Battle Front Brussels: FP Global War Situation Report by Paul McLeary & Adam Rawnley

This is the plane the US will not sell to Japan. A Lokheed Martin UFO in disguise, it is.


Situation Report: Brussels bombers named; Belgium stumbles into the light as Europe’s hub of extremism; U.S. strikes AQ in Yemen; Syrian civilian body count; Putin names names; and lots more
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The National Security Daily Brief from Foreign Policy
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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Latest on Brussels. Belgian security forces are still scrambling to hunt down a suspect in Tuesday’s deadly bombing of the airport and a subway station in Brussels. The two suicide bombers have been identified as brothers with long criminal records. The pair, Khalid el-Bakraoui, 27, and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, 30, have been on the radar of Belgian police since a March 15 raid on an apartment in the city. Belgian news outlets named Najim Laachraoui as the third man involved in the attack seen at the airport in addition to the el-Bakraoui brothers. Laachraoui is reportedly linked to the Paris attacks. There are conflicting reports about whether a man arrested by Belgian authorities on Wednesday in Anderlecht was Laachraoui. The attacks killed over 30 people and left about 250 others injured.

The carnage and the chaos have exposed Belgium as the hub of Islamist extremism in Europe, and raise troubling questions over the competence of the country’s police and intelligence services. The country has already seen a larger share of its Muslim population fight in Syria than has any other European country, and the Molenbeek district of Brussels was the home of several of those involved in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people last November.

Some in the American law enforcement community don’t appear to be very impressed with the Belgian security services, either. FP’s Dan De Luce and Elias Groll take a look at the problem of Belgian security, reporting that “with extremist networks having become entrenched over a period of years, Belgium and its neighbors are confronted by a threat beyond what security services had ever anticipated.”

Another airstrike. Just weeks after a massive U.S. airstrike on an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia killed an estimated 150 fighters from the al Qaeda-aligned group, American aircraft struck another al Qaeda camp in Yemen Tuesday, killing dozens more. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday night that the camp was being used by more than 70 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters, and “our initial assessment is that dozens of AQAP fighters have been removed from the battlefield.”

The hit is the sixth recorded U.S. airstrike in Yemen this year, according to the Long War Journal. There have been no reports of civilian casualties. The strike also comes about a month after two U.S. F-15 jets hit an Islamic State training camp in western Libya, killing about 40 people, including Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian militant suspected of orchestrating two terrorist attacks last year against tourists in his home country.

Talks? A Yemeni official said Tuesday that a new round of peace talks between government representatives and the Houthi rebels are scheduled for next month in Kuwait, accompanied by a temporary ceasefire. The U.N. has reported that more than 6,000 people have been killed since the start of the Saudi-led military intervention in March, 2015.

Counting. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group, released its latest estimate for how many civilians have been killed in airstrikes launched by the U.S.-led coalition over the past 18 months. Of the 4,643 people killed in Syria, 4,108 were Islamic State militants, with another 136 from the al Nusra Front. Of the “hundreds” wounded, the majority have been ISIS fighters. The group also estimates that 380 civilians have died, including 99 children. The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS has conducted 8,386 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria — 3,401 of which targeted ISIS fighters in Syria, all of which has cost Washington around $6.5 billion.

New boss, new apologies. The new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan traveled to Kunduz Tuesday to offer his apologies to the families of the victims of the Oct. 3 U.S. airstrike that killed 42 civilians at an aid hospital there. Twelve U.S. servicemembers have been disciplined for the strike, though none have been recommended for criminal action. That decision didn’t go over well with human rights groups, as FP recently noted.

Nicholson went further in his comments than former commander Gen. John Campbell, who led the force at the time of the strike, and handed over command earlier this month. “I wanted to come to Kunduz personally and stand before the families and the people of Kunduz to deeply apologize for the events which destroyed the hospital and caused the deaths of staff, patients and family members,” Nicholson said. “I grieve with you for your loss and suffering, and humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.”

