SitRep: Americans on the Front Lines With ISIS; Iran’s $400 Million
The U.N. Isn’t Done With Saudi; Assad’s Chemical Stockpiles; And Lots More
On the front. American forces are closer to the front lines in the fight against the Islamic State in northern Iraq than is often portrayed by the Pentagon, and special operations forces are taking the lead in ops with their Kurdish allies. That’s according to a group of veteran Kurdish officers interviewed by Buzzfeed along the front near Mosul.
Somewhere in the area is Camp Wheeler — named after Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler, who was killed in a raid on an ISIS compound in October — where U.S. and Kurdish commandos live. There’s also an expanding base at the Erbil airport which houses “roughly 2,500 personnel from the US and its coalition…Special forces are mixed with conventional troops and US military contractors, sleeping in rows of tents.”
And then there’s Camp Swift about 50 miles south of Mosul, which houses about 150 American troops. There’s a photostream of life inside the camp, which will look pretty familiar to anyone who has ever stepped on one of the hundreds of American forward operating bases in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past 15 years. The story marks the second time a reporter has been allowed inside Camp Swift’s operations room, after The New Yorker’s Robin Wright visited for a story published in March.
More on the $400 million. New details are emerging about the $400 million Washington shipped to Tehran in January, which some say was ransom for U.S. citizens being held by the regime, but which the White House says was an agreed-on settlement of a decades-old dispute. The Wall Street Journal says that according to anonymous people in the U.S. government, Washington wouldn’t let Iranians take the money “until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash home from a Geneva airport that day.”
Rethinking things at the U.N. Senior U.N. officials tell FP’s Colum Lynch that the world body will threaten to put the Saudi Arabian–led military coalition operating in Yemen “back on a blacklist of states, rebels, and terrorist groups that kill or inflict extreme suffering on children in conflict zones unless Riyadh halts its indiscriminate bombing of schools and hospitals.” Lynch writes in his exclusive get that “the move reflects deepening frustration” by Ban and his top advisors that long-running efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia and its allies to prioritize the protection of children have failed. The action “is likely to set the stage for a major confrontation between the U.N. leader and senior officials from Saudi Arabia, who have threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the United Nations if it didn’t take the coalition off the list, according to U.N. sources.”
Elsewhere at the U.N. A new report expected to come out of Turtle Bay as early as next week may be unwelcome news for the Obama administration, as it “is likely to officially attribute a number of instances of chemical weapons attacks over the past three years to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who officially gave up his stockpiles of such deadly agents in 2013,” according to Politico. Assad, remember, agreed to give up his chemical weapons after his forces used agents such as sarin to kill hundreds of people, mostly civilians. Russia, which has been backing up the regime for years, is expected to block any move to impose additional sanctions on Damascus.
In related news, check out this great piece of reporting by FP contributors Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa on how ISIS managed to get its hands on the regime’s chemical weapons in Syria.
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
Who’s where when
10:00 a.m. U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Michael Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces and Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet, talks about the future of Naval aviation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Livestream here.
North Korea has openly admitted to carrying out plutonium reprocessing at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, Voice of America reports. The admission by North Korea’s Atomic Energy Institute that it’s back in the nuclear weapons fuel business prompted a State Department spokesman to label the move “a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” North Korea originally agreed to suspend reprocessing at Yongbyon following a round of the Six Party talks in 2007.
Come at me, bro
The U.S. Air Force has flown all three of the service’s bombers for a brief photo op over Guam and some not-so-subtle messaging. Defense Tech reports that the Air Force took the B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers out for a spin over Guam in what a press release says is the first time all three have flown together, “dispersed and then simultaneously conducted operations in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.” The move comes as China has been building up its military forces on man-made islands in the South China Sea and following a series of ballistic missile tests by North Korea.
Amnesty International has built a 3D model of one of the Assad regime’s most notorious prisons with the help of witness interviews and satellite imagery. The human rights organization released a new multimedia report on the regime’s network of prisons, where it says 17,000 people have already been killed and 65,000 remain missing after being arrested. Saydnaya, the most notorious of the prisons, was the scene of countless acts of torture. Amnesty researchers interviewed former detainees, using their recollections of and descriptions of sounds to flesh out the internal structure of the facility.
The CIA was grateful for the services of Libya’s General Khalifa Hifter back in the 1980s when he helped the U.S. try to overthrow the Gadhafi regime, but now the Agency’s erstwhile ally is proving to be something of a pain as the U.S. tries to buttress the internationally-backed government in Tripoli. The Washington Post reports that in 2014, Hifter launched an effort to clear eastern Libya of Islamist militants like Ansar al-Sharia, earning him a slot in the Tobruk-based government and the favor of backers like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Since then, he’s helped fuel opposition to Libya’s unity government as he appears to try and position himself for a more senior leadership role in the country.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force in Libya has been pretty busy, carrying out 48 airstrikes already this month since the bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Sirte began, according to Air Force Times.
United Nations counterterrorism experts are warning in a new report that jihadists’ use of encryption is growing. The AP, which snagged an early copy of the document, reports that “even the most sophisticated agencies” now have trouble reading intercepted messages of suspected terrorists’ messages. Online recruiters for jihadists groups now make a point of quickly introducing new recruits to encrypted communications apps early on when interacting with them online.
Photo Credit NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images