The Cable

SitRep: Pentagon Outlines Russian Threat; U.S. Builds New Raqqa Militia; Trump Delivers Beijing One-Two Punch

Beijing Building New Military Sites in SCS; Army General Says Running Out of Bombs

Russian Air Force Su-24 bombers fly during a military exercise in southern Russia on February 11, 2015. Marathon talks in Belarus ended on February 12 with a ceasefire announcement in the war between Ukraine and pro-Moscow rebels, but Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that "big hurdles" remained. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY VENYAVSKY        (Photo credit should read SERGEY VENYAVSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian Air Force Su-24 bombers fly during a military exercise in southern Russia on February 11, 2015. Marathon talks in Belarus ended on February 12 with a ceasefire announcement in the war between Ukraine and pro-Moscow rebels, but Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that "big hurdles" remained. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY VENYAVSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEY VENYAVSKY/AFP/Getty Images)


With Adam Rawnsley

Moscow, Washington and NATO, different threats from different perches. What constitutes a national security threat? It means very different things to different governments. But the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency released its “Russia Military Power” index on Thursday, laying out what Moscow sees as threats to stability and security.

The report “sketches a picture of a Russia that sees itself in opposition to the United States and with a leadership that harbors a strong desire to make the country again the prominent power it was during the Cold War era,” FP’s Ruby Mellon reports. The unclassified 116-page paper goes through everything from new Russian ships and tanks to its special forces capability, laying out the fruits of President Vladimir Putin’s military modernization plans.

They meet! U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany next week, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters, adding, “we have no specific agenda. It’s whatever the president wants to talk about.” Buckle up, friends.

New Plan for Raqqa. As the Islamic State crumbles around Raqqa, American special operations forces are busily building a new force of about 3,500 militiamen to help secure the group’s capital city after it falls, U.S. military and other government officials tell FP’s Paul McLeary.

The current plan for what is being called the Raqqa Internal Security Force calls for the new fighters to receive just seven days of training that includes human rights instruction, crowd control techniques, and guidelines in setting up checkpoints, then be sent in to control a city of over 200,000 people traumatized by over three years of ISIS rule. American forces are also issuing each member a uniform, light weapons, and vehicles, along with paying a small stipend.  

White House delivers a one-two punch to Beijing. The Trump administration has slapped new sanctions on two Chinese citizens and a shipping company for helping underwrite the North Korean government. It also accused a Chinese bank of laundering money for Pyongyang, FP’s David Francis tells us.

On the same day, Washington announced it was selling $1.3 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, the first sale to the self-governing island under the administration under Trump. The sale includes technical support for an early warning radar system, torpedoes, anti-radiation missiles, and missile components, FP’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports. The Chinese government said it is “outraged” by the sale.

China’s not done. Beijing has built new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea. New satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities being built on the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

Regrets in the Hindu Kush. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that the worsening security situation in Afghanistan is likely the result of NATO’s quick pullout in 2014.

“Looking back on it, it’s pretty much a consensus that we may have pulled our troops out too rapidly, reduced the numbers a little too rapidly,” Mattis told a news conference following a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

End times in Mosul. Eight months into the fight to expel the Islamic State from Mosul, and the Iraqi army has taken just about all of the city. Government forces are pushing into the last ISIS-held neighborhoods in western Mosul, and have now taken control of an iconic mosque.

“Their fictitious state has fallen,” Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state television. The Islamic State’s apparent collapse is backed up a study released Thursday that reported ISIS has lost 80 percent of its revenue and roughly two thirds of its territory. The report, FP’s David Francis writes, found the Islamic State’s average monthly revenue has fallen dramatically from $81 million in the second quarter of 2015 to $16 million in the second quarter of 2017 — an 80 percent drop.

It’s over, but it’s not quite over. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said Thursday that ISIS is finished in his country. But another fight looms. Iraqi forces say they’re preparing to launch an assault on Hawija, near Kirkuk, the terror group’s last stronghold in the country. Government forces don’t expect a long battle like it Mosul, as ISIS fighters in Hawija have been encircled and isolated for weeks by Iraqi forces, Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite militias.

