By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Action everywhere. While NATO and Moscow scramble to untangle the events of Tuesday, other European countries are considering ramping up the war against the Islamic State in Syria. In an exclusive interview with FP’s John Hudson, Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said that her country is considering sending more F-16 fighter planes to help in the bombardment of the Islamic State. “It must be clear to everybody that the fight against ISIL is a fight that cannot be done just by the United States or France,” she said. “All of us are in this because the threat is real, not only within the region but also elsewhere.”
Dutch warplanes have already been bombing targets in Iraq while training Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers, but the F-16 deployment aimed at Syria would be an expansion of their role. The country is far from alone in considering stepping up its role in the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS operatives, however. On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would seek approval from parliament to conduct airstrikes in Syria for the first time, while offering up British tankers for air-to-air refueling missions for French jets over Syria. Cameron also is seeking permission for French jets to use British air bases in Cyprus to launch attacks against the Islamic State.
BREAKING: Turkey shot down a Russian jet it says violated Turkish airspace on Tuesday, after Turkish officials say they warned the jet to turn around “10 times within five minutes” when it strayed into Turkish airspace. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that one of its jets was shot down, but claims that “the aircraft was flying only within the borders of the Syrian territory.” Video footage shows the Russian Su-24 jet falling to the ground in flames, with two parachutes clearly visible. The condition of the pilots is unknown, though an early report from the AP says at least one of the pilots was found dead after an insurgent group in Syria claimed its fighters fired at the pilots as they descended.
The incident realizes one of the early fears about the close proximity of NATO and Russian warplanes operating in Syria since Russia deployed jets to the country in September, and stands as the most serious incident between Russia and a NATO nation in recent memory.
“We warned them to avoid entering Turkish airspace before they did, and we warned them many times. Our findings show clearly that Turkish airspace was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly,” a Turkish official told Reuters.
The incident comes at a moment of increasing tensions between Turkey and Russia, just days after Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador, Andrey G. Karlov, to complain over the bombing of Turkmen villages in northern Syria and Russian military action close to the Turkish border. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was already scheduled to travel to Turkey on Wednesday for talks.
The skies over Turkey have become an increasingly tense place, as Washington deployed six U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters with air-to-air combat capabilities to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey earlier this month to help patrol the skies. The U.S. European Command said the move came “in response to the government of Turkey’s request for support in securing the sovereignty of Turkish airspace.” NATO has called an “extraordinary meeting” in Brussels after the shooting down of the Russian jet.
More bombs, fewer headlines. In another intensive coalition air war that has largely fallen from the headlines, the eight month-old Saudi Arabian-led effort to oust Houthi rebels from the Yemeni capital city of Sanaa continues apace. The campaign has come under intense pressure from human rights groups for the estimated 2,500 civilian casualties it has caused, which includes hundreds of women and children.
But that bombing campaign wouldn’t be possible without the American warplanes the Arab coalition is flying, the American bombs they’re dropping, and the thousands of flight hours that U.S. tanker aircraft are flying to refuel those jets, FP’s Paul McLeary writes. A look at the numbers the Pentagon supplied to FP shows just how intense U.S. participation is. Since April 5, when American planes took to the skies to help their Arab allies, U.S. tankers have flown 471 refueling sorties to top off the tanks of coalition warplanes 2,443 times. The American flights have totaled approximately 3,926 flying hours while delivering over 17 million lbs. of fuel.
Head east, young commando. Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group have quietly arrived in Ukraine to begin training a Ukrainian Special Operations battalion, a Pentagon spokesperson has confirmed to SitRep.
The deployment comes as part of a larger U.S. effort to train the Ukrainian military for their fight against Russian-backed rebels and Russian troops in the country’s east. Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are already training several battalions of of soldiers. Washington has committed more than $265 million in equipment and training since 2014. Training of the troops will be conducted at the Yavoriv training center in far western Ukraine, while the special operations piece will take place at the Khmelnitsky facility, also in western Ukraine.
Meanwhile, at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Ash Carter hosts an honor cordon welcoming France’s Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves le Drian to the Pentagon Tuesday, followed by a series of meetings to discuss the new French air war against the Islamic State in Syria. The meetings take place alongside a visit by French President Francois Hollande to Washington to huddle with President Barack Obama. Hollande will next travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
As if tensions along the Syrian-Turkish border weren’t high enough already today, the Russian defense ministry and the state-funded news network RT claim that two RT reporters, Roman Kosarev and Sargon Hadaya, were injured by a TOW anti-tank missile aimed at their vehicle while traveling near the village of Al-Dagmashliya in Latakia, close to the Turkish border. Russia’s defense ministry says both reporters are now safely back at a Russian airbase in Latakia receiving treatment for their injuries.
The BBC reports that the Syrian military has gained some territory southeast of the city of Homs, capturing the towns of Mahin and Hawwarin near the roads that links Damascus with the north of the country and Homs to Palmyra.
Though Belgium’s lockdown on the city of Brussels has thus far failed to net Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the Islamic State’s attack on Paris, authorities there are nonetheless extending emergency measures for another week, with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the city faces a “serious and imminent” threat, according to the AP. French authorities recently claimed that they found a discarded suicide vest in an area of Paris where cell phone data suggests Abdeslam was during the attacks.
The Islamic State
Reuters reports that the U.S. is now using banking records to help identify Islamic State targets to bomb in Syria. Comments by Special Operations Command’s counter threat finance leader Kurt Gredzinski at a conference this week indicated that the U.S. military has for “the first time” used financial information to alter what it “strategically targeted.” Much remains unknown about the effort, including which strikes it has specifically guided, but the Pentagon has heavily targeted the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure and distribution system in a series of recent airstrikes.
The global competition between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for the influence among the world’s jihadis is starting to filter down into East Africa, causing problems for the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab Islamist militant group, the BBC reports. While at least one prominent member of Shabaab has professed an allegiance to the Islamic State, the leadership of the group is still trying to hold on to its alliance with al-Qaeda by banning all discussion of the Islamic State within its ranks.
South Korean intelligence tells Yonhap News Agency that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un punished a member of the country’s leadership brass earlier this month by sending him for “re-education” labor at a farm somewhere in the country. North Korean communist party leader Choe Ryong-hae apparently fell out of Kim’s favor as a result of problems at a hydraulic power plant that fell within his portfolio.
Business of defense
Japan is gearing up to buy Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones, according to an announcement posted on Monday from the Defense Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Defense News reports that Japan will pay $1.2 billion for three Global Hawks along with 16 navigation systems and three sensor suites.
Earlier this month, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report revealing that the Defense Department spent $43 million on a gas station worth no more than half a million dollars and now Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) is pressing the Pentagon to explain why Army Col. John C. Hope, who raised red flags about the costly gas stop, has had his job evaluation subsequently delayed and his career effectively put on hold — a move Hope says amounts to retaliation for whistle-blowing.