in Somalia, this time targeting Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, who the Pentagon says was a senior military commander for al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab. Da’ud served as the mastermind of the group’s attacks in Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda, the Pentagon said. The strike comes in the wake of other recent U.S. bombing runs against the group, with one in March killing 150 fighters at a training camp.
How much effect do strikes on terrorist leaders have? On the day the strike was announced, al-Shabab launched a brutal coordinated attack using car bombs and gunmen who stormed the Hotel Ambassador in Mogadishu, killing 16 people and wounding scores more 55 more.
U.S. commandos in the fight. And don’t forget that last month, a team of U.S. special operators patrolling with Ugandan peacekeepers near Mogadishu called in an airstrike on an al-Shabab position when they came under fire. And that wasn’t the first time American troops have been in a scrap in Somalia this year. In March, commandos, acting with Somali forces, killed up to 15 Islamists in another sharp firefight.
The big talk. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton will give a speech in San Diego, Calif. Thursday where she’ll “make clear the threat that Donald Trump would pose to our national security and to put forth her own vision for keeping America safe at home and leading in the world,” Clinton’s campaign said in a statement Wednesday.
Too little, too late? A coalition of Syrian-American organizations blasted the United States, Russia, and the United Nations Wednesday for failing to drop food into besieged areas of Syria following Damascus’s refusal to provide unfettered ground access to humanitarian aid organizations, FP’s John Hudson reports. “Against Wednesday’s looming deadline, the Syrian government allowed convoys into two of Syria’s 19 besieged areas. But according to initial reports, the aid for the distressed Damascus suburb of Daraya included medical supplies, vaccines and baby milk — but no food. And 17 of Syria’s other 19 besieged areas continued to suffer from a lack of access.”
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The U.S. Treasury Department has applied yet another round of sanctions on North Korea, using a section of the USA Patriot Act to label the country a “primary money laundering concern.” The move would force U.S. companies to take extra measures to make sure that North Korea wasn’t using banking facilities in third countries in order to carry out financial transactions. The department says it’s sanctioning Pyongyang because in part because it “uses state-controlled financial institutions and front companies” to launder transactions in support of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
Norwegian State Secretary for Defense Oystein Bo says NATO needs to step up its game at sea, IHS Jane’s reports. Bo made the comments at the 2016 Undersea Defense Technology exhibition, saying he’d like to “see a more frequent peacetime presence” of vessels from the Atlantic alliance in the waters off Norway’s coast. He argued that the maritime environment in northern Europe is a changing strategic environment, as evidenced by the increased interest in Arctic operations by the region’s militaries.
The Turkish defense ministry’s top acquisition official has some left-handed thanks to offer to the U.S. for its restrictions on armed drone exports. Defense News reports that Ismail Demir said he’s grateful the U.S. rejected Turkey’s bid to purchase armed American drones like the MQ-9 Reaper because “it forced us to develop our own systems.” Turkey has developed its own armed unmanned aerial vehicle, the Bayraktar, which uses two domestically-produced precision guided munitions. A NATO official told Defense News that tensions between the alliance and Turkey, including a recent spat over a U.S. special operations troops wearing a patch from the Kurdish YPG, are “worrying.”
There are 20,000 children inside Fallujah currently being held captive by the Islamic State, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned on Wednesday. The humanitarian group urged Iraqi security forces to be mindful of the many thousands of children stuck inside the city as they prepare for a battle to kick jihadist fighters out. The children of Fallujah, which make up nearly half of the 50,000 civilians living there, are facing tough conditions, including starvation and malnutrition because of a months-long siege of the city and recruitment into the ranks of the Islamic State fighters holding out there.
Two separate militia groups are fighting their way toward the Islamic State’s Libyan stronghold of Sirte, in what is looking to be the first major assault on the group since it planted its black flag on the Mediterranean coast last year. The militias are converging on the city from both the east and west in uncoordinated advances that call into question who wields the most power in the war-torn country. U.S. intel agencies estimate there are about 5,000 to 6,000 ISIS fighters in Libya. Since late 2015, small groups of American, British and French special operations forces have quietly deployed across Libya in an attempt to find allies among the country’s various militia groups.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Taliban’s newly-appointed emir to engage in peace talks. The Kabul-based Pentagon spokesman, Brig Gen. Charles Cleveland, ruled out the likelihood that Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada would show up at the negotiating table “any time in the short-term.” That assessment casts doubt on the Obama administration’s ability to reach its goal of achieving a negotiated solution to America’s longest war.
The Army says that the Obama administration’s cap on troop levels in Afghanistan is leading to an increase in the use of contractors there, according to an Army document obtained by the Washington Post. The document, submitted to the House Armed Services Committee, says Army combat aviation brigades have deployed without their full maintenance staff, leading to a reliance on private defense contractors to carry out the work. That shift, the service argues, is affecting unit cohesion and stripping troops of critical skills and experience.
The Federal Aviation Administration is trying out a British-made drone jammer in order to protect airports against rogue hobbyist drones, according to the BBC. The jammer, the Anti-UAV Defense System or AUDS, allows operators to seek out the small airborne bots with an infrared camera and then blast them with radio interference to disrupt their radio control links. AUDS is made by a troika of British defense firms, Blighter Surveillance Systems, Enterprise Control Systems, and Chess Dynamics.
Popular Mechanics takes a look at the Pentagon’s search for a new sidearm. Buying a new handgun for the Army and Air Force isn’t as simple as it sounds. The services kicked off the bidding to replace the Beretta M92 in 2015 and the process is expected to wrap up in a little over a year. The contract has attracted a dozen bidders, which the Pentagon will soon trim down to just three finalists. The lengthy and complicated process for picking a relatively simple weapon has drawn criticism from Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
The British tabloid the Daily Mirror claims that U.K. special operations troops in Libya are blasting Bollywood tunes through Islamic State fighters’ radios and communications channels to demoralize or at least generally annoy the jihadist group.
Photo Credit: Xinhua/Yaqoub Azorda via Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary