AUMF falls flat; Dempsey: 20k Iranian-trained militia are in Iraq; $75m of not-lethal weapons for Ukraine; Riyadh going nuclear?; Don’t buy a humvee; And a bit more.
An odd consensus emerged from Capitol Hill during yesterday’s hearing on the White House’s ISIS war powers request: Congress is unlikely to authorize it—and it’s not likely to matter. Defense One’s politics editor Molly O’Toole reports that Secretaries Ash Carter and John Kerry as well as Gen. Marty Dempsey yesterday “[argued] that Congress should pass an authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, to send an important signal to allies and enemies alike… [but] reiterated that the war would continue under open-ended authorizations passed more than a decade ago during the Bush administration.
“Committee Democrats broadly oppose the AUMF draft for being too ambiguous, potentially authorizing an open-ended, ‘blank check’ for war, as Ranking Member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., put it. Republicans also broadly oppose the AUMF, but mostly over the concern it could be used to place undo restrictions on the military… Carter said the phrase on which much of the debate hinges—‘enduring offensive ground combat operations’—is the ‘one significant writ limitation…’ but much of the hearing centered on the geopolitical implications of the ISIS fight and Iran’s role in the region.” Catch the rest of O’Toole’s report, here.
More on the Iran angle below.
In Tikrit yesterday, Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces consolidated their hold on much of the city, while 180 kilometers south ISIS tried turning the spotlight away from their growing losses by car-bombing the city of Ramadi into submission. The NYTs Anne Barnard from Baghdad: “On Iraqi state television and in countless videos uploaded to social media, pro-government forces could be seen hoisting the national flag and those of the militias in and around Tikrit, a hub of the so-called Sunni triangle… [Naeem al-Aboudi, the spokesman for one of the main Shiite militias] said that 3,000 Sunni tribal fighters had taken part in the battle for Tikrit, a higher number than the 1,000 cited by United States officials.
“…Islamic State militants mounted one of the fiercest assaults in months in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. The militants set off 21 car bombs in and around the city, killing five and wounding scores, security officials said.” Iraqi security forces also "began to uncover mass graves believed to hold the corpses of the soldiers slaughtered by the Islamic State last summer, with a total of 300 to 400 bodies found in two graves in and near the village of Albu Ajeel, south of Tikrit.” Read the rest, here.
WaPo’s Erin Cunningham: “In Washington, the Obama administration hailed the Tikrit operation as proof that its broader strategy in the region was working. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the Islamic State had been pushed out of 25 percent of the territory that its fighters took in the spring and summer in Iraq.” More here.
But Islamic State militants still hold Tikrit’s presidential complex and at least three other districts in the central part of the city, Reuters reports this hour. They also bombed a strategic bridge over the Tigris River leading into Tikrit, Iraqi police said this morning. That via RFE/RL, here.
Militias, marauders or war criminals? “The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said officials are watching to see whether the militias, after recapturing lost ground, ‘engage in acts of retribution and ethnic cleansing.’ At this point, ‘there no indication that that is a widespread event.’” That from AP’s Deb Reichmann, here.
But certain “Dirty Brigades” just might elevate the discussion about America’s responsibility toward impunity and killing in Iraq, ABC News’ James Gordon Meek, Brian Ross and Rym Momtaz report, here.
Also: On rebels, Carter told committee members a legal determination hasn’t yet been made whether or not the U.S. can step in to protect the Syrian opposition forces should they come under attack from the Assad regime. USA Today’s Jim Michaels, here.
And uhh… Carter had an interesting exchange with lawmakers on the imprecision of what exactly “enduring” means in this AUMF, beginning his answer to the question from Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine with an extended “uhh” causing laughter in the packed crowd. Defense News’ John Bennett reports, adding in a change of tone, “Notably, Dempsey told the committee up to 20,000 Shiite militia members trained by Iran are fighting in Iraq.” That here.
And yet there is this ray of light: Baghdad’s kids manage to find moments of joy amid a backdrop of violence that’s difficult to fully appreciate. See for yourself in this four-minute short film from PBS Frontline’s Martin Smith, here.
