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SitRep: Complex Picture of Orlando Shooter; Apaches In Mosul Fight

Drones Strike in Yemen; No Exec Order on Gitmo; and Lots More

AApache
AApache

 

Twists in Orlando slaughter. There’s still no clear evidence that Omar Mateen’s brutal rampage through an Orlando gay club that killed 49 and injured dozens more was directed by any one terrorist group. But an unexpected narrative is building over who Mateen was, and what he believed himself to be. While he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call during the attack, he had previously expressed admiration for both al Qaeda and Hezbollah, extremist groups who share little in common. The contradictions have led FBI Director James Comey to surmise he might not have understood the differences between the groups.

More surprising are the growing number of eyewitness accounts placing the shooter at Pulse nightclub over a dozen times over the past several years. “It’s the same guy,” Chris Callen, a performer at the club told the Canadian Press. “He’s been going to this bar for at least three years.” The Orlando Sentinel reports that other men say he contacted them on gay dating apps. And former classmate told the Palm Beach Post that he and Mateen would go to gay bars and Mateen once asked him out.

 

Twists in Orlando slaughter. There’s still no clear evidence that Omar Mateen’s brutal rampage through an Orlando gay club that killed 49 and injured dozens more was directed by any one terrorist group. But an unexpected narrative is building over who Mateen was, and what he believed himself to be. While he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call during the attack, he had previously expressed admiration for both al Qaeda and Hezbollah, extremist groups who share little in common. The contradictions have led FBI Director James Comey to surmise he might not have understood the differences between the groups.

More surprising are the growing number of eyewitness accounts placing the shooter at Pulse nightclub over a dozen times over the past several years. “It’s the same guy,” Chris Callen, a performer at the club told the Canadian Press. “He’s been going to this bar for at least three years.” The Orlando Sentinel reports that other men say he contacted them on gay dating apps. And former classmate told the Palm Beach Post that he and Mateen would go to gay bars and Mateen once asked him out.

Radicalized online. But nothing can be ruled out. FP’s Elias Groll and Dan De Luce write that law enforcement officials are confident that he was radicalized online, which remains one of the most powerful tools that groups like the Islamic State have for launching attacks outside of it’s self-declared caliphate. “They are part of an imagined community, and being part of a community gives value to their actions,” said Marc Sageman, a former CIA operations officer and a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “They are part of this nation — the ummah — and it lives online.”

FP’s Molly O’Toole also notes that the worst shooting in U.S. history and deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 marks a pivotal moment for the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as they enter the general election phase of the campaign. “The political fallout from the attack also carries potential pitfalls for both, particularly with moderate, independent, and undecided voters who may provide the deciding edge for either candidate in November.”

In the fight. An American Apache helicopter struck a vehicle being used by ISIS fighters near Mosul on Monday, U.S. defense officials confirmed, marking the first time the attack helicopter has been used in Iraq in years. The Pentagon had offered the Iraqis the use of Apaches late last year in the fight to retake Ramadi from the Islamic State, but Baghdad refused. Iraqi forces are currently surrounding Mosul while slowly fighting their way toward the city, which the terrorist group has held for two years.

Drones over Yemen stay busy. There are reports of two more U.S. drone strikes in Yemen over the past several days. The first came on Saturday, when a vehicle carrying two suspected al Qaeda members, Gazwan al-Waili and Zubeir al-Sanaani, was struck near Ma’rib. According to local reports, another strike came Sunday near the town of Habban, killing two more suspected al Qaeda members. There have been an estimated 17 American drone strikes in Yemen in 2016, killing over 110 suspected al Qaeda sympathizers, according to a database kept by the New America Foundation.

No on Gitmo. There will be no executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Obama administration officials say, a decision that finally slams the door on any possibility of the prison being closed before President Barack Obama leaves office in January. Republicans in Congress have been solidly opposed to bringing Guantanamo detainees to U.S. prisons, and have also pushed back against transferring others to third countries over concerns that the former prisoners would return to militant activities. A recent report concluded that roughly 12 former Gitmo detainees released under the Bush administration eventually returned to the fight in Afghanistan, and some were later responsible for killing at least a half-dozen Americans.

Podcast. Check out FP’s latest Podcast exploring the future history of Obama’s foreign policy, which asks, “in the coming decades, will the outgoing president’s foreign policy ultimately be remembered as a success or will it be overshadowed by what some would call his inability to act?”

