SitRep: Another Terror Attack in Jordan; U.S. Carriers Flexing Muscles
Syria on Notice; Eastern Europe Eyeing Russia Warily; and Lots More
Border brawl. Six Jordanian border guards were killed and 14 injured when a car bomb detonated near the sprawling Rukban refugee camp on the country’s border with Syria on Tuesday, in the deadliest attack on Jordanian security forces in recent memory. The camp houses an estimated 60,000 Syrians trying to make their way into Jordan.
It’s the second attack on a refugee camp in Jordan this month, however, after five people — including three Jordanian intelligence service officers — were killed at a Palestinian refugee camp near Amman. No group has claimed responsibility for either attack.
The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq have seen quite a bit of action in recent years, with Jordanian security forces fighting it out with smugglers and Islamists looking to move between the countries. Washington is giving Amman $450 million in military aid in 2016 to help fight the Islamic State, and Jordan has poured another $100 million into a sophisticated border surveillance system, FP recently reported. Jordan has taken in over 650,000 Syrian refugees since fighting there began in 2011.
Making waves. Two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups wrapped up several days of joint operations in the Philippine Sea Monday, the second time in as many weeks that American flattops have teamed up to flex their muscles in a very noticeable show of force.
The USS Ronald Reagan and USS John C. Stennis participated in the Philippine Sea exercises, and have since gone their separate ways, with the Stennis moving on to Hawaii to participate in the 27-nation Rim of the Pacific exercise — which will include China — and the Reagan staying put.
Earlier this month, the USS Harry S. Truman and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower began operating in the Mediterranean Sea, the first time two U.S. carriers were in the body of water at the same time since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. “Both [in the Pacific] and in the Mediterranean, it’s a signal to everyone in the region that we’re committed, we’re going to be there for our allies, to reassure them and for anyone who wants to destabilize that region,” the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said at a think tank event in Washington on Monday. “We hope that there is a deterrence message there as well,” he added.
Syria on notice. Michèle Flournoy, the consensus pick to be Defense Secretary should Hillary Clinton win the White House in November, said she’s open to using the U.S. military to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security on Monday, the think tank Flournoy helped found and currently helms as chief executive officer, Flournoy said “limited military coercion” might be necessary to drive Assad out. She helped author a report with fellow CNAS staffers earlier this month that recommends widening American goals in the Syrian war, including “arming and training local groups that are acceptable to the United States regardless of whether they are fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or ISIS.” Currently, Syrian rebels must pledge to only fight ISIS in exchange for U.S. support.
Taliban honey pot. The Taliban have been using child sex slaves to mount insider attacks on Afghan police officers, and one Congressman wants to know what the Pentagon is doing to protect U.S. soldiers who are working with the police.
SitRep obtained a letter Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) sent to Defense Secretary Ash Carter Monday, where the congressman said the U.S. “can begin taking immediate steps to stop child rape from occurring in the presence of U.S. forces and reduce any risk of coinciding insider attacks,” including encouraging servicemembers to report suspicions of child abuse, and even “intervening if necessary.” Hunter added he would like to know what steps have been taken to “reduce the threat of insider attacks and address instances of child abuse that might occur in the presence of U.S. forces.”
Boko Haram’s buyer’s remorse. When Boko Haram pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in March 2015, it was billed as a blow to al Qaeda’s presence in western Africa. But how things have changed. “Despite the occasional spectacular attack or bloody offensive, Boko Haram today is substantially weaker, and controls much less territory, than when the group was rechristened as the Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” FP contributors Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Jacob Zenn write. And its relationship with the Islamic State bears a healthy portion of the blame.
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: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
America’s top Army officer in Europe is concerned about Russia’s ability to make a break for it in Eastern Europe on short notice. U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges made an appearance on BBC’s Hardtalk, where he shared his anxiety over Russia’s ability “to move huge formations and lots of equipment a long distance very fast.” Russia proximity to NATO’s borders, its ability to move quickly, combined with its penchant for conducting snap exercises has the general on edge. To counter that threat, Hodges said NATO should be able to respond to a crisis with three days notice and create a “military Schengen zone” that would allow troops from the alliance to move freely within NATO territory.
European countries are sparring over whether to ditch the sanctions applied against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the Wall Street Journal reports. The European Union agreed to extend the sanctions for another six months but the foreign ministers from France and Germany appear to be inclined to take a softer line towards Moscow. The sanctions are premised on Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk agreements. The agreements call for an end to the conflict and for Russia to remove its troops from Ukrainian territory. Eastern European countries and the U.K. are pushing for a harder line towards Russia and sanctions.
The U.S. Congress is hoping to put a little extra pressure on Europe as it debates sanctions policy towards Russia. Defense News reports that a half dozen U.S. Senators led by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) wrote a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk urging the EU to maintain sanctions in the face of alleged ceasefire violations in Ukraine and the continued occupation of Crimea.
Norway wants to start spending more on defense to the tune of a $20 billion increase over the next 20 years. UPI reports that Norway’s defense ministry put forward its Long Term Plan calling for spending on the F-35 stealth fighter jet, new air defense systems, and submarines. In the shorter term, the ministry wants to spend an extra $872 on defense by the close of the decade.
Anonymous defense officials tell CNN that four U.S. military advisers were wounded in Syria when an anti-tank missile struck near their position recently. The officials didn’t go into details about the extent of the injuries, but the four men are reportedly back on duty. Nor is it especially clear who fired the missile, although Islamic State fighters are the chief suspects. The special operations personnel are in northern Syria working to train Arab and Kurdish fighters take on the Islamic State. President Obama announced that the U.S. would send roughly 50 of the elite troops in October of 2015, followed by the deployment of an additional 250 in April.
Russia’s state-funded news outlet RT caused a brief stir after it not-so-discreetly cut out footage of a Russian Su-34 in Syria armed with cluster munitions from a video segment. Russia has denied using cluster munitions in its air campaign in the country, but human rights groups have documented evidence of their use by Russian warplanes. Shortly after the original broadcast, however, the cluster munition footage was edited out, causing a public outcry. RT claims the edit was made for an unspecified “personal safety” issue and the footage was subsequently restored.
Poland and New Zealand have pledged to up their game in the fight against the Islamic State. The government in Warsaw announced that it’ll deploy 60 special operations forces to Iraq, and send four F-16s to Kuwait to begin flying reconnaissance missions against the ISIS. New Zealand has also promised to keep its 143 trainers in Iraq through November 2018.
Business of defense
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is turning up the heat on the White House and Congress to green light the sale of F/A-18 fighter jets to Kuwait. Reuters reports that Mabus spoke of his mounting frustration with the delay on a decision whether to allow the sale of 28 of the fighter jets to Kuwait for $3 billion. He warned that delays in the decision could cause price increases for the jet, which the Navy has wanted to use as a bridge while it awaits the availability of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
At least one of Syria and Iraq’s neighbors is warming to the international coalition against the Islamic State. A new poll from the International Republican Institute shows support among Jordanians for international intervention against the jihadist group at 64 percent, up 10 percentage points from 2015.
12:00 pm: The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is hosting an event on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act featuring House and Senate Armed Services Committee staff directors Bob Simmons and Chris Brose, as well as AEI fellow Mackenzie Eaglen. The event will also be streamed live.
Photo credit KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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