SitRep: Breakthroughs in Aleppo, Manbij; China’s New Building Spree
Turkey’s New Villains; And Lots More
Siege days. These are gim days for the people of Aleppo, who are suffering under two sieges: the rebel-controlled eastern half of the city is being bombarded by Syrian government forces and Russian aircraft, while the government-controlled western part of the city is under assault by the rebels, led by Islamist fighters. And somewhere in the middle are what the United Nations says are “millions” of civilians.
On Monday, the U.S., Britain, France, New Zealand and Ukraine held an informal Security Council meeting to hear the latest on the fights raging in and around the city. “If the fighting continues it is conceivable that civilians on both sides of Aleppo could be cut off from the basic assistance they need. We cannot allow this to happen,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said. “We once again urge Russia to stop facilitating these sieges,” Power added, “and to use its influence to press the regime to end its sieges across Syria once and for all.”
What’s at stake. U.N. officials on Tuesday demanded an immediate ceasefire in the city, where two million residents have been left without access to running water or electricity after a series of attacks wiped out the utilities last week. “The U.N. is extremely concerned that the consequences will be dire for millions of civilians if the electricity and water networks are not immediately repaired,” said Yacoub El Hillo, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, and Kevin Kennedy, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis.
On the ground. “The bombing is horrible,” one east Aleppo doctor told The Guardian. “Russia is taking its revenge and they will not allow any road to be open…They failed in Aleppo, and they want to make up for that failure.”
One of the big winners in the fight — if one can be said to exist — may be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Nusra Front, which late last month claimed to sever ties with al Qaeda. The group was a major player over the weekend in busting through regime defenses in the western and southern parts of the city, and can now lay claim to be one of the most reliable anti-Assad fighting forces in the country.
The Iranian Fars News Agency has also reported the deployment of the Tehran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah to the Aleppo region, and has confirmed the deaths of two Iranians since Saturday. Some Hezbollah fighters are less than impressed with Syrian government forces, as one “leaked” audio file from a Lebanese fighter attests.
Manbij. Further north, close to the Turkish border, U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab rebels from the Syrian Democratic Forces are squeezing the last pockets of Islamic State resistance out of the city of Manbij, a city which has already seen the displacement of over 78,000 people since the rebels began their attack two months ago. U.S. airstrikes have pounded ISIS positions in and around the city for weeks, including six strikes on Monday. The Pentagon announced last month that it is investigating two airstrikes near the city that may have killed dozens of civilians.
South China Sea, again. A group of new photographs collected by the Center for Strategic and International Studies appear to show the construction of several reinforced aircraft hangars at Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs, all land formations built up by China in recent months, on which the Chinese have also built runways. “A larger type of hangar on the islets can accommodate China’s H-6 bomber and H-6U refueling tanker, a Y-8 transport aircraft and a KJ200 Airborne Warning and Control System plane, the center said in its analysis” according to the New York Times.
Turkey’s new villains. They’re from a Washington D.C.-based think tank, of course. FP’s John Hudson flags the latest attempt by Turkey’s pro-Erdogan press to blame outsiders for the Turkish military’s failed July 15 putsch. And it’s pretty creative. On the night of the attempted coup, as the military plotters sent troops into the streets of Ankara and planes and helicopters into the sky, the D.C.-based Washington Institute was holding an event on the island of Buyukada in Istanbul. On Saturday, a front-page story in the pro-government newspaper Aksam featured photographs of a group of academics who attended the Wilson Center event. It accused them of being CIA agents who helped orchestrate the coup. The Washington Institute denies the accusations, of course.
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Fifty Republican former national security and foreign policy officials have signed a statement declaring Donald Trump unfit to be President of the United States, writing that a Trump presidency “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” Signatories to the statement include a range of former senior officials drawn who served in Republican administrations in the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security as well as intelligence community and White House National Security Council. They write that Trump lacks “basic knowledge” about American values and interests and is “unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood.”
Trump got all Trump on the group, saying in a statement, “the names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place.”
Germany and the Netherlands are tag teaming missile defense operations with their Patriot batteries, Reuters reports. Brigadier General Michael Gschossmann tells the wire service that an upcoming joint Patriot test between the two countries could form the blueprint for German-Dutch Patriot deployments to places like Poland and the Baltics. Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been hedging against an increasingly aggressive Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has been dropping incendiary weapons on residents of the city of Idlib, according to pictures and video posted to social media. The bombing began shortly after rebels broke the siege in nearby Aleppo. Bellingcat has rounded up pictures posted by residents of Idlib as well as Syria’s White Helmet emergency services nonprofit showing bomb fragments of Russia’s RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM incendiary cluster munitions in the city. Russia’s use of the munition comes despite its status as a signatory to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which prohibits making any “military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.”
The U.S. Air Force dramatically stepped up its support to the Saudi-led war against the Houthi movement in Yemen over the past six months, Air Force Times reports. Statistics provided by U.S. Air Forces Central Command show that the service has flown 61 percent more refueling missions to support the Saudi-led war over the previous reporting period in February. In addition to refueling missions, Central Command has also carried out five airstrikes in Yemen in 2016, all against targets from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Tuesday for the first time in five months, and activists on the ground say nine civilians were killed in a strike on a potato chip factory.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram is experiencing quite a bit of leadership drama over just who’s in charge of the notorious West African terrorist group, ABC News reports. Last week, the group named Abu Musab al-Barnawi as its new leader, making no mention of its previous emir, Abubakar Shekau. This week, the dueling claimants to Boko’s throne are dropping diss tracks against each other. In a new audio tape al-Barnawi accuses his predecessor of wanton, excessive violence against civilians, saying “we are not killers like him.” Shekau posted a video to YouTube reiterating his support for the Islamic State, to which Boko Haram had pledged allegiance, and dismissing al-Barnawi’s leadership abilities.
Business of defense
Iron Dome may be coming to U.S. military bases abroad, if its Israeli and American defense contractors have their way. Defense News reports that Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon are pitching the U.S. Army on Iron Dome’s Tamir interceptors in order to protect American military real estate from the likes of cruise missiles, rockets, and small drones as part of the service’s Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2. The Army’s Multi-Missile Launcher is already equipped to fire the interceptors and the service carried out a test of the system back in April.
Who’s where when
10:00 a.m. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller talks about “The Future of Expeditionary Warfare” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, along with the think tank’s Kathleen Hicks. Livestream here.
9:00 a.m. The Georgetown University Center for Security Studies hosts Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to talk about the Mad Scientist initiative and the future strategic security environment in 2050. Livestream here.
Tweet of the day
Monday marked the two year anniversary of the beginning of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State. They grow up so fast. RT @AaronMehta The air campaign against ISIS is now a toddler.
Photo Credit: Beha El Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images