The Cable

SitRep: Green Berets Killed in Ambush in Niger; Trump’s North Korea Decision Looms

Death in Niger. Three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were killed and two more wounded after being caught  in an ambush in Niger on Wednesday. The troops were on patrol with local troops near the border with Mali, American military officials said. The two injured Americans have been evacuated to an American military hospital in ...

A U.S. Special Forces soldier works with Nigerien soldiers. U.S. Navy photo.
A U.S. Special Forces soldier works with Nigerien soldiers. U.S. Navy photo.

Death in Niger. Three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were killed and two more wounded after being caught  in an ambush in Niger on Wednesday. The troops were on patrol with local troops near the border with Mali, American military officials said. The two injured Americans have been evacuated to an American military hospital in Germany, where they are in stable condition, according to U.S. officials.

The deaths mark the first U.S. casualties in Niger, where the United States has long deployed military advisors, and maintains a drone base in the capital of Niamey to monitor the movements of both al Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated groups who slip back and forth across often porous borders.

The Americans are currently building a second, larger base near Agadez in central Niger, which will house U.S. commandos and provide a more permanent base for unmanned and manned American aircraft.

A spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, LCDR Anthony Falvo, said U.S. forces in Niger “provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts.”

Trump’s Iran decision day. Republican hawks are looking forward to president Trump’s Oct. 12 address where he’s expected to tell Congress the Iran nuclear deal is not in America’s interest. The move will not be accompanied by a formal withdrawal from the international agreement or a major push to reimpose sanctions, sources tell FP — but the threat of a snap-back of economic sanctions will hang in the air, FP’s Dan De Luce reports.

The White House is gambling that the step will not force Iran and European allies to bail on the agreement, but some European diplomats worry it could pave the way to a possible military confrontation, especially because the Trump administration appears unlikely to offer any incentives to Tehran to reopen negotiations.

Hill Dems react. Democrats on the Hill are not impressed, and 180 of them have signed a letter to Trump urging him not to decertify Iran.

Top Pentagon spots. Arizona Republican John McCain’s promise to hold up confirmation of any more top Pentagon officials until Congress is given more information about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria has thrown light on just how many desks are still empty in the building. Defense News takes a look at some of the big policy positions that remain empty, and how that might affect decision-making in the building.

Senate intel. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his panel’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election has ended its examination of the firing of FBI Director James Comey and is “developing a clearer picture” of whether Trump campaign operatives colluded with Kremlin agents, FP’s Elias Groll and Jenna McLaughlin report.

“The issue of collusion is still open,” he said, adding that the committee’s investigation has reached no conclusions after interviewing more than 100 people and reviewing thousands of pages of documents. Burr said the investigation is continuing.

Information operations. NATO officials say Russia has been hacking the personal cell phones and social media accounts of troops deployed to Poland and the Baltics in order to track their movements and play mind games with them. Some believe the hacking is designed to check whether the Atlantic military alliance has a larger footprint in Eastern Europe than it admits, while other worry that Russia’s access to troops’ personal devices could be used to spread disinformation in a crisis.

Human intelligence. U.S. and Iraqi troops relied on a large network of informants in Mosul in order to help take down the Islamic State, even recruiting an aide to the terrorist group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to a Reuters investigation. Iraqi officials also recruited Mosul residents who had lost relatives to the Islamic State, enlisting taxi drivers and others to report on the license plates of cars used by senior leaders and eavesdropped bits of conversation.

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

Slave remittances. North Korean workers sent abroad by their government to earn money as laborers have been packaging seafood that ends up in American grocery stores like Walmart and ALDI. The AP identified at least three seafood processing plants based in China where workers earn as little as $300 a month packaging snow crab and salmon only to see the North Korean government take up to 70 percent of their wages.  

Saudi Arabia. Russia rolled out the red carpet for the first ever visit of a Saudi monarch to the country when King Salman touched down in Moscow on Wednesday. At the top of the agenda for the two hydrocarbon-rich countries will be the sagging price of oil as well as Riyadh’s growing anxiety about Iranian influence in Syria as the civil war there winds down.

Chemical weapons. Investigators with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found evidence that Sarin nerve agent was used on Al-Lataminah, in northern Syria on March 30, just days before the Assad regime used Sarin on civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun 15 miles north.  

The trouble with Tanf. The Assad regime strayed into the 35 mile deep buffer zone surrounding a U.S. base near At Tanf in southern Syria, withdrawing after American military officials dialed up the Russians on a de-confliction line. At Tanf has been the scene of repeated tension between the U.S. and the Assad regime, with the U.S. downing an Iranian drone that dropped a munition near the U.S. military mission there back in June.

Never tweet. But all is not necessarily well between the U.S. and Russia in Syria, at least publicly. The official Twitter account of Russia’s Ministry of Defense went into truther-mode once again, insinuating that the U.S. is in league with the Islamic State.

High value targets. Russia’s military claims to have injured Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, the leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham denies the claim, though, publishing a statement saying that al-Jawlani is in “good health and exercising the duties assigned to him completely.”

Record scratch. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson stunned and angered an audience at the Conservative Party Conference by saying that a group of British businessmen “have a brilliant vision to turn Sirte…into the next Dubai. The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they’ll be there.” The comments outraged members of the Labour opposition as well as Johnson’s own Conservative Party, leading to calls for his ouster.

Espionage charges. On Wednesday Iran sentenced Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen who advised Tehran’s nuclear negotiation team in 2015, to a five year prison sentence on espionage charges. Iranian officials did not say what information Esfahani was accused of sharing or to whom he provided it. Esfahani worked as an accountant and assisted the Iranian delegation working on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with sanctions aspects of the nuclear deal.

Kurdish referendum. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is hoping that Iran and Turkey can work together to help shut down Iraq’s nascent Kurdish independence movement, saying the countries should “take necessary measures against the vote” recently held by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Khamenei described the independence referendum as “an act of betrayal toward the entire region and a threat to its future.”

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