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SitRep: Neocons for Hillary; Moscow’s Sneak Attack on U.S.-Backed Syrians

Fat Leonard Claims Another Scalp; Nork Missiles; And Lots More

ALEPPO, SYRIA - JUNE 5: Smoke rises after Assad Regime and Russian army carried out an airstrike on Syrian opposition controlled Anadan district of Aleppo, Syria on June 5, 2016.


 (Photo by Ahmed Muhammed Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JUNE 5: Smoke rises after Assad Regime and Russian army carried out an airstrike on Syrian opposition controlled Anadan district of Aleppo, Syria on June 5, 2016. (Photo by Ahmed Muhammed Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JUNE 5: Smoke rises after Assad Regime and Russian army carried out an airstrike on Syrian opposition controlled Anadan district of Aleppo, Syria on June 5, 2016. (Photo by Ahmed Muhammed Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

No answers from Moscow. Pentagon officials are still waiting for an explanation as to why Russian warplanes hit U.S.-backed Syrian rebels with cluster munitions in southern Syria last week. But the Russians aren’t talking. “We were very surprised by the strike,” British Army Maj. Gen. Doug Chalmers, deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State told Pentagon reporters Thursday.

Chalmers confirmed that the New Syrian Army unit garrisoned at a base in al-Tanf suffered several dead and wounded. There were no U.S. troops with the unit at the time, but the presence of the American-supplied fighters at al-Tanf was widely known, and Chalmers said that the series of strikes “was way outside of the normal pattern of Russian activity.” U.S. officials have said the Russians have been advised where American special operations forces are located in Syria to avoid any attacks on units that have American attached.

 

No answers from Moscow. Pentagon officials are still waiting for an explanation as to why Russian warplanes hit U.S.-backed Syrian rebels with cluster munitions in southern Syria last week. But the Russians aren’t talking. “We were very surprised by the strike,” British Army Maj. Gen. Doug Chalmers, deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State told Pentagon reporters Thursday.

Chalmers confirmed that the New Syrian Army unit garrisoned at a base in al-Tanf suffered several dead and wounded. There were no U.S. troops with the unit at the time, but the presence of the American-supplied fighters at al-Tanf was widely known, and Chalmers said that the series of strikes “was way outside of the normal pattern of Russian activity.” U.S. officials have said the Russians have been advised where American special operations forces are located in Syria to avoid any attacks on units that have American attached.

Crossing lines. Robert Kagan, a prominent neoconservative and early supporter of the invasion of Iraq, has decided to throw in for Hillary Clinton, going so far as to speak at a Hillary for America fundraiser in Washington’s Logan Circle neighborhood on July 21. FP’s John Hudson delivers the scoop on the latest wrinkle in this year’s weird election cycle, writing, “the move signals a shift in the Clinton campaign’s willingness to associate with prominent Republicans and is the latest sign of how far some GOP defectors are willing to go to block a Donald Trump presidency.”  

Just bring the thunder. If you get the chance, ask U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley what he thinks of the Air Force’s push to retire the A-10 aircraft, and if mothballing the venerable warplane so beloved by ground forces might create problems for his grunts in tight spots.

“The only thing I care about is the effect on the target,” he told an audience at a think tank event in Washington Thursday. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what platform brings it in…I don’t care if the thing was carried in by carrier pigeons.” Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Milley added, “I want the enemy taken care of. The United States Air Force has never failed me…full stop.” The Air Force wants to ditch the venerable A-10 in favor of using the troubled F-35 (some day, maybe?) for close air support.

Fat Leonard claims another victim. A retired U.S. Navy civilian contracting official has admitted to taking a staggering $300,000 in bribes from a Singapore-based company that offered supply services to the Navy. Paul Simpkins, an Air Force vet, has become the 11th person to plead guilty in the ever-expanding “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal that has rocked the Navy, and in particular the Japan-based 7th Fleet.

The head of the firm, Leonard Glenn Francis was a larger than life figure dubbed “Fat Leonard” by Navy officials, who he plied with cash, gifts, travel, and prostitutes in order to to steer lucrative Navy contracts to his company. As many as 200 people remain under investigation by the Navy, and 13 have already been charged, including several officers. But this whole thing is nowhere near over.

Starts and stops in Fallujah. Iraq’s offensive to retake Fallujah appears to have stalled as Iraqi security forces are having a tough time clearing the city of Islamic State militants. The fighters have dug into the densely-built city, with tunnels, booby-traps and thousands of civilians still stuck inside the city shielding them from attack. The U.S. has been reluctant to carry out airstrikes for fear of hitting civilians, nixing requests to strike an empty hospital being used by the Islamic State as a redoubt.

Finally, for your Friday read, The Economist breaks down Game of Thrones dragon-whisperer Daenerys Targaryen’s chances of reclaiming Westeros in a punitively-detailed assessment.

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

After a series of failures, North Korea appears to have actually scored a partial success in its test of the Musudan intermediate range ballistic missile earlier this week. 38 North writes that the limited data released available on the test shows improvements in its guidance and navigational systems. Some of the test’s success might be attributable to Pyongyang’s last minute addition of grid fins to the missile in order to bring greater stability early in flight. Previous tests of the Musudan had seen it blow up or go off course very quickly after launch, but the second test this week saw it reach a distance of 400 kilometers.

Philippines

The Islamic State may be extending its brand of jihadist terrorism to militants in yet another country. Reuters reports that Islamist militants in the Philippines have released a new video claiming loyalty to Abu Abdullah, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group who offered his allegiance to the Islamic State. Malaysian terrorist Mohd Rafi Udin tells viewers in the video that they should stay and fight in the Philippines if they can’t reach Syria, where he’s currently fighting. Intelligence officials in the Philippines tell the wire service that the video marks an unnerving change in rhetoric from militants in the region as their focus appears to shift from recruiting for attacks in Syria to the creation of a local jihadist umbrella group.

Syria

The Islamic State has released pictures from what it says are the phones of Russian soldiers killed in Syria. The Amaq news agency, a jihadist propaganda outlet with close ties to the group, published pictures of three Russian soldiers it said were killed by an improvised explosive device on the road to Raqqa, the capital of the self-styled caliphate. The photos phones appear to show the soldiers in Ukraine at one point. Conflict Intelligence Team, an open source investigative reporting collective, claims that the troops in the pictures are from the 18th motor rifle brigade and 291st artillery brigade, based in Chechnya and Ingushetia. A Russian defense ministry spokesman, however, denies that Russia lost any troops, saying the men in the photographs “are safe and sound and are at their units.”

Bots o’ war

General Motors is now working with the Navy to power the next generation of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), according to the Detroit Free Press. The Navy is looking to take advantage of GM’s research and development of hydrogen fuel cells to provide longer-lasting energy for its undersea robots. Specifically, the Naval Research Laboratory is looking for power sources that can fuel a UUV for more than two months at a time. GM has also been working with the Army on a fuel cell to power its automated tank.

Fight or flight

The Marine Corps is raiding the boneyard for airplanes as the service strains to meet its readiness requirements, USNI News reports. The service is working with Boeing to recover 30 F/A-18 Hornets from the Arizona boneyard where the Corps’ old Hornets have been gathering dust for years. The jets are being reclaimed and refurbished by Boeing as the Corps has found itself caught short on planes because of long delays in the rollout of the much-awaited F-35.

Photo credit: Ahmed Muhammed Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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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