U.S. and Russia ‘can’t stop’ Turkey’s new Syria incursion


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With help from Phelim Kine and Lara Seligman

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off for Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday but back to our normal schedule on Monday, Nov. 28.

Turkey is threatening to kill more U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria — and the United States and Russia might not try very hard to stop it.

Turkish President RECEP TAYYIP ERDOĞAN vowed to soon launch a ground attack on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria, claiming they were responsible for a deadly terrorist attack last week.

“We have been bearing down on terrorists for a few days with our planes, cannons and guns,” Erdoğan said Tuesday, alluding to Turkey’s recent lethal aerial bombardments in Syria. “God willing, we will root out all of them as soon as possible, together with our tanks, our soldiers.”

It’s unclear if it was Kurdish separatists who killed six people in the heart of Istanbul on Nov. 13. The Kurds deny the allegation, after all. But experts say it has presented Erdoğan with a pretext to delve deeper into northern Syria, a push he’s long wanted to do.

“Turkey is quite serious about the current Syria offensive,” the Middle East Institute’s and St. Lawrence University’s HOWARD EISSENSTAT told NatSec Daily. “This fits with both long-standing Turkish assumptions about its security interests and Erdoğan’s need to look strong in advance of elections scheduled for June. Under the current circumstances, Russia or the U.S. might be able to impose limits on Turkish actions, but they can’t stop them entirely.”

Both have reasons to be worried about Turkey launching a ground attack.

Russia backs Syrian President BASHAR AL-ASSAD while Turkey supports rebels seeking to topple him. “We understand and respect Turkey’s concerns about ensuring its own security,” Kremlin spokesperson DMITRY PESKOV told reporters. “At the same time, we call on all parties to refrain from steps that could lead to the destabilization of the overall situation.”

About 900 U.S. troops, meanwhile, are in Syria to keep ISIS at bay alongside Syrian Democratic Forces and fear heavy fighting could disrupt their plans.

Turkey has a legitimate right to defend itself and its citizens, National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told NatSec Daily during a Tuesday news conference, but added cross-border operations “might force a reaction by some of our SDF partners that would limit and constrain their ability to fight against ISIS…and we want to be able to keep the pressure on ISIS.”

“We continue to urge for deescalation on all sides and in our conversations,” Pentagon deputy press secretary SABRINA SINGH later told reporters.

But those statements don’t fully reflect the state of play, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s SONER CAGAPTAY told NatSec Daily, because “Ankara has just about aligned all-stars for an incursion.”

The U.S. may not resist too strongly since it wants Turkey, a NATO ally, to accept Sweden and Finland’s accession to the alliance. Cagaptay said a Monday State Department statement that barely lambasted Turkey over the violence in Syria was evidence of Washington’s light approach. “I can’t recall any statement that nicely worded about Turkey’s incursion into Syria in a long time,” he said.

And Russia is providing millions for Turkey’s economy and energy sector, propping up Erdoğan ahead of next year’s vote. In exchange, experts say Erdoğan may finally accept Assad as Syria’s legitimate ruler, effectively bringing an end to what remains of the war in Syria.

If that’s the case, it seems the U.S. and Russia may stand aside as Turkey kills more Kurds — and American allies — in Syria.

U.S. LEADERS IN ASIA: Vice President KAMALA HARRIS warned of U.S. intervention if China takes aim at the Philippines, our own PHELIM KINE reports.

In a visit to the Philippines, Harris pushed back against Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the region, pledging $7.5 million for the Philippine Coast Guard. On Monday, Harris also warned of a U.S. response if there is “an armed attack” on Filipino ships or aircraft in the South China Sea, invoking a treaty between the allies.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson ZHAO LIJIAN clapped back on Tuesday, warning that U.S.-Philippines cooperation “should not target or hurt other countries’ interests.”

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN met with his Chinese counterpart in Cambodia on Tuesday, discussing strained bilateral relations and regional and global security issues, the Associated Press’ HENG SINITH reports.

