SitRep: Horror in Nice as Death Toll Rises to 84
Report From South Sudan; More Troops to Iraq; And Lots More
Attack in Nice. Chaos came back to France Thursday night, in the form of a terrorist attack in Nice that killed 84 people gathered to watch a Bastille Day fireworks display along the city’s main promenade. A truck driven by a man French authorities have identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, a French-Tunisian petty criminal with no known terrorist links, simply plowed through crowds, shooting at those fleeing as he rampaged along a mile of the beachfront street before being shot dead by police.
As in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices, the travelers killed at the Istanbul and Brussels airports, or the clubgoers in Orlando, the dead were guilty only of being in public.
Paris reacts. “We cannot deny that it was a terror attack,” French President Francois Hollande said Thursday night, adding that Bastille Day is a “symbol of liberty,” and that “human rights are denied by fanatics and France is quite clearly their target.” The French government had just announced it was about to end the state of emergency begun after the November 2015 Paris attacks, but Hollande said he would extended it for three more months.
Although the attacker had a pistol, police say that all the other weapons found in the truck were fakes, raising questions over the extent of support he had from others, or from jihadist groups. Friday morning, State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed that two Americans are among the dead.
Gains and losses. Even as the U.S.-led coalition continues to hammer the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Iraqi and Syrian/Kurdish rebel forces push the group out of more and more towns and cities, the group’s power to inspire attacks outside of its self-declared “caliphate” appears to be increasing.
“The problem is that the numbers of people who have been radicalized, mostly because of social media, are larger than anything we’ve seen before, and we are just behind the curve,” Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University told the Wall Street Journal. “We are dealing with a problem of an order of magnitude much larger than in the past.”
Truck attacks not new. Matthew Henman, Head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre reminds us in a statement Friday that vehicle attacks have been used by Palestinian militants in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and three such attacks have been conducted by suspected Islamist militants in France over the past two years. “The use of a large truck in the attack, alongside the high death toll and deliberate targeting of a large crowd at an ideologically symbolic event represents an evolution in the use of the tactic and potentially indicates a higher level of operational planning,” he said.
Attack plans. In October 2010, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the second issue of its English-language magazine, Inspire. In it, two articles written by Yahya Ibrahim outline potential ways to carry out terrorist operations, including running over groups of people with trucks. One article, titled “The Ultimate Mowing Machine,” talks about using “a pickup truck as a mowing machine, not to mow grass but mow down the enemies of Allah.”
Armed Guards. In a somewhat related event, the U.S. Navy has announced that it will soon begin stationing armed guards at recruiting stations across the country, a move that comes a year after the shootings at a recruiting station and a reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that killed four Marines and a sailor.
“They will find us and kill us.” FP’s Siobhan O’Grady has just returned from a reporting trip to South Sudan, a country once again being torn apart by violence. Her first dispatch is a gripping look at the plight of civilians caught up in the maelstrom. “In more than a dozen interviews in Nyal in May, civilians recounted stories of mass rape, murder, and forced cannibalism at the hands of government soldiers and affiliated militias,” she reports.
GOP and Israel. Just days before the Cleveland convention, GOP leaders and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “have found a rare bit of common ground: ditching decades of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy calling for the creation of an independent Palestine,” reports FP’s Molly O’Toole. “The shift came when the Republican Platform Committee unanimously approved an Israel-Palestine provision Tuesday night that had a striking omission: any reference to a two-state solution to the long-running conflict. The platform instead uses staunchly pro-Israel language that promises to oppose any outside efforts to force Jerusalem into a deal.”
Trump. The candidate pushed back the expected Friday announcement of his choice of Mike Pence for vice president due the attacks in France. FP’s Paul McLeary, David Francis and Dan De Luce write that the two politicians are worlds apart when it comes to their foreign policy views and opinions on free trade.
More troops to Iraq? Last week, the Pentagon announced it was sending 560 more troops to Iraq, bringing the official total to just over 4,000, and now a top general says he expects to ask for even more troops to help battle the Islamic State. Head of the U.S. Central Command Gen. told Reuters that “I think there will be some additional troops that we will ask to bring in.” He declined to offer a number.
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Russia has disciplined it’s freshman class of boozing and cruising selfie spies, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Recent graduates of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) training school got themselves in hot water by going for a very public and very well documented victory lap around Moscow, hanging out the windows of their convoy of SUVs, snapping photos, and honking horns to celebrate their accomplishment. The videos of the would-be spies hit social media and now the FSB says “principled personnel decisions have been taken toward the guilty individuals, changing the condition of their service.”
The Islamic State of Me-Time
Former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and current Trump vice presidential pick contender Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) writes in his new book that, despite their outwardly extreme piety, jihadists in Iraq loved them some porn. Lots of it. Flynn writes that in the mid-2000s, U.S. intelligence “determined that 80 percent of the material on the laptops we were capturing was pornography.” FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce recently read the book, and delivered some of the choicest bits.
al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is showing off its “special forces” training camp in a new video, the Long War Journal reports. The Hamza al-Zinjibari camp, named after an AQAP commander killed in a U.S. drone strike, shows al Qaeda fighters engaging in various acts of martial bravado and AQAP leaders such as former Guantanamo Bay inmate Ibrahim al Qosi giving speeches. Another leader from the group, Khalid Batarfi, describes the camp as an “extension” of previous al Qaeda training facilities established in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
Bots o’ war
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Wait, no, it’s a plane made to look like a bird. Photos of a drone that crashed in Somalia show an airframe disguised as a bird, the Verge reports. The drone is painted black, complete with wings that flap, a beak-like nose and tail feathers. It remains unclear just who the drone belongs to but local media suspect Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency may be the owner. The concept isn’t entirely novel as a number of companies have attempted variations on the theme, including one used by U.S. Special Operations Command.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has put out a new report on the hot topic of the submarine standoff between the West and Russia in northern Europe. The report, “Undersea Warfare in Northern Europe,” argues that NATO countries have underinvested in anti-submarine warfare capabilities at the same time that a newly confrontational Russia has managed to shield its own submarine assets from the kinds of budget woes that have bitten into other Russian defense priorities. The report recommends that NATO countries, often hesitant to spend big on defense, should pool resources for improved development of anti-submarine warfare capabilities and focus on developing cooperative structures.
On the move
The Navy’s top officer is headed to China on Sunday in the wake of an international court’s ruling against Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. USNI News reports that Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson will meet with Adm. Wu Shengli, the commander of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy. A Navy statement says events in the South China Sea and the forthcoming RIMPAC exercises will be on the agenda for the two sailors’ meeting.
The Air Force’s top civilian and military officials have penned an op-ed for Defense One outlining how they plan to grow the number of pilots. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein write that the service will be short 700 pilots by the end of the fiscal year due to lucrative offers from the private sector and defense budget cuts. In response, the two say they’re trying to incentivize retention of current pilots by lobbying Congress for more pay for the airmen and trying to reduce their administrative duties and increase family time.
You may be pretty sure there’s a rare Meowth on the Golan Heights just waiting for you to catch it, but the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are warning troops not to even try. IDF officials have put out a warning to service members telling them not to install the wildly popular Pokemon Go app as it hemorrhages all manner of user data which could be used to compromise operational security.
Photo Credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary