Iraqi troops storm Ramadi; Something’s missing from Syrian peace roadmap; ISIS radio chills Afghanistan; Predictions for 2016; and a bit more...
Iraqi security forces have entered the center of the Islamic State-held Anbar capital of Ramadi. The troops entered downtown Ramadi from the north, south and east—backed by Sunni tribesmen on the ground and airstrikes from the Iraqi and U.S. Air Force above—in the hopes of clearing militants from what the BBC calls a “main government complex” before pressing on with the rest of the city.
Iraqi military leaders are sanguine about these latest moves, even going so far as to say they need just 72 hours before central Ramadi is cleared of the roughly 300 ISIS fighters believed to remain there. Baghdad announced the latest push into Ramadi this morning on state TV, which makes the second time since November that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government has announced major operations to clear the city of ISIS.
What’s been the hold-up? In part, the dense array of IEDs and occasional snipers picking off ISF troops as they advance. But also “because the government has chosen not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the northern city of Tikrit to avoid increasing sectarian tensions,” BBC notes. However, “military sources” told Al-Jazeera that at the start of today’s offensive, “ISIL mounted an attack with a suicide car bomber against soldiers and Shia militiamen gathered in Bu Dhiyab village north of Ramadi, killing 14 of them…[and] In a separate incident, at least eight civilians, including several children, were killed in a series of air strikes on a residential area north of Ramadi.” More here and here.
We need to talk about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad…later. That’s effectively Kerry’s message from the U.N. Security Council on the heels of a recently passed resolution supporting a ceasefire, talks between Assad and opposition groups, and an approximate two-year timeline for elections. The talks will likely begin in the latter half of January, and the first six months would be a transition period, with elections held roughly a year later, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports from UN headquarters in New York.
It is an achievement for the dogged Secretary of State to get China and Russia onboard with any Security Council resolution. Still, the text doesn’t address Assad’s future, and the ceasefire wouldn’t apply to the Islamic State or al Nusra, the only two groups the members could agree would be excluded from talks, amid heated disagreement. That guest list for the talks has yet to be finalized.
O’Toole explains how the dynamics have shifted the U.S. toward Moscow’s position, and what that means for the near-term, here.
See also this morning’s New York Times op-ed on the cautious optimism surrounding the recent UNSC resolution, here.
For what it’s worth: More than one million refugees have now entered Europe, the “largest movement of people on the continent since World War II.” That from the International Organization for Migration here, or a bit of context on the matter, via the NYT, here.
How ’bout that “cease-fire” in Yemen? Two missiles headed for Saudi Arabia were shot down on Monday, Riyadh said as it warned of “severe reprisals” against Houthi rebels believed to have been behind the launches, which also included two more on Friday. The Houthis reportedly have another 60 to 70 missiles to expend, and a military spokesman said Sunday they still have another “300 Saudi military and vital targets” they want to hit. More from Agence France-Presse, here.
From Defense One
Pentagon gets ready to transfer 17 more prisoners from Guantanamo, a milestone in several ways. President Obama isn't letting a legislative freeze stop him from whittling the detainee population to meet a long-held goal. O’Toole, again, here.
A look ahead at the future of war. New America’s Peter W. Singer polled former Navy SEALs, Pentagon officials, technologists, historians about what they expect in 2016. Read ’em all, here.
The U.S. needs someone to run the effort to defeat ISIS online. Lots of government agencies are doing something; the White House needs to coordinate them, argue Frank J. Cilluffo and Sharon Cardash of the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security (CCHS), here.
The last military veteran in the 2016 race drops out. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former JAG officer, struggled to gain traction throughout the race, even as his signature issue, national security, took center stage in recent weeks. National Journal’s Adam Wollner reports, here.
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The Islamic State is coming to Afghanistan — that’s what a new, clandestine, and possibly truck-mounted radio station is telling listeners in the northern province of Nangahar: “Already, the broadcasts have struck new fear into residents of this besieged region, a rich agricultural area and strategic trade corridor. Fighters loyal to the Islamic State, known here as Daesh, its Arabic acronym, are reportedly arriving as close as 12 miles from this provincial capital as they wrest control of areas where Afghan security forces remain largely confined to outposts.” Washington Post reports, here.
Meanwhile: “A war that Obama had pledged to end before he left office is now increasingly looking endless. That war followed him here to his native Hawaii, where he is on a two-week vacation with his wife and daughters.” WaPo has a contemplation, here.
Chinooks for Christmas. It’s an early Christmas present for the Australian Army. The U.S. State Department on Monday approved the sale of three new CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, which will replace older models of the Boeing-made aircraft. The deal for the choppers, engines, and other electronic equipment could be worth up to $180 million. The Aussies deployed Chinooks to Afghanistan from 2006 until 2013, as you’ll hear discussed in this video.
F-35 meets production goals. Lockheed Martin delivered 45 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to the Pentagon and allies in 2015, meeting production goals for the second straight year. Program advocates are certain to tout this accomplishment over the coming year as they pushing to increase production of the jet.
“Meeting aircraft production goals is a critical stepping stone in demonstrating the program is ready for the expected significant production ramp up,” Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 program executive officer, said in a statement. To date, Lockheed has delivered 154 operational aircraft to the U.S. military and allies.
For the first time, Japan says it has spotted an armed Chinese coast guard vessel poking around the contested and uninhabited Senkaku Islands (the “Diaoyu” chain to Beijing), the Wall Street Journal reports. “The Japanese coast guard released a photo of the ship sailing in the East China Sea. It was one of four Chinese coast guard vessels spotted in the waters on Tuesday, but was the only one that was armed. The ships didn’t come close enough to the islands to violate what Japan considers to be its territorial waters.” That, here.
And while we’re on China—Beijing wants access to ports on the isle of spooks known as Cyprus, the Associated Press reported Monday. A little bit more on that, here.
Lastly today—A man posing as a U.S. soldier may have stayed in the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group barracks on North Carolina’s Fort Bragg for as long as eight months, the Fayetteville Observer reported last night. He was nabbed last Wednesday and was just released from custody over the weekend. So far no charges have been filed as an investigation has been opened to nail down what exactly happened at America’s home of the airborne and special operations forces. That odd one, here.