Pakistan arrests key militant; Turkey to lose F-35?; Vietnam-China tensions rise; Warding off election violence; And a bit more.

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Pakistan just arrested a key militant linked to the 2008 Mumbai attack, the Wall Street Journal reports. The man in question: Hafiz Saeed, who “denies founding or leading Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group behind that attack” and whose capture “carries a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head.” 

He was reportedly snagged by “counterterrorism police in the eastern province of Punjab said Mr. Saeed was arrested as he traveled [from Lahore] to the city of Gujranwala, where he was seeking pre-arrest bail from a court there.”

The arrest comes along with “a raft of arrests, seizures of assets and other actions over the past few months against militants,” according to Pakistani officials, who said the country is now taking a “proactive approach… so that our territory can’t be used against anyone else.” 

And the capture comes just in time for a July 22 meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Trump, the Journal writes. That meeting “is expected by experts to be dominated by Afghanistan, where Islamabad is playing a key role in supporting talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, another jihadist group that Pakistan is accused of supporting.” A bit more behind the paywall, here. 

Across the border in Afghanistan this weekend, the Taliban overran the Paktia provincial district of Dila Wa Khushamand after Afghan security forces “tactically retreated,” Bill Roggio of FDD reported Tuesday. 

And that means “Of Paktika’s 20 districts, seven are controlled by the Taliban, nine are heavily contested, and the remaining four are under government control,” according to FDD’s running analysis of the country. A bit more, here.

Related reading: ‘The Enemy Kills Us Like Sheep’: Voices of the Afghan Security Forces, by the New York Times’ Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Taimoor Shah and Najim Rahim reporting from a combined seven different provinces Tuesday.  

Said one Afghan National Army captain to the Times: “I have lost nearly 300 friends in uniform. In the early years, Americans provided on-time air support and they would immediately airlift the wounded. But currently, our wounded and dead bodies stay for several days in our outposts. Some have died from their wounds because they were not evacuated.”

Said another: “The leadership of our war is problematic. We are always in defensive positions, we don’t carry out operations and we don’t capture those territories which are in Taliban control. We are always in our bases and outposts and we are always under Taliban attack.” Worth the click, here. 


From Defense One

Looks Like Turkey Is Getting Booted from the F-35 Program // Marcus Weisgerber: After months of threats, Washington appears poised to drop Ankara from the multibillion-dollar project.

Esper Assures Wary Senators He’ll Keep Military Out of Politics // Kevin Baron: During his confirmation hearing, the SecDef nominee was asked about Trump, China, and Russia — and not Afghanistan, ISIS, or al-Qaeda.

Sen. Warren Spars with Defense Secretary Nominee Over His Lobbyist Work // Marcus Weisgerber: The Democratic presidential candidate said that Mark Esper, who has declined to recuse himself from Raytheon-related decisions, should not lead the Pentagon.

Europe Has No Attractive Options in the Post-INF World // Bruno Lété: Soon to be back in the nuclear line of fire, Europeans wonder how to get arms control back on the international agenda.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day just five years ago, 298 people were killed — 80 of them children — when a passenger jet flying from the Netherlands to Malaysia was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a Russian-made Buk missile almost five months into Russia’s “little green men” invasion of Ukraine. The man who would be president, Donald Trump, tweeted four days later: “Obama wanted Putin to reset. Instead, Putin laughed at him and reloaded.”
Relive that week now that the open-source sleuths at Bellingcat just produced their first podcast on the downing of Flight MH17; actually, it’s an entire season on the topic, and episode one just posted yesterday. Listen or read more from Bellingcat, here. 