South China Sea, as ever. It’s Tuesday, and we have yet to report any drama in the South China Sea. In order to make things right, we point out that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel chased down a group of Philippine nationalists on Sunday, preventing them from planting their flag on the Scarborough Shoal, a contested group of rocks off the Philippine coast that both countries claim.

Good morning again from the Sitrep crew, thanks for clicking on through for 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

North Korea

North Korean hackers stole aircraft component designs from two South Korean companies, the Wall Street Journal reports. The breaches, which began in 2014 and have been traced to an IP address in Pyongyang, yielded plans for the wings of F-15 fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles. North Korea’s cyber capabilities have been the subject of increasing concern since American intelligence attributed to the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures in apparent retaliation for a parody film depicting dictator Kim Jong-un.

France

An Islamic State-affiliated news outlet has embraced the murder of two people in France by a knife-wielding man whom French authorities say pledged allegiance to the jihadist group, according to the Daily Telegraph. A release put out by the Amaq News Agency cites an Islamic State source calling the killer a “fighter” for the group. The language is similar to that used in the Amaq release claiming Orlando attack murderer Omar Mateen, in which Mateen was also described as a “fighter” for the Islamic State. The stabbing attack in France killed a policeman and his wife.

Syria

al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, just absorbed another jihadist group, the Long War Journal reports. The Army of Muhammad in Syria tweeted that it pledged its loyalty to the Nusra Front after spending years fighting in the Syrian civil war. The group, comprised largely of foreign fighters from North Africa, had previously sworn fealty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and fought with the local Islamist militant coalition Jaish al-Fatah.

Afghanistan

The U.S. is asking its allies to pass the hat to maintain $5 billion dollars of annual support for Afghan security through 2020, Reuters reports. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Skip Davis says that NATO allies he’s spoken with are convinced of the need to maintain financial support for Afghan security forces. The U.S. will get a better idea of how much allies are willing to cough up in July during a NATO summit in Poland. The U.S. has traditionally paid the bulk of the bill for Afghan security, but Davis says the government there may be expected to kick in a slightly larger percentage for its own defense in the coming years.

Hamid Karzai is skeptical that the U.S. military is doing much to bring Afghanistan’s conflict to a close. The former Afghan president was in the U.S. for Muhammad Ali’s funeral and spoke with the Washington Post, telling the paper he doesn’t “think military means will bring us [peace].” Karzai instead suggested the U.S. put diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and continue providing support to Afghan security forces. Karzai had a particularly contentious relationship with Washington over special operations raids and other aspects of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

NATO

NATO countries are coughing up more money for defense, much to the delight of the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. Members of the Atlantic alliance notched up their collective defense budgets 0.6 percent in 2015 over the previous year. NATO members are supposed to shell out at or above two percent of their gross domestic product on defense but many often fall short of the goal. Stoltenberg said he expects the spending to increase 1.5 percent again this year as bigger spenders such as the U.S. press member countries to live up to their commitments.

Kony

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Ugandan military is pulling its forces out of the manhunt to track down Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and his militia-cum-cult, the LRA, have plagued countries in central Africa for years, kidnapping civilians and children and carrying out attacks on government forces. Ugandan officials cited frustration at what they say is a lack of support from other countries in the hunt taking place in the Central African Republic. The U.S. sent 150 advisers in 2014 to help participate in the search for the militant leader, but contributions from other countries in the region has been lacking.

Tech

GPS signals don’t travel very well deep underwater, so the U.S. Navy is working on an alternative navigational system to guide its undersea robots through the oceans. Manned submarines traditionally use large inertial navigation systems to keep track of their position in the absence of satellite contact, but the size of the old-school systems are a poor fit for the kinds of small robotic sub swarms the Navy would like to deploy one day. To remedy that, BAE is developing the Positioning System for Deep Ocean Navigation, conventionally dubbed POSYDON, which would swap the radio-wave beaming satellites that make up the GPS network for a constellation of sonar buoys pinging acoustic signals to help receivers navigate instead.

And finally…
Doctors in Colombia successfully extracted a live grenade lodged in the head of a soldier after a tense surgery in the parking lot of a military hospital in Bogota.

 

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

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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