U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford is playing down Russia’s air role in Iraq. The new Joint Chiefs Chairman just arrived in the Kurdish hub of Irbil this morning for his first visit to Iraq since taking over for Gen. Martin Dempsey. Dunford is seeking battlefield updates on Baghdad forces’ long-stalled offensives in Baiji and Ramadi. “Clearly, being in the job about two weeks, one of the things I wanted to do is go over here, get eyes on the ground,” the general said.
The early takeaway from Dunford’s stop in Iraq—which followed three days of talks with senior military and government officials in Israel and Jordan—centered on Moscow’s jockeying for expanded influence in the Middle East. Dunford said that U.S. officials had spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said he would welcome Russian air strikes against the Islamic State in his country. “Subsequent to that, U.S. officials engaged Abadi and he did not request Russian air strikes,” the CJCS told reporters.
Dunford is to sit down with the Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani, whose Peshmerga forces have “proven to be better able to combat IS than the Iraqi Army,” AP notes. “So far, the U.S. has not provided arms directly to the Kurds, insisting instead that it work through the country’s central government in Baghdad in order to avoid fomenting more division.”
Elsewhere in Iraq, “the Iraqi government and the American-led coalition are for the first time in months putting military pressure on the jihadists on multiple fronts,” the New York Times reports. The plan for Ramadi: “Some 10,000 Iraqi troops have been trying to isolate the city, advancing from the north, west, south and southeast. One of their key objectives is a bridge that spans the Euphrates northwest of the city, which Iraqi forces want to take in order to stop the Islamic State from using the river to bring in reinforcements.”
Armored bulldozers are leading the way: “To help the Iraqi military forge a path through the [bomb-laden fortifications ISIS leaves behind], the United States is providing the Iraqi forces with armored bulldozers and mine-clearing devices in which a cable festooned with explosives is fired across the battlefield and then detonated.”
And Baiji? Its location is “strategically vital,” NYT says. “Control of the surrounding area would provide a potential steppingstone for any eventual Iraqi offensive against the Islamic State in the northern province of Nineveh, where the militants control the major city of Mosul.”
Militias muddling U.S. strategy: Baghdad is hoping to send Iranian-trained Shiite militias — enlisted to supplement its beleaguered army — to the Ramadi offensive and away from Baiji, which is home to a largely Sunni population. “Look, we’re trying to do this cleanly,” said one senior American officer in Washington, meaning supporting only Iraq forces, not the militias, “but in Iraq, it’s just never that clean.”
And heads up: the U.S. officer in charge of that imperiled Syrian rebel train-and-equip program—Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata—is leaving his job in the next few weeks, NYT reminds folks. Despite the Syrian setbacks, Nagata remains on track to earn his third star and possibly “take a senior position at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.” That story, here.
Those four Russian cruise missiles that crashed in Iran could’ve been carrying nuclear warheads—which is why the U.S. should ban them, argues Tom Collina and William Saetren of the Ploughshares Fund, writing in Defense One: “So why is the U.S. Air Force planning to spend $20 billion to build approximately 1,000 new nuclear-armed Air-Launched Cruise Missiles, or ALCMs, with refreshed warheads, to replace its current fleet? It should not. Not only are they ‘uniquely destabilizing’ but their mission has evaporated,” they write. “Just ask the father of the U.S. nuclear-armed, aircraft-launched cruise missile, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry.”
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Perry called the cruise missile “a ‘uniquely destabilizing’ weapon, because the intended target has no way of knowing if it is under nuclear or conventional attack.”
So what’s the Collina-Saetren solution? Read here to find out.
Speaking of missiles: Syrian rebels say they just received a fresh bundle of “U.S.-made anti-tank missiles from states opposed to President Bashar al-Assad,” Reuters reports. Often such weapons arrive “via Turkey, part of a program supported by the United States and which has in some cases included military training by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
What else was included? “More supplies of ammunition in greater quantities than before, including mortar bombs, rocket launchers and anti-tank (missiles),” a commander in the FSA-affiliated Sultan Murad group fighting in the Aleppo area told Reuters. “We have received more new TOWs in the last few days…We are well-stocked after these deliveries.”