President Trump finally spoke publicly Tuesday on plans to sell F-35s to Turkey, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported after a cabinet meeting at the White House. “Turkey’s…ordered over a hundred F-35 planes…and they had plans to order more,” Trump said. “But because they have a system of missiles that’s made in Russia, they’re now prohibited from buying over a hundred planes.”
There is, however, kind of a problem with those remarks, Weigerber noted, since Trump “inaccurately described the status of Turkey’s orders: though it has long professed plans to buy 100 of the jets, it has so far actually ordered only about 30.”
Background: “For months, Pentagon officials have threatened to boot Turkey from the F-35 program and cancel delivery of its aircraft unless it canceled plans to buy the S-400. Turkish officials announced on Friday that those missiles had begun to arrive last Friday.” That put the ball in Washington’s court, and now a formal announcement by the Pentagon is anticipated this week — which is why until we get a formal update on the matter, as Weisgerber writes in his headline, it merely “Looks Like Turkey Is Getting Booted from the F-35 Program.” Read on, here. 

Amid a standoff with China, Vietnam’s prime minister tells his sailors to be “ready to fight,” Reuters reports from Hanoi.
The quick read: “Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been embroiled in a weeks-long standoff near an offshore oil block in disputed waters of the South China Sea, which fall within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone,” Reuters writes, citing “separate reports by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.”
This is “a brewing crisis over [South China Sea] energy resources,” writes CSIS’s Greg Poling, on Twitter. He and CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative used ship tracking data and satellite imagery to reconstruct the path of one Chinese Coast Guard ship that “has been interfering w/ drilling operations off the coasts of Malaysia and Vietnam, while four more protect a Chinese survey in disputed waters.”
Why this is important: The situation “reveals a double-standard” in place by China, CSIS writes in its analysis, since “China’s actions off both the Malaysian and Vietnamese coasts since May show that Beijing is increasingly willing to employ coercion and the threat of force to block oil and gas operations by its neighbors, even while pursuing its own energy exploration in disputed waters.”
Where things appear to stand presently: “Vietnam has responded to the survey by sending its own law enforcement vessels to shadow the Haiyang Dizhi 8,” according to CSIS. “At least two [of those law enforcement vessels], KN 468 and KN 472, left Cam Ranh Bay and have been following the [Chinese] survey ship since July 4. AIS data shows that the survey ship continues to operate, surrounded by its CCG escort which is boxing out the Vietnamese vessels attempting to intervene.”
The chief worry at this point: “an accidental collision could lead to escalation.”
And about that prime minister’s message, it was delivered a week ago when “Nguyen Xuan Phuc, visited the headquarters of the Vietnam Coast Guard in Hanoi” and spoke “to sailors on board vessels via a video link,” Reuters writes. Phuc told the sailors to “stay vigilant and ready to fight” and to be aware of “unpredictable developments,” according to an online statement from the Vietnam Coast Guard. More from Reuters here. 
Play it again: Catch up on the murky national security and diplomacy implications extending “Beyond South China Sea tensions” in our two-part podcast of that name from February, here. 

Iran: We didn’t say what Pompeo said we said. In a Tuesday cabinet meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Iranians have said they are ready to discuss their ballistic missile program, with Trump adding, “They’d like to talk, and we’ll see what happens,” The Hill reported.
Not true, Iran’s foreign minister said just hours later. (AP’s headline: “Iran’s top diplomat walks back from remark on missile talks”) A spokesman for Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Americans had misinterpreted Mr. Zarif’s public statements, including that if the United States “wants to talk about missiles, it should stop selling weapons, including missiles, to regional states,” the New York Times reported. “Iranian officials have repeatedly said they would engage with Mr. Trump only after he rejoined the 2015 nuclear accord, which he withdrew from last year.”
If that sounds familiar, the episode echoes the Trump administration’s pattern of misrepresenting public statements by another missile power: North Korea. As Outside the Beltway’s Doug Mataconis wrote on June 9: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues the Trump Administration’s misrepresentations about what North Korea agreed to at last year’s Singapore Summit, and it is the primary reason why efforts to strike any kind of deal with the DPRK is most likely doomed.” Read that, here.

