Bolton: US vs. Iran in Syria; UN chief sees ‘increasingly chaotic’ world; Afghan civilian deaths soar; USAF buys Italian helos; And a bit more.
The U.S. will keep troops in Syria as long as Iran is there, too, National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Monday — subtly contradicting senior military leaders who say that the U.S. is there only to fight ISIS, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams writes in the run-up to this week’s activities at the UN in New York.
In Bolton’s own words: "We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” he said in New York for the U.N General Assembly.
Back at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted Bolton's earlier remarks didn’t signal a change in U.S. policy. Rather, Mattis said, U.S. troops remain inside Syria "for one purpose, and that’s under the U.N. authorization about defeating ISIS,” even if that one purpose may have multiple other components to it. “As part of this overarching problem, we have to address Iran,” Mattis said. “Everywhere you go in the Middle East where there’s instability you will find Iran."
Reminder: Bolton's assertion comes months after President Trump himself said he wanted to bring U.S. troops home "relatively soon." But his administration has in recent months put an increasing focus on constraining Iranian influence across the Middle East, a strategy most clearly expressed in Trump’s decision to officially withdraw from the so-called Iran nuclear deal back in May.
For what it’s worth, today there are about 2,200 troops in Syria, most of whom are engaged in the eastern part of the country fighting ISIS.
Russia says it is upgrading Syria’s air defenses after last week’s shootdown of a Russian cargo aircraft by Syria’s old (Russian) air defenses, CNN reported Monday.
Defense Minister Shoigu, via Sputnik: “#Russia will jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft,which attack targets in the Syrian territory,in the regions over waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria.”
A former DASD’s reax: “Sounds like Russia is now claiming the Eastern Mediterranean as its "sphere of influence" to create an A2/AD bubble around Syria,” tweeted Michael Carpenter, former deputy assistant SecDef for Russia/Balkans/Eurasia.
Israel’s reax: Business as usual, folks. “We will continue to act to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and we will continue the military coordination between the IDF and the Russian army,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters (Reuters) today at the UN.
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Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Katie Bo Williams and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1957, soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division escorted nine black American students (aka the "Little Rock nine") into the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
This just in from the SecGen of the UN: The world order is “increasingly chaotic,” trust is at a breaking point, and “shifts in the balance of power may increase the risk of confrontation,” Reuters reports off opening remarks from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today at the UN in New York.
What Guterres wants to see in the future: “a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system.”
What he’s seen a bit too much of lately: the “politics of pessimism.”
One warning among many: “those who ignore human rights in combating terrorism tend to breed the very extremism they are trying to end.” Read on, here.
Worth noting: “This year, 133 world leaders have signed up to attend the General Assembly session, up from 114 leaders last year,” the Associated Press reports from the UN.
A key British official thinks the UK has been on the receiving end of a Russian “blitzkrieg for the digital age.” The deputy leader of Britain's Labour Party, "Tom Watson[,] made the remarks at an Observer event at the Labour conference in Liverpool on Sunday where he accused the government of being wilfully blind to Russia’s attack on British democracy." The Guardian has the story, here.
The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan has risen by 52 percent this year over 2017, according to the UN. Those figures (as of July): 149 civilians killed and 204 wounded. In addition, Reuters reports, “the number of bombs dropped by the U.S. air force almost doubl[ed] in the first six months, to nearly 3,000.”
This latest notification comes off reports of a possible new civilian casualty incident Saturday in the eastern province of Kapisa where apparently “nine members of the same family, including three women and four children,” were killed and six others were wounded in an airstrike.
Later this week: We’ll be speaking with the commander of the U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigades, Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, for our weekly podcast Defense One Radio.
ICYMI: We’ve considered the conflict in Afghanistan from a couple different angles so far, including:
- An interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani;
- An interview with Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib;
- Analysis with Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council on Foreign Relations;
- Analysis with Graeme Smith of the International Crisis Group
- And an inquiry into why the war has lasted so long with Tanisha Fazal of the University of Minnesota.
Stand-off aerial naval mine moves ahead. A few weeks ago, Capt. Hans Lynch and Scott Truver laid out a bit of the history of — and a future vision for — America’s naval mines. Among the looked-for improvements were mines that could be dropped from aircraft far from their target areas, allowing their unique sea-control capabilities to be brought to bear even in heavily defended areas.
A successful test. In a recent Pacific exercise, a B-52 dropped a 2,000-pound Quickstrike mine equipped with a JDAM kit, which glided to a target distant enough so that the bomber remained “outside a presumed enemy’s anti-aircraft range – a first for the U.S. military,” USNI News reports. Read, here.
U.S. approves sale of $300m in defense gear to Taiwan, angering China. On Monday, the State Department okayed the potential export of spare parts for F-16s, C-130s, F-5s, the Indigenous Defense Fighter, and more to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States — that is, Taiwan.
Beijing does not approve. At a daily news briefing in Beijing, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang “expressed dissatisfaction and said [China] had lodged stern representations with the United States,” Reuters reports.
Finally today: The U.S. Coast Guard is about to give Ukraine two cutters, the service announced this morning. It’s supposed to happen on Thursday in Baltimore, where Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is slated to attend alongside USCG Vice Adm. Michael McAllister. Wanna go? If you’re media, you have until noon tomorrow to let USCG officials know. Details here.