- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Adam RawnsleyAdam 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.
Big changes. China and Russia are making plays for top peacekeeping and political offices at the United Nations, worrying some that two nations with abysmal human rights records and little regard for political liberties could soon push the international body in a direction many of its members don’t want to go.
U.N. officials tell FP’s Colum Lynch that Beijing is positioning to run the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which has been headed by French nationals for nearly 20 years, while Moscow is said to be gunning for the Department of Political Affairs, which former U.S. State Department officials have headed for the past decade.
“Beijing’s apparent interest in running global peacekeeping operations dovetails with its increasing evolution toward a more interventionist approach in international affairs,” Lynch writes. “But it could also herald a troubling shift in how U.N. peacekeeping operations are conducted, with a lesser emphasis on human rights and discipline.”
Syria talks. Talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov continued over the weekend, even as Syrian and Russian jets continued to pound Aleppo. It’s unclear what, if any, deal can be struck at this point to end the slaughter of civilians. Fighting on the ground in the besieged city has been fierce over the past several days, with pro-government forces wresting strategically significant ground from the rebels, while Damascus used its moment of strength to demand that the rebels lay down their arms and leave the city.
Hospitals targeted. In the city of Homs, a hospital that locals had built in an underground cave was targeted with what is thought to be bunker busting bombs over the weekend (FP’s Paul McLeary has more on Russia’s huge bunker busters here), knocking out the emergency room, according to humanitarian aid groups. The hospital performed 150 operations a month, and was thought to be well-protected from potential attacks due to its location.
Kerry not happy. Leaked audio of John Kerry speaking with Syrian rebel leaders leaked to the New York Times reveals his frustration with the Russians, and his own government. “I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument,” he said. Looking at Moscow, he said, “the problem is the Russians don’t care about international law, and we do.”
Moscow scraps nuke treaty. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order suspending an agreement with the United States — signed in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — for the disposal of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, another marker in the downward trajectory of relations between Moscow and Washington. The document said that the deal was being suspended “as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation,” and the United States was unable “to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilize surplus weapons-grade plutonium”.
Taliban back in Kunduz. Taliban fighters are back in the northern city of Kunduz, the site of a deadly American gunship attack on a charity hospital exactly one year ago Monday, in which a U.S. gunship killed 42 civilians at a Doctors Without Borders hospital. Early reports have it that Taliban fighters have entered parts of the city after attacking from several directions, and civilians are fleeing. Local officials told the Afghan TOLO news site that on Monday, government helicopter gunships are targeting the Taliban on the outskirts of the city, and there were heavy clashes inside the city.
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
China is renewing its objection to the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system in South Korea, threatening that Seoul and Washington will “pay the price” if the system is ultimately installed. The U.S. and South Korea jointly decided to transfer a terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) battery to a golf course in the south of the Republic of Korea in response to the growing ballistic missile threat from North Korea. China’s state-run People’s Daily newspaper further threatened that the two countries would “receive a proper counterattack” if the deployment goes through.
Speaking of which, South Korean diplomats say China and North Korea are kissing and making up after some initial signs that Beijing might be cracking down on North Korean nuclear and missile proliferation in the wake of its provocative tests. According to Yonhap News Agency, North Korean and Chinese officials made joint appearances in Pyongyang and Beijing at ceremonies marking China’s National Day. The moves stand in contrast to recent efforts by China’s government to investigate an internationally-sanctioned North Korean bank reportedly still operating in China.
The Defense Department paid a British contractor to create fake insurgent propaganda during the Iraq war. As part of a half billion dollar contract with the Pentagon, Bell Pottinger created anti-al Qaeda propaganda pieces for distribution in Iraq. It also created new al Qaeda propaganda videos with old footage and creative editing, lacing them with spyware and burning them onto CDs for American troops to surreptitiously drop during raids on insurgent hideouts. The fake videos allowed U.S. forces to track downloaders in Iraq, Syria, and Iran.
Yemen’s Houthi movement is claiming credit for a missile attack on the United Arab Emirates HSV-2 Swift, a former U.S. Navy high speed vessel. The attack took place in the narrow Bab al-Mandeb strait separating Yemen from Djibouti and Eritrea. Emirati officials say no personnel were harmed in the attack. There’s no evidence so far to confirm the type of munition used to sink the HSV-2 but social media circulated rumors that Houthis used a C-802 anti-ship cruise missile in the attack. China makes the C-802 and has exported it to Iran, which produces a domestic version called “Noor.”
Iran claims to have captured a U.S. Army MQ-1C Predator drone in a new video broadcast on Iranian television. The segment showed off the purportedly captured armed drone alongside what Iran dubiously describes as a fleet of “stealth” clones of the Lockheed RQ-170 surveillance drone. An RQ-170 crashed in Iran in 2011 while spying on the country’s nuclear program.
An Islamic State sniper shot and killed Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans as he covered the Libyan assault on the jihadist group in the city of Sirte. The BBC reports that hospital officials in the city confirm that Oerlemans died after being shot in the chest. Oerlemans died in the midst of an Islamic States ambush manned by fighters from outside the city. Libyan forces ultimately repulsed the attack, but lost eight fighters, in addition to the photojournalist.
Bahrain is getting 19 F-16 fighter jets from the United States, but there are some caveats. Bloomberg reports that an arms sales notification sent from the White House to Congress says that Bahrain won’t get all the kit in its $4 billion contract unless it improves human rights in the country although it isn’t saying how it plans to measure that progress. The contract, part of a batch of fighter jet sales to Gulf countries recently greenlit by the Obama administration, offers 19 new F-16s for $2.8 billion and an upgrade to Bahrain’s existing F-16 fleet for another $1 billion.
Photo Credit: TPG/Getty Images