SitRep: Mosul, Raqqa, Will Fall Within a Year; Russia Quits Iran
Targeting Mosul and Raqqa. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend is stepping into a tough job. On Sunday, he took command of the U.S. war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, tasked with retaking the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, working with (or around) the Russians in Syria, trying to keep Iraqi and Kurdish ...
Targeting Mosul and Raqqa. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend is stepping into a tough job. On Sunday, he took command of the U.S. war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, tasked with retaking the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, working with (or around) the Russians in Syria, trying to keep Iraqi and Kurdish forces from pointing their guns at one another, and avoiding aerial dogfights between American and Syrian warplanes over Syria’s crowded skies.
Townsend — the seventh U.S. general since 2003 to lead troops in Iraq — told the Washington Post that his plan is to “pick up our pace of operations, our rate of fire if you will, so [Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian Arab allies] can posture themselves for the next big step.” He’ll be there for a year, and “it’s my intent to have liberated Mosul and Raqqa and be in a pursuit phase by the end of our tour.”
Harsh vibes. Russia has already pulled out of its temporary base in Iran, just hours after the Tehran government criticized Moscow for the “kind of show-off and ungentlemanly” way in which the Russians publicized the deployment. Over the weekend, members of the Iranian parliament started asking about the basing agreement, forcing Gen. Hossein Dehghan to take to the airwaves to say the visitors were there on a “temporary” basis but “it is finished, for now.”
And this little dig was interesting: “Russians are interested to show they are a superpower to guarantee their share in political future of Syria and, of course, there has been a kind of show-off and ungentlemanly (attitude) in this field,” he said. Russian bombers used the base to hit targets in Syria at least three times last week.
Syria strike update. There doesn’t appear to have been any more close calls over the weekend for U.S. special operations forces after Syrian warplanes nearly hit them in northern Syria Thursday. The U.S. scrambled fighter jets to protect the Americans, but the Syrian jets had already left by time they reached the area. FP’s Paul McLeary has more here.
Two offensives in Syria. U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters kicked off a major offensive against Syrian government troops in the area around the city of Hasaka on Monday, a major escalation in the fighting between the two sides. U.S. advisors are in the area — or at least they were, until they almost got caught in the Syrian airstrike.
Not to be left out, Syrian Arab rebels are also staging at a Turkish military base to take the Islamic State-controlled Syrian town of Jarablus, according to new reports. The move is planned to blunt the advance of Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The Turkish government, which has been battling Kurdish militants for decades, is worried that the Kurds will gain too much of a foothold along its southern border.
Moscow can’t keep the lights on. Crimeans aren’t happy with their new-ish landlords from Moscow, saying that since Russia invaded and took the area from the Ukrainian government in 2014, prices have soared, wages have flattened, and things like electric power remain more aspirational than they were before. Amid increasing tensions with Ukraine, Russian troops are in the middle of exercises practicing how to land troops and quickly resupply them in Crimea. “Vessels from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet had also taken part, including a submarine, a large landing ship, mine-sweepers and an unspecified number of guided missile cruisers. Around 2,500 troops and up to 350 armored vehicles had also been involved,” Reuters reports.
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Japan is gearing up to submit its largest defense budget in the country’s post-war history. Japanese officials tell Reuters that the government plans to ask for $51 billion for defense in fiscal year 2017. The money will go to a host of new programs, including a project to develop an unmanned fighter jet and missile defense programs. Japan has traditionally shied away from spending big on the defense, but has begun to change course in the face of growing military threats from rivals such as China and North Korea.
Israeli officials say Hezbollah operatives snuck a bag full of explosives across the border from Lebanon to a farm in the town of Metulla, the Times of Israel reports. The explosives, authorities say, were likely lying in wait for use in a terrorist attack. The discovery comes amid growing tensions between Israel and Hezbollah following a series of airstrikes from Israeli forces against top Hezbollah officials in Syria. Last week, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency reported the arrest of Palestinians in the West Bank whom it says were recruited to carry out terrorist attacks by Hezbollah’s external operations arm, Unit 133.
Dramatic footage out of Iraq shows Iraqi police thwarting a child suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest. Cops caught the young boy, whom they say was sent by the Islamic State from Mosul, in the city of Kirkuk shortly after an attack on a Shiite mosque in the city, according to the AP. The boy claims to have been kidnapped and forced into carrying out the attempted attack.
Iraq has executed three dozen people it says were responsible for the Camp Speicher massacre, one of the largest and infamous atrocities carried out by the Islamic State. Jihadists from the group killed somewhere between 1,500-1,700 Iraqi military recruits in at the camp in Tikrit in June of 2014. Iraqi authorities hanged 36 people it accused of involvement in the massacre at Al-Hoot prison, with family members of the victims in attendance.
Yemen’s deposed former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh says he’s willing to roll out the welcome mat for the Russian military if he comes back to power. Reuters reports that Saleh told Russian media he’d be okay with letting Russian aircraft and naval vessels use bases in the country in order to “fight terrorism.” Saleh, once the president of Yemen, now belongs to a political coalition that includes members of the Houthi movement backed by Iran and fought by a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states.
The Pentagon recently pulled a small group of military planners from an operations center helping Saudi Arabia plan air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen, possibly as a result of the Saudi-led coalition continuing to hit civilian targets in Yemen. FP’s Colum Lynch has more.
Unspeakable horror hit Turkey once again over the weekend as a suicide bombing carried out by a child killed more than 50 people at a wedding party. The New York Times reports that the child bomber, 14 years old, hit a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep. Turkish officials say the attack, the most lethal to hit the country this year, was orchestrated by the Islamic State.
Justice Department personnel are headed to Turkey to evaluate the Turkish government’s request to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a political rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan whom Turkey claims orchestrated the July coup attempt against Erdoğan. The announcement comes just ahead of Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Turkey on Wednesday. Anonymous U.S. officials complain that Turkey’s requests to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, are long on accusation and short on evidence. What evidence they Turkey has provided, however, has focused on “certain alleged criminal activities that pre-date the coup,” according to one U.S. official.
Photo Credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary