A centerpiece of the White House’s strategy for security in the Middle East, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, will no longer attend this week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Arab leaders at Camp David, Md., Riyadh said on Sunday. Salman’s defense and interior ministers will attend in his stead, contrary to what the White House believed to be the case as recently as Friday, The New York Times’ Helene Cooper reports. With Saudi Arabia’s king now out, that leaves Kuwait and Qatar as the only two monarchs whose attendance is confirmed.
Salman’s absence now imperils the larger purpose of the meeting: reassuring Obama’s Gulf allies that nuclear negotiations with Iran won’t lead to a destabilizing Tehran capable of exporting even more conflict via proxy forces (like Hezbollah or the Houthis) throughout the region. Saudi Arabia also wants the U.S. to take a more direct, hard line against Damascus before it views future summit agendas as substantive enough to require Salman’s attendance. More from The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon, Carol Lee and Ahmed al Omran.
What’s likely in the White House’s pitch for Arab security? Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet, lays out three key elements of the Obama administration’s historic opportunity at Camp David with echoes of the Carter Doctrine from 35 years ago.
Riyadh’s state-run media attributed the King’s absence to a new 5-day ceasefire between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels set to begin Tuesday in neighboring Yemen. Both sides agreed to the plan early Sunday after hundreds of Saudi airstrikes struck rebel positions across the country. Houthis, meanwhile, continued to fire rockets and mortars into Saudi Arabian cities of Jizran and Najran yesterday while 17 different aid groups requested more than five days to reach those most affected by fighting that has drawn in an alarming number of Yemen’s youth, as The Washington Post reports from Sana’a.
And Morocco lost an F-16 to possible Houthi anti-aircraft fire in Yemen, Reuters reports this morning. Already, there are gruesome (and not-so gruesome) photos showing up on social media of the alleged downing and the possible remains of the Moroccan pilot. Peruse at your own risk.
The Islamic State group is in the middle of a power struggle as its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains a virtual invalid and ISIS’ powerful Shura Council ponders a temporary stand-in for the nominal caliphate’s ruler, The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer reports. More on ISIS below.
From Defense One
After nine months of operations, there’s no end in sight for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign that’s cost Washington now more than $2 billion while its allies shoulder just one-fifth of the airstrikes, writes the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko.
From the latest in quad-copter tech to something that looks more like a disco ball from hell, Patrick Tucker rolls up the nine strangest flying objects from the recent Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, conference in Atlanta.
The Army wants the next big thing in camouflage—call it the closest thing to an “invisibility cloak” that science has to offer—and it wants to review the industry’s best pitches in 18 months. Quartz’s Akshat Rathi has more.
Kenyan security forces have adopted a particularly hard line against al-Shabab extremists inside their borders—and now it’s costing them the support of the citizens they’re trying to protect, warns CFR’s Aala Abdelgadir.
Republican security hawks rushed to the defense of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program after a federal appeals court ruled the practice illegal last week, National Journal’s Dustin Volz reports.
If terrorists begin sabotaging cellular network towers across the U.S., what can the Pentagon do to keep American citizens’ communications lines open? An Apple official believes he has an answer, as NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein writes.
ICYMI—All eight females going through Ranger school at Georgia’s Fort Benning failed to pass the initial, or Darby, phase of training, Army officials said Friday. But all get to try again, as is norm.
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The U.S.-backed operation to train Sunni fighters in Iraq’s troubled Anbar province has begun some 70 miles west of Baghdad, WSJ’s Nour Malas writes from Amriyat Fallujah: “The government and the governor of Anbar have approved a list of small and medium-size arms that will be provided to between 6,000 and 8,000 vetted and trained tribal fighters in Anbar… More than 1,000 recruits, mostly from the Albu Issa tribe of Amriyat Fallujah, took marching orders on Friday as local officials cheered them on in speeches. Elsewhere in the province at the Habbaniya air base, bare buildings are being outfitted to host training there too.”
Fear and distrust still cloud the entire Sunni training effort given the sectarian tensions and history of fighters selling their weapons on the Iraqi black market, WaPo’s Hugh Naylor reports.
More than three dozen prisoners escaped from an Iraqi prison in eastern Diyala province early Saturday. More on that from WaPo’s Naylor once more.
And this morning, the folks at the Institute for the Study of War released their ISIS Global Intelligence Summary assessing open source data to reveal an expansion strategy across three “geographic rings”—an interior (Jordan, Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria), “near abroad” (stretching from Morocco in the West to Pakistan in the Far East) and the “far abroad” (including Europe, the U.S., Southeast Asia and the cyber domain). Perhaps more than anything, the recent loss of Tikrit to Iraqi security forces helped motivate this three-ringed counteroffensive. Read the full report right here.
Assad’s spy chief was just arrested over an alleged coup plot, The Telegraph reports this morning.
Also: check out this B-1 bomber’s take on operations over Syria after returning to life in the states, via US News’ Paul Shinkman.
In Russia, soldiers are quitting the army over deployments to Ukraine, Reuters’ Maria Tsvetkova reports from Moscow.
And Russia’s VE Day celebrations turned sour on at least two occasions late last week: Their new T-14 Armata tank broke down during parade rehearsals and an SA-11 “Buk” missile system caught fire in the city of Chita.
ICYMI—Vladimir Putin relieved almost 20 generals one day before the parades began across Russia. Business Insider’s Jeremy Bender has more.
Meantime in Africa, Marines will be increasingly integrated with the Army’s Green Berets for irregular warfare across the continent and the Asia-Pacific, Marine Corps Times’ James Sanborn writes.
And Nigeria’s army has too few weapons for its soldiers to want to stay in the fight against Boko Haram. WaPo’s Kevin Sieff has more from Lagos.
North Korea may have surprised some by recently launching a missile from one of its own submarines, but experts say Pyongyang is still years away from a missile system that could threaten the U.S. Seoul, however, is not sitting so comfortably, Reuters reports this morning.
There’s a growing recruitment and retention crisis at the Pentagon, and folks like Brad Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, are considering waiving traditional time-in-grade promotion standards to plug the loss of talent, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman reports.
The global terror threat to the American homeland just entered a “new phase,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” His remarks follow FBI Director James Comey’s assessment late last week that ISIS has “thousands” of sympathizers in the states. More from VOA’s Victor Beattie.
Everyone knows the National Football League loves the military… But perhaps not everyone knew the military has been paying the league’s teams millions of dollars to feature soldiers on their big screens in stadiums across the country, as NJ.com’s Christopher Baxter writes. Baxter’s reporting follows up on the report from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on wasteful government spending. More on that from Military Times’ Leo Shane.