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SitRep: U.S. Allies Fight it Out in Syria; China Fuels Submarine Race

Iran Keeps Pushing in Gulf; And Lots More

ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 26: Members of Free Syrian Army (FSA) carry out a house to house search, quitted by Daesh members, in Jarabulus district of Aleppo, Syria after taking control of the district's centrum from Daesh terrorists during the "Operation Euphrates Shield" led by Turkish Army and backed by Syrian National Coalition forces including Free Syrian Army (FSA) on August 26, 2016. The anti-Daesh operation, called Euphrates Shield, is aimed at clearing terrorist groups from the Turkish border region, tightening border security, and supporting Syrias territorial integrity. 
 (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 26: Members of Free Syrian Army (FSA) carry out a house to house search, quitted by Daesh members, in Jarabulus district of Aleppo, Syria after taking control of the district's centrum from Daesh terrorists during the "Operation Euphrates Shield" led by Turkish Army and backed by Syrian National Coalition forces including Free Syrian Army (FSA) on August 26, 2016. The anti-Daesh operation, called Euphrates Shield, is aimed at clearing terrorist groups from the Turkish border region, tightening border security, and supporting Syrias territorial integrity. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 26: Members of Free Syrian Army (FSA) carry out a house to house search, quitted by Daesh members, in Jarabulus district of Aleppo, Syria after taking control of the district's centrum from Daesh terrorists during the "Operation Euphrates Shield" led by Turkish Army and backed by Syrian National Coalition forces including Free Syrian Army (FSA) on August 26, 2016. The anti-Daesh operation, called Euphrates Shield, is aimed at clearing terrorist groups from the Turkish border region, tightening border security, and supporting Syrias territorial integrity. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

U.S. allies shooting it out in Syria. Adding to Syria’s already chaotic landscape, two U.S. allies who had pledged to fight the Islamic State have turned their guns on each other. And there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. Late last week, Free Syrian Army rebels, once trained and equipped by U.S. special forces and now backed by Turkey, pushed into Syria to attack U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces.

In a visit to the border with Syria over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to continue the fight. "We are as determined about the [Kurds]," he said. "We will continue until we uproot this terror organization," until they’re pushed off Turkey’s southern border. Ankara sees no difference between the Kurdish PKK, which has fought the government for decades in southern Turkey, and the Syria-based Kurdish YPG, which has emerged as the only group capable of taking on ISIS in Syria.

 

U.S. allies shooting it out in Syria. Adding to Syria’s already chaotic landscape, two U.S. allies who had pledged to fight the Islamic State have turned their guns on each other. And there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. Late last week, Free Syrian Army rebels, once trained and equipped by U.S. special forces and now backed by Turkey, pushed into Syria to attack U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces.

In a visit to the border with Syria over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to continue the fight. “We are as determined about the [Kurds],” he said. “We will continue until we uproot this terror organization,” until they’re pushed off Turkey’s southern border. Ankara sees no difference between the Kurdish PKK, which has fought the government for decades in southern Turkey, and the Syria-based Kurdish YPG, which has emerged as the only group capable of taking on ISIS in Syria.

Turkish F-16s hit several Kurdish YPG militia positions over the weekend, and dozens have been killed in fighting — including a Turkish soldier — as Free Syrian Army commanders pledge to keep hitting the Kurds until they’re pushed east of the Euphrates river. Some rebels have threatened to keeping moving forward until they take the city of Manbij, which the Kurdish-led forces recently took from ISIS after with the help of dozens of American airstrikes.

The fighting also calls into question the safety of U.S. special forces teams who are embedded with the Kurds. Earlier this month, U.S. jets scrambled several times after Syrian jets came close to hitting Americans while bombing the Kurds near Hasakah.

For a visual aid, check out this CNN graphic which maps who is fighting who, and where they get their support.

Over the (other) border. In a related story, Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq are very much redrawing the map of the country, as they continue to press closer to the ISIS-held city of Mosul, claiming more and more territory as they go. Some fear a confrontation with Baghdad is on the horizon.

Sub race. China is fueling a submarine race in the Pacific, FP’s Elias Groll and Dan De Luce tell us in a smart new story, writing that thanks to China’s huge increases in defense spending “and making aggressive claims to disputed island chains, Beijing’s regional rivals are investing in the one weapon that can undercut the increasingly potent People’s Liberation Army. Across South and East Asia, China’s neighbors are spending heavily on submarines, purchasing silent diesel-electric machines capable of slipping past Chinese defenses.”