The two met on the sidelines of a regional meeting, marking the second time in six months Austin and Gen. WEI FENGHE met face-to-face. It comes just over a week after President JOE BIDEN met with Chinese leader XI JINPING in Indonesia, a gathering widely seen as an effort to ease tensions between the two world powers.

On the issue of Taiwan, Austin assured Wei of Biden’s commitment to the “one China” policy, but called on China to refrain from taking destabilizing actions toward the island nation, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. PAT RYDER said.

EUROPE’S NEW MIGRANT INFLUX: Europe is struggling even more to properly welcome thousands of people seeking asylum from war and famine.

Specifically, the EU plus Norway and Switzerland recorded about 564,000 applications in August this year — an increase of 62 percent from the same period last year, according to the European Union Agency for Asylum.

That increase doesn’t include the millions of Ukrainian refugees moving westward since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. “Tents and sleeping bags have become a common sight along the canal in central Brussels, as well as in underpasses and railway stations, as some asylum seekers are forced to wait months for shelter after lodging applications,” per The Financial Times’ SAM FLEMING and GUY CHAZAN, underscoring just how overwhelmed the reception system is right now.

NAVY BLAMES IRAN FOR DRONE ATTACK: The U.S. Navy confirmed Iran’s involvement in a Nov. 15 drone attack on a commercial tanker, identifying the drone as a Shahed-136 — the same type Iran has supplied to Russia for use in Ukraine.

The attack fits “a historical pattern of Iran’s increasing use of a lethal capability directly or through its proxies across the Middle East,” reads a statement by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

“The Iranian attack on a commercial tanker transiting international waters was deliberate, flagrant and dangerous, endangering the lives of the ship’s crew and destabilizing maritime security in the Middle East,” said Vice Adm. BRAD COOPER, the command’s chief.

U.S. officials had already said they suspected Iran was behind the strike.

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ARCTIC POWER: Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN touted Moscow’s growing footprint in the Arctic at a Tuesday flag-raising ceremony that commemorated two new nuclear-powered icebreakers that will allow the country to have year-round access to western parts of the Arctic, Reuters reports.

The icebreakers “are part of our large-scale, systematic work to re-equip and replenish the domestic icebreaker fleet, to strengthen Russia’s status as a great Arctic power,” Putin said.

The Arctic has become more significant due to climate change as melting ice has prompted countries like Russia, the U.S. and China to try to increase their influence in the region, which could also affect trade and shipping lane access.

KISS IT GOODBYE, FOR NOW: The idea of creating a new platform where the government and the private sector can rapidly share data on cyber threats has hit a Fort Meade-sized speed bump: the National Security Agency, our friends over at Morning Cybersecurity (for Pros!) report.

Until recently, the joint collaborative environment looked like a solid bet to make it into the final version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, featuring in both the House and Senate markups of the must-pass defense bill.

But the NSA began voicing objections to the JCE in the last few weeks, tilting the scales against the provision on the Hill, two Hill staffers granted anonymity to speak freely about the proposal told MC.

The NSA’s “biggest concern” about the legislation is that it “would overly constrain” the NSA and CISA’s ongoing threat-sharing efforts, ROB JOYCE, the director of NSA’s cybersecurity directorate, told MC.

ON THE WAY: The Army is on track to award the multibillion-dollar contract for the UH-60 Black Hawk replacement by the end of the year, our friends over at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report.

Competing for the deal are Bell, with its V-280 Valor tiltrotor, and a Sikorsky-Bell team, with the SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, Army acquisition chief DOUG BUSH told reporters Monday. Bell estimates the program is worth more than $100 billion because of foreign military sales opportunities.

Black Hawks won’t be phased out of the Army overnight. The service intends to buy them through fiscal 2028 and does not anticipate the replacement to come online until 2035.

NOT WINGING IT: Republicans have an answer for anyone asking about the effect the party’s populist wing might have on foreign policy: Sorry, what?

Lawmakers at the Halifax International Security Forum told our own ANDREW DESIDERIO that “Congress is likely to allocate well more than the $38 billion the Biden administration requested for Ukraine’s military and economic needs as part of a year-end governing funding bill. And that extra infusion is set to advance with the help of senior Republicans, even as influential conservative groups urge a pause.”

