The D Brief: Mustard gas and chems offer battlefield perils past and present in Iraq; Defense firms target European customers; CIA rebel training largely ineffective; US contractor shot dead in Saudi Arabia and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
Some American troops suffered nerve or mustard gas exposure during the Iraq war, suggesting ISIS getting their hands on the stuff there is not out of the question. C.J. Chivers for The New York Times on Page One: “Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military… Congress, too, was only partly informed, while troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give deceptive accounts of what they had found [including] more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound… These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.” Read the full interactive piece here.
Meantime, ISIS might have chemical weapons—and where they got them might surprise you. Joe Cirincione and Paul F. Walker writing in Defense One: “An overlooked news story in June noted that ISIS forces had overtaken Fallujah, a region just west of Baghdad. Unbeknownst to many observers, Fallujah is home to a large number of former weapons bunkers of Saddam Hussein who developed a sizeable chemical weapons program in the 1980s…
In early July, at least three Kurdish soldiers may have been killed by chemical weapons from ISIS. The Kurdish health minister, Nisan Ahmed, recently reported that the soldiers showed no bullet or shrapnel wounds, but clearly had burn wounds over parts of their bodies which indicated possible use of a blister agent such as phosphorous or sulphur mustard… If ISIS gained access to the al-Muthanna bunkers in Fallujah, mustard agent could have been found and used in some capacity in the assault on Kobani.” More here.
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Over at the Association of the U.S. Army conference, or AUSA, defense firms are trying to work with a budget-strapped Army while pitching to this year’s visiting European audience. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber has the story: “…defense companies have been playing to international delegations, including many representatives from Eastern European militaries [which are] looking to bolster their militaries following Russia’s invasion into parts of Ukraine earlier this year… The Army has overseen 719 foreign military sales totaling more than $21 billion this year, [Gen. Dennis Via, the commander of Army Materiel Command] said... ‘That’s a record for us,’ he said." More here.
Odierno tells the AUSA crowd this is an especially bad time to turn our backs on the Army. Kathleen Curthoys of Army Times: “[Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno] described an Army increasingly committed on six continents and 150 countries… The Army is 'slashing modernization and procurement programs' because of budget cuts. 'This is a time when we should be increasing those investments,' he said… The Army has been able to increase training and at combat training centers using training that increases the readiness for a portion of the force. He pointed to multinational exercises in Germany with allies and partners, adapting and expanding training. “It is especially important at this time.” More here.
Just confirmed: Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work will speak at the 2014 Defense One Summit. Work joins Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, the Summit's keynoter, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and ISAF Commander Gen. John Campbell, who will speak via VTC from Kabul. Deets for the Defense One Summit, Nov. 19, here.
An internal CIA report shows funneling weapons to rebels rarely works—and that’s bad news for the Syrian opposition and Obama’s ‘no boots’ policy. President Barack Obama's strategy is defined by his pledge to keep American "combat boots" off the ground, leaving the administration open to the criticism that it is trying to fight this war – or (re)-train a proxy Iraqi army by remote control. But leaving so much to the CIA, which, according to a new report, has a spotty history in effectively training foreign forces, puts the strategy in peril.
Mark Mazzetti in The New York Times: “The C.I.A. review, according to several former American officials familiar with its conclusions, found that the agency’s aid to insurgencies had generally failed in instances when no Americans worked on the ground with the foreign forces in the conflict zones, as is the administration’s plan for training Syrian rebels… The fact that the C.I.A. took a dim view of its own past efforts to arm rebel forces fed Mr. Obama’s reluctance to begin the covert operation.”
A noteworthy exception? “When the C.I.A. helped arm and train mujahedeen rebels fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the 1980s… 'It’s a very mixed history,' said Loch K. Johnson, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia and an intelligence expert. 'You need some really good, loyal people on the ground ready to fight.'” More here.
Shaky confidence in Iraq’s security forces is putting both Baghdad and Obama’s Democrats in peril. From The Hill’s Justin Sink and Kristina Wong: “Defense officials acknowledged Tuesday that ISIS forces now have ‘relative freedom of influence throughout’ Anbar province, after killing its police chief and taking over a military base… On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno expressed reservations about the Iraqi military’s ability to protect its nation’s capital, Baghdad, saying he was ‘somewhat’ confident they could do so." More here.
Military chiefs from 22 anti-ISIS coalition nations held a pow-wow at JB-Andrews yesterday, but don't call it a strategy session. Andrew Tilghman for Military Times: “The meeting ran several hours behind closed doors marked 'Secret' inside a conference hall at Joint Base Andrews… In most cases, the attending nations were represented by their defense chief. Turkey, however, was not, opting instead to send its military staff’s 'J-3,' or director of operations… The rare event was capped by a visit from President Obama, who sat at the head of the table flanked by four-star officers from across Europe and the Middle East… Obama: “This is not a classic army which you defeat them on the battlefield and they surrender. What you are also fighting is an ideological strain that has taken root in too many parts of the region. You are dealing with sectarianism.” More here.
