The Cable

SitRep: Green Berets in Niger Fought For Hours, Questions Remain Over Mission

China developing new military GPS, Tillerson rejected in Baghdad.

Soldiers carry the casket of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in Niger, on Oct. 21.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Soldiers carry the casket of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in Niger, on Oct. 21. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley, along with Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and John Kester

Niger ambush updates. Two violent hours passed between the time suspected Islamic State militants opened fire on U.S. Special Forces leaving a Nigerien village on Oct. 3 and when the first French Mirage fighters roared overhead, the Pentagon’s top general said on Monday.

But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters at the Pentagon Monday that the soldiers weren’t expecting a firefight that day, and “it’s not my assessment” that U.S. troops, thinly spread across 53 countries in Africa, are taking too many risks.

Dunford placed the mission in Niger and elsewhere squarely within the broad confines of the global battle against al Qaeda and the Islamic State, adding, “to the extent that they’re taking risks, we have sent them there to operate in areas where there are extremist elements.”

Dunford said that the patrol was not expecting to make contact on the patrol, and rules forbid them from going on missions where combat is expected. Once the shooting started, the Green Berets immediately called in an American reconnaissance drone but fought for an hour before alerting the Chad-based French aircraft that they needed help. It took the French jets another hour to reach the scene where they flew low to scare off the attackers, but did not drop any munitions.

The Pentagon has offered few details about the ambush that left four American and five Nigerien troops dead, and inflamed debate over the lack of visibility of dangerous missions being performed by U.S. troops.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will receive a classified briefing on the situation in Niger on Thursday.

How are the wars going? A scene from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s unannounced visits to Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday:

“Tillerson and his aides donned flak vests and helmets in Baghdad before boarding helicopters that took them to the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in the Green Zone to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President Fouad Massoum.

Tillerson’s visit to Afghanistan was conducted in even greater secrecy and was announced only after he had left the country. Though he never left Bagram air base, north of Kabul, his short visit showcased U.S. support for the Afghan government after a week of Taliban attacks that killed more than 200 people.”

Rex rejected. In Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flatly rejected Tillerson’s earlier call for Iranian-backed Shiite militias to leave the country. Abadi said that the Popular Mobilization Units are “part of the Iraqi institutions,” and “should be encouraged because they will be the hope of country and the region.”

Second carrier arrives in Western Pacific. A second carrier strike group has entered the Western Pacific, giving the U.S. Navy two aircraft carriers bristling with aircraft. On Monday, the Navy’s 7th Fleet said the USS Theodore Roosevelt had arrived in the region, joining the USS Ronald Reagan, which is based in Japan. Earlier this week, the Reagan made a port call in South Korea after wrapping up a series of exercises with the South Korean navy.

Another ISIS stronghold down. Philippine officials have claimed victory over Islamic State-affiliated militants in the city of Marawi after members of the terrorist group held the city hostage. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Philippine forces had killed the last remaining “stragglers” in the city.

The win comes just before Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, and as five Russian warships sit off the Philippine coast as Moscow prepares to formally hand over thousands of assault rifles, a million rounds of ammunition and 20 army trucks at a ceremony on Wednesday.

Rate Your Commander-in-Chief. A new poll from the Military Times reveals troops’ attitudes towards President Donald Trump. Overall, members of the military viewed Trump more favorably than the general public. Just 40 percent of surveyed troops gave him an unfavorable rating, compared to 56 percent of the general population. Officers tended to have lower opinions of the president; just 30 percent gave him a favorable rating, compared to 48 percent of enlisted troops. The findings are similar to results from last year’s poll, just after Trump’s election.

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

Priorities. Amid wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan and a brewing nuclear crisis with North Korea, former Trump White House political adviser Stephen Bannon says Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic dispute with its neighbors in Qatar is the “single most important thing happening in the world.” Speaking at a conference on the subject, Bannon said he “took a very hard line on” Qatar’s alleged support for militant groups when helping set up President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May.

Russians, Russians, Russians. Reporters from The Daily Beast tracked down the man who helped host Russian propaganda websites posing as the pages of authentic American protest groups, finding him in an unassuming house on Staten Island. Sergey Kashyrin registered websites like BlackMattersUS and DoNotShoot.Us, which pretended to be authentic American anti-police violence organizations in the style of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In other Russian propaganda news, the Internet Research Agency Russian troll farm behind much of the astroturf messaging in the U.S. also created an Instagram account designed reach out to Native Americans and stoke further divisions over the Standing Rock protests against oil industry development of Native American lands.

Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab will allow third parties to check out its business and its source code in an effort to combat fears that it’s in league with the Russian government, The Intercept reports. The firm lost trust when it was tied to Russian hackers’ 2015 theft of “classified documents or tools” from an NSA employee’s home computer. The Department of Homeland Security in September banned Kaspersky software from civilian government computers.

China’s GPS 3.0. Beijing began developing BeiDou — its own alternative to GPS — in 1995 when it launched six satellites to kick off the program. BeiDou 2, currently in wide use in China, uses 10 satellites. But Chinese officials are now planning a military-grade version, called BeiDou 3, which requires 30 satellites and will allow precision navigation “within millimeters,” or around 10 times as accurate as GPS. The People’s Liberation Army will use the new technology, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s military modernization drive.

Most wanted. Bill Browder, British financier and architect of anti-corruption sanctions against Russian officials, is now able to visit the U.S. after Russia listed him on Interpol’s wanted list, briefly preventing him from being able to travel to America. Browder claims to have been died a U.S. visa but American officials say he has been able to travel to the U.S. since last week.

Foreign fighters. A new study by the Soufan Group estimates that roughly 5,600 foreign fighters for the Islamic State have already returned home, presenting challenges for their home countries security services. European foreign fighters who managed to make it back home represent around 20 percent of those who left the continent to fight in Iraq and Syria while in the U.S. just seven out of 129 foreign fighters have managed to make it back to the States.

Captives. Caitlan Coleman, the American woman recently freed from the Taliban after five years in captivity along with her husband and three children, tells the Toronto Star that, contrary to Pakistani and American claims, the young family were held captive in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and weren’t freed while crossing into Pakistan. Coleman also says that her Haqqani network captors forced her to have an abortion as punishment for her husband’s refusal to join the group.

Falcon 9 to Outer Space. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is expected to launch a rocket for Northrop Grumman as part of an unknown “government mission” next month, Florida Today reports. The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing said it plans a November 15th launch from Kennedy Space Center for the Falcon 9 rocket, whose planned landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station suggests it is unlikely to carry a heavy payload.

‘The Virtual Caliphate.’ Former CIA Director General David Petraeus said Monday he fears losing an online war with ISIS even as the U.S. wins physical ground.  “We can put a stake through the heart of the ISIS army, maybe even through [Abu Bakr al-]Baghdadi eventually,” he said, “but we’re not going to be able to put a stake through the heart of the virtual caliphate.” Petraeus advocated more action on the part of internet service providers and social media platforms, calling for “legislation to work with those who control these media platforms to take that kind of action.”

Russian weapons. Later this year the Kremlin will award its “Golden Idea” prize to the best idea contributing to the sale of its weapons abroad. You heard that right. “Even despite the sanctions the national manufacturers made their best last year to prove their superiority and offer their partners technologically advanced solutions and the most attractive terms of cooperation,” says Rostec, the Russian state company in charge of promoting civil and defense exports.

Close talker. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is challenging international norms of personal space.

Oops. French President Emmanuel Macron’s dog embarasses his owner by taking a whizz on the fireplace in the Elysee Palace while his owner was in a meeting.

 

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

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola