Siege at Kandahar; 9 reasons people join ISIS; DoD slams Trump; Video: Russian subs fire cruise missiles; and a bit more...
A daylong siege at a civilian airport in Kandahar ended in defeat for the Taliban, but not before 37 civilians died and almost as many were wounded. The “10 to 15” fighters used automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and suicide vests in their assault, which was meant to lead to an attack on the adjacent Kandahar Air Field, home away from home for some 2,000 U.S. troops and the hub of southern-Afghanistan ops. They were rebuffed by Afghan security forces, who suffered one dead and three wounded — as well as damage to their reputations in having allowed the Taliban to advance so far onto what was purportedly a well-fortified facility. Stars and Stripes has the story, here.
“There’s still a war in Afghanistan,” said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, making his first visit back as Joint Chiefs chairman to the land where he once led all U.S. troops. “But when you look at what’s happening over the last couple of years, there ought to be room to be encouraged because our goal was to stand up the Afghan forces and have them increasingly take responsibility for their own security.” Stripes again, here.
The military’s explanation about why it struck the Kunduz hospital isn’t entirely true — or so says Rep. Duncan Hunter, citing a letter from unnamed servicemembers who say that special forces troops quite intentionally called in the strikes because Afghan partners told them it was being used as a Taliban command center. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed receiving the letter but declined to comment. ABC News, here.
A new congressional report slams the Bowe Bergdahl swap. “The Pentagon insists that trading an American captive for five Taliban fighters was the ‘best deal we could get.’ An unreleased congressional report says that’s nonsense,” writes The Daily Beast, here.
A study unlocks some of the mysteries behind why people join the Islamic State group. Topping the list: defending Sunni Muslims. At bottom: rejection of Western culture.
“It is a small sample,” writes Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, and “not entirely random, but given the difficulty of surveying a group like ISIS, still provides value. How much value? Michael Lumpkin, assistant defense secretary for special operations/low-intensity conflict, cited the report in his recent visit to Congress.”
In his October congressional testimony, Lumpkin said that the Pentagon would begin to use the framework described in the report, which outlines nine motivations for ISIS-joiners. “As things are developed, just as our enemies target specific audiences, we … have to have unique messages directed to these nine different bins,” Lumpkin said.
The report, which was released in March by Lebanon-based Quantum Communications, is built on “interviews with 49 fighters in Syria and Iraq — some in custody, some who had defected, and some who were still in the fight.”
Some of the findings: Foreign fighters from places like the United States and Western Europe were far more likely to be facing some sort of identity crisis, a desire for a personal sense of recognition that ISIS provides…People who joined ISIS from another Muslim country, however, are far more motivated by the perceived plight of the Syrian sunnis.”
For a complete look at the nine categories, and how this could shape future counter-ISIS operations in the years to come, read on here.
See also this new report from the intelligence consultants at The Soufan Group, who say as many as 31,000 foreign fighters from more than 80 countries have traveled to join ISIS since last year.
And a recent report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism “underscored the diversity of the 71 people in the United States charged with crimes related to the Islamic State since March 2014: 40 percent were converts to Islam, defying any ethnic profile. They were young, with an average age of 26; overwhelmingly American citizens or legal residents; and 14 percent were women.” More from the New York Times, here.
Now to the goal of defeating the group, U.S. lawmakers will have their chance to grill the Obama administration’s military leaders this morning when the Senate Armed Services Committee hears from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Paul Selva at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Livestream it here.
Retired Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno has an idea or two he submitted this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” His pitch: the number of U.S. special operators in Iraq and Syria is about right, he said. But you may need more conventional troops—just one or two thousand, he said—as part of a short-term “surge” to help pacify ISIS on the ground. But Washington’s allies have to handle and clean up the mess that follows. More here.
And one more thing: Can special ops really win the war against ISIS? Linda Robinson — RAND author, researcher and chronicler of the war on terrorism — says without training local forces, SOF just isn’t enough. “However critical to the fight against ISIS, though, using special operations forces for raids represents only half of the needed military adjustment,” she writes in Foreign Affairs. That, here.