The wolves are moving ever closer to the door. A suicide bomber from the Islamic State detonated a bomb that killed 24 Iraqis, including a Shiite MP. AFP, via Arabiya News, here.
The administration acknowledges that vast stretches of Anbar province in Iraq have fallen to the Islamic State. At the same time, Kobani, just inside Syria, could fully fall anytime, and now with this series of suicide bombers, who are pushing up into Baghdad...
…But the White House's Josh Earnest yesterday: the strategy is succeeding. Earnest at the WH: "…certainly the early evidence indicates that this strategy is succeeding… I can cite—we can—we’ve gone through this a few times before—that there are—there are specific episodes where the use of military force has succeeded in beating back an ISIL advance or stopping the siege of a vulnerable humanitarian target. We have seen that the—that our strikes have had an impact on targets in Syria, that the ability of ISIL to command and control their forces has been affected by the airstrikes.
"…At the same time, I don’t think anybody has sought to leave you or anyone else with the impression that these kinds of airstrikes were going to dramatically reverse the situation on the battlefield overnight. They won’t."
Leon Panetta appeared at George Washington University yesterday to talk about his new book in which he blasts the Obama White House for, among other things, its strategy in the Middle East. @DefenseBaron RT'ed Panetta on why he wrote the book, "Worthy Fights," the latest kiss-and-tell, the way he did: "I wanted to shake up this town and this country to wake up and realize that we can do better. That's what I wanted."
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) retires from the military after 23 years. Via the AP: “The National Guard announced the retirement on Tuesday and Duckworth's office confirmed that Duckworth—a lieutenant colonel—is leaving the military… Duckworth and her husband Major Brian Bowlsbey of Hoffman Estates are expecting a baby. The suburban Chicago Democrat is running for re-election against Republican Larry Kaifesh on Nov. 4.” The brisk read here.
Dutch biker gangs are fighting ISIS in Iraq? AFP has this odd one: "A photograph on a Dutch-Kurdish Twitter account shows a tattooed Dutchman called Ron in military garb, holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle while [sitting] with a Kurdish comrade… 'Joining a foreign armed force was previously punishable, now it's no longer forbidden,' public prosecutor spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP. 'You just can't join a fight against the Netherlands,' he told AFP after reports emerged that Dutch bikers from the No Surrender gang were fighting IS insurgents alongside Kurds in northern Iraq.” More here.
Kerry and Lavrov strike a deal in Paris to share intel on ISIS. From the AP’s Bradley Klapper: “…Kerry said both sides need to recognize they have ‘major responsibilities’ as world powers… As a concrete example of their work together, he said the U.S. and Russia would start sharing intelligence on the Islamic State militants… He highlighted the international campaign against the Islamic State group in particular, saying both countries recognize the group ‘has absolutely no place in the 21st century.’" More here.
Air strikes on Kurdish PKK rebels in Turkey’s southeast highlight the difficulty in Ankara’s posturing. Dorian Jones for VOA: “Ankara’s stance appears to be hardening along with air strikes against the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for similar action to be taken against both the Islamic State group and the Syrian Kurdish fighters, claiming both are terrorist organizations and that Turkey has no interest in the fate of Kobani. Political observers warn that is likely to only further alienate Turkey's Western allies as well as its large Kurdish minority.” More here.
Bing West traces Obama’s ‘half-hearted’ plan in Iraq and Syria that’s all but setting the stage for Sunni and Kurdish independence. Writing in Defense One: “Obama’s current war strategy is fraught with vacillation and wrong messages to the world… Just as the ward boss/patronage system controlled Chicago under one mayor after another, so too do the Shiite parties control the politics of Iraq… But our offer is half-hearted." Read his take in full here.
Clashes between Shiites and al-Qaida in Yemen keep that country's security woes on the map, AP this hour here.
An American defense contractor is shot dead and another injured in Saudi Arabia, via The Guardian: "…The two US citizens were employees of Vinnell Arabia, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, the Virginia-based defence and security giant." More here.
Bad sign: Pakistani militants align themselves with the Islamic State, The WaPo's Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan, here.
AP's Kathy Gannon vows to return to Afghanistan, here.
James Risen’s new book examining the War on Terror traces how America ‘scared the hell out of itself.’ Tom Ricks in The New York Times: “We are plunged into an unsettled noirish world in which scam artists and thieves swarm government agencies, peddling phony software and other novel tools for the war against terror. The Bush administration was throwing money at the terrorist problem, and plenty of people were willing to catch a few bundles… In this world, it is often unclear who is the handler and who is the stooge… The best section of the book is probably the last, about the trespasses against the United States Constitution committed by the National Security Agency.” Read the review in full here.