The McLeary Situation Report for Foreign Policy

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The National Security Daily Brief from Foreign Policy
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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

One timer. Defense Secretary Ash Carter only has one shot to shape a defense budget. The official drop date of that budget will be next week, but some of the major aspects of it were released Tuesday, including over $10 billion in new funding to counter Russia in Eastern Europe and the Islamic State in the Middle East.

Not happy, not happy about this at all. Already, Moscow is angry. FP’s John Hudson has the details of a Russian statement that put the Obama administration on full blast Tuesday for its new plan to invest $3.4 billion in shipping more armored vehicles, heavy weapons, and potentially thousands of soldiers to NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe. The money will also help fund more training activities between the U.S. and its friends in NATO. “In our view these steps by U.S. and NATO are destabilizing and detrimental to the European security,” the embassy said in a statement to FP. “There should be no doubt that Russia under any circumstances will be able to defend its citizens and national security interests.”

Making tracks. Just in time for the budget rollout, a new war game run by the folks at RAND Corp. concluded that if Russian tanks and troops rolled into the Baltics tomorrow, NATO would be in a lot of trouble. FP’s Dan de Luce writes that the “outgunned and outnumbered NATO forces would be overrun in under three days.” The report itself says that “the games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members.”

Spreading the cash, and robots. While needling the Russians, please don’t forget about the Chinese. The Pentagon hasn’t. Billions more in the 2017 defense budget will go to capabilities and technologies to meet the challenges of Chinese naval power and expansionism in the Pacific, Carter said in a speech Tuesday. The $582.7 billion defense budget request calls for major spending on cyber security, more firepower for submarines, new robotic boats and underwater vessels as well as new missile interceptors to be installed on American warships, FP’s Dan De Luce writes.

U.N. intel push. In yet another big scoop, FP’s Colum Lynch has obtained a copy of a confidential paper outlining how the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, “is discretely making the case for establishing an intelligence-gathering cell to help implement any cease-fire agreements that may emerge from the Syrian peace process.” Few at the U.N. are very comfortable with the body developing and deploying its own intel capabilities, and the plan is hardly even at the planning stages, Lynch writes, but it shows how concerned policymakers are about keeping any sort of peace they might achieve at the negotiating table in Geneva.

ISIS on the grid. Since we’re listing threats here — that’s what we do at SitRep — let’s turn our attention to the Islamic State. FP’s Dan De Luce and C.K. Hickey have dropped a great new interactive map that points out where ISIS is active around the world. We’re all familiar with the group’s home base in Iraq and Syria, but elsewhere, ISIS has declared a series of “provinces,” or wilayat, for its self-declared “caliphate” in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Russia. And there are indications that the could grow in the near future, as U.S. officials and analysts fear the group is working to put down roots in Tunisia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Somalia.

Bottled up. How much do you know about Iraq’s Mosul Dam? If the answer is “not much,” that’s the way the government in Baghdad, and over a million Iraqis, would like to keep it. As we noted earlier this week, the decades-old structure is in real danger of falling apart, threatening not only nearby Mosul, but also Baghdad. FP’s Keith Johnson and C.K. Hickey take a look at what that kind of flood might look like, and the results aren’t pretty.

Within about four hours of a major breach of the dam, Mosul would face “a wave of water almost 80 feet high; flooding would cover about 28 square miles,” while within 22 hours, Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit would be hit with a 50-foot wall of water. The danger doesn’t stop there. Two days after a dam breach, Baghdad itself — 400 miles downriver — “would have 13 or so feet of water all over the center of the city, and flooding would cover more than 80 square miles around the capital.”

Things are humming along here at SitRep HQ, but as you know, we can never get enough information, so if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ! Best way is to send them to or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.


Russian submarine activity in North Atlantic is churning, and Moscow’s undersea fleet has been more active than it was even during the height of the Cold War, Vice Adm. Clive Johnstone, commander of NATO’s Maritime Command, said recently. He added that not only are Moscow’s subs growing more ambitious, but the boats are showing “a level of Russian capability that we haven’t seen before,” with longer ranges and better systems than the Russian had previously displayed.


