ISIS invades ‘ISIS-free’ zone; Army launches cyber classes; SecDef’s whirlwind tour; Lessons from Katrina; And a bit more.
The Islamic State group has seized new territory in northern Syria, and it happens to be right inside that rectangular swath of turf the U.S. and Turkey want to establish as an ISIS-free buffer zone. “Islamic State announced it had captured three villages in the area— including two that the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front recently handed over to another Syrian rebel group—and said its fighters had nearly encircled the rebel-held town of Marea, some 20 km (12 miles), south of the Turkish border,” Reuters reports this morning.
And in the southern Turkish town of Antakya, a car carrying the commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group, Jameel Raadoun of Sukour al-Ghab, exploded on Wednesday. Raadoun died in a hospital a short while later, the Wall Street Journal reported from Istanbul. “Sukour al-Ghab, or the Falcons of al-Ghab, is one of several FSA brigades that has received support, including financial backing, training and weaponry, from the U.S. government.” Raadoun had defected from the Syrian army, “where he served as a lieutenant colonel. He survived a similar assassination attempt by unknown assailants in April,” WSJ adds.
America’s deal with Turkey could prove a Faustian bargain, warns Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and defense undersecretary for policy from 2005 to 2009. “By disrupting logistics and communications links between the P.K.K. in Iraq and the P.Y.D. in Syria, Turkey is weakening the most effective ground force fighting the Islamic State in Syria: the Kurds.” More of that in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, here.
And there’s this: Since the U.S. began launching airstrikes from Turkey’s Incirlik air base, the number of coalition strikes in Syria has actually declined—which means the “game-changer” aspect of this new counter-ISIS hub has yet to be realized, writes Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Meantime, Ankara emphatically denies a recent report that Turkish officials tipped off the Nusra Front to the new batch of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels, as reported by McClatchy news.
Worth the click. Catch a glimpse of the many paths foreign fighters take to arrive at the Iraq and Syrian battlefields in this robust multimedia explainer by the WSJ graphics team.
In Iraq, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a cluster of Baghdad’s troops and killed two generals north of Ramadi this morning. The deceased include “Maj. Gen. Abdul-Rahman Abu-Regheef, deputy chief of operations in Anbar, and Brig. Gen. Sefeen Abdul-Maguid, commander of the 10th Army Division,” along with three other Iraqi troops, AP and Reuters report.
The Danes just pulled their seven F-16s from Iraq, FlightGlobal reports. The reason: repairs and maintenance, according to the foreign minister.
At last, some good news of a sort: Junaid Hussain, a “British-born ISIS recruiter and hacker that the U.S. believes was heavily involved in inspiring attacks” is believed to have been killed in a U.S. drone strike on Tuesday, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Wednesday. Confirming his death is of course difficult, given Raqqa is ISIS’s de facto HQ. Furthermore, “U.S. officials said there is a good deal of sensitivity about potential reaction in Muslim communities in the UK if a formal announcement is made, given that Hussain was a British citizen targeted by the U.S.”
Hussain is believed to have been the leader of the “CyberCaliphate, a hacking group which in January attacked a Twitter account belonging to the Pentagon,” Reuters adds.
On his way to Silicon Valley, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the recent data breach into a Joint Chiefs of Staff computer network shows the U.S. military is not providing the basic cyber defenses it needs, Defense One’s Kevin Baron reports while traveling with the secretary. Carter said his desire to increase the military’s computer defenses is one reason he is heading to Silicon Valley on Friday to recruit outside help.
Carter also responded to reports that a military inspector general had informed Congress it was looking into allegations that intelligence officers were softening their assessments of the U.S. success against ISIS due to political pressure. “We, starting with the president, but all of us need the most candid information and the most accurate information in order to make the kind of decisions that will lead most rapidly to victory. I expect that of everyone in the department.”
Carter earlier presided over the change of command of U.S. Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM, one of the military’s nine combatant commands, at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Air Force Gen. Darren McDew takes over the post that runs the military’s global logistical supply lines, succeeding Gen. Paul Selva, who recently became vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Carter continued his travels to Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base late Wednesday, where the U.S. Air Force is hosting the year’s fourth Red Flag fighter jet exercise. “Involving more than 100 aircraft, Red Flag trains fighter pilots, especially, in simulated air-to-air operations that replicate the first phases of new conflicts against other nation states,” writes Baron. Read his report in full, here.
From Defense One
Senate cyber security bill will turn on 22 amendments. Democrats and Republicans alike have long lists of ways they want to change the long-awaited legislation, which aims to prod companies to share information about network attacks and breaches. “Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lined up 22 amendments that will get a vote when the bill comes up again in the fall, a product of intense negotiations over the bill’s fate.” Kaveh Waddell reports for National Journal.
Here’s a switch: at least one industry group thinks the Pentagon moved too fast — to start imposing rules about protecting data. Companies fear they’ll have to rewrite their Defense Department contracts when pan-federal regulations arrive. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein has the story.
Can’t find enough cyber specialists? Make your own. That’s the U.S. Army’s latest tack: it’s inviting all enlisted soldiers, except the very most senior ones, to apply for a yearlong training program. Those who graduate will get new jobs, and a new title: “cyber operations specialist.” NextGov’s Hallie Golden reports.
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A somber announcement. U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Roland, 27, of Lexington, Ky., and Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, of Pensacola, Fla., were the two NATO troops killed Wednesday in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province when a man in Afghan military uniform opened fire on a vehicle containing U.S. troops. Roland and Sibley were from the 23rd and 21st Special Tactics Squadrons, respectively.
Is the U.S. Army booting one of its Green Berets for standing up to an Afghan Local Police commander and alleged rapist in 2011? An indignant Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., says yes and “calls it a ‘black mark’ for the U.S. Army and wants Defense Secretary Ash Carter to reverse the decision,” Fox News reports. Read Hunter’s letter to Carter, sent Wednesday, right here.
In Ukraine, seven of Kiev’s troops have been killed and more than a dozen injured in fighting with pro-Russian separatists “outside Mariupol in the south and near Maryinka near the rebel stronghold of Donetsk,” AP reports this morning.
For your ears only. Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the Washington Post (and a former Marine) and Bruce Gudmundsson of Marine Corps University sat down with War on the Rocks’ Ryan Evans to talk about front-line combat in eastern Ukraine “through the lens of the history of infantry combat.” Listen to that here.
Across the border in Poland, the U.S. military has been given two sites to store heavy equipment—presumably “battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons in the region, enough for as many as 5,000 troops,” as first reported in June—though Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak declined to say what kinds of equipment would be stored at the two sites, which he said include “one in western Poland, and one in north-eastern Poland.”
“The move will mark the first time Washington has stored heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member states in Eastern Europe and the Baltics,” Reuters notes.
In Yemen, just in case anyone’s asking, the largely exiled government has no interest negotiating with Houthi rebels until they give up full control of Yemen. “The Houthis and Saleh’s militias must implement the U.N. resolution and surrender their weapons, and only then the dialogue and political process can begin, with the participation of all Yemeni parties,” Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told reporters this morning in Cairo.
Two-factor authentication phishing from Iran. Iranian hackers “used text message and phone-based phishing to try to get around the security of Google’s Gmail and access the accounts” of Iranian dissidents, AP writes off a report released this morning by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.
ICYMI: Tehran recently unveiled a new Fateh-313 ballistic missile that they claim has a range of 500 km, up from the previous 300-km range of the third generation Fateh-110s.
“A 67% increase in range from 200 km to 500 km would be a major step forward for Iran’s missile programme,” IHS Janes reports. “It would allow Iran to target more military facilities in the Arab Gulf states with solid-fuel short-range ballistic missiles, allow targets to be attacked from different angles, and/or increase the amount of Iranian territory from where the missiles could be launched, making their transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles harder to locate and destroy.”
Dennis Ross and David Petraeus step into the Iran-deal debate. U.S. President Barack Obama needs to make clear to “Iranians and the world…that if Iran dashes toward a [nuclear] weapon, especially after year 15 [of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], that it will trigger the use of force,” they write in the op-ed pages of WaPo. Catch the full take, “How to put some teeth into the nuclear deal with Iran,” here.
Nuke watch, Pakistan edition. “Pakistan may be building 20 nuclear warheads annually and could have the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile within a decade,” writes WaPo’s Tim Craig on the heels of a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center that warns “Pakistan is far outpacing India in the development of nuclear warheads,” with Islamabad’s count believed to be about 120 while New Delhi has roughly 100 of its own. Read the full report here.
Aussies cozy up to the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines. Australian Defense Minister Kevin Andrews teased some findings from a report due in October, this one on Canberra’s 20-year, $214 billion plan to boost its military. “A large chunk of the added spending will go to a stronger open-ocean presence for Australia’s navy, including eight new submarines, nine frigates and up to 20 corvettes at a cost of A$89 billion. Australia is also introducing two amphibious carriers and missile destroyers as well as stealth fighter planes,” WSJ reports from Sydney.
Andrews is slated to deliver a speech today on some of the broader strokes of these plans, including “Force Posture Initiatives” that would “enhance the ability of [Washington and Canberra’s] militaries to operate together, building on current rotations by U.S. Marines in Australia’s north.” Australia is “also continuing to develop enhanced cooperation between the Royal Australian Air Force and the United States Air Force, and we are examining a range of practical options to enhance naval cooperation.”
Lastly today, we’re at the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—an episode that taught the U.S. military valuable lessons in disaster response. U.S. Army Maj. Crispin Burke rolls up four of those lessons here at Task & Purpose.