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The U.S. will be sending some $75 million worth of armored humvees, counter-mortar radars and drones to Ukraine—which means still no Javelin anti-tank missiles are headed to Kiev anytime soon. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker: “Better radars have emerged as perhaps the most urgent need of the Ukrainian forces since more than 70 percent of Ukrainian losses come from rocket fire… The U.S. has already sent around 20 counter mortar radars to the front…
“A Pentagon spokesman…[said] that the drones would be AeroVironment RQ-11 Ravens, a small handheld drone commonly used by the U.S. military… [Ukrainian] commanders also highlighted the urgent need for radios and more secure communication equipment… Igor Korolenko, a drone developer in Ukraine affiliated with the voluntary People’s Project, which is working to get arms to the front lines, told Defense One…radios should be frequency-hopping spread spectrum, or FHSS, which effectively moves the carrier signal among frequencies, making the communication resistant to deliberate jamming...” Read the rest, here.
Reality check: Obama’s new drone export policy is an important first step, but it represents a missed opportunity to establish a truly new and enduring policy, Andrew Hunter and Andrew Metrick of the Center for Strategic and International Studies write in Defense One, here.
Heard by the Pentagon water cooler: Army public affairs will get a new chief soon to succeed Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who’s working in Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s front office. His name is Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, and he is formerly of the 82nd Airborne. The Army isn’t ready to announce it officially, but Frost will arrive at “OCPA” (Army public affairs) in the coming weeks. Lewis, who was promoted to major general earlier this year and supported Carter through his transition back into the building, is expected to serve ultimately as Carter’s senior military assistant.
Emergency workers have found some remains from that tragic helicopter crash in Florida the other night that likely killed 11. The WaPo: “Human remains washed ashore Wednesday, as officials continued their search for seven Marines and four soldiers in waters off the Florida Panhandle, where a military helicopter had crashed during a training exercise. “…The Army UH-60 Black Hawk is believed to have gone down in the water and foggy conditions were reported in the area at the time of the crash, though it is too soon to say what might have caused the mishap.” More here.
The State Department wants Vietnam to stop allowing Moscow to use its air base to refuel Russian bomber flights circling Guam, Reuters’ David Brunnstrom reports: “General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, told Reuters the planes had conducted ‘provocative’ flights, including around the U.S. Pacific Ocean territory of Guam, home to a major American air base… It is the first time that U.S. officials have confirmed the role of Cam Ranh Bay, a natural deep-water harbor, in Russian bomber plane activity that has increased globally.” More here.
A Russian ideologue, an entire youth union and a former commander of Ukraine’s SBU security service are on the receiving end of fresh U.S. sanctions targeting Russia, the BBC with that rollup, here.
About that SBU: By the time the Crimean annexation kicked off last year, “the SBU was riddled with Russian spies, sympathizers and turncoats, and many of its files had been stolen and taken to Russia,” WSJ’s Philip Shishkin reports from Kiev, here.
For what it’s worth: Moscow just kicked off a “year of friendship” with Pyongyang, AFP, here.
Saudi Arabia last week sealed a nuclear deal with South Korea that observers fear could widen the regional nuclear pursuit while an Iran deal lingers. Jay Solomon and Ahmed Al Omran for the WSJ: “The memorandum of understanding between Saudi Arabia and South Korea includes a plan to study the feasibility of building two nuclear reactors worth $2 billion in the Arab country over the next 20 years, according to Saudi state media.
“A number of senior Arab officials have warned the White House in recent months the Saudi government could seek Pakistan’s aid in developing nuclear technologies—or even buy an atomic bomb—if it sees an agreement with Iran as too weak.” More here.
The U.S. needs a wholly new approach toward Turkey’s Erdoğan while Ankara teeters on the brink of a potentially transformative political moment, the Center for American Progress’ Michael Werz and Max Hoffman write here and here, respectively.
Washington’s policymakers would be wise to take notes from Morocco’s dynamic counterterrorism efforts, writes Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council Ilan Berman in Forbes: “Morocco’s monarch, Mohammed VI, is one of only a handful of Middle Eastern rulers who can trace his lineage back to the Prophet Mohammed. This ancestry gives Morocco’s king unparalleled credibility in the Islamic world… Through a sweeping overhaul of the moudawana, the nation’s family code, his government has elevated the status of women in Moroccan society… [and] championed a decidedly moderate interpretation of the Islamic faith… As of mid-2014, eight separate countries in North and West Africa had formally requested assistance from Morocco on religious education and training,” including insurgency-prone Mali and Nigeria. More here.
