The Cable

SitRep: NATO In On Afghanistan; Chinese, Russian Ships Peep U.S. Ops

U.S. Warplanes in Philippines; U.A.E. Done in Yemen;; and lots more

NATO troops make a massive amphibious landing off the coast of Ustka, northern Poland, during NATO military sea exercises BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) on June 17, 2015 in the Baltic Sea. The multinational exercise of NATO allied and partner nations aims to demonstrate their collective capability to defend the Baltic region.    AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI        (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
NATO troops make a massive amphibious landing off the coast of Ustka, northern Poland, during NATO military sea exercises BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) on June 17, 2015 in the Baltic Sea. The multinational exercise of NATO allied and partner nations aims to demonstrate their collective capability to defend the Baltic region. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

NATO’s not done in Afghanistan. It looks like the United States and NATO are going to stick it out in Afghanistan for at least a few more years, as the Afghan army continues to battle a resurgent Taliban with no end in sight.

Following a NATO meeting in Brussels this week, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter “told us the troop numbers and the dispositions are being looked at again,” as President Barack Obama weighs whether to draw the U.S. presence in Afghanistan down from 9,800 to 5,000 by the end of this year. NATO says it’s in, at least through the end of next year. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies are abandoning their plans to pull back to Kabul by the end of this year, and “will have what we call a flexible regional approach, meaning that we will continue to be of course in Kabul but also out in the different regions.”

That’s significant. So are comments by an anonymous NATO diplomat who told the AP that the alliance will most likely come up with the $5 billion needed to fund the current number of Afghan security forces through 2020. The longest of the Long Wars grinds on.

More warplanes to Philippines. The U.S. Navy quietly sent four E/A-18G Growler aircraft to Clark Air Base in the Philippines Wednesday, the second time U.S. warplanes have been deployed to the country since April to help patrol the waters of the South China Sea.

The Growlers “will support routine operations that enhance regional maritime domain awareness and assure access to the air and maritime domains in accordance with international law,” according to a statement released by the Navy’s 7th Fleet. In January, the Philippine Supreme Court signed off on a deal to allow Washington to send troops on extended rotations to Philippine bases, which was followed by the deployment of five A-10C Warthogs in April. The Growlers — sophisticated electronic warfare aircraft — are slated to help train Philippine military pilots, the Navy said.

Fallujah staggers. Iraq’s interior ministry said this week that somewhere around 6,000 Sunni men have been detained since the start of the battle for Fallujah, and around 1,000 have been released. Of those, about 650 say they were tortured by Shiite militias once they fled the city, and 49 executed.

It’s all a mess for the Shiite government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who launched the fight for Fallujah last month in order to push several hundred Islamic State fighters out of the city. FP’s Paul McLeary writes that three weeks after loudly announcing the start of the Iraqi army’s assault on the city, government troops have finally managed to push into town, though the breach is small, and there’s no word on when it might widen.

U.A.E. looking for an exit in Yemen. After a year of bombing runs against Houthi rebels that have left hundreds of civilians dead and drawn condemnation from the world community, the U.A.E. says it’s about done with the war. “Our position today is clear: the war is practically over for our troops,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash was quoted as saying in a closed-door speech by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s official twitter account. FP’s Colum Lynch has done great work in exposing the lengths Saudi Arabia has gone to in order to cover up the level of carnage its airstrikes in Yemen have caused.

The NATO option. Here’s something that folks in Washington are usually a little more careful about. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Germany’s Bild newspaper Thursday that the alliance may respond to future cyber attacks with conventional weapons. “A severe cyber attack may be classified as a case for the alliance,” he said. “Then NATO can and must react.” The scale and scope of that reaction “will depend on the severity of the attack.” No word on any forthcoming guidance on that. Just putting it out there.

