The Cable

SitRep: General Says No U.S. Strategy in Libya; North Korean Missile Failures Pile Up

China Bristles; Gun Debate Now Includes Retired Mil Brass; Pakistani Drones; and Lots More

A man watches a TV news showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch at a railway station in Seoul on April 28, 2016.
North Korea on April 28 tried and failed in what appeared to be its second attempt in two weeks to test a powerful, new medium-range ballistic missile, South Korea's defence ministry said. / AFP / JUNG YEON-JE        (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man watches a TV news showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch at a railway station in Seoul on April 28, 2016. North Korea on April 28 tried and failed in what appeared to be its second attempt in two weeks to test a powerful, new medium-range ballistic missile, South Korea's defence ministry said. / AFP / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Odds are it’ll work at some point, right? On Tuesday evening, North Korea made its fifth and sixth attempts since April at testing the Musudan intermediate-range, road-mobile ballistic missile. But like the previous four launches, the missiles simply splashed into the Sea of Japan.

U.S. Strategic Command said Tuesday night that it “strongly condemn[s] this and other North Korea’s missile tests in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.” And U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Cmdr. Dave Benham added the United States urges North Korea “to refrain from provocative actions that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments.”

The string of six failures within two months appears to indicate that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is rushing his engineers to perfect the missile technology with little to no time to study what has gone wrong with each successive failure. The North has already had some success in testing its short-range Scud and mid-range Rodong missiles. The Rodong can reach all of South Korea and most of Japan.

Libya in flames. At least 34 Libyan pro-government militiamen were killed on Tuesday and about 100 wounded in heavy fighting with Islamic State militants as they continued their push on the ISIS stronghold of Sirte. Fighters from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) began attacking ISIS positions late last month, and have hemmed several thousand ISIS holdouts into an ever-shrinking pocket, but the fighting is far from over. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday that “it’s a complicated situation right now,” in Libya, but the United States is eager for the internationally-backed GNA “to take hold” and put down some roots.

So, what’s the American plan in Libya? Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the White House’s nominee to take the helm at Africa Command, says there isn’t one. Asked during his confirmation hearing Tuesday by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain what Washington’s strategy in Libya is, Waldhauser replied, “I am not aware of any overall grand strategy at this point.”

Waldhauser also pushed back against the Obama administration’s resistance to carrying out more airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Libya. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Waldhauser whether the White House’s stance makes sense, to which the general responded, “no, it does not.” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook later told reporters that the situation in Libya is “complicated” and that “If the Libyans can do it on their own, that would be a good thing.”

Guns. The massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub by a man pledging loyalty to the Islamic State is giving Democrats a potentially potent new strategy in the long-running and bitter fight over gun control, FP’s Molly O’Toole and Paul McLeary write. The attack has also shifted the terms of the debate from abstract constitutional arguments to confronting the grim reality of terrorists getting their hands on military-style weapons — and the urgent question of whether the government should do more to stop them. It has also brought dozens of retired U.S. military generals and admirals into the debate.

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

China

A new study by cybersecurity firm FireEye’s iSight threat intelligence unit says that China has actually curbed some of its hacking against American private companies and defense contractors. The report says that the People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398, which FireEye has previously tracked carrying out thefts of intellectual property against American firms, has been fairly dormant. The dip in incidents preceded the recent agreement between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping not to engage in state-sponsored hacking in pursuit of private intellectual property. While Chinese hackers haven’t stopped trying to breach American networks, the focus of their activity is now reportedly more focused on military and conventional espionage targets, rather than purely economic ones.

