France joins Syria fight, where ‘containment has failed’; UK drones one of its own; State Dept wants to buy cyber rules; And a bit more.
France joins fight over Syria. After holding out for two years, France will begin ISR flights and could begin airstrikes in Syria as soon as Tuesday. It’s not that they didn’t want to fight, officials say. France was ready to join the U.S. in airstrikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces two years ago before the U.S. balked at the last minute. France already is the top contributor to the U.S.-led air campaign over Iraq. But les bleus held back from Syria, which French ministers have been quick to describe as too complicated for the American’s by-the-playbook plan.
Refugee flood forced Paris’ hand? France had instead been focused on the nearer terrorism-fueled chaos in Libya. Why? Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Defense One’s Kevin Baron in July, “As to Syria, chaos is such between one side and the other that it is difficult to see any other military solutions there.” Instead, he warned Washington the potential for people — terrorists and foreign fighters — to flow north would shift away from the Syria/Turkey border. “The day some will come from Syria to Libya, they will be 200 miles from the French coast,” he warned, “which is why Libya must be the object of a very strong preoccupation of all of us.” The WSJ noted one particular French concern out of Syria: passport forging.
Everything is politics, even in Paris. Oh, President François Hollande’s decision to fight ISIS in Syria is “purely electoral and desperate,” said a member of the opposing Les Républicains. Mais oui.
Once more unto the breach. The U.K. killed one of its own in a drone strike inside Syria and could do it again: “Prime Minister Cameron told parliament on Monday that he had approved an air strike against a vehicle carrying a British jihadist in Syria who he said was plotting attacks against Britain. The attack killed Reyaad Khan from Cardiff and two other Islamic State fighters including another Briton, Ruhul Amin.” The news sparked concerns from rights groups who accused the U.K. of waging war just like, well, the U.S. More here.
Speaking of refugees, and that Syrian boy, Obama’s “containment” of Syria has failed, or so officials tell Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in a blistering commentary. Over and over, Obama administration insiders warned that keeping the Syrian conflict within Syria was impossible — the flood of refugees would hit Jordan and beyond. Obama could dictate the terms of the crisis or let it dictate him, said one official, two years ago. And here we are, Lemmon explains...
The gut punch: “The world has seen the West’s solution to the crisis in Syria: men in suits flying between capitals to talk to and occasionally negotiate with other men in suits. Meanwhile, Western air strikes and special operations have done little to change the facts on the ground for Syrians. This crisis is now about sea-soaked parents and drowning children, refugees sweating on trains and dying in trucks just to get away from a fight the world wants to forget. No one can say that the world did not see this coming. It was in plain sight for all to see, or at least for everyone who was willing to look to the horizon.”
From Defense One
Previewing the airport of tomorrow. The Transportation Security Administration last week laid out its ambitious new “airport of the future.” And in it, TSA will use biometrics and data to put fewer passengers through screening. NextGov’s Hallie Golden has more.
Will the U.S. and Iran move beyond nuclear diplomacy? James Dobbins, former assistant Secretary of State for Europe, sits down with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Zachary Laub to explain what Iran-watchers can expect from the enhanced diplomatic relationship between Washington and Tehran.
The State Department wants to write a cybersecurity playbook — and share it with the world. That’s the odd revelation from NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein, who lists exactly what Foggy Bottom has in mind. The U.S. wants private corporations like AT&T and Booz Allen-Hamilton to give them their best practices — including offensive cyber attacks — which “will eventually be available to the public, according to State.”
Life is better, down where it’s wetter, under the sea if you’re into fully autonomous weapons. While technologists warn of swarming robots in the skies, a new paper warns it’s the seas where robot wars are more likely to begin. It’s from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, which you’ve never heard of. But Technology Editor Patrick Tucker explains that autonomy is desired because seas are so vast. The troubling parts are waters near places like, oh, Russia: “where armed naval robots, the competing interests of naval powers, and an absence of clear law could be explosive.”
