Turkey complicates things; Obama’s final message to Africa; Gitmo plan has one big problem; Corps bids M16 adieu?; And a bit more.
At Turkey’s request, NATO ambassadors met this morning in Brussels to shore up political support for its escalated role in the wider war against the Islamic State, as well as Ankara’s targeting of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in Iraq. The meeting is likely “a precursor to a request for assistance,” which could include more Patriot missile batteries or logistics and intelligence support, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Reports that Turkish artillery shelled U.S.-aligned Kurdish troops in Syria emerged almost immediately after Ankara announced its stepped-up role in the fight, highlighting the delicate consequences of its new assertiveness in the Middle East. That from the WSJ, again.
To wit: “There is no difference between PKK and Daesh…You can't say that PKK is better because it is fighting Daesh,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday.
On Thursday in Quebec, officials from the counter-ISIS coalition—including retired Marine Gen. and White House Coalition Envoy John Allen—will meet to discuss how to move forward from here, Reuters reports.
Who’s where, from Aleppo to Mosul. The Washington Post has worked up this nifty graphic to help keep track of the various players’ allegiances and territories.
Stateside, U.S. lawmakers are shirking their duty, according to the New York Times editorial board, which says “this new phase of the war against the Islamic State…is unfolding with virtually no meaningful input from Congress,” whose members “appear resigned to allowing the Obama administration to slide ever more deeply into a complex war.”
In case anyone’s counting: The U.S. has now spent more than $3 billion fighting ISIS. The Hill has that one, here.
Meantime, is Russia reconsidering its support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad? WSJ’s Sam Dagher and Thomas Grove say yes, according to Syrian opposition leaders.
And the al-Qaeda-affiliated Caucasus Emirate in Syria just released a photo of a U.S.-made BGM-71 anti-tank missile. That via Long War Journal, over here.
U.S. President Barack Obama is spending the final leg of his five-day trip to Africa hammering home an anti-corruption and pro-development message to the 54-nation African Union this morning in Ethiopia, AP and Reuters report.
Civil war in South Sudan has risen to the fore during the final days of Obama’s trip, NYTs reports, with the president making “his most direct personal intervention since the violence broke out more than 18 months ago.” Obama and regional leaders are pushing for a truce to the fighting by Aug. 17, and “threatened both sides with sanctions or other measures if they do not comply.”
Brief background: “The conflict in South Sudan, which has become a deadly confrontation between the nation’s largest ethnic groups, began in a power struggle between two men with a bitter rivalry who had come together to forge a new nation. One of them, Salva Kiir, became president of the fledgling country, and the other, Riek Machar, was named vice president. The two come from South Sudan’s main ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer, which have fought over land and resources for years. The fragile détente unraveled in December 2013 when Mr. Kiir, a Dinka, accused Mr. Machar, a Nuer, of planning a coup. Their security details engaged in a gun battle and within days the nation was consumed by war.”
Tough on South Sudan, but not so much on Ethiopia. “Two months after elections that handed every seat in Parliament to the governing party and its allies,” Obama praised the “democratically-elected” government of Ethiopia to the chagrin of many human rights groups. That angle, here.
The big problem with the White House plan to close Gitmo. “The only way we’re going to be able to close Guantanamo,” Deputy National Security Advisor Lisa Monaco said Saturday, is ultimately to bring the “irreducible minimum” of detainees to U.S. soil. This is a key part of the White House plan to close Guantanamo, which they’ll soon be submitting to lawmakers—but unless Congress changes current U.S. law, that linchpin of the plan remains illegal. Read more on the Obama administration's congressionally imposed Catch-22, here.
There are even restrictions on spending money to look at options: National Security Council spokesman Myles Caggins confirmed that federal funds were spent to create the plan, but only on paychecks and paper — underscoring the Kafkaesque restrictions that make it so hard to close the prison. “No money beyond normal salaries and office supplies has been spent drafting the plan,” Caggins said. “This does not violate the NDAA.”
An unexpected ‘no’ to crypto backdoors: One of many threads that ran through the Aspen Security Forum last week was the U.S. government’s campaign to require “law enforcement-only” backdoors in encrypted devices and services. On three successive days, FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper argued in various forums that sophisticated commercial encryption hampers U.S. intelligence efforts against militants like ISIS. Then came former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, who called any backdoor requirement “a mistake” that would hurt ordinary users and national security alike. Defense One’s Digital Editor Kedar Pavgi reports from Aspen.
The NSA will stop looking at its trove of phone records collected under a Snowden-exposed program, the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement Monday. The agency will ultimately destroy the millions upon millions of records — but it can't yet because it’s being sued for collecting them, the statement said. Steven Aftergood, who writes about intelligence and secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, told AP’s Ken Dilanian, “Whatever intelligence and analytical value might reside in this data will be eliminated. It’s a political choice that they are making, and it shows that at the end of the day they are a law-abiding organization. They are not putting their intelligence interests above external control.”
