SitRep: Afghan Plan Echoes the Past; U.S. Looking at More Lethal Help for Ukraine
With Adam Rawnsley Afghan plan, again. In the days following President Donald Trump’s speech unveiling his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials have scrambled to describe and define the president’s promises of victory. So, what does winning look like? The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said the goal is pretty much the ...
With Adam Rawnsley
Afghan plan, again. In the days following President Donald Trump’s speech unveiling his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials have scrambled to describe and define the president’s promises of victory. So, what does winning look like?
The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said the goal is pretty much the same as it has been for a decade, as a succession of presidents — and generals — have cycled through, unable to deliver on it. “We are determined to pursue the goal of a political settlement,” said Gen John Nicholson. “As these terrorist groups realize that they cannot win, they will see that their best option is to pursue peace.” He invited the Taliban to “lay down your arms and join Afghan society. Help build a better future for this country and your own children.”
It’s an invitation we’ve heard before.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis added this week that he would draw from the lessons the coalition has learned in Iraq to implement the new plan in Afghanistan, something we’ve also heard, almost word for word, from another military leader, under another president, almost a decade ago.
USS John S. McCain. The Navy has now identified two sailors who died in the collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker near Singapore earlier this week. Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, and Electronics Technician 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon died in the incident, along with eight sailors who are still missing, but have now been identified.
Somebody’s watching me. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has asked the agency’s Counterintelligence Mission Center to report directly to him in a move that has made employees wary of potential political interference as probes into possible Russian collusion with the Trump presidential campaign continue. Pompeo says the move is designed to crack down on leaks but agency staffers worry that Pompeo could put pressure on the unit in order to protect President Trump.
“People have to watch him,” a U.S. official told the Washington Post. “It’s almost as if he can’t resist the impulse to be political.” A second former CIA official cited a “real concern for interference and politicization,” saying that the worry among some at the agency is “that if you were passing on something too dicey [to Pompeo] he would go to the White House with it.”
White House looking at weapons for Ukraine. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday while in Kiev that the Pentagon and White House are considering sending more lethal weapons to Ukraine to help in its fight with Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east, a move that has been hotly debated since the Obama administration. “On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it,” he said. “I will go back now having seen the current situation and be able to inform the secretary of state and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead.”
When asked about Russian complaints that shipping new weapons would be a provocative, Mattis added, “defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their territory where the fighting is happening.”
Trump still funding U.N. The Trump administration has pledged full funding to an oft-maligned U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees, defying calls by Israel’s Prime Minister and pro-Israel lawmakers to dismantle it, several diplomatic sources tell FP’s Colum Lynch and Emily Tamkin.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has privately assured the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, that the United States will maintain its current levels of funding but “the moves run contrary to the administration’s push to rein in spending on U.N. relief programs elsewhere,” FP writes. It also highlights one of the curious realities of Washington politics, where U.S. officials complain about the agency and its work, yet “find ways each year to raise hundreds of millions to fund the organization, which provides a range of services to 5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.”
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Hacking. Federal law enforcement has arrested Yu Pingan, a Chinese national they accuse of using the same kind of malware used to steal the personal information of millions of federal employees. Prosecutors allege Yu used the Sakula remote access trojan to hack three different companies in a two year period from 2012 to 2014. The charges against Yu do not allege direct involvement in the OPM hack, however.
Two can play. Russia sent Tupolev-95MS nuclear-capable bombers around the Korean Peninsula amidst increased tensions between North Korea and joint U.S.-South Korean exercises.
Greetings from sunny Pyongyang. North Korea is trying to scrounge up tourism cash by pitching the country to Russians, selling a vacation to the Hermit Kingdom as “safer than an evening walk in London.”
Pivot to Persia. Shunned by its Gulf neighbors, Qatar announced this week that it was reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran by returning an ambassador for the first time since protesters in Tehran burned the Saudi embassy there. The move is sure to rile Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, which have shunned Doha for its allegedly warm relations with Iran and Islamist groups.
Raqqa. The United Nations wants the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State to pause the assault on Raqqa in order to allow some of the 250,000 civilians trapped inside to flee the fighting. Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s humanitarian envoy for Syria, said “I cannot think of a worse place on Earth now” than Raqqa, citing the risk of air strikes to civilians there.
Cuba. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert updates the number of Americans injured by the mysterious “sonic weapons” used against diplomats in Cuba to 16.
Budget. It’s crunch time for the federal budget and that means yet another continuing resolution is on the table. Pentagon comptroller told Defense News that his “preference would be there wasn’t a CR, but recognizing the timing of this year, you understand why a short CR of some limited duration” would be appealing to Congress.
Zero Day. The current draft of the intelligence community’s authorization bill contains a provision demanding greater transparency on how spies use undisclosed vulnerabilities in common software in order to hack adversaries. Legislators are concerned about the community exploitation of software vulnerabilities after hackers leveraged a National Security Agency tool in order to spread ransomware.
Millennials smh. The People’s Liberation Army newspaper worries that some young recruits are too fat and fond self-abuse to meet recruiting standards.
Photo Credit: RAHMAT GUL/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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