In a twist, Nicholson’s wife, Norine MacDonald, accompanied him on the trip, and spoke with some of the victims of the bombing privately. MacDonald is the president and founder International Council On Security and Development, a policy think tank working to on policy issues related to Afghanistan.

Always more. During a marathon hearing before the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen, Joseph Dunford hinted that the Pentagon is readying a new round of requests for more troops or equipment to help the Iraqis take back the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are “in the process right now of bringing forward recommendations for increased capability as a result of operations in Mosul, Raqqa and elsewhere, so we can maintain the momentum and accelerate the campaign,” Dunford said. And he feels good about the the prospects. “To date, we haven’t had any request that we’ve gone to the president with — and this is now over the last several months — for capabilities that has been denied,” Dunford said.

Thanks for clicking on through this morning as we work through another week of SitRep. As always, 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.


Vladimir Putin has decorated 17 Russian troops for their service in Syria, offering a first time glimpse of the units which Russia initially deployed to the country and their commander. IHS Jane’s reports that among the those decorated were troops from the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade, 120th Artillery Brigade as well as UAV and air defense units. The ceremony also saw General Alexander Dvornikov of the army’s ground forces named as the commander of Russian troops in Syria.


Russia is upgrading 150 of its T-72 tanks to a more modern T-72B3M variant, Sputnik reports. The country has already developed more modern tanks, such as the T-14 Armata and the T-90, but declining oil prices and Western sanctions have drained Russia’s state coffers, leading the army to choose a cheaper modernization option for some of its tank fleet. The upgraded tanks will receive new engines, weapons, and explosive reactive armor. All told, the improvements are expected to cost $37 million.

The U.S. is growing increasingly disturbed by Russia’s nuclear “saber-rattling,” according to  Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller. Gottemoeller called out the recent comments of former Russian former foreign minister Igor Ivanov as particularly risible. Ivanov told an audience at the recent Brussels Forum that Russia has “less nuclear warheads, but the risk of them being used is growing.” The undersecretary also criticized Russia for walking away from nuclear disarmament initiatives, reemphasizing the U.S. position that Russia is violating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty and lamenting that the Russians will not attend the upcoming Nuclear Industry Summit in Washington, DC.


Japan is moving forward with plans to build its own stealth fighter jet, which will be called the F-3, Reuters reports. The Japanese are reaching out to Western defense companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the Eurofighter consortium, to explore potential partners for developing the aircraft, which is expected to cost at least $40 billion. Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Ministry of Defense’s Technical Research and Development Institute are already at work on the ATD-X, an experimental stealth jet whose technology will eventually be integrated into the F-3 fighter. Japan is already purchasing 42 stealth F-35 jets and had hoped to purchase F-22 Raptors but the U.S. has declined to export the advanced jet.


The U.S. Army is mulling whether to send Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) missile defense systems to Europe and the Middle East, Defense News reports. U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command chief Lt. Gen. David Mann told reporters Tuesday that both European and U.S. military officials in the Middle East have expressed interest in receiving THAAD batteries. The U.S. has already begun talks to send the missile defense system to South Korea in the wake of recent ballistic missile threats from North Korea, despite Chinese objections. Mann stressed the need to reassure the Chinese that a THAAD deployment to South Korea would not aim its radars at China, but rather the North Korean threat.


The Navy’s forthcoming unmanned tanker drone, variously referred to as “CBARS” or “Stingray,” might take commands from airborne fighter jets in the future. Breaking Defense reports that Rear Adm. Michael Manazi told an audience at an Air Force Association event that he expects an F-35, F/A-18E Super Hornet, or E-2 Hawkeye could take control of the tanker drone after it finishing fueling thirsty planes and issue commands. Manazi emphasized the importance of “man-machine teaming,” in which unmanned vehicles team with manned ones. Navy officials have floated the possibility that the future tanker drone could also carry out intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

And finally…

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. For those curious about how the military comes up with the jumble of letters and numbers to designate its various weapons systems, PopMech flags a handy chart breaking down the logic behind each character in the name of missiles, rockets, and drones.
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