But it’s not only subs. New Zealand recently signed a $26 million contract with Boeing to upgrade its fleet of five P-3 Orion submarine hunting surveillance planes. “This is particularly important in the Asia-Pacific region which is home to two-thirds of the world’s submarines” New Zealand’s defence minister Gerry Brownlee said.

India dealing. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is back from vacation and will host India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar at the Pentagon Monday. A joint press conference is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in the Pentagon Briefing Room. Livestream here. FP’s Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce have written about the closer defense ties between India and the U.S., and the country looks to upgrade its military in the face of China’s military buildup.

Body count. American jets recently bombed a village in Syria. There are multiple stories about why, and what happened next.

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

The Japanese military is about to start training for peacekeeping operations abroad, which could involve combat, Bloomberg reports. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said that training for the Self Defense Forces will begin soon for peacekeeping work in South Sudan. The operation could see Japanese troops called on to use their weapons in a stark break from Japan’s traditionally pacifist post-war tradition. The training and the operations it envisions are part of a general shift for Japan, as it slowly becomes more comfortable with the use of force.

Afghanistan

The Taliban is close to capturing 10 more districts in Afghanistan, according to TOLO News. Anonymous government officials say districts in Uruzgan, Nangarhar, Sar-e Pol provinces, among others, are at risk of falling to the Islamist insurgent group. Officials say corruption has undermined the Afghan military’s ability to respond to rising Taliban threats by interfering with the selection of local commanders. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry decried the interference from “non-military individuals” in the appointment of local military commanders. The Institute for the Study of War has a great new assessment and map of the fighting in the country.

Hundreds of fighters from the Haqqani network overran a small, 90-man outpost in Paktia province, the New York Times reports. The Haqqani network has played an increasingly influential role within the Taliban as the group’s new emir Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada relies on it for the military savvy he lacks. The move by the network in Paktia could foreshadow more dramatic operations in the southeast of Afghanistan.

Iran

Iran says it has arrested a “spy,” a dual citizen who worked on last year’s nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States. Iranian news outlets pointed to Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, an accountant who participated in the financial aspects of the negotiations, as the accused spy. Whether Esfahani had British or Canadian dual citizenship remains unclear, but a member of Iran’s parliament said he “gave invaluable information to the US” during the negotiations.

Iranian media reports that the country has deployed its newly-arrived Russian S-300 air defense missiles to protect the Fordow nuclear facility. Iranian television broadcast a segment showing the S-300 at Fordow with Air Defense Force commander Brig. Gen Farzad Esmaili declaring that the country’s nuclear assets will be defended “in all circumstances.” Iran recently received completed S-300 batteries from Russia following a protracted negotiation after Moscow initially canceled the sale in 2009 following western pressure.

Iran said Monday that its military detected a U.S. drone entering Iranian airspace, and issued a warning for it to leave, which it did, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency. “Iran’s army air defense detected and warned an American drone in the eastern airspace of the country. It was coming from Afghanistan. The drone left the area,” Tasnim quoted the Iranian military as saying.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy is becoming more aggressive towards American ships in the Gulf this year. Navy Times reports that statistics compiled by U.S. Central Command’s 5th Fleet show that there have already been 250 confrontations between the two countries’ vessels in the first half of this year, putting 2016 in position to demolish last year’s total of 300 such incidents. Experts worry that the rising tensions, close proximity and frequent encounters could lead to a miscalculation that would escalate into a wider conflict.

Cybersecurity

The FBI’s Cyber Division says foreign hackers may have broken into electoral websites in two states, according to a report from Yahoo News. The attacks reportedly hit election websites in Illinois and Arizona In the Illinois attack, hackers made off with a voter registration database. There’s no official attribution of the attacks yet but experts say some of the IP addresses recorded in the attacks have previously been linked to Russian cybercriminals and the tools in the breach bear similarity to those used by Russian state-sponsored attackers against the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Islamic State

A suicide car bombing claimed by the Islamic State has killed at least 54 people in Yemen, Reuters reports. The attacker struck a facility used by the Popular Committees militia recruits in Aden, infiltrating the compound by driving behind a vehicle used to bring breakfast to the troops. The Amaq news agency, an Islamic State-linked propaganda outlet, issued a claim of responsibility for the attack on behalf of the jihadist group, asserting that 60 people had been killed in the bombing.

 

Photo Credit: Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Adam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.

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