SitRep: Kerry Sells Syria, Pentagon Pushes Back; China Cozying Up To Manilla
Cyber Wars Heating Up; Russian Carrier to Syria; And Lots More
Selling Syria deal. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the agreement he reached with Russia on a Syrian ceasefire Wednesday, calling it “a last chance to be able to hold Syria together,” and warning that without an agreement that helps separate so-called moderate rebels from the Islamist Nusra Front, “the fighting is going to increase significantly,” killing more civilians. In an interview to be broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday, Kerry also said he believes the rebels “will make commonsense decisions” to move away from Nusra if it means they might be targeted by U.S. and Russian aircraft.
What cooperation? The big question this week — and one of the Obama administration’s biggest challenges — is how to coordinate strikes with Russia, should this ceasefire hold for a week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other defense officials have been very public critics of the idea, and the New York Times reports that Carter “pushed against the agreement on a conference call with the White House last week as Mr. Kerry, joining the argument from a secure facility in Geneva, grew increasingly frustrated.” Not everyone in the diplomatic corps is on board, either, as FP reported in detail earlier this week.
Lawyers, guns, and….But in order for the U.S. and Russia to begin sharing information on which targets in Syria to bomb, Carter will need to issue a waiver to get around a law passed by Congress prohibiting military cooperation with Russia, the AP reminds us. And what about killing civilians? Russia famously uses mostly “dumb” bombs that cannot be guided onto a target, potentially making the U.S. partially responsible for more civilian casualties.
The Air Force officer in charge of operations over Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that the military is working out the legal issues, but “I’m not going to tell you I trust [the Russians]…from our side, we have to do some planning and they need to do the right thing. We’ll see what happens from there.”
Here comes Moscow’s aircraft carrier. This fall, some Russian strikes in Syria may be launched from Moscow’s one and only aircraft carrier, the troubled Admiral Kuznetsov, which is embarking on what is the first-ever combat deployment for a Russian carrier. The ship has a long history of breakdowns however, and travels with its own tugs to tow it to shore. FP’s Paul McLeary writes that given the ship’s outdated design, its dozen or so planes — U.S. carriers ferry at least 60 planes – will have to travel light, with half empty gas tanks and partially bare bomb racks.
Kremlin worried? One senior defense official told SitRep that some in the top echelons of the Russian military worry that Syria is a “potential quagmire,” and that “within the military professional leadership [in Russia] there is some recognition that this is a pretty complex place, and Russia’s getting into something that could take years.”
Bigger bang. An armada of twelve U.S. warplanes, including a B-52s, A-10s F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s launched a massive strike on a suspected ISIS chemical weapons production facility in Mosul on Monday, hitting 50 targets in the process, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said. The massive complex had been a pharmaceutical factory that ISIS repurposed to produce “chlorine or mustard gas — we don’t know for sure at this point,” the general said. For a video of the big boom, check here.
In another chemical weapons story, the Washington Post gives us the backstory on how the international community came together — largely in secret — to ship nearly 500 tons of dual-use, toxic industrial chemicals out of Libya earlier this month.
Israel’s $38 billion deal. Israel drove a hard bargain for months in negotiations with the United States over the terms of a new military aid deal, pushing for more funding and other concessions. But in the end, FP’s Dan De Luce writes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed off. “The two governments announced Tuesday they had wrapped up a new memorandum of understanding that will deliver an unprecedented $38 billion worth of arms to Israel over the next decade in what the State Department called the ‘single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history.’ The package does not detail what military hardware Israel will acquire or when, but amounts to a nearly $40 billion gift card at the Pentagon’s weapon bazaar.” FP recently ran a deep dive into some of the politics of the deal that’s well worth the read.
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
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is once again calling the U.S.-Philippine military relationship into question, suggesting that the country buy weapons from Russia and China and end its joint patrols of the South China Sea conducted with the U.S. Navy. Duterte told a military audience that he’d received offers for loans to purchase weapons from two unnamed countries, and that Philippine military envoys would visit Russia and China to assess their weapons exports. He also offered an implicit snub to recent U.S.-Philippine patrols of the South China Sea, saying, “I just want to patrol our territorial waters.”
While prospects for the U.S.-Philippine relationship look dimmer, Manila’s relations with China appear to be on the upswing — or at least that’s what one of China’s top diplomats says. Reuters reports that Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told Philippine diplomats that the bilateral relationship between the two countries is “at a new turning point,” following a low ebb in the aftermath of an international court ruling, brought by Manila, against China’s South China Sea territorial claims in July. Liu said he hoped that the two countries can overcome their difficulties and that in future the Philippines “can meet China halfway” on tough issues.
The Islamic State-linked propaganda outlet Amaq news agency has claimed an attack in Mombasa against a police station, according to Reuters, marking the debut act of terrorism by the group on Kenyan soil. Three women covered in conservative Islamic dress bluffed their way into a police station in order to set it on fire. Amaq later issued a statement describing the women as “supporters of Islamic State,” language frequently used to claim an association with attackers around the world.
Who’s been testing out massive, county-level distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against critical Internet infrastructure companies? Good question. Encryption and information security expert Bruce Schneier pens a piece for Lawfare in which he reveals that a handful of Internet critical infrastructure companies have told him that they’ve recently been the target of larger, longer, more sophisticated DDoS attacks. The attacks, Schneier believes, appear to be probes designed to find weaknesses and evaluate defenses. At the moment, it’s unclear who’s behind the attacks but Schneier speculates that it could be a nation-state such as China or Russia.
Russians intelligence hacked the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and published the medical information of American Olympians, the New York Times reports. WADA issued a press release stating that the agency, which played a key role in identifying the Russian intelligence-led doping program that lead to the disqualification of several Russian Olympians, was carried out by the APT 28 or Fancy Bear hacking group. Fancy Bear is widely believed to be linked to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The hacked data of prominent American Olympians like Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Simone Biles shows no evidence of cheating or doping but does reveal that some U.S. athletes sought and received official permission to temporarily take banned substances for specific medical conditions.
The Washington Post has new details on the treatment of recruits at Parris Island, where a 20 year-old Muslim recruit recently committed suicide during training. A drill instructor allegedly placed another Muslim recruit in an industrial dryer, barking racist accusations and at him and burning the man in process. The accusations surfaced in an investigation of practices at Parris Island following the suicide of Raheel Siddiqui. Investigators allege that drill instructors from the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion frequently used racist insults and sometimes showed up drunk for work.
Nearly 1,400 awards handed out by the military for valor in battle are being considered for an upgrade, Military Times reports. A review kicked off by Defense Secretary Ash Carter earlier this year has identified 1,357 medals, mostly Silver Stars, which could be eligible for upgrades to higher awards. The paper’s own analysis has found that troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the Medal of Honor at historically low rates.
Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary