The militia factor in Iraq—boon or bust?; ISIS and the U.S.-Mexico border; Carter at the NSA; Mercs flood Nigeria; And a bit more.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi threw his support behind the Shiite militias in Tikrit, where reportedly the only remaining ISIS fighters are holed up inside one of Saddam’s sprawling palaces. NYTs Anne Barnard from Baghdad: “Mr. Abadi, fresh from visiting troops near Tikrit, fiercely staked claim on Thursday to what he called a great, cooperative victory… ‘We welcome the support from the whole world and the neighboring countries, of assistants and trainers and advisers to help us in our war against terrorism,’ he said. ‘But on the other hand, we don’t want anyone to interfere in our internal affairs or our sovereignty, which is a red line for us.’
“Mr. Abadi also called for security forces to facilitate the return of displaced civilians from Tikrit and surrounding areas. Bringing civilians back without continuing conflict will be a critical measure of government control, especially given the extra emotional resonance of the fight for Tikrit.” More here.
Jim Stavridis thinks it’s just a matter of time before the Islamic State starts attacking a place like Italy. Stavridis in the WaPo’s opinion pages; his BLUF: “…Just as Churchill saw Italy as a relatively easy gateway to Europe, the Islamic State has geographic, political and symbolic interests in sailing to Italy. We must do all we can to help Italy prepare.” Read the piece by retired NATO commander Jim Stavridis, on the WaPo, here.
Porous security along America’s border with Mexico could easily allow any one of the nearly 100 Caribbean fighters in Syria to enter the U.S., SOUTHCOM’s Gen. John Kelly said yesterday. Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “‘A hundred certainly doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s not, but the countries they come from have [a] total inability to deal with it,’ he said, naming Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Surinam and Venezuela, in particular…[adding] it would be relatively easy for those fighters to ‘walk’ north to the U.S. border along the same networks used to traffic drugs and humans…
“The solution to preventing ISIS from coming through the southern hemisphere will require law enforcement and intelligence partnering with every state in the region, he said… Kelly’s concern does not reflect ‘ISIS at the border’ alarmism, rather he casts a watchful eye on the potential trouble of South American, Central American and Caribbean states in tracking returning fighters for themselves.” More here.
Some 1,700 Syrian refugees have flocked to Brazil to escape the conflict, AFP reports, here.
Is ISIS using chlorine gas in its roadside bombs? The BBC, here.
With allegations of Shiite-on-Sunni atrocities mounting, the prospects for reconciling Iraq’s sectarian factions—a central tenet of Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy—appear to be dimming, AP’s Bob Burns, here.
Gen. Marty Dempsey: Baghdad officials can’t say I didn’t warn them about how serious the U.S. takes the Leahy Law designed to keep the U.S. from funding human rights abusers. ABC News with that reminder out of the Joint Chief’s office, here.
And this militia commander’s bold appearance—with a menacing axe at the ready—is sending more eyes to Iran’s volatile role in Iraq. Al-Arabiya, here.
The many parties in the Syrian conflict highlight points of tension in the U.S., Israel relationship, WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov, from the Golan Heights, here.
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Ash Carter is headed to the NSA today. The Defense Secretary is going to take a helicopter this morning from the Pentagon to Fort Meade to receive a series of briefings from the NSA’s Adm. Mike Rogers and others at the National Security Agency. Carter has said that cyber is a priority for him. Carter will tour the ops center at NSA and have lunch with junior troops there. Carter has expressed concerns about how to maintain the competitiveness of the military to attract the best people amid a downturn in the size of the force. We’re told that in a first for the NSA, reporters were invited to cover Carter’s remarks - pluswhich, they’ll be carried live by Fox News for the national TV pool.
Carter’s remarks will be carried live at 12:15 p.m. on defense.gov, here.
A different kind of foreign fighter just seized the spotlight in the fight against Boko Haram. Hundreds of “mercenaries”—many from South Africa—are playing a lead role in Nigeria’s counterinsurgency push ahead of presidential elections later this month. Rumors of mercenaries in Nigeria have been around for months, but Reuters’ Ed Cropley and David Lewis were the first to confirm the agreement with Nigerian officials. That, here.
These mercs got skills. The South African crew is reportedly “operating attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages… A senior Western diplomat confirmed that the South Africans were playing ‘a major operational role,’ particularly at night. Equipped with night-vision goggles, the mercenaries ‘are whacking them in the evening hours,’ the diplomat said. ‘The next morning the Nigerian Army rolls in and claims success,’ the diplomat added.” That from NYTs Adam Nossiter, here.
President Goodluck Jonathan: The foreigners are only “‘technicians’ brought in for maintenance and instruction,” VOA’s Chris Stein and Mike Eckel report from Abuja, here.
South Africa: These guys are definitely not our active duty troops. Bloomberg’s Mike Cohen, here.
Meantime, in southern Somalia, a U.S. drone strike killed three members of al-Shabaab yesterday—including a man believed to have helped plan the 2013 Westgate Mall attack. AP’s Tom Odula, here.
Earlier in the day, al-Shabaab had mounted a complex attack on government buildings in the central city of Baidoa, killing nine including four attackers. CNN’s Omar Nor from Mogadishu, here.
ISIS, Boko Haram still compensating. An Islamic State spokesman said his group has accepted Boko Haram’s allegiance—this as both groups are suffering significant battlefield losses. AP, here.
