Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Most notable quote of the week has to go to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told Esquire that it’s harder to effectively negotiate with his toddlers than Chinese and Russian diplomats. Being a dad is a tough job, but at least his kids don’t have nukes. Probably.
Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: The United States tries to wrangle a call with Sudan’s warring generals, Canada is probably never going to hit NATO’s defense spending target or lead the alliance, and the Discord leaks keep coming.
The Biden administration is scrambling to wrangle another call with the two warring Sudanese generals that have kicked off a war in Khartoum that has left most of the city’s residents, including American and European diplomats, trapped in their homes with little hope of escape unless the fighting dies down.
U.S. officials are concerned that the block-to-block fighting and damage to Khartoum International Airport are scuttling the chance of an immediate evacuation of 70 to 90 U.S. diplomats and their families who have gathered at the American Embassy compound.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is working to coordinate calls with Sudanese military chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo, three sources familiar with the plan told SitRep, underscoring the high level attention this crisis is receiving from top military brass.
Planning woes. The outreach comes as Western officials have urged a durable cease-fire to allow time for an evacuation. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that it was deploying additional troops to East Africa, where the United States has a military task force based in Djibouti, to assist with the likely evacuation of the Khartoum embassy. Politico reported that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told lawmakers on Wednesday that the military mission would get U.S. diplomats and their families out of the country, but not American citizens (most U.S. diplomats in the country are flying solo, however).
But a break in the fighting has been hard to come by. The RSF released a statement that it had agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire brokered by the United States and other nations on Tuesday, but the fighting never stopped, and both sides pointed fingers at one another for the resurgence of violence. Meanwhile, a French official told reporters in Washington earlier Thursday that French President Emmanuel Macron is set to engage in talks with the African Union to see whether an end to the fighting is feasible.
Yet with lines of escape still forming and supplies dwindling for most diplomats and Western citizens trapped in the war-torn country, security is the biggest focus in the halls of power in the United States and Europe.
Molly Phee, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, briefed congressional overseers on Wednesday, shortly after the State Department set up a crisis response task force on Sudan. During that closed-door meeting, Phee said that an evacuation of American citizens and diplomatic personnel from Khartoum isn’t feasible until the fighting dies down, two sources familiar with the briefing told SitRep. (Kudos to CNN for first reporting that detail.)
Western governments are still scrambling to draft evacuation plans as RSF fighters, considered a heavily armed and poorly trained rabble, step up attacks on foreign diplomats and U.N. compounds.
The U.S. military has V-22 Osprey aircraft that can house about 30 troops and take off and land without runway access, but that could still put diplomats or civilians in the crossfire: Rebels in the Central African Republic fired on U.S. planes evacuating in 2012, one congressional aide told SitRep, for instance.
Taking sides. Western officials increasingly fear that a war that erupted between two rival generals in Sudan over the weekend could spiral into a full-scale regional conflict if it continues unabated. A second congressional aide tracking the crisis, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the RSF likely has little leeway to continue fighting, because it is not equipped for urban combat and is outside of its home turf in western Sudan. The government has also retained air superiority throughout the fighting.
But outside powers could still play kingmaker. The warring factions in Sudan each have powerful foreign backers, ranging from Egypt to Russia to wealthy Gulf kingdoms and neighboring countries that could begin pouring arms and resources into the conflict. Indeed, there are reports that some already have.
Libya’s eastern warlord, Khalifa Haftar, has already sent at least one plane into the country to deliver military supplies to the RSF, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, while Egypt is one of the biggest backers of al-Burhan with supplies and weapons. Neighboring Chad has close connections to Hemeti, the insurgent general, the second congressional aide said, as do Russia and the United Arab Emirates. The fighting has already killed more than 300 people and left 3,000 wounded.
Katarina Mathernová is slated to become the next EU ambassador to Ukraine. Mathernová is currently the deputy director general for the European Commission’s enlargement negotiations.
U.S. President Joe Biden has nominated Tanya Bradsher as deputy secretary of veterans affairs and Margaret Taylor to serve as the State Department’s legal advisor. Bradsher is stepping up from her role as the agency’s chief of staff; Taylor is currently the U.S. Agency for International Development’s general counsel.
