SitRep: Peace Deal Off, Moscow Ships New Anti-Aircraft System to Syria; Japan-North Korea Missile Gap
- 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.
It’s over. Few were surprised Monday when the State Department called off talks between Washington and Moscow on a new ceasefire in Syria. The ceasefire deal forged earlier this month — which few ever believed would work — started falling apart almost immediately, punctuated by a mistaken U.S. airstrike on Syrian troops, the Russian and Syrian attack on a U.N. aid convoy, continued fighting by some U.S.-backed rebels, and Syrian jets refusing to stop pounding civilian targets.
“Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments” to stop bombing of civilian areas, spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Monday, marking a new post-Cold War low in U.S./Russia relations. FP’s David Francis has more here. In and around Aleppo, fighting on the ground between rebels and Syrian forces (and their Iranian and Hezbollah allies) has been fierce, with the rebels beating back a new offensive on Tuesday.
New targets in U.S. air war. Elsewhere, a U.S. airstrike took out a Jaish Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) leader near Idlib on Monday, in a sign that the U.S. air war in Syria may be expanding to include targets outside of the Islamic State. The Pentagon’s announcement was careful to identify Egyptian national Abu al-Farai al-Masri as an al Qaeda leader, but in Syria, of course, al Qaeda means JFS. Under the terms of the scuttled deal with Russia, the U.S. would have coordinated strikes against the radical group, but the Americans now look to be going it alone.
Backlash. On the same day as the State Department walked away from the negotiating table, Russia announced that it was pulling out of an agreement with Washington to scrap 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium — and vastly more concerning for U.S. and coalition pilots flying in Syria — U.S. defense officials leaked word to Fox News that they’ve spotted a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system in Syria. Also known as the SA-23 Gladiator, the anti-missile and anti-aircraft system has a range of roughly 150 miles, and when asked what it might target, one U.S. official joked darkly, “Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?”
U.S. response. If there’s going to be a coordinated U.S. response to all this, we’ll start to see it Tuesday. Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver remarks on the “Future of TransAtlantic Relations” at 1:00 p.m. at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, (Livestream here). And across town, a host of top military officials will get together to discuss the future of warfare at the Army’s annual AUSA convention. The list of brass sharing the stage includes Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, Under Secretary of the Navy Janine Davidson, and U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris, Jr. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks later in the day.
Kunduz, redux. Afghan special operations forces — backed by American commandos — are retaking parts of Kunduz from the Taliban, days after a multi-pronged assault on the city sent civilians fleeing. People on the ground there say the fighting remains heavy, government forces own just a small chunk of territory, and American troops have been spotted moving around with Afghan commandos.
Colombia shock. Just a week ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “stood triumphantly in the Caribbean resort town of Cartagena and heralded the signing of a landmark peace accord between Bogota and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a “big moment” and a ‘historic day for Colombia,’” writes FP’s John Hudson. “But that was before voters defied nearly every pollster, pundit, and politician in a razor-thin referendum that rejected the deal Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez signed after almost four years of negotiations.” Now, Washington is scrambling to back up the Santos government, after spending $10 billion over the past 16 years to help battle the FARC rebels.
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
North Korea’s rapid progress in ballistic missile development is making Japanese officials suddenly realize how far behind they are in missile defense. Anonymous Japanese defense officials tell Reuters that the current missile threats from Pyongyang are eclipsing the country’s defenses and that “our only option for now may be to rely on the U.S. to stop them.” Japan already has Patriot missile PAC-3 batteries, which can help mitigate some of the threat from the North’s road-mobile Musudan missiles, but Tokyo is hoping that it can buy U.S. terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) batteries from the United States to deal with the rest of Kim Jong Un’s growing arsenal.
The Atlantic Council released a new report by Aaron Stein on the Islamic State’s networks in Turkey. According to the report, many of the jihadist group’s management personnel started out working supply routes and recruitment networks into Iraq through Syria during the U.S. occupation. As the Syrian civil war took hold, recruiters for the group, some of them older veterans of foreign conflicts like Afghanistan, began working openly in their communities to find fighters for Syria. The Turkish government only began to crack down on the group starting in 2015. The recent squeeze has made life more difficult for the Islamic State to recruit from Turkey’s various communities but has raised questions about whether the crackdown will spawn a new recruitment problem in Turkey’s prisons.
The preparations for an offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State are underway. As part of the buildup, Defense News reports that NATO is pitching in to the effort by hosting a counter-IED course for Iraqi troops in Jordan. Islamic State fighters have frequently rigged the cities they’ve captured with mines and booby traps in order to slow down coalition forces. The class, NATO’s second so far, is training 30 Iraqi personnel drawn from both the Army and Iraq’s Ministry of Interior to deal with the after-effects of retaking territory from the jihadist group.
Acronyms are a Pentagon currency, used to shorthand long names and signal a user’s insider status. Now, though, the Navy is about to throw out out one of its more beloved bowls of alphabet soup. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson says the service will no longer use “A2/AD,” short for anti-access/area denial. The acronym has become a defense buzzword, particularly in the Asia-Pacific context, used to reference the air defense systems, cruise missiles, and other weaponry that have allowed rising military powers like China and Russia to hold American military assets at risk over longer ranges. Richardson says the term, as used, isn’t very helpful and that if strategists “fixate on A2/AD we’re going to miss the boat on the next challenge.”
In a new Human Rights Watch report, the group says two former CIA detainees, Ridha al-Najjar and Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, said that the Agency created a fake electric chair while they were held in a secret prison in Afghanistan and threatened with execution. The two also alleged that CIA employees beat them with batons and subjected them to stress positions and waterboarding. The U.S. later transferred the two to an Afghan prison and then secretly released them to Tunisia, where they now reside.
Photo Credit: Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images