Who’s doing what today? The Atlantic Council hosts a discussion on America’s role in the world with Brent Scowcroft, Gen. James Jones, Jr., Stephen Hadley and more at 9:30 a.m. Catch it live, here… Naval Chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert along with commandants for the Marines and Coast Guard will discuss the new maritime strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies beginning at 11:30 a.m. (stream live here)… SecDef Carter meets with Adm. Mike Rogers at Fort Meade, with follow-on address to cyber troops at 12:15 p.m. … and CIA Director John Brennan is in New York City to talk the agency’s new restructuring with the folks at the Council on Foreign Relations at 1 p.m. That one streams live, here. For some background on that restructuring, our own Patrick Tucker rolled up some of the major changes late last week, right here.
Also today: President Obama is off to Phoenix for his first visit to the troubled VA facility there, a trip for which the Concerned Veterans for America created a five-minute video to put into perspective the unfinished business of reforming VA culture. That video can be found here.
Nine out of the 11 bodies from Tuesday’s crash on a Florida beach have been recovered, Eglin Air Force Base officials said late yesterday. But heavy fog is still delaying a full conclusion of search efforts. Kevin Robinson for the Pensacola News Journal, here.
One of the Marine special operators involved in the crash was just awarded a Silver Star last Friday for actions during an Afghan firefight in 2012. Michigan’s Holland Sentinel, here.
Military Times is publishing the second installment of its five-part series on the Marines’ MARSOC command – and they talked with Don Rumsfeld. This story examines the generals’ resistance to the Marine Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, even being created and the “debilitating effect” that had on the ranks. “Coupled with lousy guidance from SOCOM, Fox Company never stood a chance,” we were told. Celebrate long form journalism and click right here for “Task Force Violent: The Unforgiven,” by Andy deGrandpre.
The U.S. is disintegrating from within, Iran’s highest leader just wrote. The NYT’s Thomas Erdbrink: “Iran’s highest leader issued a sharp response Thursday to a letter to the country’s leadership by Republican lawmakers, deriding it as an indication that Washington is “disintegrating” from within. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said the letter warning that any nuclear deal could be scrapped by a new president was ‘a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.’ The statement was posted on his website.
“…Most surprising perhaps was the fact that Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to continue to support the nuclear talks, despite the Republicans’ threats that they, or a possible Republican president in 2017, would try to undo any deal made.” Read the rest here.
The Gulf Cooperation Council is not at all pleased with Tehran’s interference in Iraq’s affairs, the group said at a session in Riyadh yesterday. They also expressed their backing for Yemen’s embattled president, Al-Arabiya reports, here.
Trust us. DARPA wants to build a machine to make sure your online data stays private. Defense One’s tech editor Patrick Tucker: “On Wednesday, the military’s Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, or DARPA, put out an agency announcement on a program that seeks to restore some semblance of privacy to the online world. The so-called Brandeis program, named after the late U.S. Supreme Court associate justice and privacy advocate Louis Brandeis, seeks to build ‘information systems that can ensure private data can only be used for its intended purpose and no other.’
“The specific type of data that the DARPA program seeks to protect is your transactional data or data that you knowingly stream to a site or party. But it comes with a crucial caveat…” More, here.
The Pentagon’s wants to spend more than $27 billion on cybersecurity through 2020, Bloomberg’s Tony Cappacio reports, here.
A decade after the major reforms brought us the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the burgeoning intel community has come an impressively long way in the crucible of the war on terror, Joseph DeTrani of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance writes in Defense One, here.
In the wake of the Ferguson protests, the FBI is struggling to change the fact that four out of every five of its agents are white men. WaPo’s Sari Horwitz, here.
Today, there are some 100,000 UN personnel deployed for 15 peacekeeping operations on an annual budget of more than $7 billion. But the West still prefers its military action through NATO or the EU. The Atlantic Council’s Magnus Nordenman, in Defense One: “[O]ver the last 15 years UN-peacekeeping has radically changed, with Europe and the broader West playing a diminishing role and its place being taken by emerging powers such as China, South Africa, Brazil, and India.. In Brussels, military operations under a EU flag… guaranteed at least a basic common standard for operations, something that UN operations could not always offer.” More here.
Ukraine today launched a formal request that the UN deploy peacekeepers in the east. The measure would need the backing of all five Security Council members—which includes Russia. AP, here.
Russia continues its rapid descent toward recession. WSJ’s Andrey Ostrouk from Moscow: “Russia’s budget deficit more than doubled in February, the finance ministry said…[adding] The country’s budget deficit rose to 10.5% of gross domestic product in February from 4.2% in January, as revenues contracted even as expenditures were slightly reduced… A faster-than-expected spending of military expenses exacerbated the problem.” Read the rest, here.
With the bulk of the air strikes against ISIS still being shouldered by the U.S. (more on that from AP’s Adam Schreck at the coalition air base in Qatar, here), CNO Greenert told lawmakers this week the Navy is on the verge of a fighter jet shortfall. Megan Eckstein for USNI News: “Adm. Jonathan Greenert explained the problem as a multifaceted one: the Navy is working to extend the life of its legacy Hornets, the Boeing F/A-18 A-D Hornet frames. ‘We’re finding that’s it’s very complicated and it’s harder than we imagined,’ he said. So as the Navy depots keep the legacy Hornets out of commission for longer, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets are picking up the slack and eating through flying hours faster than planned…” Read the rest, here.
Airmen gate guards can finally tell you to “Have a blessed day” when you enter Georgia’s Robins AFB. The greeting was halted temporarily due to complaints from the CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Association, Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol reports, here.
Fox News just hired one of the former SEALs who’s said to have shot bin Laden, Rob O’Neill. That, here.
And in London today, our British colleagues celebrate the end of their 13 years of combat in Afghanistan. AP, here.