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SitRep: China On The Move Everywhere, Taliban Truce With ISIS

Including Silicon Valley; U.S. War Anniversary;; Vets and Trump; And Lots More

By , a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018, and
CHENGDU, CHINA - JULY 07: Large military transport aircraft Xian Y-20 parks at an air force base after column-mounted air force on July 7, 2016 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China. Developed by Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation and officially launched in 2006, the aircraft Y-20 is the first cargo aircraft to use 3-D printing technology to speed up its development and to lower its manufacturing cost. It can be deployed in the transportation of personnel and heavy equipment during military assault, and humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping missions. It can also be configured for airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and aerial refuelling missions. (Photo by VCG)***_***
CHENGDU, CHINA - JULY 07: Large military transport aircraft Xian Y-20 parks at an air force base after column-mounted air force on July 7, 2016 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China. Developed by Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation and officially launched in 2006, the aircraft Y-20 is the first cargo aircraft to use 3-D printing technology to speed up its development and to lower its manufacturing cost. It can be deployed in the transportation of personnel and heavy equipment during military assault, and humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping missions. It can also be configured for airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and aerial refuelling missions. (Photo by VCG)***_***
CHENGDU, CHINA - JULY 07: Large military transport aircraft Xian Y-20 parks at an air force base after column-mounted air force on July 7, 2016 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China. Developed by Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation and officially launched in 2006, the aircraft Y-20 is the first cargo aircraft to use 3-D printing technology to speed up its development and to lower its manufacturing cost. It can be deployed in the transportation of personnel and heavy equipment during military assault, and humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping missions. It can also be configured for airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and aerial refuelling missions. (Photo by VCG)***_***

 

 

Action, reaction. So, how is Beijing taking the recent ruling by an international court rejecting its claims to virtually the entirety of the South China Sea? Not so well.

Over the past week, all three Chinese naval fleets have taken to the sea to practice for a “sudden, cruel, and short” conflict, FP’s Keith Johnson reports. And China’s Defense Minister has called for a “people’s war at sea” to push back against threats to Chinese claims. “More ominously, perhaps,” Johnson writes, “China has also changed its laws to arrest and jail anyone caught fishing in waters Beijing considers its own, even though many of those waters are precisely the bits that are disputed among China’s neighbors in the South China Sea.” Beijing also recently began flying bomber and fighter aircraft near disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Also, here’s a piece by FP contributor Robert Foyle Hunwick on how the People’s Liberation Army rebuilt itself — and its reputation among the Chinese people — after 1989’s bloody crackdown Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Tokyo calling. While the PLA might be popular at home, China’s neighbors still aren’t so sure. On Sunday, Japan filed a protest with Beijing over recently discovered radar equipment China secretly installed in a gas exploration platform close to disputed waters in the East China Sea. Japan is concerned that the radar could be a signal that China will begin using gas exploration platforms as military outposts. The protest came on the same day an armada of 13 Chinese Coast Guard ships sailed into waters just outside what Japan considers its territorial waters in the East China Sea.

And then…On Monday, the USS Benfold, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, docked at the northern Chinese port of Qingdao, becoming the first visit by an American warship since Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea were whacked in July.

Valley moves. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has invested lots of intellectual capital in trying to woo Silicon Valley firms to start doing business with the Pentagon. But Beijing is putting actual money on the table. Chinese investment in tech firms in the Valley, “topped $6 billion by the end of the first half of 2016, with more than half of that spending taking place in the past 18 months, according to the Rhodium Group research firm.”

How time flies. Monday marks the two-year anniversary of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria targeting the Islamic State, the latest iteration of Washington’s post-9/11 wars. Since Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, U.S. and coalition warplanes have conducted over 14,000 strikes on 26,000 targets at a cost of over $8.5 billion to U.S. taxpayers. The vast majority of the strikes — almost 11,000 — have been launched by American planes. But U.S. officials say that since the start of the campaign, the militant group has lost 47 percent of the territory it previously controlled in Iraq, and its fighting strength has been reduced to 18,000 to 22,000 fighters, a decrease from the estimated 33,000 militants it had in 2014.

Taliban and ISIS vs. Kabul. Elements of the Taliban are forging local ceasefire agreements with Islamic State fighters in eastern Afghanistan, but officials insist that the two groups — which until recently were fighting one another — aren’t collaborating in any real way. The upshot is that Islamic State has been able to focus on fighting U.S.- backed Afghan forces in Nangarhar province while shifting north into Kunar province, establishing a new foothold in the country. Spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, emailed SitRep Monday to say “we have not seen evidence of an overall cease fire between the Taliban and [ISIS], but there may be some examples of local, temporary cease fires between smaller elements based on tactical considerations.”