That means Republicans predict enough Democrats and Republicans will support the package, drowning out loud voices on the right who don’t want to give Kyiv another penny.

“If we were on the other side of this, they’d be pounding the table saying, ‘Send more money to Ukraine,’” Sen. JIM RISCH (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview.

Lawmakers from both parties believe the package will get through Congress before newly elected representatives and senators arrive in Washington.

SEND ARMED DRONES TO UKRAINE: Sixteen senators are urging the Biden administration to give Ukraine armed drones to better repel Russia’s invasion, our own LEE HUDSON reports.

The Biden administration has been hesitant to send the drone to Ukraine due to fears that sensitive technologies aboard the aircraft may end up in Russian hands. An electro-optical/infrared ball on the Gray Eagle provides real-time intelligence, targeting and tracking. The administration was also concerned that the drone and the instruments it carries would pose too many training and logistics challenges for the Ukrainian military.

But the bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Sens. JONI ERNST (R-Iowa) and JOE MANCHIN (D-W.V.), say the benefits of helping Ukraine take out Russian positions outweigh the risks.

“The MQ-1C could erode Russia’s long-range fires advantage. Most importantly, armed UAS could find and attack Russian warships in the Black Sea, breaking its coercive blockade and alleviate dual pressures on the Ukrainian economy and global food prices,” they wrote in the letter.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the letter.

FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — CAMPAIGN AGAINST CHIPS IN 889: Loyal NatSec Daily readers will remember our report that two senators want to ban the federal government from acquiring products or services from Chinese chipmakers. Simply put, they want to update Section 889 in the federal code to include three Chinese firms and Chinese-made semiconductors.

Well, the backlash to that bill by Sens. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.) and JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas) has begun.

“Left unaddressed, adding the covered semiconductors to part B of section 889 would harm federal agencies’ ability to procure the essential goods and services they need to promote our nation’s well-being, while putting added financial pressure on businesses that are operating in an inflationary economy,” reads a draft letter obtained by NatSec Daily. It’s signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Aerospace Industries Association, among other groups.

The groups are fine with the section’s Part A, which deals with the procurement of items, even though “it presents federal contractors with costly and complex compliance burdens.” Their main gripe is with Part B because it bans interactions with a contractor that “uses” a banned technology. That makes compliance much harder, they argue. “A company with both federal and nonfederal customers would be barred from selling to the government because it ‘uses’ a coffee service that ‘uses’ the covered semiconductors,” the letter reads.

Some lawmakers in both parties told NatSec Daily they don’t fully support the Schumer-Cornyn bill because of Point B.

The draft note, dated Nov. 22, is addressed to Sens. JACK REED (D-R.I.) and JIM INHOFE (R-Okla.), the top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Still, much of the non-government national security community is behind the chip ban out of fear China can manipulate the semiconductors for its own purposes. Some of the three companies up for a ban allegedly have ties to China’s military.

An AIA spokesperson said of the reason for sending the letter: “We have serious concerns about the cumulative effect of well-intentioned, but burdensome regulations that could drive small businesses out of the industrial base.”

— MICHAEL HOCHMAN is now chief of staff for the White House Office of the National Cyber Director. He previously was deputy chief of staff and deputy general counsel.

HADY AMR has been named a special representative for Palestinian affairs, the first time the State Department has had a D.C.-based post focused on that issue. He was previously the deputy assistant secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

— NATHALIE TOCCI, POLITICO: Europe’s Defense Efforts Remain Underwhelming

— BEN OLLERENSHAW and JULIAN SPENCER-CHURCHILL, Real Clear Defense: To Deter China, the U.S. Must Have the Political Courage to Retaliate Against Russia

— ANDREW KREPINEVICH, JR., Foreign Affairs: Is Putin a Rational Actor?

— The Hudson Institute, 10 a.m.: “Countering Russian Influence in Georgia”

Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot me an email at [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.

Thanks to our editor, Heidi Vogt, who has aligned the stars to gain full control of this newsletter.

And we thank our producer, Kierra Frazier, who is a star in her own right.



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