SitRep: Clinton, Generals Slam Trump; Turkey’s Military Falling Apart
U.S. Commandos Fighting in Afghanistan; And Lots More
That’s a wrap. The 2016 convention season in this endless presidential election cycle is over, and the candidates are set. On Thursday night Hillary Clinton gave her historic acceptance speech — the first by a woman accepting her party’s nomination for president in American history — where she focused on her qualifications to be commander in chief.
FP’s Molly O’Toole has been in Philly all week, and writes that while Clinton put her rival Donald Trump on full blast — as did retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen — Clinton’s “extensive experience handling foreign policy and national security issues…won’t necessarily be enough to overcome her flaws as a candidate — or change the fact that foreign policy issues won’t necessarily decide November.”
O’Toole also sat down with Alex Conant, communications director for former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who said, “look it’s no secret that a lot of Republicans, including myself, have had trouble supporting Donald Trump.” But he’s fighting to keep the party “committed to strong international agreements, and being the best ally possible, and the worst enemy possible.”
The challenge. One of the immediate issues the next president will face is the war against the Islamic State, which is raging on several fronts. In Afghanistan, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul revealed Thursday that U.S. special forces are on the ground and in the thick of the fight in Nangarhar province, and five commandos were wounded this week battling ISIS. “The revelation that American forces are again engaged in close-quarters combat in America’s longest war comes at a time when President Barack Obama has been slowly walking back his earlier efforts to pull out all American troops by the end of his term in January,” reports FP’s Paul McLeary
Afghan sliding. On Friday, a Congressionally-mandated watchdog group released its latest quarterly report on Afghanistan, and finds that the government in Kabul has lost ground to the Taliban over the past year. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), relying on stats provided by U.S. forces in the county, says the area under Afghan government “control or influence” decreased to 65.6 percent by the end of May, down from 70.5 percent last year. President Barack Obama recently unveiled plans to leave 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan at the end of his term, despite taking office promising to end American involvement there. The United States has spent $70 billion since 2002 to build and train Afghan security forces.
Centcom comes clean. Elsewhere in the anti-ISIS fight, the U.S. military said Thursday that its airstrikes in Iraq and Syria killed 14 civilians in six separate incidents in Iraq and Syria between July 2015 and April 2016. The deadliest strike came on April 29 in Mosul, which killed four civilians. Remember, the Pentagon is also 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.
A problem like Turkey. The recent failed coup in by a group of military officers in NATO ally Turkey also presents a big challenge for the next administration. The post-coup crackdown that has seen the arrest or dismissal of over 60,000 servicemembers, academics, and government officials has crippled the government. A total of 149 generals and admirals have also been arrested, something which worries U.S. Central Command leader Gen. Joseph Votel. He said Thursday, “we’ve certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders, military leaders in particular. I’m concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we continue.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper added that the government’s backlash has “affected all segments of the national security apparatus in Turkey…Many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested. There’s no question that this is going to set back and make more difficult” Washington’s policymaking in the Middle East. Two senior Turkish generals quit their posts in protest over the crackdown earlier this week, as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidates his personal control over the military. More than 1,500 officers were dishonorably discharged this week alone.
Elsewhere, thousands of Turkish citizens have launched protests outside the gate of the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, which is a major hub for U.S. and NATO aircraft bombing ISIS in nearby Syria. The protesters are burning American flags and demanding that the government close the base.
Survivor. In a town infamous for throwing bureaucrats under the bus, Patrick Kennedy’s survival is the stuff of legend. FP’s John Hudson tracks down how the 67-year-old State Department official, largely unknown to the general public “but for Republicans in Congress, he is the dark force behind two of the biggest controversies of Hillary Clinton’s career,” has kept going, and stayed off the radar.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
It’s not just the Democratic National Convention that might have be in the crosshairs of Russian hackers. Reuters gets the scoop that the FBI is investigating an attempt to hijack the web traffic of donors to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ fundraising arm. The incident leveraged a website with a URL similar to that used by a DCCC donation page in an attempt to trick donors into entering their information into the forged site. Sources tell the wire service that the IP address of the site also turned up in the investigation of the DNC hack which the intelligence community has linked to Russian intelligence.
South China Sea
China wants to put a nuclear reactor on board a ship and sail it out into the South China Sea as a kind of floating power source. China Daily reports that the China National Nuclear Corp is working on the project with hopes to deploy a shipborne reactor by 2019. Experts tell the paper that China could use the floating nuclear power sockets to help speed up development in the South China Sea, where China is busy building up man-made islands in disputed territory.
South Korean officials say North Korean hackers tried to shake down a popular ecommerce website to the tune of $2.6 billion. The New York Times reports that South Korean police now say hackers affiliated with North Korean intelligence were responsible for breaching 10 million customers’ data from the popular online store Interpark and demanding $2.6 billion from the company to keep quiet about the loss. The National Police Agency says the hackers were tied to North Korea’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan to work with Russia to jointly target extremist groups in Syria isn’t working out so well, Reuters reports. U.S. officials tell the wire service that two developments have cast doubt on the viability of the effort. First, the Assad regime’s encirclement of Aleppo appears designed to foreclose on anticipated U.S. demands to clear a supply route in the besieged city. Second, the Nusra Front’s recent breakup with al Qaeda means it’s likely to draw closer to more moderate rebel groups, which would offer Russia a green light to target a broader section of the anti-Assad opposition instead of just jihadist groups.
U.S. troops are increasingly batting down drones used by the Islamic State. The U.S. Central Command says airstrikes destroyed two ISIS drones just this week, one in Mosul and another in the city of Hit. The jihadist group has shown a fondness for using commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, often small hobbyist drones like the Skywalker X7 and the DJI Phantom-style quadrotors. The Pentagon is asking to shift money in its budget for a $20 million effort to counter ISIS drones that could be used against U.S. forces fighting the group.
Iraq’s publicly-funded militias are here to stay. The Long War Journal reports that Iraq has solidified a move by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in February to make the Popular Mobilization Units a permanent part of the Iraqi government, rather than the impromptu, government-funded auxiliary force which they began as following the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June 2014. Some observers worry that the incorporation of the primarily Shia militias, often backed by Iran, will lead to the weakening of the Iraqi state and create a parallel and less accountable security force akin to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran or Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The U.S. Naval Institute’s Sam LaGrone tracked down the U.S. Navy’s plans to name a Military Sealift Command oiler after the celebrated San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Milk served in the Navy as a diving officer and later went on to serve as the first openly gay elected official in California before he a political rival assassinated him in 1978. The Navy has named a number of auxiliary support vessels after civil rights activists, including John Lewis, Sojourner Truth, late Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Lucy Stone.
9:00 a.m. The American Enterprise Institute and the Mitchell Institute are holding a joint event Friday, entitled “Marine Corps aviation: Today’s military readiness crisis, tomorrow’s capabilities” at AEI’s offices on 17th street. The event will feature Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, AEI’s Thomas Donnelly, and the Mitchell Institute’s Lt. Gen. David Deptula (retired). Livestream here.
Photo by Mike Coppola/WireImage
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary