SitRep: It’s Mattis for SecDef; ISIS Making Stand to Protect Oil
Afghanistan Continues to Falter; U.K. Heading to South China Sea; And Lots More
The guy. When he launched his presidential bid on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump promised, “I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur. I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work.”
Looks like he found his guy. On Thursday night, President-elect Donald Trump announced during a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio that he plans to nominate retired Marine Corps general James Mattis as his defense secretary. “We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told the crowd, using one of Mattis’ nicknames. Later, he added, “they say he’s the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have and it’s about time.”
More on Mattis and what he brings to the table from FP’s Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary here.
To the Hill! The retired general, of course, would need Congress to grant a waiver of a law that forbids retired military officers from serving as SecDef for seven years after retirement. While it’s a near certainty he’ll get the waiver, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Thursday she’ll oppose it. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”
General rule. Mattis would join fellow retired general Mike Flynn in Trump’s cabinet, with David Petraeus still in the running for Secretary of State. Plenty of people think that’s just too many retired generals serving on one administration. But former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking with U.S. News and World Report’s Paul Shinkman on Thursday, dismissed such concerns, saying he “wouldn’t be that worried” about it. “Considering what other options are out there, the ones he’s at least considering are people I’ve worked with and are pretty reputable,” Panetta added.
The longest war. One of the problems facing Mattis and the incoming administration is the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said at a conference in Washington Thursday that the government in Kabul controls only about 60 percent of the country, while the Taliban holds about 10 percent and the rest is up for grabs.
“We have to be concerned about this — about the Taliban pulling together and cooperating and collaborating with other terrorist organizations,” Votel said. The New York Times reports that Afghanistan’s security problems are “fueling new opportunities for al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other extremist groups, Afghan and American officials say, voicing new concerns that the original American mission in the country — removing its use as a terrorist haven — is at risk.”
ISIS making a stand. It looks like Islamic State fighters are bracing for a serious fight in the oil rich Deir Ezzour province in Syria. The Wall Street Journal spoke to one of the group’s commanders, who said that keeping the oil spigots pumping in the region is key to the group’s finances: “the red line is where the oil and the resources exist, it will be protected as much as possible,” the commander said. “It’s not important where Islamic State is located—we proved that we can come back anywhere, anytime. But places like Deir Ezzour are irreplaceable.” U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters are pushing to retake towns and villages in the area.
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
South China Sea
The Royal Navy is planning on joining the fray over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Reuters reports that British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch says the Brits will send their two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea at some point once they’re finished construction in 2020. The carriers will be there to “keep sea routes and air routes open” — or in other words, flying and sailing in areas where China has made disputed claims of sovereignty. The U.K. has been trying to assert a more active role in Asia, sending Royal Air Force Typhoon jets to Japan to participate in exercises with Japanese and American forces.
The Islamic State is sending out vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) at the astounding rate of 14 per day around Mosul, according to the Washington Post. The group has innovated its use of the weapons, up-armoring the vehicles and sending them towards Iraqi forces’ lines to break through and cause chaos. The bombs are causing heavy casualties among Iraqi forces and slowing down what’s already a frustratingly slow fight to dislodge the terrorist group from its urban stronghold.
Islamic State engineers have also been working on a different kind of VBIED, according to Kurdistan24. The news outlet found that the group has made at least one small remotely controlled ground vehicle equipped with an IED. Iraqi security forces say the device was capable of delivering a charge of 20 kilograms worth of TNT.
Hold the phone
That next text could be your last, the Islamic State is telling its followers. The famously social media-fluent terrorist group is now warning users to put down their phones and not use messaging app like WhatsApp and Telegram, according to Reuters. The group claims the U.S.-led coalition is able to track members using of the apps, assess their significance in the group, and target them in airstrikes. “As long as it has power, the phone is spying on you,” an Islamic State newsletter warned.
The San Bernardino attackers who killed 14 people in an attack a year ago had to consult a search engine to figure out who the leader of the Islamic State was before claiming to carry out the massacre in his name, ABC News reports. The apparent ignorance raises questions about how much the jihadist group’s ideology actually played a role in the minds of attackers Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan told ABC that the motivation for the attack likely came from Malik’s anger over her husband having to attend a Christmas party at work — something which she, as a Muslim, felt incensed about.
A new strain of malware is attacking IT systems in Saudi Arabia, destroying data and causing headaches for the Kingdom’s government offices. Bloomberg reports that the malware appears to be an updated version of the Shamoon virus that hit Saudi energy companies in 2012. U.S. intelligence documents leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden claim that Iran created and deployed the original Shamoon virus using knowledge gleaned from the reportedly American-made Stuxnet, Flame, and Duqu malware that targeted Iran’s nuclear program. Investigators looking into the breach tell Bloomberg they believe that Iran might be behind the current attack.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) dropped a new report on Thursday outlining the myriad problems with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, Bloomberg reports. The GAO framed the issue as whether Congress should spend an additional $14 billion to buy a dozen more of the ships which are more expensive and less capable than originally promised. The incoming Trump administration has pledged to increase the number of ships in the Navy to 350, which seems to bode well for the ships’ fortunes but members of Congress like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are livid over the repeated problems with the ships.
The soldier of the future, 1956 edition. (Glow belt not included)
Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images