Echoing American generals who have run the war in Afghanistan for the past decade, leader of U.S. and NATO troops there, Gen. John Campbell, told a congressional panel Tuesday that the country “is at an inflection point.” If Washington pulls out too many troops by the end of this year, 2016 “is at risk of being no better, and possibly worse, than 2015,” which was the bloodiest year yet for Afghan security forces. The general — expected to retire in the coming months once Lt. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson comes to Kabul to take over — praised the White House’s decision to keep U.S. troop strength at around 9,800 troops for much of this year, eventually falling to about 5,500 by 2017. “Ultimately, Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction in our support in 2016,” Campbell said.


The Syrian regime has agreed to allow aid-bearing trucks from the International Committee of the Red Crescent into a rebel-held Damascus suburb in what is being seen as a concession to get negotiations aimed at ending the conflict off the ground. Syrian rebel groups have held out on participating in the talks until the Syrian government abides by U.N. resolutions and allow aid to reach starving cities under siege. Damascus has said it will allow aid to also reach the town of Madaya, Foua, and Kfarya, but no U.N. deliveries are yet apparent.

In the meantime, the bombardment of Aleppo has emerged as a new sticking point in the negotiations as the Syrian government, backed by Russian airstrikes, has been pounding rebel-held areas north of the city and taking more ground, Reuters reports. Rebel groups say they’ll refuse to engage in the Geneva peace talks until the Russian military halts the bombing.


Iran now says it won’t buy Russia’s T-90 tank after floating the possibility of a sale recently. With some international sanctions being lifted from Tehran following the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement, the T-90 sale seemed like it would be Iran’s first big legal weapons purchase on the international market. But Iran’s Artesh Ground Forces commander said Tuesday that though they “were once interested” in buying the T-90, Iran is thinking it “can manufacture similar models” at home.


Ukraine will purchase Survivable Combat Tactical Vehicles (SCTC) from Textron, Jane’s reports. The SCTV is an armor upgraded Humvee originally developed for the Marine Corps that offers an equivalent level of protection to the Army’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Separately, Ukraine is also taking delivery of its own homemade drones as Ukroboronprom’s first BpAK-MP-1 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) roll off the production line. The hand-launched UAVs were developed by engineers at Kiev University of Technology and will be deployed to eastern Ukraine for use by the country’s armed forces.

North Korea

North Korea officially announced that it will go ahead with a planned satellite launch some time between Feb. 8 and 25. Officials from the hermit kingdom gave word of the expected date range of the launch to the International Maritime Organization and the International Telecommunication Union. The North’s neighbors and regional adversaries South Korea and Japan have both warned against the launch, calling it a threat to stability. Meanwhile, North Korean officials invited CNN for an exclusive tour of their National Aeronautical Development Association in the days ahead of the launch.

Could you not?

Just as news of North Korea’s rocket plans dropped, China sent Wu Dawei, its special representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, to North Korea in an apparent effort to dissuade the regime from going ahead with it, Chosun Ilbo reports. Wu met with officials from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea before the trip and will meet with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. South Korean officials aren’t optimistic about his chances of dissuading the North from launching the satellite, with one official telling Chosun Ilbo that “there is nothing Wu can realistically achieve at this point.”


Japan is preparing for the expected North Korean rocket launch by stationing Patriot missiles in Tokyo and deploying destroyers equipped with Aegis radars and surface-to-air missiles off Japan’s coastline, Popular Mechanics’ Kyle Mizokami reports. Japanese officials are wary of the possibility that North Korea’s rocket could, either inadvertently or intentionally, land on their territory, as the missile’s trajectory will likely take it over islands near Okinawa. Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has said that Japan will shoot down the rocket if it threatens Japanese territory.

Change places

The NSA plans to conduct a major reorganization, combining the directorates of Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance into a single Directorate of Operations, the Washington Post reports. The merger will combine the offensive operations of the Signals Intelligence arm with the defensive work of the Information Assurance directorate. The move is a reflection of the close links between offensive and defensive operations in the digital age since, for example, breaking into foreign adversaries networks can yield insights into how to better protect U.S. systems.

And finally…

North Korea is dropping used toilet paper, tissues, and cigarette butts over South Korea via balloons. War is gross.
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