Obama: ‘New phase’ in the ISIS fight; DHS’ Johnson talks terror with Defense One; Turkey sends troops into Iraq; Save the runaway blimp; and a bit more.
America has entered a “new phase” in combating global terror that can threaten the U.S. homeland, President Barack Obama told the nation in a rare Oval Office address Sunday night.
What’s new? Perhaps more than anything, the rising concern that extremists like the two suspects in the San Bernardino shooting can stockpile munitions and bombs seemingly right under the nose of U.S. authorities. To that end, Obama called for new gun control measures to stop people on the “no-fly” list from acquiring weapons. Return of the AUMF plea. The president also called on Congress to pass a new authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State, a move he said will show “that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.”
To further demonstrate the country’s need for unity, Obama asked, “Muslim leaders to be more active in stopping radicalization” — and also pleading with other Americans “not to alienate Muslims in response to last week’s attacks, warning that ‘this divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL,’” the Wall Street Journal adds.
He also called for tightening restrictions on the visa application process, and called for closing a loophole that, he said, the female San Bernardino shooter used before Wednesday’s attack in California. (The White House afterward said Obama misspoke; she actually arrived on a K-1 visa, known as a “fiancée visa.”)
The reaction to his address from GOP lawmakers was little surprise: “What we heard tonight was so disappointing: no new plan, just a half-hearted attempt to defend and distract from a failing policy,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said in a statement. Ryan also promised the House will vote this week on a bill to update the visa waiver program, CBS News noted.
House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas: “The marginal changes in military tactics he has taken since Paris demonstrate that the President continues to be reactive, rather than go on the offensive against a dangerous enemy. He has consistently underestimated this threat and has consistently been a step behind in dealing with it. I see no evidence tonight that he is changing his views or policies.”
Meantime, here’s a disturbing parting shot from a New York Times preview of Sunday night’s address: “It’ll gradually dawn on people that we’ll be living for a long time with the possibility of low-level attacks that can never be predicted and can rarely be prevented,” said Bruce Jones, a former United Nations official and the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
And that’s exactly what needs to happen, says The Atlantic’s James Fallows, lest the U.S. — once again — overreact to an attack, undermine the values of free society, spend billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and otherwise inflict upon itself exactly the kind of damage terrorism aims to cause. That, here.
DHS chief: terror-alert system needs an “intermediate level.” Speaking moments ago at a Defense One Leadership Briefing, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refines his post-Chattanooga calls for a better way to let everyone know when threats appear. Other takeaways from the talk — still going on at this writing: while Johnson supports efforts to tighten visa requirements, he notes that only one of the San Bernardino shooters was an immigrant. He also called for building bridges to Muslim communities across the nation. Livestream, here.
Turkey’s wild weekend: Ankara sent hundreds of troops to the doorstep of Mosul in Iraq on Thursday—and never sought Baghdad’s permission. Now Baghdad calls it a violation of their national sovereignty and wants them gone within 48 hours. Ankara described the move “as a routine rotation in an existing training program to help Iraqis retake Mosul from Islamic State, and said the troops were there to ensure the safety of the Turkish military trainers.”
Kurdistan, for its part in this seemingly unilateral move in the middle of a war, “backed up Ankara’s version of events, saying Thursday’s deployment aimed ‘to expand the capacity’ of the training base near Bashiqa and included armored personnel carriers and tanks. ‘The increase of personnel requires some protection,’ Kurdistan Regional Government spokesman Safeen Dizayee said.
But like it or not, this may be the most substantive Sunni force to counter ISIS on the battlefield, since Reuters notes the camp Turkey is supporting “is used by a force called Hashid Watani (national mobilization), which is made up of mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi police and volunteers from Mosul.” That story, here.
Meantime, Turkey just summoned the Russian ambassador over the passage of a Russian warship through Istanbul’s Bosphorus en route to the Mediterranean Sunday morning. More here.
NATO will not send ground troops to fight ISIS, the alliance’s secretary general said Monday. “Muslims are on the front line in this war. Most victims are Muslims, and most of those who fight against the IS are Muslims. We can not carry on this struggle for them,” Jen Stoltenberg said. “The United States has a limited number of special forces. In the foreground, however, is strengthening local forces. This is not easy, but it's the only option.”
And much to Washington’s probable dismay, Western-backed rebels in Syria are turning their weapons on each other. “Combatants on one side are part of a new U.S.-backed alliance that includes a powerful Kurdish militia, and to which Washington recently sent military aid to fight Islamic State. Their opponents in the flare-up include rebels who are widely seen as backed by Turkey and who have also received support in a U.S.-backed aid program.” More here.
