Taliban leader Mullah Omar is once again reportedly dead—only this time it’s different? Early reports from Afghanistan this morning say the Pakistani government informed Kabul of Omar’s death two years ago, according to the BBC and the Wall Street Journal. How exactly Omar died has yet to be revealed, but the New York Times’ Rod Nordland in Kabul says the Afghan government is investigating these new reports, which it calls “ the latest in a chorus of unsourced or anonymous claims.”
What’s the origin for these claims? “In recent days, breakaway insurgents have said that Mullah Omar, who has not been seen in public since before the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, died, and that it was well known among the Taliban that he was buried in Zabul Province,” Nordland writes.
Why is this report believed to be different from the others? It’s “the first to be confirmed by top sources in the Afghan government,” the BBC claims, noting the last Taliban message to be attributed to the reclusive leader came just two weeks ago, though “the message was in the form of a text published on a Taliban website, rather than an audio or video recording—fueling rumors that the leader was dead or incapacitated.”
And another one bites the dust—Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, “a banned Sunni extremist group that is believed to have killed hundreds of Pakistani Shiites in a series of bombings,” died this morning along with 13 of his supporters when they attacked a police convoy transporting Ishaq in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, the New York Times reports.
The Turkish military last night conducted its heaviest airstrikes yet on Kurdish positions in northern Iraq, knocking out “six Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets including shelters, depots and caves,” Reuters reports. So far, Ankara has attacked more PKK positions than ISIS ones, “fuelling suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check, something the government denies.” Wednesday’s attacks against the PKK come less than 24 hours after Tuesday’s meeting with NATO ambassadors in Brussels to address Turkey’s security concerns after it began bombing ISIS positions following a deadly suicide bombing last week that killed nearly three dozen citizens in the Kurdish town of Suruc.
It’s getting messy for the U.S.-led coalition. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “stance presents a complication for the United States and other NATO allies,” NYT’s Anne Barnard reports from Baghdad. “Under alliance rules, they are bound to protect Turkey from threats, and they have long listed the Kurdish militant group that fought a long insurgency in Turkey, the P.K.K., as a terrorist organization. Yet they are eager not to let the Kurdish issue overshadow the international fight against Islamic State militants who have seized much of Syria and Iraq and sought to inspire attacks around the world.”
Reaction in Baghdad: Attacks against PKK militants inside Iraqi territory is “a dangerous escalation and an offense to Iraqi sovereignty.”
The White House line: “A senior Obama administration official said on Tuesday that the hostilities between Turkey and the P.K.K. had been started by the Kurdish insurgent group and that Turkey had been within its rights to bomb P.K.K. targets in Iraq,” Barnard writes.
Silver lining of sorts in Syria: “Turks had assured the United States that they would not strike Syrian Kurdish militia targets in Syria,” according to another senior White House official.
Meantime, the Turkish parliament is set to discuss its deepening crisis during a special session today. “We need to immediately create the conditions for an immediate return to the environment of truce and to the process of dialogue,” said Selahattin Demirtas, leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, which “secured its most significant political power in recent parliamentary elections,” WSJ adds.
Unanswered questions could haunt the U.S. mission in Syria—In early July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he didn’t know whether the American military could defend the Syrian opposition fighters it’s training as its proxy ground force. And now the escalated involvement out of Turkey is elevating the need to assess America’s legal limits in waging war inside Syria, Defense One Political Reporter Molly O’Toole writes. “Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, argue that the U.S. shouldn’t be sending forces they have trained into war without a guarantee they’ll be protected…Lee’s office told Defense One, ‘It remains unclear what authority the Department of Defense would rely on.’”
O’Toole’s search for an answer led her to the National Security Council, which “deferred the question of legal authority to engage Assad’s forces to the Pentagon. But the Pentagon said they don’t yet have an answer.” Read her report in full, here.
A note of skepticism. “Ankara is a less potent ally in the fight against the Islamic State than the Kurds, it is no longer a significant player in the future of Iraq, and it maintains a wholly unrealistic view of what will happen in Syria if the Assad regime falls,” the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook argues in this take at Defense One.
And ICYMI—The links between Turkey and the Islamic State are “undeniable… so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara,” the Guardian’s Martin Chulov reported over the weekend, according to an anonymous “senior Western official familiar with the intelligence” swept up during the mid-May U.S. special forces raid in eastern Syria that killed ISIS oil and gas emir, Abu Sayyaf.
From Defense One
The military will test a terrifyingly loud noise gun — well, not really a gun, because it’s actually a set of lasers that create a screaming ball of plasma “like a shout from an angry, Old-Testament God,” writes Defense One Technology Editor Patrick Tucker. The Laser-Induced Plasma Effect, or LIPE, is under development by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, a group tasked with inventing better options for crowd control and checkpoint security. Read more here.
