National Security

Weekly Ops Briefing: Afghan Drawdown, Syria Withdrawal, Chinese Hackers, Taliban Video, Morocco Murders, Trump in Iraq, New SECDEF

We live in a busy world with a lot of information being thrown at you. Don’t feel overwhelmed. OpsLens will give you a weekly briefing on the major stories you need to know about and cut out all the extra information that isn’t important. Here’s your weekly briefing on what’s going on in national security and military news.

The Afghanistan Drawdown

President Donald Trump announced earlier this week that the United States will begin a withdrawal of at least 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

There has been speculation that President Trump is growing impatient with the 17-year war in Afghanistan, and the announcement of the reduction in troops came days after the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and a meeting between U.S. peace envoys and Taliban representatives in Abu Dhabi. Among the issues discussed at the meeting were the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and a cease-fire agreement for 2019.

Concerns have been raised over the withdrawal, including the weakening of the Afghan government’s position in negotiating a peace treaty with the Taliban and the fuel it may provide for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Afghanistan. The withdrawal, on the other hand, may signal to the Taliban that the United States is serious about negotiating an exit from Afghanistan.

U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Syria

The White House announced earlier this month that the United States is transitioning to a new phase in the campaign against ISIS in Syria, a transition that will see the complete withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from the country.

“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”

No timeline has been laid out for the withdrawal, but it is expected to be slow and coordinated with our allies. There are currently around 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, mostly manning outposts to prevent the resurgence of ISIS in the country.

U.S. troops have been aiding the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in retaking territory controlled by ISIS. The SDF is composed of many Kurdish fighters, a threat to neighboring Turkey and a NATO ally. This has caused tension between the United States and Turkey and is believed to be a primary reason for the sudden withdrawal announcement.

Chinese Hackers Attack Multiple U.S. Agencies and DOJ Responds

Two Chinese nationals conducted a massive cyber espionage campaign against U.S. companies and government agencies, including the U.S. Navy, NASA, and the Department of Energy, and obtained highly sensitive personal information over several years.

A New York grand jury indicted Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The U.S. Department of Justice announced the charges against two conspirators last week. They are believed to be in China, but can be arrested if they travel outside the country.

This latest cyber espionage campaign is a part of China’s ongoing efforts to steal intellectual property from other countries.

Taliban Releases New Video of Their Training

The Taliban released a new propaganda video, showing at least 70 of their “commandos” going through training that includes marching and calisthenics while clad in uniforms and white balaclavas.

The location of the camp that the video was shot in was not disclosed, but is believed to be in Afghanistan. U.S. air strikes have routinely targeted Taliban training camps.

European Girls Traveling in Morocco Murdered by ISIS Militants

On December 17, two European tourists traveling in Morocco were murdered by a group of men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State.

Scandinavian hikers Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway were raped, stabbed multiple times, and at least one was beheaded on video by the group. The video was posted online and was sent via social media to the family of one of the girls.

The four main suspects in the incident were arrested within days. It is believed that the men killed the girls in revenge for the recent battlefield losses by ISIS in Syria. During the video, the men are heard saying: “This is revenge for our brothers in Hajine in Syria. These are your heads, enemy of God.”

President Trump Visits Troops in Iraq for the Holidays

President Donald Trump made good on his promise and made his first visit to a warzone as commander-in-chief, visiting U.S. troops in Iraq the day after Christmas. Under cover of darkness, he and First Lady Melania Trump flew to an airfield west of Baghdad to spend time with U.S. troops in a dining facility.

The pair spent about three hours on the ground in Iraq and President Trump addressed troops after being met with cheers.

New Secretary of Defense Announced

Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced his resignation on December 21st, intending to stay on until February. President Donald Trump, however, announced that he would be out on January 1st and that Deputy Defense Secretary James Shanahan will replace him.

Shanahan is a former Boeing executive and spent more than thirty years at the aviation company, which has close ties to the Pentagon. He has been the deputy defense secretary for seventeen months and has been leading the Pentagon’s Space Force project for much of the time.

It has been reported that President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria was the reason that Secretary Mattis decided to resign in protest.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Chris Castellano

Christopher Castellano is a U.S. Army Veteran. He currently serves as a firefighter in New York City.

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