National Security

Weekly Ops Briefing: USS Cole Suspect Targeted, Navy SEAL Arraigned, British Soldiers Wounded, Islamic State, Air Bases in Africa, Troops at the Border, Iran and Russia in Syria

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.

Al-Qaeda Operative Responsible for USS Cole Bombing Targeted in Airstrike

United States Central Command (CENTCOM) announced earlier this week that in the Marib governate of Yemen, the U.S. conducted a precision airstrike that targeted Jamel al-Badawi, an al-Qaeda operative that has been long-sought for his suspected role in the October 12, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Seventeen American sailors were killed in the attack.

Al-Badawi, who was arrested by the Yemeni government twice and escaped custody twice, is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s report as a local al-Qaeda coordinator for the attack. He went on to play a significant role in the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has remained active in Yemen.

U.S. forces are still assessing if al-Badawi was killed in the airstrike.

Navy SEAL Arraigned on War Crimes Charges

A highly decorated Navy SEAL has been arraigned on war crimes charges, including a murder charge, in the death of an Islamic State militant in Iraq in 2017.

Navy Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher was arraigned Friday morning at Naval Base San Diego on a list of criminal charges that includes the premeditated murder of a wounded Islamic State detainee.

Navy prosecutors have alleged that Gallagher murdered a teenage ISIS fighter after he was taken into custody by U.S. and Iraqi forces. They further allege that Gallagher mutilated the corpse and posed for photos with it during a reenlistment ceremony and then attempted to cover it all up.

Since his arrest on September 11, 2018, Gallagher has been held at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego.

ISIS Attack in Syria Injuries Two British Soldiers

The U.S.-led Coalition to defeat ISIS suffered its first casualties since President Donald Trump announced that ISIS had been defeated last month. One Kurdish fighter was killed and two British soldiers were wounded in a rocket attack by the Islamic State in eastern Syria over the weekend.

Heavy fighting has continued between the U.S.-led Coalition and ISIS militants in the area around Hajin, along the Syria-Iraq border, the last remaining ISIS-controlled area.

Islamic State Expands Operations in Somalia and Nigeria

The Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) has been expanding its operations in Somalia, claiming responsibility for 66 attacks in 2018 alone. The group has grown in southern Somalia and around the capital city of Mogadishu, and has launched new recruiting drives that have targeted children as young as ten years old. They have clashed with the al- Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, who have declared an open conflict with the Islamic State in Somalia.

In Nigeria, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) has reportedly seized the town of Baga in northeastern Nigeria last week. The Islamic State’s media arm issued a statement claiming to have killed dozens of Nigerian military personnel in an assault on an army barracks in Baga and that they had captured arms and equipment.

The developments in Somalia and Nigeria reflect the growing concern over the Islamic State’s spread in areas of west and central Africa. Large Islamic State cells are known to operate in Libya and Egypt, but many smaller cells operating other areas of the continent are much harder to track or to estimate their strength. According to a report released by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in August 2018, ISWA is the largest Islamic State cell in Africa with an estimated strength of over 3,000 fighters. ISS is estimated to have approximately 150 fighters.

Two New U.S. Airbases in Africa to be Completed this Year

United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) hopes to have two new airbases completed this year.

Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be completed by mid-2019 and will house armed drones and other aircraft.

Camp Baledogle, in the Lower Shabelle region of southern Somalia, is being refurbished and its runways repaired for use by U.S. aircraft, although the Air Force has not provided details on future operations.

There are currently 7,200 American troops in Africa, with most focused on operations in Djibouti, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. Counterterrorism operations targeting al-Shabaab in Somalia have been the main effort for AFRICOM during the past year.

More Troops to be Deployed to the U.S.-Mexico Border

Additional active-duty troops are expected to be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist the Department of Homeland Security in constructing and upgrading 160 miles of border fencing and to provide medical care to immigrants.

Homeland Security requested the additional troops that will likely include engineer and aviation units. There are currently 2,300 active-duty troops and 2,100 National Guard troops deployed to the border.

Iran and Russia Move to Exploit U.S. Withdrawal from Syria

According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russia, Iran, and Syrian government forces have begun mobilizing additional units in eastern Syria to capitalize on the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops and to seize areas currently held by U.S.-backed forces.

Russia has been fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2015. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reopened talks with the government of al-Assad and it is believed that one of the results of these talks will be the handover of large parts of northern and eastern Syria to Russia and Iran.

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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