Rules-based international order! In a surprising twist, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to repeal a sweeping 2001 law that gives the president wide-ranging authority to wage war against terrorist groups all over the world. GOP lawmakers backed the proposal, put forth by Democratic representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a rare and surprising show of bipartisanship on a controversial issue that’s traditionally fallen along party lines, reports FP’s Robbie Gramer.

Now we mean it. U.S. defense officials have always said they work to protect civilians from harm, and they do go to remarkable lengths to shield the innocent from military strikes. But U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Aundre F. Piggee, deputy chief of staff for logistics, said Thursday that this concern fluctuates over time.

The Army is running out of precision munitions given the long fight in Mosul, where they’re being being used at significantly higher rates than they were even during the Surge in Iraq between 2008 and 2009. “These high-tech munitions limit collateral damage, and we were not necessarily concerned about that at the height of the Surge,” Piggee said, adding that “now in Mosul, we are absolutely concerned about that.”

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

Coordination. During the 2016 election, Republican opposition researcher Peter W. Smith reached out to friends and acquaintances in hopes of making contact with hackers who could be in possession of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private emails server, according to an exclusive from the Wall Street Journal. Smith told colleagues he was working with Michael Flynn in the hunt, but the Trump campaign denies ever having employed Smith. Adding to the mystery, investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign tell the Journal that Russian hackers were looking at how to find emails from Clinton’s servers and pass them to Flynn via an unnamed intermediary.  

Chemical weapons. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed that sarin or a similar nerve agent was used in the attack against the Syrian village of Khan Shaykhun. The OPCW’s mandate doesn’t include the authority who carried out the attack, but the U.S. and others have accused the Assad regime of deploying chemical munitions on the village.

Aid. China has gifted the Philippines with assault rifles, sniper rifles, and ammunition, dropping off cargo planes full of military aid in a sign of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s warming relationship with Beijing. Duterte has threatened to cut off the Philippines’ military relationship with the U.S. over criticism of his human rights record, arguing that the country should buy arms from Russia and China.

It’s a girl. China has launched its largest ever surface ship with the christening of its first Type 055 ship in Shanghai this week. The ship measures 180 meters long and sports a 130mm gun and can carry anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-submarine and surface-to-air weapons.

Malware. The ransomware outbreak that started in Ukraine and spread around the world this week wasn’t ransomware at all, in fact — it only tried to look like it. The Washington Post reports that researchers have dissected the Petya malware that locked up systems from the U.S. to Russia and found that it wipes data, rather than encrypting it until victims pay a cryptocurrency ransom. Without a financial motive to the malware, many believe that Petya had a political aim and may have be released by a nation-state.

House arrest. Saudi Arabia says its former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef is not under house arrest after a New York Times story reported that the one-time heir to the throne was under lock and key to ensure a smooth transition to his successor, Mohammed bin Salman. A Saudi official tells CNN that “Nothing has changed for Prince Mohammed, except of stepping down from his government positions. He hosts guests and leaves his house on a daily basis since he has stepped down.”

Iran. The U.N. released its latest report on the implementation of sanctions on Iran, concluding that weapons seized by the French navy en route to Yemen originated in the Islamic Republic. The report was less certain about the status of Iran’s continued ballistic missile launches, noting the difference of interpretation over resolution 2231. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley criticized the organization for failure to act in the face of Iran’s “repeated ballistic missile launches, proven arms smuggling, illicit procurement of ballistic missile-related technology.”

Preppers. Cold War-vintage bunker in the Washington, D.C. exurbs has some mysterious construction activity underway.

Spy vs. spy. Narcotraffickers got caught in Australia using a drone for counter-surveillance, flying the aircraft on their tails to look out for police in pursuit.


Photo Credit: SERGEY VENYAVSKY/AFP/Getty Images

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