In Iraq, the battle to retake Ramadi is encountering fierce resistance in the form of buried bombs “that can trigger an explosive domino effect and snipers who target bomb-disposal experts,” WSJ reports from Baghdad. “All of the delays we’re having, the reason was the heavy planting of IEDs,” said Gen. Hattem Al Magsosi, the head of the army’s Explosive Ordnance Division. More here.
Remember the blimp that got away in October? The radar sensors on board remain America’s best near-term defense against Russian cruise missiles, says a group of retired admirals and generals who spent much of their careers specializing in missile defense. And the threat from cruise missiles is something the U.S. should stay focused on considering the weaponry Russia has put on display over Syria, writes Defense One’s Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber.
The Syria strikes marked the first combat use of the Kalibr cruise missiles, said Archer Macy, a retired rear admiral and former director of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization. “We have long known that the Russians have had cruise missiles,” Macy said. “This was their first opportunity to use them and they we’re making a point.” Read the rest, here.
From Defense One
Don’t prolong America’s dependence on Russian rockets, write James Cartwright and Ellen Tauscher. The advisors to SpaceX say United Launch Alliance is trying to escape the requirement to phase out the RD-180 engine. Read on, here.
Why shattering the military’s glass ceiling matters. It’s all about access to talent, write retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and Nora Bensahel at The Atlantic. Future wars will be won far more by out-thinking enemies than by out-muscling them, and including women in every part of the U.S. military makes America’s defenses stronger. That, here.
And here’s what female veterans in Congress think about women in combat: It’s about damn time. “I didn’t lose my legs in a bar fight,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth, one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during the Iraq War, after the Pentagon announced Thursday that it would open all combat roles in every branch of the U.S. armed forces to women starting on January 1. “Of course women can serve in combat.” National Journal, here.
DHS wants Silicon Valley’s help to secure the Internet of Things. The agency is dangling grant money to small business and big investors in the backyard of American tech giants like Facebook and Google. From NextGov, here.
Why is Obama letting China beat the U.S. at global drone sales? asks Rep. Duncan Hunter, who says blocking Jordan’s purchase of Reaper UAVs is just one example of unwise reticence to sell more arms abroad. Read his argument, here.
The Pentagon bought itself $150M in unnecessary luxury homes in Afghanistan, says the watchdog Special Inspector General for Afghanistan. GovExec: “If employees of the $800 million Task Force for Business and Stability Operations ‘had instead lived at DOD facilities in Afghanistan, where housing, security and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DOD organizations, it appears that taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars,’ wrote Inspector General John Sopko.” Read on, here.
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Where the allegations come from: “A Syrian military source and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said four soldiers had been killed and 13 injured in the strike, near the town of Ayyash.”
The U.S. response: “We’ve seen those Syrian reports but we did not conduct any strikes in that part of Deir Ezzor yesterday. So we see no evidence,” U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren said. “We struck 55 kilometres away from the area that the Syrians say was struck. That was the only area in Deir Ezzor we struck yesterday.”
Brett McGurk, the White House’s special envoy to the counter-ISIS coalition, also dismissed the allegations as false.
In Yemen, warring parties have decided to sit down for peace talks in Switzerland next week, AP reports. There’s little hope this round will do what others have not for a battle that’s already claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 people since March. More here.
And over the weekend, ISIS claimed the car-bomb assassination of the governor of Yemen’s port city of Aden on Sunday. BBC has that one, here.
Poland is mulling a nuclear deterrent. “Poland’s deputy defence minister has said the ministry is considering asking for access to nuclear weapons through a NATO program in which non-nuclear states borrow the arms from the U.S.,” AP reports. For what it’s worth: “Among NATO’s 28 members there are three nuclear powers – the US, France and Britain – but only the US has provided weapons to allies for nuclear sharing. Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey have hosted nuclear weapons as part of the program.” More here.
South Korea wants stealth drones to defend against the North. “The stealth-drone project is one of 31 research projects being developed within South Korea’s forward-looking Creative Defense department, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Monday,” Stars and Stripes reports. “The unmanned aerial vehicles would be built to evade detection by North Korea’s anti-aircraft and mobile missile defenses” and “target Pyongyang’s rocket launchers, self-propelled guns and other weapons.” Currently, the plans are in the “initial research” phase, with “applied research” not set to begin until 2017. More here.