In related news, U.S. military officials tell SitRep that an American soldier is safe and accounted for after the Amaq news agency, the Islamic State’s de facto online propaganda mouthpiece, released pictures over the weekend showing American weapons and equipment it claimed to have captured along with the identity cards of an American soldier, Spc. Ryan Jay Larson. No word yet on how he lost his gear.

Trumped. Despite the many missteps — fighting with the parents of a fallen soldier, joking about having always wanted a Purple Heart, allegations of draft-dodging during Vietnam — Donald Trump’s support among many veterans looks secure. FP’s Molly O’Toole headed to a Virginia rally held by Trump’s VP Mike Pence last week, reporting that in interviews with veterans and active-duty service members, “most took offense or adamantly disagreed” with many of Trump’s comments, and his criticisms of allies, “yet many told Foreign Policy they will still support him in November essentially no matter what he says, either backing him specifically for his irreverent tone — or simply because they have no other alternative to Clinton.”

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

Linked up

ISIS suicide bombers attacked a base used by U.S.-backed rebel fighters on Sunday near the Syrian-Iraqi border, leaving several dead before blowing themselves up. It was the same base Russian warplanes recently hit with cluster munitions.

Despite a spate of recent American airstrikes on ISIS positions in the militant-held city of Sirte, ISIS fighters are proving tough to fully push out of the city.

Suicide bomber kills at least 45 at Pakistan hospital.

North Korea

Despite being desperately poor, North Korea’s economy is doing ok…by North Korean standards. Reuters reports that Kim Jong Un’s policy of turning a blind eye to the North’s semi-regulated markets popping up around the Stalinist country has helped the country’s economy limp along despite sanctions. The wire service crunched the numbers on prices of basic staples like rice, meat, and diesel — supplied by the North Korean defector-run Daily NK news outlet — and found that they’ve been fairly constant in 2016.

Syria

A coalition of Syrian rebels have broken the siege of Aleppo, creating a route into the besieged city by taking an artillery school held by Assad regime troops and allied militias. The Guardian reports that rebel groups temporarily set aside rounds of infighting to marshal resources for the push to retake the city, which Syrian military forces, backed by Russian airpower and Iranian support on the ground, had managed to encircle. Some analysts, however, fear that Western and particularly American abstention from the attempt to break the siege has handed a political victory to the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s one-time (ahem) franchise in Syria which participated in the fighting.

Israel

Remember when Israeli fighter jets and Patriot missiles chased (and missed) a drone that flew into Israeli airspace from Syria? There’s a small asterisk on the story — the drone was Russian, not an Iranian-made unmanned vehicle flown by Hezbollah, as many suspected at the time. The Times of Israel reports that Russia copped to owning the transgressing robot, explaining that it strayed into Israeli airspace as a result of “human error.” Israel has tried to work closely with Russia in order to deconflict air operations since Russia deployed forces to the country in September 2015.

Afghanistan

The Taliban has a new special operations unit and it’s starting to worry Afghan officials in Helmand province. The AP says authorities in Helmand have been noticing commando-like troops appearing among the ranks of the insurgent group as it takes more territory in the province. The Taliban tells the wire service that it has, in fact, created a 300-strong special operations unit called “Sara Khitta” or “Danger Group” in the Pashto language. Afghan officials say the commando troops first achieved success in Sangin, prompting the expansion of the unit.

Nuclear espionage

Over the weekend, Iranian authorities executed Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist and CIA asset who defected to the United States only to re-defect back home again. The New York Times reports that the CIA ran Amiri as an agent in Iran, later relocating him to the United States amid fears Iranian authorities would soon discover his secret work. Amiri, however, missed his family posted a YouTube video claiming to have been kidnapped by the CIA. He returned to Iran and disappeared shortly thereafter.

Bots o’ war

The White House has released its 18 page guide spelling out the administration’s dos and don’ts for drone strikes, the Los Angeles Times reports. The administration released its drone playbook in response to a court order won by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to get the document released. The document spells out how a person can be targeted for a drone strike, including the evidentiary standards for inclusion on the hit list. Officials must have “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed in a strike and an assurance that targeted individuals could not be captured by other means.

 

Photo Credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.

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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