The top Chinese newspaper ran an editorial Wednesday slamming the recent deployment of two U.S. aircraft carriers near the Philippines, writing “behind this misjudgment is Washington’s anxiety and arrogance, and it is the true expression of its hegemonic nature.” The editorial, published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng,” a homonym for the phrase “voice of China” also said that “the U.S. picked the wrong target in playing this trick on China.” The People’s Daily is the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

Libya

The Islamic State might be on the ropes in Libya, but that doesn’t mean warring militias will stop fighting with one another. Forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government based in Libya have made progress trying to take back territory from the Islamic State in Sirte. Meanwhile, clashes between the Libyan National Army and the Islamist Benghazi Defense Forces have been duking it out in the city of Ajdabiya in the country’s east. The United Nations and diplomats from around the world have been trying to end the factional infighting between various factions since the ouster of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi opened to the door to further civil conflict.

Pakistan

Another drone crash, another hint of a secret export. Defence Blog reports that a Pakistan air force drone crashed in Mianwali district, around 90 miles southwest of the capital of Islamabad. Imagery of the wreckage which surfaced online bears a strong resemblance to the Chinese Wing Loong drone, which itself bears a strong resemblance to the American Reaper drone. China has a longstanding defense relationship with Pakistan and reportedly transferred much of the technology for Pakistan’s armed Burraq drone, which looks quite a bit like China’s CH-3 unmanned aerial vehicle. Pakistani officials say the drone was carrying out surveillance over areas recently hit by floods.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s ministry of defense wants President Ashraf Ghani to ask NATO for more high end military equipment at the alliance’s upcoming confab in Warsaw, Poland next month. Tolo News reports that the ministry gave Ghani a wishlist of gear, including equipment for Afghanistan’s fledgling air force and unspecified intelligence technologies.

Most of the money for that gear will come from the United States, which is currently pushing NATO members to approve yet another $15 billion aid package for Afghanistan through 2020. Reuters reports that U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson said the U.S. will cough up about $3 billion a year from 2018 through 2020 with an extra billion dollars in economic aid the White House is asking Congress to approve. The U.S. wants the rest of the NATO members and Afghanistan itself to pick up the remainder of the tab.

Spies

The Senate Intelligence Committee wants the U.S. to take a tougher line on Russian spies. The committee’s version of the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Bill requests that the executive branch bring back the Cold War-vintage Active Measures Working Group, an interagency body formed during the Reagan administration to call out and push back against Soviet propaganda. The committee is also asking the FBI to crack down on travel by Russian diplomats and suspected spies looking to venture outside a 50-mile radius around Washington, DC. The embassy workers are supposed to notify the U.S. of any impending travel outside the perimeter, but anonymous officials tell the news outlet that Russians have been stretching the rules, leading to worries that the FBI hasn’t been able to keep track of suspected espionage activity.

Bots o’ war

The U.S. Army is moving to take on the coming threat of swarms of small drones. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn told reporters that the plan is to start with a drone killer for small, single UAVs, and then try to take on whole swarms. Allyn said that the service is currently looking at two different systems to address the threat. The first is Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Mobile Integrated capability, which blasts aircraft out of the sky either by jamming or shooting them. Another approach would involve the Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) system, which uses existing systems like the automated Phalanx close-in weapons system to track and shoot incoming small artillery rounds.

Linkup

How many Russian soldiers have died in Syria? Maybe 12. Maybe more. Here’s a roundup of what we know. (Daily Beast)

A complicated story of feminism, revolutionary Kurdish attitudes on gender equality, and Kobani. (Vice)

Secretary of State John Kerry met with about 10 out of the 51 diplomats who signed the “dissent memo” on Syria recently, which questioned the Obama administration’s policy in the war-torn country. (Defcon Hill)

The U.S. Army’s second in command says there aren’t enough American troops in Europe, something he hopes to fix next year. (National Defense)

Turkish jets strike PKK targets in Iraq, and southern Turkey (Reuters)

A note: In Tuesday’s SitRep, we wrote that CNAS CEO Michèle Flournoy recently “helped author a report with fellow CNAS staffers” that recommends widening American goals in the war against the Islamic State in Syria. Flournoy didn’t help author the report, but instead chaired the study group that put the report together.

 

Photo credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

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