From Defense One
Keep AI out of weapons, urges an elite group of scientists and technologists who are worried about the military’s interest in killer robots. “Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak, along with hundreds of other researchers, signed on to the idea that ‘starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea,’” writes Quartz’ Mike Murphy.
The Iran deal is a risky, unnecessary gamble, or so argues The Atlantic’s Leon Wieseltier, who says that Obama’s obsession with getting U.S.-Iranian relations “out of the rut of history” has in reality withdrawn America from a battle it should be fighting. That piece, here.
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For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force is putting a four-star general in charge of its beleaguered nuclear component, AP’s Bob Burns reports. “Gen. Robin Rand, a career fighter pilot, will take over Tuesday as commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, replacing Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson. Rand has never served in the nuclear force, but he has broad experience in the Air Force, most recently as commander of the organization in charge of all recruiting, technical training and professional military education…
“Virtually the entire nuclear Air Force chain of command has been overturned since the AP disclosed in May 2013 an internal Air Force email lamenting ‘rot’ inside the ICBM force... [Rand’s] lack of nuclear experience is not a worry,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “It would have been great if he also had the nuclear experience, but in this case we didn't have somebody immediately in the wings who was ready to take that on at that level, who had that experience.”
F-35’s “wartime readiness” inches forward. “The top Marine aviator at the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, said Monday that the F-35B Lightning II aircraft has now cleared a lengthy review process, allowing it to reach initial operational capability,” Marine Corps Times’ James Sanborn reports. The late July date has been touted for months—not that anyone should expect the aircraft to debut over the skies of Iraq or Syria anytime soon—but such a move would kick off a series of logistics moves that would make “Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona…the first fully operational F-35B squadron,” Sanborn writes.
While we’re on costly national defense investments, despite what you may have read in the op-ed pages of Bloomberg View, the U.S. should not start cutting its defense spending, Justin Johnson of the Heritage Foundation argues: “Using inflation-adjusted dollars, social and economic spending programs soared by 61 percent between 2001 and 2015. During the same period national security spending rose 38 percent”—in this short hit over at War on the Rocks.
And in a matter of days, the Pentagon will award the first phase of an 18-year, $10.5 billion health information-technology contract. “The effort, designed to provide a much-needed upgrade to the current system used by 9.5 million military personnel, including active duty and retirees, is being hotly pursued by three of the heaviest hitters in private industry: Epic Systems, Cerner and Allscripts Healthcare Solutions.” WaPo fills in the rest of the details, here.
Just over half of Americans polled say Congress should reject the Iran deal, according to CNN this morning. The breakdown: 52 percent are opposed and 44 percent support the accord. There’s also a predictably “sharp partisan gap…with 66% of Republicans and 55% of independents saying Congress ought to reject it and 61% of Democrats saying it should be approved.”
Meantime, John Kerry appointed a new U.S. Special Envoy for Syria. Reuters reported. Michael Ratney, currently consul general to Jerusalem, has held a wide range of jobs in the State Department and beyond, from spokesman for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to deputy chief of mission in Qatar to deputy economic counselor in Mexico City. In 2004, he was in Iraq as a political advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and then as a regional coordinator in Basrah. “We remain committed to reaching a negotiated political transition away from Bashar al-Assad, working to counter the shared threat of terrorism, supporting the moderate opposition, and addressing the humanitarian disaster and its impact on Syria’s neighbors,” Kerry said. Ratney’s predecessor, Daniel Rubenstein, who has served in the post since March 2014, was nominated last month to be ambassador to Tunisia. Check out a bit more about the new guy with the impossible job in his bio here; and Kerry's announcement, where he brags about Ratney’s fluent Arabic, here.
And it can be easy to forget amid all the Turkish talk and Syrian shuffles, but fighting continues to rage in Yemen despite another pledge from Saudi Arabia to cease hostilities on Monday. The human rights group, Oxfam, says more than six million people face starvation due to fighting between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed forces inside Yemen. That bit via NYTs, here.
Marines to ditch the “long gun?” “Marine leaders have made the momentous recommendation to ditch the iconic M16 in favor of the M4 carbine as the new universal weapon for infantrymen,” Marine Corps Times’ reported yesterday. And as any NCO who’s been before a promotion board will tell ya, “The M4 makes maneuvering in tight urban spaces easier with a 14.5-inch barrel and an overall length that is about 10 inches shorter than the M16A4, in a package that is a pound lighter at just over six.” Read the rest here.
Lastly, get up to speed on the increasing role women have already been playing in American combat over the last 20 years from this new book, “Women at War,” compiled from 40 contributors (10 of them men). Army Times’ Patricia Kime has the teaser here. Fair warning: it’s a bit costly at the moment; the Kindle edition clocks in at more than $55.