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

They see me rolling

The staredowns between American and Chinese troops aren’t just in the skies over the South China Sea. Reuters reports that Chinese ships have been shadowing their U.S. Navy counterparts on exercises in the region. Capt. Gregory C. Huffman, skipper of the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, says a People’s Liberation Army Navy spy ship creeped on the aircraft carrier constantly as it sailed through the South China Sea on exercises with Japan and India. An anonymous defense official tells the wire service that the movements are par for the course these days and not exactly cause for alarm. The U.S. and China, however, have been at odds over two recent incidents in which Chinese fighter jets carried out what the U.S. says were dangerous intercepts of American spy planes flying off China’s coast.

Not to be left out, Russia has also been tailing American ships, hoping to sneak a look at the BALTOPS 16 exercises underway, according to Fox News. The exercise involves 17 NATO member countries as well as non-members Finland and Sweden. U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James G. Foggo III tells the cable news outlet that two Russian spy vessels have been not so discreetly following the ships since they left port last week. The Russian ships have been well behaved so far, if uncommunicative, perhaps the result of a meeting U.S. Navy officials had with their Russian counterparts before the drill to discuss how not to get in each others’ way.

Who’s where when

9:00 a.m. CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Livestream here. According to his prepared remarks, Brennan will warn that Islamic State militants are working to deploy operatives for further attacks on the West.

9:30 a.m. Air Force Vice Chief Gen. David Goldfein, tapped to be the next Air Force chief of staff, will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Livestream here.

Hezbollah

Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah is facing a cash crunch after Congress passed a law restricting financial institutions’ ability to do business with banks that provide services to the group. Bloomberg reports that the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act is putting a crimp in Hezbollah’s ability to operate its network of social services providers as Lebanon’s central bank enforces the law, putting some of its political popularity at risk. The group is feuding with Lebanese authorities over the enforcement, and some believe a recent bombing at the Blom Bank in Beirut was carried out by Hezbollah as an act of intimidation.

Israel

After much back and forth sparring, the U.S. and Israel appear to be nearing an agreement on a U.S. military aid package. Israeli officials had been hoping that the Obama administration would agree to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) promising $40 billion in aid over a decade — an increase of $10 billion over the last MOU. So far, the U.S. has been discussing a deal in the range of $35-37 billion. Other questions about the aid remain up in the air such as whether the final package will include money for missile defense and how much of the money Israel will be able to spend among its own defense contractors versus American companies.

AF/PAK

As if the conflict in Afghanistan couldn’t get any more horrific, Agence France Presse reports that the Taliban has been using child sex slaves as bait in order to kill Afghan policeman. The Taliban has exploited the practice of police commanders abusing children to carry out insider attacks and gain access to secure areas. The news agency writes that attacks using child sex slaves are most common in Uruzgan province, where police abuse of children is especially rampant.

The already tense relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is getting worse as the two countries traded artillery across their shared border. The shelling began earlier this week at the Khyber Pass border crossing following a shootout between the two sides. Pakistani officials say Afghan forces shot at Pakistani workers carrying out construction on a border installation. Afghan officials say the artillery barrages snowballed from Pakistan’s shooting of an Afghan border guard. Both sides now say they’ve agreed to a ceasefire to the clashes which have killed at least four people so far.

Gabon

The global drone market is expanding, and Gabon is on a robot shopping spree at the Eurosatory defense exhibition in France. UPI reports that it’s buying up NERVA LG unmanned ground vehicles and tiny quadcopters for use by its troops. The NERVA bots can carry modular payloads, including one to sniff out explosives.

Air Force

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says the next generation of close air support aircraft (CAS) should be something akin to a “flying Coke machine.” National Defense magazine carried the top Air Force officer’s comments as he sketched out a vision for a successor to the beloved A-10 Warthog, which the service is retiring in phases. Welsh’s “Coke machine” line was meant to signal that the next generation of CAS planes should be able to provide a mix of different kinds of firepower on demand. Welsh noted that the tight budget environment doesn’t leave much room for new projects and said any son-of-Warthog would have to be cheap and be able to fly at a fraction of the cost the Air Force is currently paying to keep its A-10 fleet in the air.

 

Photo Credit:  JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images

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