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SitRep: Deadly U.S. Syria Strike Under Investigation; More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan

Trump Fallout; And Lots More

ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 27 : Civil defense members and citizens try to rescue people from the site of Russian forces' attack on opposition controlled Sahour neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on July 27, 2016. (Photo by Mamun Ebu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 27 : Civil defense members and citizens try to rescue people from the site of Russian forces' attack on opposition controlled Sahour neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on July 27, 2016. (Photo by Mamun Ebu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

The toll of war. The U.S. Central Command is investigating two separate airstrikes near the city of Manbij in northern Syria over the past week that may have killed dozens of civilians. Independent monitoring groups are saying the first strike on the village of al-Tukhar could have claimed the lives of as many as 73 to over 200 civilians, making the July 19 assault potentially the worst incident of the war.

Army Col. Chris Garver, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad told reporters Wednesday he had seen the high figures, but also reports of “down to 10, 15” people, as well. The coalition is also investigating a July 23 strike in the same area.

 

The toll of war. The U.S. Central Command is investigating two separate airstrikes near the city of Manbij in northern Syria over the past week that may have killed dozens of civilians. Independent monitoring groups are saying the first strike on the village of al-Tukhar could have claimed the lives of as many as 73 to over 200 civilians, making the July 19 assault potentially the worst incident of the war.

Army Col. Chris Garver, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad told reporters Wednesday he had seen the high figures, but also reports of “down to 10, 15” people, as well. The coalition is also investigating a July 23 strike in the same area.

Amnesty International estimates that more than 100 civilians may have been killed in other coalition airstrikes near Manbij in recent weeks, the scene of bitter fighting between ISIS and U.S.-backed Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters. “The bombing of al-Tukhar may have resulted in the largest loss of civilian life by coalition operations in Syria,” Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa program said in a statement. More than 520 airstrikes have been conducted by the U.S.-led coalition in support of the battle to push ISIS out of Manbij.

Intel dump. Those U.S.-supported fighters near Manbij have scooped up over 4.5 terabytes of intel from fleeing ISIS forces in recent days, U.S. officials say. The cache of documents and computers is the coalition’s largest haul since a May 2015 U.S. special operations raid in Syria against senior ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf, scooped up 7 terabytes of data, exposing secrets about the terror group’s leadership and financing. FP’s Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary have lots more about the continuing importance of that raid.

More U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Again. The U.S. is moving more troops to eastern Afghanistan to help local forces destroy the local ISIS affiliate, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan has announced. “If I need to, I can bring in additional assets, and this could be reconnaissance, it could be air assets, it could even be ground assets,” Nicholson told the Wall Street Journal. The new forces aren’t included in the overall total of 9,800 U.S. troops currently in the country, as they’re members of the military’s global counterterrorism force, and will pull out as soon as their work is done. Whenever that is. The ramp-up of American attention calls into question recent assertions from U.S. and Afghan officials that ISIS presented a diminishing threat in Afghanistan.

China and Russia, on the high seas. Beijing and Moscow will conduct a series of naval exercises in the South China Sea in September, China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday. “This is a routine exercise between the two armed forces, aimed at strengthening the developing China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership,” China’s defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters. “The exercise is not directed against third parties.”

The move comes just after China rejected the legal finding of an international court in the Hague, which ruled earlier this month that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea.

Tough night. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta got a rough ride from some in the crowd at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night when his remarks were interrupted by chants of “no more war” and “no more drones” as he blasted Donald Trump. “Today, Donald Trump once again took Russia’s side,” Panetta said. “He asked the Russians to engage in American politics. Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump wants to be President of the United States…is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States of America to affect an election.”

After the fall. If the threat of ISIS-inspired terrorism is bad now, things are likely to get worse, a top U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday. “At some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before. Not all of the Islamic State killers are going to die on the battlefield.” said FBI Director James Comey at a cybersecurity conference.

Good morning and 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

2016

In a sign of just how unusual the 2016 presidential campaign has become, the national security law blog Lawfare takes up the issue of whether Republican nominee Donald Trump is, as some accuse, a Russian agent. Critics have alleged that the Russian hack of the Democratic National Convention’s emails, Trump’s call for Russia to hack more Clinton emails, his expressed fondness for Vladimir Putin, financial ties to Russian oligarchs, and preference for a more accommodating foreign policy towards Moscow make him something approaching a Manchurian candidate for Russia. Lawfare writes that while Trump doesn’t meet any of the legal definitions of an agent — either as someone targetable under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or one compelled to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act — in their opinion, he’s a “useful idiot” for whom Moscow is rooting.

Another national security policy veteran has come out swinging against the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. Michael Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict under George W. Bush and undersecretary of defense for intelligence for Barack Obama has penned an oped for Politico questioning Donald Trump’s fitness on national security issues and supporting Hillary Clinton. Vickers looks at what he says are the three biggest threats to global security — radical Islamism and increasingly aggressive behavior by Russia and China — and concludes that Trump has a “limited grasp” of the issues.

Syria

A Guardian investigation looks into the weapons trafficking from Eastern Europe to Middle Eastern countries known to supply rebel groups in Syria, and finds a billion dollar pipeline of arms fueling the conflict. Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey began buying up Soviet-vintage weapons from former Balkan countries beginning in 2012 and since that time, imagery posted on social media has shown weapons with markings from Eastern European countries have been turning up in the possession of groups like the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Nusra Front. The Guardian investigators looked at flight data from the purchasing countries and identified 70 flights that were likely used to transport the weapons to groups in Syria.

Europe

The Islamic State has released a video that it claims shows two men who attacked a church and murdered a Catholic priest in Normandy, France pledging allegiance to the group’s caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. French officials, however, have thus far only publicly identified one of the attackers, 19 year-old Adel Kermiche, and have yet to say whether or not the video is authentic. The newspaper Le Monde reports that France received a warning from an unnamed country’s intelligence agency that an attack was going to take place shortly before the two men seized churchgoers and were killed by police.

The Islamic State is also claiming as association with Mohammad Daleel, the Syrian refugee who blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Ansbach, Germany on Sunday. In its online magazine Al-Nabaa, the jihadist group says Daleel had fought with the Islamic State in Iraq and been wounded in Syria while fighting alongside the Nusra Front. The magazine also wrote that Daleel spent three months working on the explosive device that would ultimately kill him and injured 15 people. Authorities, however, have yet to verify the claims made in Al-Nabaa.

Syria

The head of Iran’s Basij paramilitary force went for a very public visit of Quneitra near the Israeli border, as violence between Israeli and Syrian forces has ticked up. Iranian news outlets reported that Basij chief General Mohammad Reza Naqdi went for walk around the town along the Golan Heights, with pictures showing him peering towards Israel with through binoculars. The visit follows a series of border incidents between Syria and Israel in recent weeks, including a Syrian drone darting into Israeli airspace and an Israeli airstrike against the source of mortars firing across into Israeli territory.

Whistleblower

Daniel Meyer, the Pentagon Inspector General’s former director for whistleblowing and transparency, says he was retaliated against for being a whistleblower himself. Meyer says his bosses removed a conclusion that then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta leaked classified information to the producers of the movie Zero Dark Thirty from a draft of an inspector general’s report. He says his involvement in the high profile case, in addition to being gay, were used against him in consideration for promotion. The claim, made before the Merit Systems Protection Board, is Meyer’s second attempt at pursuing a whistleblower claim after the Office of Special Counsel rejected another claim in April.

 

Photo Credit: Mamun Ebu Omer/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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