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SitRep: U.S. Warships on Alert; Taliban Rip Through Afghan Forces

SitRep: U.S. warships ready near Korea; Deadly new Taliban offensive

USS Ronald Reagan and destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Oct. 18. (U.S. Navy)
USS Ronald Reagan and destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Oct. 18. (U.S. Navy)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Afghan attack. As 3,000 more U.S. troops begin to flow into Afghanistan, and others push out of their bases to work more closely with small Afghan units, the Taliban has underscored just how dangerous the country still is.

In a predawn attack on Thursday, the group wiped out a small Afghan army base in Kandahar with vehicles packed with explosives, killing 43 of 60 soldiers. The attack came two days after the Taliban drove several captured Humvees into police outposts in Ghazni and Paktia, killing about 40 officers.

U.S. warships on alert. After a North Korean missile test in mid-September, a U.S. warship patrolling the Sea of Japan received a warning order, or WARNO, to be prepared to fire Tomahawk missiles at North Korean targets, a military source told Foreign Policy’s Jenna McLaughlin, Dan De Luce, and Elias Groll.

“It’s not unheard of to do that,” a former senior defense official said. “But I would say it is a fairly significant indicator that the possibility of using Tomahawks is rising.”

More from FP: “If North Korea launched missiles at Guam, Japan, or South Korea, ‘you would certainly want your Tomahawks ready in a fast-moving scenario like that should the president or secretary of defense make the judgement to respond with an offensive strike,’ said the former senior official, who is familiar with Pentagon contingency planning.”

Set sail. Meanwhile, the USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, is currently patrolling the waters east of the Korean peninsula conducting exercises with 40 other warships from the United States and South Korea.

Long war stays long. American troops in Iraq and Syria are staying in place in the wake of the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, as the Pentagon draws up plans for what comes next. In Syria, the looming demise of the Islamic State as a landowning power raises questions about the future of U.S. involvement, however.

“There’s absolutely a debate about it,” one former military officer told FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce. “There really is no diplomatic way ahead yet. The military doesn’t want to take on that role without a diplomatic plan.” Another current officer said that plans are being drawn up for the next phase of the fight, but the endgame remains uncertain. “We’re planning for the next phase in the Middle Euphrates Valley, but there’s no timeline for when that ends,” the officer said.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the loss of territory also means that the Islamic State is losing revenue, as it also loses the ability to tax and extort locals.

Iran stepping up missile program. From Reuters: “Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said on Thursday its ballistic missile program would accelerate despite U.S. and European Union pressure to suspend it.” The IRGC used the official Tasnim news agency to issue a statement saying, “Iran’s ballistic missile programme will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach.”

Rex on the road. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to India, writes FP’s Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer, who preview his upcoming trip to the longtime U.S. ally and his criticisms of China.

President Pence. To a growing number of allies and partners around the world, VP Mike Pence has emerged as a steady and quiet counterpart to President Donald Trump’s bombastic, misleading, unpredictable, and factually- challenged outbursts, a group of international diplomats tell FP’s Emily Tamkin. More: “FP spoke and corresponded with 11 diplomats based in Washington, D.C., and found a consistent theme: Pence’s office was often the go-to place for some foreign governments hoping to get their message across to the administration.”

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

Media war. Russia is gearing up to put extra restrictions on American news outlets like CNN, Voice of America, and Radio Liberty in response to an effort from the U.S. Justice Department to make the Russian government-run news network RT register as a foreign agent. Members of Russia’s upper house of parliament say the move is necessary because the outlets allegedly “interfere in Russia’s domestic policy.”

Chemical weapons. The U.S. and Russia are headed for a clash at the United Nations over the international investigation into who’s responsible for the April chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria. The U.N.’s report on accountability for the incident is due out on Oct. 26, but U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley says Russia is likely to end support for a continued inquiry into chemical weapons use in Syria if the report concludes Bashar al-Assad’s forces were responsible for the attack.

Programming slump. The Islamic State’s media output has taken a nosedive following the collapse of its territory in Iraq and Syria, explains International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence senior research fellow Charlie Winter.

Iran. If the U.S. tears up the deal, we will shred it” — Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei threatening to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal if President Trump abandons it, adding “I don’t want to waste my time on answering the rants and whoppers of the brute [U.S.] president.”

Kirkuk. After taking control of the disputed city of Kirkuk, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered Shiite militias to leave the city, leaving behind a smaller footprint of police and Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces following Baghdad’s seizure of the city from Kurdish troops.

Niger. Sen. John McCain says the Trump administration is not being candid about the circumstances that led to the death of four Special Forces soldiers fighting a local Islamic State affiliate in Niger. McCain told reporters that the Senate Armed Services Committee has yet to receive all the information it’s asked for about the incident from the Defense Department.

Myanmar. Drone footage shows the extent of Myanmar’s refugee crisis as long columns of Rohingya Muslims flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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