Meanwhile, France will bolster its counterinsurgency force based some 30 miles from the Nigerian border, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced yesterday without offering precise figures for the added troops. Reuters from Paris, here.
And Nigeria says it has taken back 36 towns from Boko Haram. WSJ’s Gbenga Akingbule from Abuja, here.
Who’s doing what today? State Secretary John Kerry will depart for Egypt to talk economic development and to meet with Egyptian leaders on the war against ISIS… NORTHCOM’s Adm. Bill Gortney and SOUTHCOM’s Gen. John Kelly are hitting up the Senate Armed Services Committee to talk FY16 budgets and the “Future Years Defense Program” at 9:30 a.m.
Gen. Kelly heads over to the Pentagon for a 2 p.m. presser… while a half hour later SASC’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hear from the Missile Defense Agency’s Vice Adm. James Syring and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Elaine Bunn.
Retiree baiting? Nineteen different states are working up legislation to create or expand tax breaks for military pensions to lure retirees. Scott Calvert for the WSJ: “More than 65 such bills are pending in statehouses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an uptick from recent years. Last year, Iowa enacted a full exemption and Nebraska a partial break for recent military retirees… Nearly half of all states don’t tax military retirement pay or don’t tax personal income generally, and 20 states partially exempt military pensions, in some cases with minimum-age requirements.” Read the rest, here.
Cotton as bellwether. “Tom Cotton is ahead of the mainstream of Republicans on foreign policy thinking,” Bill Kristol told Jennifer Steinhauer of the NYTs in the latest of what we anticipate to be a growing number of micro-profiles on the freshman senator and Iraq and Afghan war veteran from Arkansas. Turns out Sen. Cotton has a history of reaching out to Kristol, as well as a fairly low opinion of Steinhauer’s employer. All that, here.
Will any Iran deal outlast the Obama presidency? Chances aren’t looking good, Tim Mak reports for TDB, here.
Think the partisan deadlock in Washington is bad? Consider Beirut, where lawmakers yesterday failed for the 20th time to pick a president. Al-Aaribiya with that one, here.
We never tire of military lingo stories. This is an old one from NPR – December 2013 – but it’s pretty good for any civilian who wants to at least try to fit in. It includes “big voice,” “fifty,” “Joe,” “self-licking ice cream cone” “PowerPoint Ranger” and a bunch ore. Read it here.
Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly yesterday introduced three bipartisan bills to bolster mental health treatment for veterans and troops. The measures would incentivize community care providers to learn more about the culture of the military and become better informed about the mental health challenges facing those who’ve served, while also seeking to patch nationwide provider shortages with mental health care training for physician assistants. Full details, here.
The Army is still raking in the savings—$2 billion worth to date—from decreasing its use of contractors, Gen. Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh said yesterday. Sebastian Sprenger for InsideDefense.com: “Along with a push to reduce the staffing levels at headquarters elements across the service by 25 percent, private workers only would be hired if ‘justifiable’ for mission and cost, service Secretary John McHugh said. The service has reduced and ‘in-sourced’ contractor positions by more than 10,000 in the past several years, according to McHugh.” Read the rest, (paywalled, though accessible via trial subscription), here.
The chances the Pentagon will get what it wants in its FY16 budget just dimmed substantially, The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp reports: “A group of Senate Democrats warned Wednesday that they will not support any plan to ease military spending cuts without similar relief for other federal programs... The Senate Budget Committee must decide by next Wednesday whether to follow the sharply cut funding levels for all federal programs under sequestration, including defense, or cut a deal to raise spending beyond the sequester caps for some federal programs through offsets or another compromise.” More here.
The more you know: “The Hummer is possibly the most unreliable piece of crap I've ever owned,” according to auto- and temporary Hummer enthusiast Doug DeMuro. Doug details his mission to buy a HMMWV—High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle, aka High Mobility Money Wasting Vehicle—and all the terrible, no good information he learned about the finicky workhorse along the way, here.
NEXT STORY: There Is No Global Jihadist ‘Movement’