The Cable

SitRep: ISIS Finally on the Run? Russian Questions Plague Trump Campaign

Putin and Minsk; Moscow Hackers; And Lots More

An image grab taken from an AFP video dated from August 12, 2016 shows a school that was used by Islamic State (IS) group's fighters to manufacture explosives in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, almost a week after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Arab and Kurd fighters, seized the group's stronghold.  / AFP / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
An image grab taken from an AFP video dated from August 12, 2016 shows a school that was used by Islamic State (IS) group's fighters to manufacture explosives in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, almost a week after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Arab and Kurd fighters, seized the group's stronghold. / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

On the run. Islamic State fighters are fleeing their one-time stronghold of Sirte, Libya, and heading south. Libyan and western military officials aren’t sure where exactly they’re headed, but the fight against the militant group in the country appears far from over. While Libyan militias have finally (mostly) pushed the fighters out of the city, hundreds of ISIS members apparently fledin the weeks leading up to the fight, and some have regrouped near the city of Bani Walid. Others have pushed across the borders into Algeria and Niger.

“These borders are so huge and they require a degree of professionalism that these countries do not have in order to monitor them,” a Western official told the Wall Street Journal. American warplanes flew 41 missions over Sirte between Aug. 1 and 11, pummeling dozens of targets in support of the Libyan militias.

Here, too. Iraqi and Kurdish forces also took four villages near Mosul over the weekend, inching closer to the city which ISIS has held since 2014. The new offensive, which kicked off Sunday, was backed by U.S. airstrikes and artillery. Last month, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air strikes retook the Qayyarah Air Base south of the city — also known as Q-West during the U.S. occupation — which will soon serve as a main logistics hub in the push for Mosul. The base will also likely house many of the 500 new U.S. soldiers currently being sent to Iraq.

Just one more. Hundreds of ISIS fighters also recently fled Manbij in northern Syria, as U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab rebels completed the retaking of the key city after weeks of heavy fighting. The city is one of two major crossings to Turkey from Syria, and its fall will probably shut off the route for supplies and fighters for the terrorist group. Like in Sirte, and Mosul, the U.S. Air Force played a key role in the battle, launching about 100 airstrikes on targets in recent weeks. After the militants fled the city, Britain’s Channel 4 News broadcast images of jubilant residents burning their veils and cutting off their beards.

It’s still 2016. Republican nominee Donald Trump will deliver a foreign policy speech in Ohio at 2:00 p.m. Monday in which his advisors say he’ll outline plans to defeat ISIS, and offer a revamped version of his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. He’ll also offer a vision for “foreign policy realism” that will call for an end to nation building.

While Trump looks to move his campaign forward, questions continue to swirl around his advisors and their ties to Russia. A new report emerged Sunday that handwritten — and unverified — documents recently found in Kiev include the name of Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, stating that he was owed over $12 million by the pro-Russian regime of then-President of Ukraine, Viktor F. Yanukovych. There’s no hard proof that Manafort ever actually received the money and the advisor has pushed back hard against the story.

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

Japan

Japan is working on a new anti-ship missile to help defend its claims to a disputed chain of islands that both Tokyo and Beijing say belongs to them, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun. The missile will be mounted on vehicles and have a 300 kilometer range. If all goes to plan, it’ll be available by fiscal year 2023. Japanese officials plan to deploy the weapon to Miyakojima so it could be used to hit targets near the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu by Beijing), claimed by both China and Japan.

Europe

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has told Russia that it needs to stick to the Minsk peace agreement to resolve the Ukrainian conflict, Reuters reports. Russian President Vladimir Putin raised eyebrows when he hinted that Russia might no longer be invested in the terms of the Minsk peace agreement, hammered out between Moscow, Ukraine, and European countries. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have risen in recent days following a series of murky violent incidents on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia has blamed on Ukraine.

Cybersecurity

Hackers linked to the Russian government released personal data on Democratic Members of Congress on Friday. The leak, posted to the “Guccifer 2” WordPress blog which cybersecurity researchers believe is run by Russian military intelligence, included all Democratic House Members’ personal cell phone numbers and email addresses.

House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the publication lead to receiving a torrent of “obscene and sick calls, voicemails and text messages.” Twitter briefly suspended the Twitter account linked to the Guccifer 2 blog but has since reinstated it, declining to offer explanations for its removal or reappearance.

The Islamic State

Islamic State recruits are pretty dumb, Islamically speaking. The AP dropped a story based on leaked internal documents containing biographical information from 3,000 recruits to the Islamic State in Syria. It turns out that the foreign fighters don’t know much about the religion they’re purportedly ready to die for. When asked to rate their knowledge of Sharia law, 70 percent described picked the “basic” familiarity box on forms, the lowest option available.

Afghanistan

The Taliban is making progress in bring breakaway factions back into the fold after a poisonous dispute over its leadership. The Wall Street Journal reports that a splinter group led by Mullah Baz Mohammad Haris has pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Maulavi Haibatullah Akhundzada after a concerted effort to woo the rebels back. Akhundzada has taken a different tack towards splinter groups than his predecessor, Mullah Mansour, applying a softer line in winning them back compared to Mansour’s harsh crackdown.

Nigeria

Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has released a new video showing 50 of the Chibok schoolgirls. The group kidnapped 276 girls in one assault in 2014, prompting outrage around the world and a viral #BringBackOurGirls hashtag on social media. In the new video, a masked member of the group says it has married off 40 of the captives and will not return them unless the Nigerian government releases some of its prisoners. Analysts say the video is an attempt to undermine the government by rekindling the anger over its failure to prevent their kidnapping and secure their return.

Bots o’ war

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is joining the fight against the threat of small drones on the battlefield. Defense One reports that the Pentagon sci-fi research shop posted a request for information stating that it’s in the market for ideas on how to make sensors that can find small unmanned aircraft while to defend vehicles, ships and fixed defense installations. Darpa also wants the system to be useful for detecting other small, airborne threats, such as rockets, mortars and small artillery.

And finally…

The heartless monsters who run the Pentagon have banned all Defense Department employees from using Pokemon Go app on their work phones, citing fears that it could be exploited for espionage. Workers had established a Pokemon gym, where users can train Pokemon and face off against others, in the Pentagon, but it looks like the establishment will now have to be closed.

 

Correction, August 15, 2016: A previous version of this article stated that Trump advisor Paul Manafort had been paid over $12 million by clients in the former Ukrainian government, but there is no evidence that he had received any such payments. A note will follow in Tuesday’s Situation Report email.

 

Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

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