The Cable

SitRep: Manchester Toll Grows; U.S. Raids al Qaeda in Yemen; Trump Defense Budget Flop

U.S. Drops More Bombs in Afghanistan; Flynn in More Trouble

US President Donald Trump (C), Secretary of Defense James Mattis (L) and US Navy Captain Richard McCormack (R) attend an operations briefing at the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia, March 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C), Secretary of Defense James Mattis (L) and US Navy Captain Richard McCormack (R) attend an operations briefing at the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia, March 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

 

With Adam Rawnsley

Manchester attack. The explosion at a concert in Manchester, U.K. Monday evening appears to have been the work of a suicide bomber, according to local authorities. The death toll currently stands at 22, with about 60 others injured. Children are among the dead, police said. The attacker, who used nails, nuts and bolts as shrapnel, appears to have acted alone to strike the arena packed with 21,000 fans watching a concert by Ariana Grande, and police are treating the incident as a terrorist attack. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday that they know the identity of the bomber who she said carried out a “callous terrorist attack” on innocent civilians.

Speaking in Bethlehem during a joint appearance with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, President Donald Trump lamented, “so many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers in life.”

On the ground. U.S. Special Operations Forces carried out a raid against an al Qaeda target in Yemen early Tuesday, killing seven militants in the action according to the U.S. Central Command. A statement released by the command said the militants were killed “through a combination of small-arms fire and precision air strikes” in the Marib governorate, with the support of the Yemeni government. “Raids such as this provide insight into AQAP’s disposition, capabilities and intentions, which will allow us to continue to pursue, disrupt, and degrade AQAP,” the statement said.

It was the second time U.S. forces conducted a ground assault on al Qaeda in Yemen since January, the first of which saw a U.S. Navy SEAL killed. Another  SEAL was killed earlier this month during a raid against the al Shabaab militant group in Somalia.

Requests. James Comey may not have been the only intelligence official that Trump asked to intervene in an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Washington Post reports that Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers to say that there was no evidence Russia worked with anyone from his campaign to sway the election. Trump reportedly made the request after former FBI Director James Comey testified in March that the FBI was investigating links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. NBC also confirmed the reports, with a former official telling the news network that Coats and Rogers believed the request to be more of public relations request than an attempt to obstruct the investigation.

1, 2, 3, Repeater. The fiscal year 2018 federal budget dropped Monday night, adding to the mix of an already packed legislative schedule on Capitol Hill. Early returns indicate there is going to be a real fight over practically every line of the document, which was largely put together under Obama, and tweaked under Trump.

On the defense side, those looking for a boost in funding are still looking. House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), lamented Monday the budget is “basically the Obama approach” since the $603 billion request represents only a three percent increase in defense spending, with almost nothing for new ships, planes, and other equipment promised by president Trump on the campaign trail.

Most of the money will go to maintaining and fixing current equipment, or as Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute told SitRep, “this is not a rebuild, this is a repair. This is not a historical buildup. It doesn’t buy much, it buys readiness and that’s perishable.” The war funding account comes to $65 billion, and includes $46 billion for Afghanistan, $13 billion for Iraq and Syria, and another $4.8 billion for troop deployments to Eastern Europe.

More bombs. Speaking of Afghanistan, American aircraft dropped 460 bombs on Taliban and Islamic State targets Afghanistan in April, which topped the totals for February March combined, according to new stats put out by the U.S. Air Force. And a new report from the Washington Post says that part of the proposal to send several thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year includes hundreds of special operations forces to train 17,000 more Afghan commandos.

All of this is happening while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is working with a depleted staff, with no political appointees serving under him, four months into the administration. “It’s like going to work on a Sunday—there’s no one there,” the former defense official told the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins in a profile of Mattis. “If my printer doesn’t work on Sunday, I’m screwed. That’s what the Pentagon’s like every day.”

Former SecDef Leon Panetta said that the Pentagon can chug along without the political appointees, since career civil servants can ably fill in. But “I’m worried about a crisis,” he said. “Whenever I had a crisis, I would gather my senior people together. If you recommend military action, you’ve got to think, What forces, what targets, what consequences? That requires a lot of thinking and a lot of smart people. Mattis is basically by himself.”

Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

More Flynn. President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn looks to have misled Pentagon officials over his income from companies based in Russia when he applied to renew his top-secret security clearance last year, according to a letter released Monday by Democrats on the House oversight committee. Flynn said he received no income from foreign companies and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals. “In fact, Mr. Flynn had sat two months earlier beside President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a Moscow gala for RT, the Kremlin-financed television network, which paid him more than $45,000 to attend the event and give a separate speech,” the New York Times reminds us. “Intentionally lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Separately, he also faces legal questions over failing to properly register as a foreign agent for lobbying he did last year on behalf of Turkey while advising the Trump campaign, which is also a felony.”

Hacking. Someone’s not happy with the U.N. Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee. Reuters reports that someone has been sending malware-laden spear-phishing emails to staff on the committee, which monitors implementation of U.N. sanctions on North Korea. At least one staff member opened one of the the zip files sent to staff, leading to a breach. The chair of the sanctions committee wrote in an email to the Security Council that committee staff are under “sustained cyber campaign.”

You talk way too much. On his trip to Israel, President Trump made a point of asserting to assembled reporters that he did not say the word “Israel” when he shared sensitive intelligence with Russia about the Islamic State. “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned it during that conversation,” Trump said. Of course, the original Washington Post story which detailed Trump’s disclosure to the Russians reported that Trump did not directly mention the source, but instead provided enough information for the Russians to infer it.

Arctic. Coming soon to the Arctic: cruise missiles. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft testified before Congress on Monday, telling lawmakers that two of the Project 23550 icebreaker corvettes Russia plans to send to the Arctic in the next three years will carry Kalibr anti-ship cruise missiles. The U.S. Coast Guard, meanwhile, has just one decades-old icebreaker, which many experts say is insufficient given the growing international interest in new waterways and resources available from the melting Arctic ice. Zukunft said that the Coast Guard needs more icebreakers and that growing international military footprint in the region may require heavier weapons for Coast Guard ships, including cruise missiles.

Surf & turf. The Army is looking to adapt the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun technology for use on land. Scout Warrior reports that the Army is looking at using the Navy’s Hypervelocity Projectile on an Army M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer. The projectile, developed by the Navy, uses magnetic fields to launch artillery shells at higher speeds and longer ranges, giving ships the ability to hit targets up to 100 miles away. Army artillery systems equipped with the round could also be used to hit new kinds of targets, including drones, aircraft, and incoming artillery.

 

 

Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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