SitRep: Turks Push into Syria; U.S. Casualty in Afghanistan
Iraqi Shiite Militias Accused; North Korea Launches New Missile; And Lots More
Turks, Americans, Hit ISIS. Just before dawn on Wednesday morning, American and Turkish jets swooped down on Islamic State positions around the town of Jarabulus in Syria, kicking off a joint mission to push the extremist group away from the Turkish border. The strikes were supported on the ground by Turkish special forces, over 300 artillery strikes, and tanks, according to the state-run Anadolu News Agency. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels from the Ahrar al Sham militant group are also part of the assault.
The operation is aimed almost as much at the Kurds as it is ISIS. Turkey has kept a wary eye on recent movements by Kurdish forces to inch north toward Jarabulus from Manbij, which the U.S.-backed (and mostly Kurdish) Syrian Democratic Forces took from ISIS last week. A senior administration official, traveling with Vice President Joe Biden in Turkey, told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. has warned the Kurds to stop where they are and not strike out any further north.
“The Turks agreed to allow the SDF to take Manbij on the condition that the Kurds retreat across the Euphrates River to the East,” once the operation was complete, the Institute for the Study of War’s Jennifer Cafarella told SitRep. But the SDF have so far failed to move East, and are “leaning forward in a way that is making the Turks nervous,” she added.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that the SDF must cross back over the Euphrates, adding: “the U.S. also supports this. Otherwise, I am saying very clearly that we will do what is necessary.”
Forever war claims another American. Four American servicemembers have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. The fourth died on Tuesday — and another was wounded along with six Afghan troops — when a roadside bomb hit a vehicle they were traveling in near the city of Lashkar Gah in the embattled Helmand province. The American military command rushed 100 troops to the city on Monday, which is one of the last government strongholds in the province which has been mostly overrun by the Taliban, but U.S. military officials said the commandos killed and wounded were part of another mission in the province.
Syria’s chemical stockpiles. The world’s chemical weapons watchdog has repeatedly found traces of deadly nerve agents in laboratories that Syria insisted were never part of its chemical weapons program, FP’s Colum Lynch and David Kenner report in an exclusive new story.
In a confidential two-page summary of the report obtained by FP, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu writes that the majority of 122 samples taken at “multiple locations” in Syria “indicate potentially undeclared chemical weapons-related activities.” Many of Syria’s explanations for the presence of undeclared agents, he added, “are not scientifically or technically plausible, and … the presence of several undeclared chemical warfare agents is still to be clarified.”
Shiite militias causing trouble. More than 700 Sunni men and boys remain unaccounted for more than two months after Iraqi government forces pushed ISIS out of Fallujah, raising concerns that Shiite militias have them. Reuters reports that all told, Shiite militia fighters “killed at least 66 Sunni males and abused at least 1,500 others fleeing the Fallujah area, according to interviews with more than 20 survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats.” The militias were mostly kept out of the fighting inside the city, but stayed on the outskirts, where they rounded up the Sunni men who were fleeing.
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Add New York Times reporters to the list of people that may have been in the crosshairs of hackers. An anonymous official tell the AP that the FBI is investigating an attempt by hackers linked to Russian intelligence agencies. Targeting and succeeding at breaching, however, are two different things. The Times says it’s seen no evidence hackers have made it into its networks. Whether Russian intelligence managed to compromise the personal devices and accounts of Times reporters remains unclear. FP’s Elias Groll has more.
Another day, another ballistic missile test for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff say North Korea carried out a test of its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) off its eastern coast, splashing down into the Sea of Japan, according to Yonhap News Agency. In previous tests, the SLBM, dubbed KN-11, flew for only 10 to 30 kilometers but Tuesday’s test launch reached a record 300 kilometers.
Turkey says it’s open to the idea of hosting Russian jets at Incirlik Air Base, home to American B-61 tactical nuclear weapons and U.S. warplanes carrying out an air war against the Islamic State. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said this weekend that Moscow could use the base “if necessary.” The comments follow and effort by Turkey to heal its rift with Russia following the November 2015 shootdown of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish F-16s. Turkish officials have also grown increasingly frustrated with the country’s European and American allies for what they believe to be a less than immediate and enthusiastic response to the July coup attempt from within the Turkish military.
France’s new submarine export has sprung a leak. Defense News reports on the growing controversy after an Australian newspaper got its hands on “restricted” information about the Scorpène-class submarine that France is selling to India. The Australian managed to secure documents from French defense contractor DCNS with details about the Scorpène’s sensors and its weapons, communications, and navigation systems. Australia recently chose DCNS over Japan’s Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries for a $38 billion deal to build the country’s Shortfin Barracuda submarines, but Australian officials say the leak will have “no bearing” on DCNS’s submarine contract.
The United Nations is pushing forward with an investigation following reports that aid workers who were raped and beaten by South Sudanese troops in Juba last month had their pleas for help ignored by U.N. peacekeepers who were just minutes away. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch military officer with experience as a U.N. peacekeeper, to lead an investigation into the allegations. The South Sudanese troops also reportedly shot and killed a local reporter during the July rampage at a hotel in Juba.
South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar has surfaced farther north in Sudan, after a brief disappearance, according to the AP. The Sudanese government says he’s receiving medical care for an unspecified urgent condition. Machar disappeared shortly after fighting broke out in July that killed some of the vice president’s bodyguards.
Guns and gear
The State Department has okayed a deal to sell Qatar patrol boats, .50 caliber machine guns, 27 mm cannons, and radar systems. The boats are used primarily by special operations units like the Navy SEALs. The contracts are worth an estimated $124 million.
Russia’s Armata Universal Combat Platform, which will form the basis for the Russian military’s next generation armored vehicles, is getting an armor upgrade. UPI reports that Armata tanks are being fitted with plate shields along its sides to defense against grenades and anti-tank weapons.
You best call that penguin “sir” and salute him; he’s earned it.
Photo Credit: Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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