The Cable

SitRep: Troops Ship Out For Afghanistan, Trump’s Big day at UNGA

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Ghani outlines Afghan strategy. In an interview with NPR airing on Thursday, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani unveiled key parts of the U.S. military’s plan for his country in a way the White House and Pentagon have refused to. The plan has a four-year time frame which “involves the ...

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By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Ghani outlines Afghan strategy. In an interview with NPR airing on Thursday, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani unveiled key parts of the U.S. military’s plan for his country in a way the White House and Pentagon have refused to.

The plan has a four-year time frame which “involves the goal of really bringing 80 percent of the territory of the country under control,” Ghani said. The Taliban currently hold sway over about 50 percent of the country, making the taking and holding of that much ground difficult, and likely costly.

More commandos, U.S. troops ship out. Ghani also said plans call for doubling the country’s special forces from 12,000 to over 20,000, increasing the number of U.S.supplied aircraft and helicopters, and installing American advisors “at the division level to make sure that the systems processes are there.”

Defense Secretary Mattis said earlier this week that about 3,000 U.S. troops will head for Afghanistan in the near future, bolstering the U.S. force there to about 14,000, the highest level since 2014. About 2,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division have already started shipping out, Stars and Stripes reports.

Trump’s big day. President Trump will have a packed day at the annual United Nations summit in New York. He kicks things off with a 9:00 a.m. meeting with President Ghani of Afghanistan, followed by a 10:30 appointment with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Beginning at 11:30 a.m. Trump will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe separately, followed by lunch with the two leaders. Then on to a 3:00 p.m. huddle with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose bodyguards, for the first time in the past three visits to the United States, have so far managed not to beat any peaceful protestors to a pulp.

By 4:20 p.m., POTUS will return to his privately-owned golf resort in New Jersey. The president’s previous trips to his for-profit resort have cost taxpayers over $6 million, according to some estimates.

More Trump speech fallout. The president’s bombastic speech at the U.N. on Tuesday may have unintentionally created some sympathy for Iran, the NYT says, by painting the U.S. as the aggressor in trying to overturn the 2015 nuclear deal western countries reached with Iran, and portraying Iran the party who is interested in following the agreement.

Iran sticking to the terms of the nuclear deal. The U.S. Air Force general leading the U.S. Strategic Command said Wednesday that Tehran isn’t violating the deal. “The facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements the we signed up for under the JCPOA,” Gen. John Hyten said, using the acronym for the formal name of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“But at the same time they are rapidly, rapidly deploying and developing a whole series of ballistic missiles and testing ballistic missiles at all ranges that provide significant concerns to not just the United States, but our allies.” Those missiles are not necessarily part of the JCPOA, but they do likely violate “the spirit” of several U.N. resolutions, experts say.

Reax. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, “I declare to you the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”

More UNGA. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was, at least publicly, highly supportive of Trump’s comments about North Korea. Speaking on the second day of UNGA, Abe said North Korea has used dialogue to deceive and buy time. In 1994, the prime minister noted, North Korea had no nuclear weapons. He added that Japan, South Korea, and the United States would continue to work together, and that Japan supports “the stance of the United States that all options are on the table.” — Emily Tamkin.

Mattis says Tillerson in the lead. Defense secretary Jim Mattis told a group of U.S. Air Force officers Wednesday that while he has drawn up military plans for dealing with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has the lead, FP’s Paul McLeary reports.

Course correction: A State Department spokesperson confirmed to FP’s Rhys Dubin that the Global Engagement Center (GEC), a program established to counter Islamic State messaging and propaganda, will receive $40 million of an original $79 million in available funding. FP reported earlier this year that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had held up the GEC’s funds by refusing to sign two memos — one for $19 million from Congress, and another for $60 million from the Defense Department. The $40 million is due to come from the Defense allocation.

Moscow on yer phone. “Facebook and the Senate Intelligence Committee are butting heads over what information the tech giant must provide about its users during the panel’s probe into Kremlin-directed meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections,” FP’s Jenna McLaughlin writes, “igniting a debate between attorneys, advocates, and experts working on privacy law.”

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

Manafort again. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort sent an email to a friend of Russian billionaire and Putin ally Oleg Deripaska two weeks before Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention telling him that “if [Deripaska] needs private briefings we can accommodate.”

Remote control. Russia’s use of Facebook to organize astroturf pro-Trump rallies during the 2016 presidential election was wider than initially reported, according to a scoop from The Daily Beast. The Internet Research Agency, a troll farm run by a confidante of President Vladimir Putin, organized rallies in at least 17 American cities in 2016 through Astroturf Facebook political pages like the “Being Patriotic” group.

Dog barking. North Korea’s foreign minister has predictably panned President Trump’s United Nations speech, likening it to “dog-barking sounds.” Trump slammed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during the speech, calling him “Rocket man” and “on a suicide mission.”

Olympics. North Korea’s aggressive behavior is casting a pall over the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with questions about whether the North’s penchant for provocation will interfere with the games. Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach says the organization is watching deliberations in the U.N. Security Council closely but says “our position remains unchanged” with regard to holding the games in the South.

S-400. Turkey annoyed its NATO allies when it recently negotiated the sale of a Russian air defense missile system from Russia, an adversary of the NATO alliance to which Turkey belongs. On Wednesday, Turkey added more fuel to the fire when the state-run Anadolu News Agency tweeted out an infographic bragging about all the kinds of aircraft and missiles Turkey’s new Russian air defense missiles can supposedly take down — all of which happen to be made and flown by the U.S. military.

Targeted breaches. A cybersecurity firm that found hackers breaking into the website of a popular drive cleaner program and hiding malware inside the company’s product says that the attackers were more sophisticated and focused than originally reported. Talos Intelligence says the “a very focused actor after valuable intellectual property” was involved in the incident.

APT 33. Mandiant issued a new report profiling the APT 33 cyber espionage group, which has reportedly been breaking into aerospace and energy companies in Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and South Korea on behalf of the Iranian government since 2013. Mandiant found that an Iranian hacker who goes by the handle “xman_1365_x” was involved in the breaches, sending spear phishing emails to targeted companies and directing recipients to malware-laden websites for fake Saudi and American companies.

Thiel. White House sources tell Vanity Fair that controversial tech billionaire Peter Thiel is in the running for a position on the Trump White House’s President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. Thiel, an early Trump backer who’s made fortunes investing in tech companies like PayPal, Facebook, and Palantir, is said to bring a skeptical eye to the intelligence community and is “interested in the oversteps the intelligence community has made in the past,” according to one anonymous source.

Repairs. The Navy is asking Congress for an additional $600 million in funding in order to pay for repairs needed after the recent collisions of the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told reporters that the service is looking for a fast turnaround on fixing the ships and getting them back to the Pacific, saying “we need to get McCain and Fitz back out there as quick as we can.”

Warthog. The A-10 Warthog might begin its retirement even sooner than expected. Defense News reports that the Air Force is looking to retire some of the close air support aircraft as early as 2019, citing the need for new wings on 109 Warthogs. The Air Force had sparred with Congress over retiring the aircraft, but the war against the Islamic State and the need for close air support appeared to have extended the A-10’s lease on life.

 

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