From Defense One
Could the joke be on us? Kazakhstan is requiring a backdoor in nearly every Internet-connected computer, phone, and tablet that will allow its government to eavesdrop on encrypted communications. But might the Borat-skewered country become a model for U.S. officials seeking their own ways to circumvent encryption? National Journal, here.
Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donald Trump—making America divided again, and uniting it against him in the process. The GOP front-runner drew a bipartisan firestorm of rebuke after he proposed to bar all Muslims from entering the U.S. The Wall Street Journal said Trump had incited a “brawl” within the Republican party; the Washington Post called his rhetoric “unparalleled.”
The Pentagon? “Anything that bolsters ISIL’s narrative and pits the United States against the Muslim faith is certainly not only contrary to our values, but contrary to our national security,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, wading into campaign politics on Tuesday, right after saying, “I’m not going to get into domestic politics.”
Pentagon and military officials usually steer clear of the road to the White House, writes Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron. “But Trump’s proposal of a total ban on Muslims drew rebukes from his campaign rivals the Obama administration’s national security leaders” like Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson, State Secretary John Kerry, and Congressional leaders like House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Baron rolls up all that and more, here.
Overnight, the House overwhelmingly passed a measure bolstering security measures in the U.S. visa waiver program Tuesday, by a vote of 407 to 19. It also marked a quiet, small victory by the White House to shift the boiling political debate away from almost entirely harmless refugees. More from the Associated Press, here.
ISIS-claimed bombing at a Shiite mosque killed 11 and wounded 20 in Baghdad this morning. “Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan said the attacker detonated his bomb in the doorway of the mosque as worshippers were exiting after midday prayers.” More—but not much—here.
Thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped in Ramadi are facing a very grim future as human shields when Baghdad makes its expected assault on the ISIS-held city, Reuters reports.
Iraqi leaders urged residents to leave ahead of the offensive, but only a few “families managed to escape through a route controlled by the security forces on the city's southern outskirts before the militants deployed snipers to shoot anyone trying to reach the exit, residents and security sources said.” More on that grim scene, here.
In Syria, “hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians began evacuating the last opposition-held district in the central city of Homs Wednesday under a local ceasefire deal reached with President Bashar al-Assad's regime,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Some 2,000 rebels and their families will abandon the Waer district in Homs to travel to other opposition-held areas, after years of siege and heavy shelling.” More here.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Erdogan on Tuesday insisted on establishing a safe zone in northern Syria in a region that happens to be among those hit hardest by Russian airstrikes. (Turkey also carried out more airstrikes on Kurdish PKK positions in northern Iraq on Tuesday.)
Syrian opposition groups are meeting in Riyadh today to try and unite in any way ahead of possible peace talks with Damascus. “However, signs of divisions among the participants emerged quickly, when Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most powerful rebel factions in Syria, released a statement suggested a compromise vision for the country's future remains far from reach.” AP has more on that, here.
When it comes to U.S. national security decision-making, is there too much instruction from the tower? One of the names tossed out as a future U.S. Defense Secretary, Michèle Flournoy, gave some indications to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday explaining why she turned down the job when the Obama administration sought a replacement for Chuck Hagel: too much micromanagement from the White House’s overstuffed National Security Council. “Flournoy, now CEO at the Center for a New American Security and a foreign-policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said the Obama administration has a tendency to push the Pentagon’s tactical decisions to ‘the senior reaches’ of the White House, a dynamic that often infuriates defense officials,” Foreign Policy’s John Hudson writes.
Why this matters: “Few around Flournoy doubted her sincerity of wanting to focus homeward instead of on the military after former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation in 2014. But if the bloated NSC was a factor in Flournoy’s decision to take herself out of the running, she may not have to wait long to get back in the saddle.” More here.
Lastly today—say good-bye to a hallmark of U.S. GIs: the dog tag will no longer feature Social Security numbers, the Army announced Tuesday. “The tags will instead display the 10-digit Defense Department identification number currently included on Pentagon ID cards, and will be issued to solders on an as-needed basis, with those deploying getting priority,” Military.com reports. As one official said, “If you find a pair of lost ID tags you can pretty much do anything with that person's identity because you now have their blood type, their religion, you have their social, and you have their name. The only thing missing is their birth date and you can usually get that by Googling a person.”