Iran seems to have come to the aid of a suspicious oil tanker that “disappeared from ship tracking maps when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14,” Reuters reports. U.S. officials, however, are not so sure that’s what happened. 
About Iran’s position, Reuters writes “Iran says it towed a vessel into its waters from the strait after the ship issued a distress call. Although Tehran did not name the vessel, the Riah is the only ship whose recorded movements appear likely to match that description.”
And about that U.S. position, a nameless official “said it appeared that the tanker was in Iranian territorial waters, but it was not clear whether that was because Iran had seized it or rescued it.”
Making things more difficult: nobody seems to want to claim the tanker. “Initial reports described it as Emirati. However, an Emirati official told Reuters the tanker was neither owned nor operated by the UAE.” What’s more, “The tanker’s registered manager is Prime Tankers in the UAE. That company told Reuters it had sold the tanker to another UAE-based company, Mouj al-Bahar. An employee at Mouj al-Bahar told Reuters that the firm did not own it but had been managing the vessel up to two months ago, and that it was now under the management of a company called KRB Petrochem.” And that company has not returned Reuters’ requests for comment. Read on, here. 

Related: “Shipping companies are hiring unarmed security guards for voyages through the Middle East Gulf as an extra safeguard after a wave of attacks in the region,” Reuters reports separately this morning from London.
Involved: “experienced security firms [contracted] to help with a range of issues, from advising ship captains to closely monitoring a vessel above the waterline where explosives such as limpet mines may be placed.”
Some of the companies named include MAST, Ambrey and PVI. As well, “insurance premiums are up tenfold” since May, Reuters writes, “adding as much as $100,000 in costs for a supertanker sailing on a seven-day trip.” Continue reading, here. 

An election-related violence warning ahead of 2020. Sheldon Himelfarb of the U.S. Institute of Peace, whose work on the issue spans three continents: “Now, in my own country, I’m seeing the same red flags in other parts of the world, like Iraq and Bosnia, that have typically been precursors to violence, especially around emotional and hard-fought elections,” he writes in Washington Monthly.
Among the warning signs: 

  • “a rise in domestic terrorism, hate crimes, and street violence” 
  • “the proliferation of disinformation, rumors, and hate speech”
  • “political rallies have become bellwethers of violent assaults”

What to do? Himelfarb points to “the emergence of a set of technologies aimed at building trust and defusing conflict.” In Kenya’s 2017 elections, for example, “an SMS/text-based early warning and response platform” was used by more than 200,000 Kenyans to “report any irregularity they thought might lead to violence, from election fraud to intimidation.” This helped reduce the number of deaths due to election-related violence from more than 1,000 people in the 2007 election to one-tenth of that in 2017. 
Another example of peacetech is Aggie, used in Nigeria by grassroots youth election observers “to detect violence in real-time by scanning social media, open source data, and incoming SMS reports.” Read on, here.

And finally today: Soda wars and the fall of Communism. In 1989, the Soviet Union really wanted some Pepsi soda, the concentrate for it, anyway. But it didn’t exactly have the cash. “So, in the spring of 1989,” AtlasObscura writes, “Pepsi and the Soviet Union signed a remarkable deal.” Pepsi received “17 old submarines and three warships, including a frigate, a cruiser, and a destroyer,” briefly making it, what We Are the Mighty called “the 6th largest military in the world.” 
The soda company “also bought new Soviet oil tankers and leased them out or sold them in partnership with a Norwegian company,” AO writes. “In return, the company could more than double the number of Pepsi plants in the Soviet Union.” (The ships were later sold for scrap.)
Joked Pepsi executive, Donald Kendall, to Brent Scowcroft, then President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser: “We’re disarming the Soviet Union faster than you are.” For another joke — and the man who brought this story to our attention — find GWU’s Seamus Hughes’ timeless Coke-vs.-Pepsi jibe, here.




Pakistan arrests key militant; Turkey to lose F-35?; Vietnam-China tensions rise; Warding off election violence; And a bit more.