The Cable

SitRep: New Afghan Plan Pits B-52s Against Opium Facilities

Assad meets with Putin, new Ukraine drone, South Korea and japan welcome Trump NK sanctions

A U.S. B-52 bomber with an F-15 fighter jet on January 10, 2016. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
A U.S. B-52 bomber with an F-15 fighter jet on January 10, 2016. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Where we are. For the first time in six years, the number of U.S. troops killed in overseas operations has increased over the previous year, Military Times points out. “So far this year, 31 service members have died in actions overseas, according to Defense Department data. Last year, the total was 26, down two from 2015.”

Another two years, and things will be better. Sixteen years into the war in Afghanistan, and the commanders of U.S. troops there says he needs just two more years, and he thinks Kabul might be able to control about 80 percent of the country, if all goes well.

Foreign Policy recently reported that some of the 3,000 American troops President Donald Trump has sent to Afghanistan will embed with Afghan units on the ground, calling in airstrikes and artillery on Taliban positions and advising local forces in the fight.

Bombs away. Speaking with reporters Monday, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., also said that B-52 bombers and F-22 warplanes have kicked off an effort to bomb opium production centers in Afghanistan, in an effort to deprive the Taliban of hundreds of million in revenue from the drug trade.

Making friends. South Korea and Japan on Tuesday both said they welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying it would ramp up pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Assad takes Russian vacation. Syrian President Bashar al Assad traveled outside of his country for on the second time since his country descended into civil war in 2015, landing — again — in Russia for a meeting with Russian benefactor President Vladimir Putin. Putin hosted Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday ahead of a summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran and a new round of Syria peace talks in Geneva.

Saudi putting Yemenis at risk of starvation. Unless Saudi Arabia ends its blockade of ports and airports in Yemen, thousands more Yemeni civilians will die of famine in the coming months, the United Nations says. The warning came a day after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said 2.5 million people in Yemen’s crowded cities had no access to clean water, raising the risk that a cholera epidemic will spread.

Tillerson target of new “Dissent” memo. A group of State Department employees have accused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with breaking federal law. In June, Tillerson broke with the unanimous recommendation of a group of top State officials when he excluded Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. “This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries,” Reuters says.

“Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against Islamist militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.”

Tillerson Rebuffs Critics: During a photo-op with the Qatari Foreign Minister in Washington on Monday, Tillerson  rebuffed reports the State Department was suffering record-low morale (an issue FP has covered extensively). “The redesign is going to address all of that,” he told reporters, referring to his grand plan to reform the department’s management structure. “And this department is performing extraordinarily well,” he said. The New York Times Editorial Board, however, begs to differ.

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

Secret plane gets thumbs up. The Defense Department’s Inspector General had some nice things to say about the Air Force’s plan to build its next generation B-21 stealth bomber and its strategy to avoid the customary cost overruns and production delays that tend to accompany big acquisition programs. The program is shrouded in secrecy, but the Inspector General’s report praised the Air Force’s risk management and acquisition strategies for the project, saying it had “clearly defined requirements” for the bomber, which includes an ability to fly the aircraft unmanned.

The continuing saga of Carter Page. Former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page met with senior Hungarian officials during the 2016 campaign, casting doubt on the notion that Page, deeply connected to a series of Russian officials, was just a low-level staffer in the Trump campaign. Page met with an advisor to Hungarian prime minister and Putin ally Viktor Orban on the advice of the country’s ambassador to the United States.

Kiev’s armed drone goes live. Ukraine has joined the armed drone club, deploying the domestically-built Gorlytsa drone capable of firing small air-to-ground missiles and dropping guided bombs. The Gorlytsa, however, will likely have to face off against Russian electronic warfare equipment deployed among Russian-backed forces in the country, which has previously felled Ukrainian military drones and monitoring UAVs used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Iraqi Kurds ask Washington to referee. Iraqi Kurdistan’s top foreign affairs official is asking the U.S. to play a bigger role in mediating the ongoing dispute between Baghdad and Erbil following a Kurdish independence referendum and the capture of the disputed city of Kirkuk by Iraqi security forces. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s top foreign policy official Falah Mustafa Bakir tells the Wall Street Journal he’s asked the State Department to appoint a special envoy for the issue and wants help negotiating a ceasefire between Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Cash rules everything around me. The Treasury Department says Iran’s covert operations arm has been smuggling restricted printing gear from Europe to support a “large scale” counterfeiting operation churning out Yemeni currency. Treasury officials say Iran’s Qods Force then used the counterfeit Yemeni cash to “support its destabilizing activities” in the country.  

Javelins to Georgia. The State Department is giving a heads up about a plan to sell $75 million worth of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Georgia. The sale would involve 410 missiles and 72 command launch units.  

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