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SitRep: Istanbul Attackers Named as Russian, Uzbek; U.S. Navy Releases Iran Report

ISIS Still Silent, But Captures U.S. Weapons; China Rejects Court Ruling; And Lots More

US Navy crew man machine-guns as they stand aboard a Riverine Command Boat off the coast of Bahrain's Salman port, near Manama, on May 12, 2013, one day before the start of the biggest exercise of mine countermeasure maneuvers in the Arabian Gulf. The US Navy along with other 40 nations are conducting the games. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI        (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Navy crew man machine-guns as they stand aboard a Riverine Command Boat off the coast of Bahrain's Salman port, near Manama, on May 12, 2013, one day before the start of the biggest exercise of mine countermeasure maneuvers in the Arabian Gulf. The US Navy along with other 40 nations are conducting the games. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Navy crew man machine-guns as they stand aboard a Riverine Command Boat off the coast of Bahrain's Salman port, near Manama, on May 12, 2013, one day before the start of the biggest exercise of mine countermeasure maneuvers in the Arabian Gulf. The US Navy along with other 40 nations are conducting the games. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Attackers named. Turkish authorities announced Thursday they had arrested 22 people in connection with the bloody attack on the Istanbul airport earlier this week. A government official told CNN that “the attackers who carried out Tuesday's shootings and suicide bombings were from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.”

Guesswork. The Islamic State has previously jumped in to claim responsibility for slaughters like the killing of 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, so why has the group stayed silent on the murder of 41 people in Istanbul? By avoiding any claim of responsibility, FP’s Elias Groll and Dan De Luce write in a smart new piece, ISIS forces Ankara to consider the possibility that its longtime Kurdish adversaries are responsible.

 

Attackers named. Turkish authorities announced Thursday they had arrested 22 people in connection with the bloody attack on the Istanbul airport earlier this week. A government official told CNN that “the attackers who carried out Tuesday’s shootings and suicide bombings were from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.”

Guesswork. The Islamic State has previously jumped in to claim responsibility for slaughters like the killing of 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, so why has the group stayed silent on the murder of 41 people in Istanbul? By avoiding any claim of responsibility, FP’s Elias Groll and Dan De Luce write in a smart new piece, ISIS forces Ankara to consider the possibility that its longtime Kurdish adversaries are responsible.

“That could lead to Turkey’s ramping up its military campaign against the Kurds who are fighting — and making gains against — the Islamic State in northern Syria. The Islamic State seeks to exploit this fissure between Kurds and Turks to advance its agenda, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

Not guessing. CIA Director John Brennan says the attack in Istanbul “certainly bears the hallmarks of ISIL’s depravity,” however, and he would “be surprised if Daesh is not trying to carry out that kind of attack in the United States,” using an alternate name for the Islamic State.

Punishment due. Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations will take the podium at the Pentagon Thursday at 9:45 a.m. to announce the findings of an investigation into how two U.S. Navy riverine craft drifted into Iranian territorial waters, only to have their crews detained by Iranian forces.  A redacted version of the investigation will also be released Thursday morning, and its findings confirm many details reported by FP’s Dan De Luce last month, according to U.S. officials. A Navy official confirms to De Luce that nine personnel will be disciplined for the screw-up, which includes the three boat crew members FP reported previously.

A win for ISIS. The Islamic State just got its hands on more U.S. weapons. On Tuesday, fighters from the U.S.-backed New Syrian Army launched an assault on the Syrian town of al-Bukamal, near a critical border crossing with Iraq. By Wednesday, the U.S. allies had been beaten back, FP’s Henry Johnson and Paul McLeary report, and left behind some gear, including crates of American ammunition, M-16s, U.S. mortars, a Toyota Hilux pickup adapted to carry a heavy machine gun, and piles of new body armor.

ISIS losing ground elsewhere. Spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign, Col. Chris Garver, told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that Syrian Arab fighters are establishing “footholds” around the northern Syrian city of Manbij, and have “seized more than 10,000 documents,” along with “cellphones, laptops, maps and digital storage devices.”

He also said that at least 1,000 ISIS fighters had been killed in fighting with Iraqi government forces in Fallujah in recent weeks, and 1,000 others captured. Numbers are difficult to confirm, as some Shiite militias fighting alongside Iraqi government forces have been rounding up any military-age Sunni males they find fleeing the city, leading to claims of torture and murder. Other U.S. military officials are estimating that as many as 250 ISIS fighters were killed in American airstrikes near Fallujah on Wednesday. Those numbers, if true, would represent a huge blow for the terrorist group, since the U.S. intel community estimates the number of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria to be between 19,000 and 25,000.

Policy hold. The Pentagon was all set to unveil a new policy to allow transgender individuals to serve openly in the U.S. military, but concerns aired to Defense Secretary Ash Carter by senior military leaders may push the announcement back a bit. The military brass is concerned that the Pentagon is moving too fast to implement the huge changes to personnel policy, and have asked for more time to work through the issues.

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

South China Sea

China isn’t waiting for a decision from the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration on Beijing’s maritime territorial claims to talk trash about the international tribunal. The New York Times reports that Chinese officials are already rejecting the body’s authority to rule on a Philippine government claim that China’s assertions of ownership over the Scarborough Shoal are illegal under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The arbitration court says it will hand down a ruling on July 12, but China’s Foreign Ministry says it won’t listen, writing in a statement that it “does not accept any means of third-party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China.” As usual, FP’s Dan De Luce and Keith Johnson laid it all out for you earlier this month.

North Korea

You can stop calling North Korea dynastic dictator “Kim Jong Un” because it’s now Dear Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army to you, buddy. North Korea’s legislature offered Kim the new title this week when it named him chief of the State Affairs Commission after its predecessor, the National Defence Commission, was scrapped. Kim’s father, Kim Jong In, was known as the Dear Leader and grandpa Kim Il Sung had the title of “the Great Leader.”

NATO

NATO and Russia will hold formal talks for the second time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Reuters reports. The talks will take place after the Atlantic alliance concludes its upcoming summit in Warsaw. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he wanted to wait until the summit had ended before meeting with NATO officials “to be able to examine the decisions that are taken there.” France has been pushing for a softer line towards Moscow and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “we don’t want the Warsaw summit to be a confrontational summit.”

Iran

Iran’s new top military officer is signaling that there won’t be any change of policy under his tenure. The Long War Journal reports that newly-crowned chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces Major General Mohammad Bagheri pledged direct Iranian military intervention if “Baghdad, the sacred shrines, and the burial places of the pure Imams in Iraq” are threatened. He also reiterated that Iran intends to continue supporting its allies and taking on ethnic separatists at home. Bagheri took over the chief of staff position from recently-removed Major General Hassan Firouzabadi who had held the job since 1989.

Mali

Mali, already the world’s most dangerous country for United Nations peacekeepers, is getting hit more frequently by al Qaeda-linked terrorist bombings, and the Security Council is responding by sending 2,500 more troops to the country. The move will bring the total number of U.N. troops to a little over 13,000. Islamist militants took over large parts of the country in 2013 but were pushed back by a French military intervention, which has since transitioned into a U.N. peacekeeping mission. Sporadic violence has continued, though, with attacks by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as recently as May.

Bangladesh

Both al Qaeda and the Islamic State have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Bangladesh that have killed over 30 people over the past year, but local officials aren’t convinced. They say say two local militant groups — Ansar-al-Islam and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen — are behind the killings. Between the two, Ansar, which pledges allegiance to al Qaeda, has proven to be the most organized and dangerous, they say, while Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, which claims allegiance to ISIS, is more loosely constructed.

Technology

Remotely-piloted locusts with hacked brains may be the future of bomb detection, PopSci reports. A research project at Washington University in St. Louis funded by the Office of Naval Research is looking at using the bugs’ keen sense of smell to sniff out dangerous explosives. The program would use electrodes in the locusts’ brains to radio back to a command center that they smell something. Pilots would be able to steer the insects via sensors tattooed on their wings that convert a laser beam’s light into heat signals to tell the bugs whether to bank left or right.

Marine Corps
Fifteen Marine drill instructors at Parris Island are facing an investigation into whether they hazed and assaulted recruits, the Wall Street Journal reports. The investigation began following the death of Muslim recruit Raheel Siddiqui, which found that a drill instructor was “improperly placed in charge of recruits while he was subject to an ongoing investigation.” One of Siddiqui’s instructors had used racist language towards another Muslim recruit and placed the Marine in a dryer.

 

Photo Credit: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/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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