Does ISIS have shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles? “Qatar is believed to have delivered Chinese FN-6 MANPADS to Syrian rebel groups. Several of these have since been acquired by the Islamic State,” says Nic Jenzen-Jones of the Armament Research Services, in The Daily Beast. That take on up-arming combatants, here.
U.S. to help the Saudi navy upgrade. Saudi Arabia appears poised to purchase “as many as four Littoral Combat Ships for $11.25 billion,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports. “The ships are part of a planned modernization, replacing older U.S.-built vessels in the Royal Saudi Navy’s Eastern Fleet. The sale also begins to deliver on President Barack Obama’s pledge to improve the military capabilities of the U.S.’s Arab allies.” More here.
From Defense One
Trump is right about 9/11, writes The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart. “There’s no way of knowing for sure if [George W.] Bush could have stopped the September 11 attacks. But that’s not the right question. The right question is: Did Bush do everything he could reasonably have to stop them, given what he knew at the time? And he didn’t. It’s not even close.” Given that Bush’s advisors still dominate the GOP foreign-policy establishment, his record both before and after 9/11 remains relevant to the terrorism debate. Read on, here.
After the violence in Israel, then what? The uptick in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians show that neither the one-state nor two-state solutions are viable, writes the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven A. Cook.
Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: email@example.com
New-look Canada to dump the F-35 and pull out of Syrian strikes. The newly elected Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is reportedly following through on his September pledge to ditch the expensive next-gen fighter jet. Trudeau also vowed to pull Canada from Syrian airstrike missions, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
ICYMI: Washington’s foreign military sales “rose to a record high of $46.6 billion for fiscal 2015,” largely to counter ISIS, Defense News reported.
Beijing defends warplane flights that drew Japanese responses “a record high number of times in the summer,” Reuters reports. “Japan jets scrambled 117 times from July to September, up from 103 in the same period of last year, although it was lower than the all-time high of 164 times recorded in the final quarter of 2014.”
“The actions of China’s aircraft in the airspace over the relevant sea are justified and legal,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said this morning. “We call on Japan to cease all interfering actions targeting China and make constructive efforts to safeguard China-Japan relations and regional peace and stability.”
Want to catch a peek at the U.S.-China military “scorecard”? The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne dives into the “power play” consuming East Asia, here.
In Afghanistan, a U.S. F-16 took small-arms fire from insurgents in Paktia province last week, forcing the jet to drop its fuel tanks and damaged munitions, ABC News reports. Just what hit the F-16 is a bit of a mystery; Pentagon officials ruled out a shoulder-fired missile, but the aircraft must have been flying quite low to take Kalashnikov fire.
A bit more on the Kunduz bombing: The Pentagon confirmed its troops made a mistake by ramming the gate entrance to check for damage at the Doctors without Borders hospital, AP reports.
And Afghanistan’s acting defense minister “told The Associated Press in an interview that Taliban insurgents and possibly Pakistani intelligence operatives were using the facility in Kunduz city as a ‘safe place.’” More on that wrinkle in the competing narratives of what happened on the night of Oct. 3, here.
After the Taliban seized Kunduz, they went on to attempt a similar assault in the central Logar province. A joint Afghan-U.S. operation there on Monday killed nearly two dozen insurgents, Afghan Pajhwok News reports this morning.
And by the way: Why is the U.S. military so bad at teaching others how to fight? Slate’s Fred Kaplan investigates: “If the goal is to turn the fighting completely over to the local armed forces, then training must also involve teaching them how to conduct and call in air strikes, gather intelligence and apply it to tactical operations, move soldiers rapidly from one area to another (which involves flying helicopters or small transport planes), resupply soldiers when they’re deployed far from the base (logistics), and plan operations on a strategic or theater-wide level. To do all these things goes well beyond the abilities of American infantry or special-operations forces assigned to a training mission. In other words, the way we currently train, it may never be possible to make our client-armies completely self-reliant.” That take in full, here.
Lastly today: a “forward observer” pens a few haikus on Afghanistan. They come to us from Army vet and Iowa native Randy Brown, via the veterans literary journal O-Dark-Thirty: “Flash against the clouds/a rain of steel announced by/the crump of thunder.” “The archer’s tale starts/‘I have a fire mission’/and ends in an arc.” You’ll find those and more over here.