SitRep: 41 Dead in Istanbul; The U.K.’s Coming U.N. Problem
Benghazi Moves On; No Apologies For Fat Leonard; and Lots More
Chaos in Istanbul. Another bloody terrorist attack on a civilian target killed 41 and injured over 230 others at the entrance to Istanbul’s busy Ataturk International Airport Tuesday. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Wednesday that the government believes the Islamic State conducted the attack, but there’s been no claim of responsibility so far.
The dead come from across the globe, and include 23 Turks and 18 foreigners. Turkey has faced a rash of terrorist strikes over the past year, including five in Istanbul itself, as it faces down threats from both the Islamic State and Kurdish militants operating out of Syria and moving back and forth over the border with ease.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tied the attack to the global fight against the Islamic State, which has either orchestrated attacks, or inspired them, in places like Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Texas, and Orlando over the past year. “The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world,” he said. “Make no mistake: For terrorist organizations, there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago, or Antalya and Rome.”
Brexit comes to Turtle Bay. With the United Kingdom looking less united than ever before, a rump Britain could lose influence at the U.N., which would be a real problem for both London and Washington. FP’s Colum Lynch reports that while the U.K. isn’t really in much danger of losing its seat on the Security Council, things might look a bit different for London in the coming years.
“European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros,” Lynch writes. “That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as ‘the runt of the Security Council,’ quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Tale of two quotes. In a bit of a surprise move, Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said Iran’s involvement in Iraq is, in some respects, actually helpful. ”Look, we have challenges with Iran as everybody knows and we are working on those challenges,” Kerry said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “But I can tell you that Iran in Iraq has been in certain ways helpful, and they clearly are focused on ISIL-Daesh, and so we have a common interest, actually.” Earlier in the day, Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy overseeing the fight against the Islamic State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that most of the Shiite Iranian-backed militias operating near Fallujah and elsewhere “operate under the control of the Iraqi state, but about 15-20% of them actually do not. And those groups are a fundamental problem.”
FP’s John Hudson reports that McGurk said the campaign against ISIS is going pretty well, with Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels clawing back territory from the terrorist group. The envoy backed up his usual optimistic take on the situation with reams of anecdotal information, saying the group “is now slashing pay, cannot provide services, and is facing internal resistance,” from dissenters.“We know from other sources, as well, that [ISIS] fighters are panicking on the battlefield, foreign recruits are now looking to return home, and leaders are struggling to maintain discipline, even despite the threat of execution for disobedience.”
Benghazi. It’s here. After spending more than two years and about $7 million in taxpayer money, the House Select Committee on Benghazi released its final report on the 2012 terrorist attack that left four Americans dead. The 800-page behemoth found no new evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at fault, FP’s Molly O’Toole says. The Republican-penned report comes out a day after Democrats on the committee released their own 339-page version, which says the Pentagon could not have acted in time to save the lives of the four Americans killed in the attack.
The Republicans, conversely, slammed security gaps that prevented U.S. military forces stationed elsewhere from moving quickly enough to reach Benghazi in time. Like previous reports, it is highly critical of not only the State Department, but also the Defense Department and CIA, for not heeding warnings about the worsening security situation in Libya. One of the oddest revelations of the Republican report highlights the disorganization among State Department and Pentagon officials, who argued for hours whether Marines preparing to fly to Libya should wear their uniforms or civilian clothes, forcing them to change outfits multiple times over the course of several hours.
Read the Republican report.
Read the Democratic report.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
It’s just about always drill season among the maritime powers of East Asia, and the latest round of exercises features the U.S., Japan, and South Korea practicing their missile defense skills off the coast of Hawaii. The allies are exercising with an eye on the North Korean missile threat, as Pyongyang has been especially puckish lately, lighting off a series of Musudan intermediate range ballistic missiles, 300mm rockets, and a rocket which could form the basis of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The exercises also mark a diplomatic step forward for South Korea and Japan, which have traditionally been frosty over lingering bitterness from Japan’s World War II occupation of Korea.
Defense News’ Chris Cavas has a lengthy interview with former Seventh Fleet deputy of fleet operations Cmdr. Mike Misiewicz, one of the U.S. Navy officers at the center of the “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal. Misiewicz pled guilty to trading classified information on U.S. Navy comings and goings in Asia for bribes and prostitutes so that “Fat Leonard” Glenn Francis of Glenn Defense Marine Asia could gouge the Navy for port services. The disgraced officer, though, is less than contrite about his corruption, offering a defense that Fat Leonard’s services “cost us money, but the strategic value of some of those things outweighed the expense.”
The U.S. and Russia are locked in another dispute over their vessels coming too close for comfort. Russia’s Ministry of Defense has accused the U.S. destroyer USS Gravely of sailing too close to Russia’s frigate Yaroslav Mudry on June 17 in the Mediterranean. The ministry says that the Gravely, which was escorting the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, came within a “dangerous distance” of nearly 600 feet and “violated international and bilateral agreements.” American officials say the Gravely was just protecting the carrier’s flight operations as the Mudry was “intentionally trying to interfere with Harry S. Truman operations.” A big fear would be that the Russian ship would electronically jam U.S. pilots as they came in for a landing on the carrier, potentially causing a crash. Video shot by Russian sailors of the Gravely’s passing is here.
The Islamic State
A small but notable resistance movement has formed within the Islamic State’s territory as the so-called caliphate shrinks under pressure from the U.S.-led coalition. Reuters reports that civilians forced to live under Islamic State rule have been carrying out small but heretofore unthinkable acts of resistance, such painting graffiti in Mosul with the initial “M” for muqawama, the Arabic word for “resistance” and posting a video of it online. Residents of Mosul are also now working with the anti-Islamic State coalition, feeding it with intelligence on the group. Islamic State leaders now try to disguise their movement from locals in Mosul to prevent their location from being slipped to American and Iraqi security forces.
In a surprise move, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei canned Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, the general in charge of the Iranian armed forces on Tuesday. Firouzabadi had been Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces dating back to 1989, staying on for a record tenure while other senior brass were generally cashiered after six year terms. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei replaced Firouzabadi with his deputy, Gen. Mohammad Bagheri. Thus far, Iranian media and officialdom are mum on reasons for the changeup.
Afghanistan’s nascent peace talks have hit another snag as the Islamist militant group Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, run by anti-Soviet insurgency veteran Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has walked out on the talks, the Long War Journal reports. Afghan officials were hopeful they could sew up an agreement with Hekmatyar but the Islamist militant leader issued a Taliban-style poison pill demand, saying that the group wouldn’t sign on to any peace deal unless the Afghan government broke contact with the U.S. and removed all of its troops.
Sun’s out, guns out
The U.S. Army is about to start rolling up its sleeves. It’s kind of a big deal. But we note that Tuesday was U.S. Army Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley threw out the first pitch. But if you look closely at the troops, you see that none of their sleeves are rolled. Change comes slowly…
The American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin has released a new report, “Kurdistan Rising: Considerations for the Kurds, Their Neighbors, and the Region,” which examines the challenges to Kurdish political aspirations in the Middle East. The report says that the political reality of Iran, Iraq, and Syria’s Kurdish populations is more complex than commonly assumed with intra-Kurdish politics playing home to a range of actors and agendas. Rubin argues that Iran, more than Turkey, is the largest impediment to the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.
Photo Credit: Defne Karadeniz/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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