- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Adam RawnsleyAdam 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.
Civilians under fire. Civilians in Iraq and Syria are under siege, and thousands may have just been captured by the Islamic State. A new United Nations report says that up to 3,000 Iraqi villagers fleeing areas near Kirkuk were captured by the militants on Thursday, and up to 12 immediately executed.
The report comes on the heels of a statement from the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, which suggested that ISIS is now using the civilians as human shields against attacks by Iraqi Security Forces, according to Reuters. The capture of the civilians comes two years after the August 2014 ISIS assault on the city of Sinjar, and the capture of over 3,000 Yazidi women and children, who have been pressed into sexual slavery or forced to fight as child soldiers. Earlier this year, the State Department designated ISIS’ actions as genocide.
Aleppo Over in Syria, the U.N. is working to secure a humanitarian pause in the bloody fighting around the city, pitting anti-Assad rebels against government forces backed by Russian airpower and Iranian forces, in order to allow some of the 250,000 trapped civilians to flee. FP’s John Hudson reports, “any breakthrough in the talks may be due to a cold calculation on the part of Moscow that if civilians are evacuated from the area, pro-Assad forces can ramp up their bombing campaign in Aleppo and take over the entire city — a strategic stronghold of the opposition.” The latest on the civilian suffering in Aleppo here.
Plans? Don’t forget, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Moscow last month to deliver a controversial proposal to President Vladimir Putin calling for the two countries to begin coordinating military activities in Syria, including sharing daily intelligence on ISIS and Nusra Front targets. Pentagon officials have said privately they’re pretty skeptical about the whole thing, and there has been little word about where the talks stand.
Quoted: President Obama gave us a clue when speaking at the Pentagon Thursday, however: “I’m not confident that we can trust the Russians or Vladimir Putin,” he said, “which is why we have to test whether or not we can get an actual cessation of hostilities. That includes an end to the kinds of aerial bombing and civilian death and destruction that we’ve seen carried out by the Assad regime.”
Elsewhere, U.S.-backed Syrian rebels are being courted by Moscow, which is promising more weapons and close air support.
FP’s David Francis also passes along this bit to SitRep from Obama’s press conference: The president issued a forceful rebuke to critics of January’s $400 million payment to Iran, the first installment of $1.7 billion the White House agreed to pay Iran to resolve a scrapped 1979 arms deal signed just before the fall of Iran’s monarchy.
The existence of the payment has been known since January. But a Wall Street Journal report Wednesday shed new details on the payment, which was made as four Americans were released by Tehran. Obama said cash was exchanged because of financial sanctions prevent the U.S. Treasury from simply cutting Tehran a check. U.S. financial institutions are prohibited from doing business with Iran in dollars, which is why the payment was delineated in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies.
“We don’t have a banking relationship with Iran,” Obama said, while reiterating the U.S. policy of refusing to pay ransoms for hostages. Earlier Thursday, Donald Trump blasted the president for the payment, which he said would end up in the hands of terrorists. He said the payment was made in foreign money because “they probably don’t want our currency.”
Trump went on to repeat his claim that he saw a secret video of the payment, made by Iran to “embarrass us further.” No such footage exists.
Clinton courts hackers in Vegas. FP’s Elias Groll is in the desert this week at the Black Hat hackers convention, where Jeff Moss, the founder of the conference, hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser alongside Jake Braun, a former Obama administration official now advising the Clinton campaign on cybersecurity issues. “Moss said this election is a time for the hacker community to get decisively involved in policymaking around information security,” Groll writes.
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
Locked in a tight election, the Palestinian Fatah party said Thursday it it had “killed 11,000 Israelis” over the years, and “offered 170,000 martyrs,” during its long struggle with Israel.
Turkey wants the United States to turn over an imam that Ankara blames for masterminding a failed coup last month, but U.S. officials say they don’t see that happening.
Another day, another anti-Trump letter, this time from Republican foreign policy hands.
China is working to establish an anti-terrorism alliance with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, official state media said Thursday, as Beijing looks to work with neighbors to tackle what it says is a growing domestic militant threat.
Libya’s chaos, explained in five graphics.
China is responding, uh, asymmetrically to South Korea’s decision to host a controversial missile defense system. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese officials have been quietly blocking Korean pop stars from visiting the country to plug their albums and movies, disappointing fans and tanking shares in Korean entertainment companies. China loudly protested South Korea’s decision to welcome a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in the country following repeated ballistic missile threats from North Korea. Chinese officials complain that the THAAD radars could reach into Chinese territory.
Speaking of THAAD, South Korea’s defense ministry says it might be willing to share the system’s radar data on North Korean missile launches with Japan. The move is a sign of the increasingly close relations between South Korea and Japan, who have historically tense relations dating back to the Japan’s occupation of Korea during the Second World War. It would also be a culmination of some of China’s worst fears, as the move would bring South Korea closer into a trilateral alliance involving the U.S. and Japan.
Russia may have bombed a refugee camp in Syria, according to a human rights monitor. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory claims that Russian warplanes hit a displaced persons camp near Aleppo and killed two children, according to Reuters. The Observatory says it identified the jets as Russian based off the fact that they were flying in formation and had color schemes matching Russian planes.
Russia’s foreign ministry launched a Facebook flame war against the United States Thursday, with spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posting a statement to her page calling U.S.-backed Syrian rebels “animals” and accusing America of supporting groups using chemical weapons. Specifically, Zakharova claimed that the Free Syrian Army’s Nour al Din al-Zinki movement carried out a poison gas attack near Aleppo on Tuesday. Zakharova also criticized U.S. airstrikes for producing civilian casualties.
Egypt claims to have scored a big victory in the fight against the Islamic State’s affiliate in the country. The BBC reports that the Egyptian military says it planes hit and killed Abu Duaa al-Ansari, the leader of the Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State. Authorities claim the strikes on the town of El-Arish killed 45 people and destroyed arms caches. The group has carried out a campaign of violence against police and soldiers in Sinai and claimed credit for downing a Russian airliner in December of 2015.
Feeling disillusioned that the hoverboards Back to the Future II promised would exist by October 21, 2015? Two companies are hoping they can make your 1980s dreams finally come true for the defense market with an idea for land surfing commandos. Defense News reports that Implant Sciences Corporation is looking to buy a French company, Zapata Industries SAS, and its Flyboard Air hoverboard in hopes of pitching it to the Pentagon and special operations world. Board riders can go as fast as 60 miles per hour for up to two miles.
Photo credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images