SitRep: Turkish Purge Ramps Up; Trump Slams Pentagon Leaders
Russian Helo Down in Syria; Manbij Continues To Crumble; And Lots More
Gutting the Turkish military. The Turkish government dismissed another 1,389 military personnel over the weekend, accusing them of having links to the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, in a continuing purge of the military and government bureaucrats. The move comes just days after 1,700 servicemembers were dishonorably discharged, and the announcement that Turkey will shut down its military academies and put the armed forces under the command of the defense minister. Turkey, don’t forget, has the second-largest military in the NATO alliance after the United States. Overall, about 10,000 members of the military have been detained.
In other uncomfortable news, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got into a back-and-forth with one of the Pentagon’s top generals late last week over the gutting of Turkey’s military leadership, FP’s Paul McLeary points out.
No news was bad news. The Turkish spy agency, known as MIT, didn’t exactly cover itself in glory during the coup, having picked up no indication of the plot beforehand, the Wall Street Journal reports. Despite keeping close tabs on the communications of Gulenists in Turkey, who were using encrypted messaging apps to communicate, the spies didn’t see anything coming until just a few hours before the coup began, and by then it was too late.
The Institute for the Study of War has a very helpful Order of Battle chart pinpointing which units have been hit the hardest in the purge, and what military leaders have been removed.
Syria update. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to hammer the Islamic State in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, and have now seized control of almost 70 percent of the area, a spokesman told Reuters on Sunday. The SDF, which includes the battle-tested Kurdish YPG militia and Arab fighters have been battling to take the city for about two months, relying on U.S. and coalition airstrikes to back up their operations. Thousands of civilians remain trapped in the city, though somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 have reportedly escaped.
The airstrikes continue as the U.S. Central Command investigates two recent airstrikes near Manbij 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 civilians, making the July 19 assault potentially the worst incident of the war.
Aleppo. A coalition of Syrian rebel fighters launched a major assault on parts of Aleppo being held by Syrian government forces on Sunday, in an effort to smash open supply lines after the Syrian army and its allies tightened their siege of the city last week. Nusra Front, which has recently rebranded itself and made a show of “breaking” with al Qaeda, is part of the offensive.
Russian helo down. A Russian Mi-8 helicopter was shot down over Idlib in northwestern Syria on Monday, while on what Moscow says was a humanitarian mission to Aleppo. All five Russian servicemembers aboard were killed.
The forever election. In a headline-busting interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Republican nominee for president Donald Trump appeared unaware that Russian troops have been fighting in Ukraine. Speaking of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said, “he’s not going into Ukraine, O.K., just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down.” When Stephanopoulos pointed out that there are indeed Russian troops in Ukraine, Trump admitted, “OK, well, he’s there in a certain way.”
Trump was also non-committal over what to do about Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which spurred the international community to slap economic sanctions on Moscow. “I’m going to take a look at it,” Trump said. “But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” The comments come amid increasing scrutiny over business ties many in the Trump camp have in Russia.
In a part of the interview that isn’t receiving as much attention, Trump also went after the military leadership at the Pentagon. “The generals certainly aren’t doing very well right now,” he said. And when it comes to retired Marine Corps General John Allen, who harshly criticized Trump at last week’s Democratic convention, Trump said, “after I saw he was on ranting and raving about me, who he never met, I checked up. Guess what? They were not so happy with him. He didn’t beat ISIS. He didn’t beat ISIS. He didn’t do well with ISIS.”
Old boss. Not everyone is happy at the political turn that Allen, and Trump surrogate retired General Mike Flynn have taken. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, wrote a letter to the Washington Post over the weekend, saying, “retired Marine Gen. John Allen and retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn weren’t introduced at the Democratic and Republican conventions, respectively, as “John” and “Mike.” They were introduced as generals. As generals, they have an obligation to uphold our apolitical traditions. They have just made the task of their successors — who continue to serve in uniform and are accountable for our security — more complicated. It was a mistake for them to participate as they did. It was a mistake for our presidential candidates to ask them to do so.”
Something else. Here it is. Another story on how millennials are changing / breaking / improving the military.
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: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
The Islamic State is weighing in on the latest controversy in the U.S. presidential race. The most recent issue of the jihadist group’s online magazine, Dabiq, is out and it takes aim at fallen Army Capt. Humayun Khan, whose parents Khizr and Ghazala spoke out against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric at the Democratic National Convention. In the latest Dabiq issue, the Islamic State calls Capt. Khan Trump, killed by a suicide bomber in 2004 while serving in Iraq, an “apostate” for serving in the U.S. military. Trump has come under fire for telling the Khans they have “no right” to criticize him.
China’s pugnacious state-run tabloid is raising eyebrows with a warning to Australia that it “will be an ideal target for China to warn and strike” if it crosses the People’s Republic in the South China Sea. In a Saturday op-ed, the Global Times took aim at Australia for a statement from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop supporting an international tribunal’s recent ruling against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, urging China to abide by the decision. The Times, notorious for mouthing off with bombastic rhetoric at various targets that offend its nationalist sensibilities, responded by belittling Australian power, demoting it from a “paper tiger” to a “paper cat.”
North Korean hackers have been busy targeting email accounts of around 90 South Korean officials, according to Yonhap News Agency. South Korea’s Supreme Prosecutors’ Office says North Korea likely accessed about 56 of those accounts, owned by government officials as well as journalist, in the first half of 2016. Prosecutors said the North Korean hackers have used an estimated 27 phishing sites to target their victims.
Over the weekend, Moscow announced it found malware on the networks of 20 government agencies, the BBC reports. The announcement, made by Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), claimed that the malware could spy on users logging keystrokes and grabbing keystrokes, as well as controlling any microphones or cameras in affected computers. The FSB, however, did not offer any statement attempting to attribute the malware to a country, group, or individual.
A large blast rocked Kabul as the Taliban detonated a truck bomb in the capital late Sunday night. Reuters reports that the bomb hit the Northgate Hotel, where a number of foreign workers in Afghanistan reside. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a subsequent statement, saying that its fighters entered the Northgate compound following the bombing in what appeared to be a complex attack.
The Air Force is soliciting proposals for a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a new cruise missile to carry its nuclear warheads. Defense One reports that the service put out a request for bids on a Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM on Friday, which it says will stay in service through 2075. The Air Force is also asking contractors to offer ideas on the Long Range Standoff (LRSO), with the goal of winnowing down the competition to build the cruise missile to two contractors by 2017.
The Marine Corps variant of the F-35 stealth fighter may have its first deployment shortly. Defense Tech reports that the Corps’ Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that the F-35B will be headed to Japan as early as January 2017. Following the January deployments, the Marines will send the F-35B on two more deployments to Japan in 2018. If push comes to shove, however, Davis says the jet is can be deployed now, saying “we have a unit that’s ready to go.”
Photo Credit: Mustafa Yildirim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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