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The most urgent thing in the defense budget that CSIS’s Todd Harrison wants you to focus on, when Congress returns, is the topline budget number. Sounds obvious, we suppose, but Harrison places several bets on what’s to come: sequestration won’t happen in 2016, a continuing resolution will, and some type of deal will emerge to fund the Obama administration’s regular and OCO funds. Click the link for the details, but relax, “None of this, however, is likely to be resolved anytime soon,” he says. Forget NDAA and look to appropriations which will probably be passed “December or later.” Merry Christmas.
More signal warnings at sea, looking at Asia, folks are uneasy China and India are getting into the business of nuclear-armed submarines, with Pakistan and North Korea bringing up the rear. The Lowey Institute says, yeah, all that’s probably not a good idea.
Farther north, Arctic spy games are underway. Where the U.S. has been criticized for allowing Russia to make military and territorial claims up north, Americans haven’t been idle. “The growing focus shows how the United States and other polar powers are adjusting as global warming opens new sea lanes and sets off a scramble for largely untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals. The United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway are pursuing jurisdiction over the Arctic seabed,” writes the LA Times.
Pentagon’s No. 2 begins North Atlantic swing. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work met with defense leaders in Iceland and folks at Keflavik Air Base, from which U.S. troops participate in air patrols. Work also will visit Norway and England. Watch for more this week.
Yemen rising. There are now reportedly upwards of 10,000 Saudi-led troops trying to rout Houthi rebels from Yemen. This includes about 1,000 new troops from Qatar, backed by some 200 armored vehicles and 30 Apache combat helicopters. This escalation on the part of the Saudi-led coalition follows the killing of 60 Gulf soldiers in a Houthi missile attack on Friday, al-Jazeera reports this morning, noting, “The United Arab Emirates had pledged to quickly avenge its heaviest ever military loss, after 45 of its soldiers were killed in Friday's strike, along with 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis, as well as four Yemeni troops.”
And the Saudis just reportedly deployed the Patriot missile defense system to Yemen’s heavily contested Ma’rib region.
By the way, who are the big spenders in the Gulf Cooperation Council? Al-Jazeera’s graphics crew whipped up a snazzy chart laying out expenditures, troop counts, air and naval strength and more, here.
In Afghanistan, did one of worst friendly-fire incidents in years occur on Sunday? The U.S. and Afghan authorities failed to properly coordinate with one another ahead of an airstrike on Sunday in the southern Helmand province that killed nearly a dozen members of an elite Afghan counternarcotics unit, Kabul’s Ministry of the Interior tells WSJ.
The U.S. says airstrikes hit a different area altogether. From the NYT: “Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the coalition, rebutted the Afghan accounts. ‘There were no strikes conducted by U.S. or NATO forces in Helmand Province on 6 September,’ he said. He did confirm that the coalition had conducted airstrikes in Maiwand District of neighboring Kandahar Province that day.”
Bergdahl’s uncommon charge. In about a week and a half, former Taliban captive and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy,” a relic of military justice largely seen in the waning years of World War II. “The misbehavior charge is included in Article 99 of the military justice code, which is best known for its use to prosecute cases of cowardice,” AP reports. “However, Article 99 encompasses nine different offenses including several not necessarily motivated by cowardice, such as causing a false alarm or endangering one's unit — the charge Bergdahl faces.“
Dempsey embraces his ‘cautious’ legacy. From “Quiet American” to “Reluctant Warrior” Gen. Martin Dempsey most certainly was a different kind of Joint Chiefs chairman than his predecessors--and in a different era. Dempsey talked about his legacy in this candid interview with ABC News where he discusses what’s changed in his four years on the job. “Despite some critics calling him a reluctant warrior, Dempsey said he was satisfied with a legacy of cautiousness.” Martha Raddatz accurately notes Dempsey’s biggest criticism (usually from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who called for Dempsey’s resignation last year) has been over his reluctance to push the U.S. military deeper into Middle East conflicts. “I’m ok with cautious,” he says.
Finally, call it the Stephen Colbert primary: Jeb Bush, third-place 2016 GOP candidate of the unmistakably presidential name, appears Tuesday night on the premiere of CBS’s "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." Colbert and Bush shared some awkwardness recently when Colbert chastised the Bush campaign for fundraising off his appearance without consulting the show. Colbert has Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, amid continued speculation over whether he'll jump in the race this fall. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is booked for Sept. 18.