Say no to a robotic arms race, urged Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and more than 8,000 artificial intelligence researchers, tech watchers and luminaries, in a letter published Monday. Their pleas are unlikely to persuade the world’s militaries to stop pursuing ever-more-autonomous robotic weapons, although they have a surprising set of allies: U.S. drone pilots. Tucker, again, has the story.
What’s inside the Justice Department’s secret cybersecurity memo? The Obama administration will not release a classified Justice Department legal opinion from the early George W. Bush administration, which Sen. Ron Wyden calls crucial to the Senate’s looming debate over a cybersecurity measure Wyden says is a “surveillance bill by another name,” National Journal’s Dustin Volz reports in Defense One. That article, here.
A little swearing goes a long way when you’re the U.S. military’s first four-star woman, writes Army Gen. (ret.) Ann Dunwoody. “A new idea could easily be dismissed by a few heads shaking or simply by deft silence in the room. If I felt strongly about something, I would repeat it, and if I really felt strongly about something, I would have to raise my voice or throw out a four-letter word to get their attention.” Dunwoody, who retired in 2008 as commander of Army Materiel Command, has a new book out on leadership; read an excerpt in Defense One.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Brad Peniston. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Find our subscribe link here. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today: the Obama administration is sending its big guns to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 9:45 a.m. hearing on the Iran deal: “U.S. Interests and the Military Balance in the Middle East.” The witness table will seat Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. We’ll see if the powerful lineup can sell senators on the deal days before they head home to an August of town halls and 2016 campaign stops.
The Stimson Center hosts a discussion on the Iran deal with National Security Advisor for Vice President Biden, Colin Kahl; Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command; and others at 11:00 a.m. EDT. Details here.
Also today: Army National Guard Capt. and Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies today in Washington to talk “Emerging Threats and U.S. Foreign Policy” at 9 a.m. EDT. Livestream link here.
Too few members of the UN are carrying their weight when it comes to contributing peacekeepers to the world’s many crises, CJCS Dempsey said Tuesday in New York. “This imbalance is unsustainable,” he said. “Political and diplomatic backing of our respective governments is the only way to ensure the continued viability of future U.N. peacekeeping operations.” Dempsey “also expressed concern about what he described as the growing risk of public indifference to the multiple wars and violent upheavals around the world,” NYT’s Rick Gladstone reports.
“While 121 member states contribute troops and other resources to United Nations peacekeeping missions, the 16 operations now underway heavily rely on troops from some of the poorest countries, mainly from South Asia and Africa…The United States contributes a relatively small number of military personnel but is the biggest single financial donor, accounting for more than 28 percent of the United Nations peacekeeping budget, which exceeds $8.4 billion,” Gladstone writes.
Meanwhile, the first independent report on UN peacekeeping in 15 years finds that “the main problems of peace operations lie with the political and budgetary jockeying of member states,” the Council on Foreign Relations’ Charles Call writes at Defense One. He says the report offers “sound analysis of the current problems of peacekeeping with a comprehensive package of specific recommendations,” fails to underscore the need for “the need for greater civilian focus and civilian expertise in supporting political settlements.” Read his article here.
We turn briefly now to the incoming Joint Chiefs of Staff, where we have 11 items (not all of them books) for this “Professional Reading List,” courtesy of retired Army Lt. Gen. Dave Barno and American University’s Dr. Nora Bensahel write in War on the Rocks. The topics covered are fairly comprehensive, useful not just for JCS members, but just about any forward-thinking U.S. military leader.
The latest on the F-35: It exhibited “poor reliability” during a 12-day exercise at sea. That’s the word from Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News’ Tony Capaccio. “In the assessment submitted to Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Gilmore said ‘Marine maintainers had rapid, ready access to spare parts from shore’ and ‘received significant assistance’ from Lockheed and subcontractor personnel. Even with these advantages, ‘aircraft reliability was poor enough that it was difficult for the Marines to keep more than two or three of the six embarked jets in a flyable status on any given day,’ he wrote.”
The new assessment could influence the presumptive incoming Joint Chiefs Chairman, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee three weeks ago that the Pentagon was reconsidering how many F-35s it would purchase. That acquisitions lookback, here.
Who’s down for some revisionist history? James Hasik of the Brent Scowcroft Center is, and offers this accountant’s look at how the U.S. Navy could have used its F-35 cash to spend “mad money on drones.” Expect more on this note, since Hasik says this is the first in a series on the what-could-have-been topic.
NEXT STORY: Britain Digs In Against ISIS, Russia