The Cable

SitRep: Pentagon Mulling Drone Strikes in Philippines; Better Missiles for South Korea

  With Adam Rawnsley New front. The Pentagon is reportedly considering whether to carry out drone strikes against Islamic State terrorists in the Philippines, proving yet again that when it comes to ISIS, Washington appears ready to act whenever it feels it must. For months, militants from Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino terrorist group that switched ...

INDIAN SPRINGS, NV - NOVEMBER 17:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is prepared for a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015 in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Pentagon has plans to expand combat air patrols flights by remotely piloted aircraft by as much as 50 percent over the next few years to meet an increased need for surveillance, reconnaissance and lethal airstrikes in more areas around the world.  (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
INDIAN SPRINGS, NV - NOVEMBER 17: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is prepared for a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015 in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Pentagon has plans to expand combat air patrols flights by remotely piloted aircraft by as much as 50 percent over the next few years to meet an increased need for surveillance, reconnaissance and lethal airstrikes in more areas around the world. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

 

With Adam Rawnsley

New front. The Pentagon is reportedly considering whether to carry out drone strikes against Islamic State terrorists in the Philippines, proving yet again that when it comes to ISIS, Washington appears ready to act whenever it feels it must.

For months, militants from Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino terrorist group that switched its loyalty from al-Qaeda to the Islamic State, have been fighting a fierce battle for the city of Marawi, testing the limits of President Rodrigo Duterte’s pledge to expel American special operations forces. There is already a small U.S. military presence on the ground supporting the counter-ISIS fight, called Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident, but the new mission would go well beyond their training and advising operation.

New North Korean threats. Elsewhere in the region, North Korea on Monday pledged to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if provoked, adding it would “under no circumstances” negotiate on its nuclear and missile weapons programs. The new threat comes after the United Nations, led by Washington, slapped a new round of economic sanctions on the North Korean economy. Just for good measure, U.S. spy satellites have picked up signs that Pyongyang is preparing to test an anti-ship cruise missile for the first time in three years. Fox News reports that the U.S. intelligence community noticed the North loading up boats with two cruise missiles off the coast of Wonsan.

Rethinking missiles. The Pentagon on Monday acknowledged that it’s reviewing bilateral ballistic missile guidelines with South Korea that could allow Seoul to acquire more powerful missiles. The review comes at a time when the North has been testing longer range and more advanced missiles.

“There is currently a limit on the warhead size and missiles that South Korea can have and yes, it is a topic under active consideration here,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters. “I would tell you that we would be favorably inclined to do anything which furthers the defense capabilities of South Korea and we certainly have seen our alliance change and adapt over time before,” Davis added.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary and @arawnsley.

Stealth drone with Chinese characteristics. China watchers have spotted an aircraft that looks very much like China’s stealth Sharp Sword armed drone on satellite imagery.

Numbers game. “There are more Russian operatives, declared and undeclared, in the United States now than at any other time in the past fifteen years.”— An anonymous senior intelligence official tells The New Yorker that American counterintelligence personnel are struggling to keep up with the volume of Russian intelligence officers in the United States.

Syria. Kurdish militants from Syria’s U.S.-backed YPG released a video of the group hitting Turkish military targets with anti-tank guided missiles and Grad rockets. The display risks raising tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, which considers the YPG to be a terrorist group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to return the favor with military action against Kurdish militant groups in Syria and Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies,” Erdogan said on Monday.

Selfie scandal. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, visited Iran for President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration, generating a lot of excitement among a handful of Iranian lawmakers who now face a backlash for their scramble to get selfies with her.

Radio, radio. The U.S. military has come to rely on GPS for navigation, but the proliferation of jamming equipment and anti-satellite capabilities has put a question mark over the availability of GPS in the event of a major conflict. Just in case GPS goes dark some day, the Pentagon is taking a look at a backup plan that relies on eLoran, an updated version of the old school Loran-C radio systems used to navigate in the dark ages of the Cold War.

No DJI for DOD. The Army is ditching the popular DJI-brand of Chinese hobby drones for use in combat because of concerns about “cyber vulnerabilities.” The Army didn’t specify which vulnerabilities prompted the ban but DJI declared itself “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

Open season. The Pentagon has given the green light for employees to shoot down drones hovering over military facilities. The proliferation of small hobby drones has led to a number of incidents of drones flying over sensitive airspace but now the Pentagon is allowed to blast them out of the sky as part of a policy implemented in July but recently declassified.

Fallen. The Marine Corps has identified three Marines lost at sea following the crash of an MV-22 off the coast of Australia. The Corps declared 1st Lt. Benjamin R. Cross, Cpl. Nathaniel F. Ordway, and Pfc. Ruben P. Velasco deceased after search and rescue operations failed to locate them.

Venezuela. A hacking collective calling itself “The Binary Guardians” has targeted Venezuelan websites, committing acts of vandalism in protest of what it calls the “dictatorship” of President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Air defense artillery. Specs on the latest NATO air defense system.

 

Photo Credit: Isaac Brekken/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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