Ceasefire talks suspended as Syrian forces hammer Aleppo; Solving America’s natsec trilemma; The Army’s new stealth truck; Bye-bye, A2/AD; and just a bit more.
Washington suspended bilateral talks with Moscow on a Syrian ceasefire, the second of two developments Monday that illustrate the downward spiral in U.S.-Russia relations. The first concerned Moscow’s exit from a nuclear security pact; Russian President Vladimir Putin cited “the hostile actions of the U.S. against Russia, and the inability of the U.S. to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties.” A bit more on that below.
But first, the ceasefire side: “We are not giving up on the Syrian people. We are not abandoning the pursuit of peace," State Secretary John Kerry assured a crowd in Brussels Monday after his office released a full statement on the suspension of talks with Russia over any cessation of hostilities in Syria—with Aleppo the key focus.
“This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” State’s spox John Kirby said in the statement. “Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments — including its obligations under international humanitarian law and UNSCR 2254 — and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed. Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities.”
Russia’s reax: “There is also no alternative to trying to implement a ceasefire,” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said. More from state-run RT news, here.
In Aleppo, regime forces have zeroed in on rebel-held sections of the northeastern portion of the city, converging from “several fronts simultaneously to stretch the rebel forces,” Reuters reports. Regime aircraft also “dropped leaflets from helicopters calling on [rebels] to surrender.” Much more on the current Aleppo bombing campaign, here.
Who’s left behind in Aleppo? The poor, and those who feel a duty to stay behind and help, one resident told NPR’s Alison Meuse.
The UN’s human rights chief has something to say about the Security Council’s impotence: The UNSC “should adopt rules to limit veto use by its five permanent members in cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide,”
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s commissioner on human rights said since, as AP reports, “the U.S., France, Britain, as well as several U.N. officials have warned that Russia and the Syrian government's actions in the war could amount to war crimes.”
U.S. airstrike targets al-Qaeda veteran in Syria. His name: Ahmed Salama Mabrouk, aka Abu Faraj al Masri, and he’s an old AQ veteran, Long War Journal’s Thomas Jocelyn reported Monday. “"Mabrouk was well-known in US intelligence and counterterrorism circles, as he compiled a thick dossier by the late 1990s," Jocelyn writes. "Mabrouk was a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which worked closely with Osama bin Laden’s operation even before the two officially merged sometime before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks... In late 2013, Egyptian officials alleged that Mabrouk played a leading role in Ansar Jerusalem, an al Qaeda-linked group that defected to the Islamic State in 2014... In September 2015, The Long War Journal reported that Mabrouk had relocated to Syria, where he served as a member of Al Nusrah’s elite shura council.”
Mabrouk’s group, Fatah al-Sham, confirmed the airstrike on Monday. AFP has a tiny bit more on that, here.
Speaking of missile strikes in Syria, Russia just ferried a new SA-23 Gladiator anti-missile system to its naval port in Tartus, Fox News reported Monday. The key specs: It has a range of roughly 150 miles, including Aleppo, Palmyra and Damascus; and the move almost certainly deters the U.S. from pursuing a no-fly zone, further protecting Russian assets in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War noted. The next step for Russia, she said, is “to build out Tartus naval base.”
While we’re on weapons, what rebel groups have new artillery? Ahrar al-Sham, Kataib al-Safwa al-Islamia, and Liwa al-Sultan Murad are among the likely candidates. The Carter Center has more here.
So, Russia pulled out of a plutonium cooperation agreement with the U.S. Here are the terms he gave Washington if it wants Russia’s continued cooperation: reduce the number of U.S. troops in NATO countries to pre-2000 levels; cancel all sanctions on Russia—and three more fairly outrageous stipulations. More from The New York Times, here.
ISIS in Libya could be facing some very dire straits. That’s the word after one captured fighter said 180 members remain in Sirte, including 22 amputees tasked with suicide attacks. More here.
Back stateside, GOP presidential contender Donald Trump on Monday questioned the U.S. military’s airstrike campaign against ISIS—“We don't have victory. We’re dropping things all over the place. Who knows what they are hitting? ”—and shared a broader military assessment of how the Defense Department is doing overall. The short summary: it’s all bad. The Army is too small; the Navy is too small; and the war is being run by political correctness. More from Military Times, here.
Meanwhile, the FBI nabbed another ISIS wannabe, this time in Maryland. The accused, a 24-year-old male citizen of Bangladesh who wanted to attack a U.S. servicemember on behalf of ISIS, was caught in an FBI sting operation. The Baltimore Sun has the story.
From Defense One
America’s National Security Trilemma — and How to Solve It // Christopher D. Kolenda: In fighting small wars, you get to pick only two of these: centralized control, detailed understanding, and acceptable operational tempo. Here's how to choose.
Where Are All the Startups? // Editorial Fellow Caroline Houck: Pentagon leaders regularly tout Silicon Valley innovation, but entrepreneurs seem largely absent from the largest defense industry events.
GM Has Built A Stealth Truck for the Army // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker: A new hydrogen fuel cell truck could put snipers behind enemy lines, in style.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1957, the launch of Sputnik kicked off the Space Race. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Will Country X remain stable? Everyone wants to know what tea leaves to read. Turns out that “the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated,” writes Valerie M. Hudson, who has just published a book on the matter with three co-authors. Hudson limns her findings in Foreign Policy; read that, here.
USAF prepares to expand drone infrastructure. What’s the most numerous major weapon in the Air Force? The Predator and Reaper drone family, reports Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk. Thanks to wartime demand, the unmanned wings have grown so fast that the service has basically been ad-hoc’ing training and even basing for 15 years. (Hundreds of pilots fly the drones out of Conex boxes in the desert.) Now the Air Force is planning an expansion into permanent quarters for drone pilots and mission coordinators. Read where, here.
(ICYMI: America’s Drone Pilot Shrink Says They Need a Vacation From War by D1’s Patrick Tucker.)
The Pentagon conceded that half of the money it requests for urgent, unplanned needs is actually going toward longer-term purposes, Inside Defense’s Tony Bertuca reported on Friday. So what? Let CSIS budget guru Todd Harrison explain it: “This is the first time DOD has acknowledged that half of its OCO budget is being used for base budget activities and not war-related costs...It directly contradicts what DOD submitted to Congress in its budget materials, which stated that only $5.2 billion of the OCO budget is for base budget activities. DOD is effectively acknowledging that it misled Congress and the public in its budget submission.” Bertuca has expanded his story since posting it four days ago; read the updated version here.
#LongRead: A half-billion Pentagon investment in a shady PR firm appears to be another bad decision in the long war in Iraq. The Daily Beast broke the story, written by Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. "The Pentagon gave a controversial U.K. PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda program in Iraq,” they write. "Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.”
What was involved: “There were three types of media operations commonly used in Iraq at the time, said a military contractor familiar with Bell Pottinger’s work there. ‘White is attributed, it says who produced it on the label,’ the contractor said. ‘Grey is unattributed, and black is falsely attributed. These types of black ops, used for tracking who is watching a certain thing, were a pretty standard part of the industry toolkit.’” Read the rest, here.
And lastly: Bye-bye, A2/AD: The Navy’s top officer is deep-sixing the term “anti-access/area denial,” the Pentagon’s favorite way to say “keeping the enemy out of a particular piece of land, water, or air.” Popularized in the early 2000s, the term is too broad and imprecise to be of further use, CNO Adm. John Richardson told a think-tank audience yesterday. USNI News has the story, and a good tight timeline of A2/AD’s rise to prominence, here.