Biden also nominated the National Security Council’s top arms control wonk, Cara Abercrombie, as an assistant secretary of defense for acquisition on Thursday. Career diplomat Tobin John Bradley is getting tapped as U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, bumping up from his job as a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, while Jeffery Martin Baran is being tapped to serve another term as a commissioner on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon’s military outpost in the Middle East, has appointed Andrew Moore as its first-ever advisor on AI, robotics, cloud computing, and data analytics. Moore previously led the Google Cloud AI team and was dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.
Laleh Ispahani is set to take over as executive director of the Open Society Foundation-U.S. in July, replacing Tom Perriello, a former Virginia congressman and gubernatorial candidate who was the State Department’s point man for Africa’s Great Lakes region at the end of the Obama administration.
What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.
Will freeloading sink Freeland? Amid the slew of bombshell news coming out of the Discord leaks of classified U.S. intelligence (more on that below) is the news that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately told his NATO counterparts that Canada will never meet the alliance’s defense spending benchmarks. That revelation could sink efforts to make Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister, the next NATO secretary-general, two NATO officials told SitRep.
A quiet race is on to replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO chief. Stoltenberg, who is popular in NATO circles, is scheduled to wrap up his tenure later this year, and Freeland was a top contender to take his spot. Top Biden administration officials, including Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, have been advocating for her to replace Stoltenberg behind the scenes, these officials told us. There’s a big effort to break the proverbial glass ceiling over at NATO headquarters with a first-ever female secretary-general.
But Canada’s laggard defense-spending marks may make Freeland a nonstarter for Eastern European countries near Russia’s border that are pushing their fellow allies to boost defense spending to 2 percent of GDP in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
We don’t know jack. Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old airman in the Massachusetts Air National Guard suspected of leaking all kinds of classified documents on a Discord server, may already be behind bars and awaiting trial, with his lone defender in Washington one Marjorie Taylor Greene. Yikes.
But if you check the front page of the Washington Post, the leaks keep coming. Among the biggest whoppers this week: Egypt made detailed plans to provide Russia with up to 40,000 rockets for Russian rocket launchers, before being swayed by the Biden administration to shelve the plan last month and send artillery ammo to Ukraine instead.
Some other things we’re learning from the Discord leaks: The U.S. government spied on United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, and China is getting a supersonic spy drone unit ready.
Today: U.S. President Joe Biden is set to welcome Colombian President Gustavo Petro to the White House. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is on day two of a four-day trip to the Pacific Islands, where China has been extending its tendrils.
Friday, April 21: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to host the 11th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The United States has already announced another $325 million in military aid to Ukraine, mostly more ammo and tank munitions. The United States has now sent more than $35 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion last February.
Monday, April 24: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is sure to draw jeers in New York, where he is hosting two days of meetings at the U.N. Security Council as part of Russia’s one-month stint in the presidency of the body. The last time Russia chaired the Security Council, in February 2022, it launched the full-scale war in Ukraine.
Wednesday, April 26: Biden is set to host South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at the White House. South Korea, a prolific producer of ammunition, tanks, and K-pop, is considering sending arms to Ukraine for the first time despite threats from Russia. Italy is also set to host a reconstruction conference for Ukraine in Rome.
“Waking up to my new alarm clock: the sounds of bombardment, though sleep is difficult to come by. Time has already changed, no longer day and night but periods of gunfire, periods of quiet …Who knew I’d miss the sounds of traffic?”
—Sudanese think tanker Kholood Khair, who heads up Confluence Advisory, reflects on the last six days of nonstop block-to-block violence in the capital of Khartoum.
UFO sighting. The Pentagon’s sightings of unidentified flying objects may be on the rise, now topping 650 incidents in recent years, but there are no signs of alien life yet causing the phenomenon, Sean Kirkpatrick, the head of the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, told Congress on Wednesday.
The same might not be able to be said in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, where truckers carrying flying saucers were spotted on local freeways earlier this week.
Taste of your own medicine. You want China not to invade Taiwan? It’s simple, according to long-shot Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy: Open a branch of the National Rifle Association in Taipei and put an AR-15 in the hands of every family in Taiwan. “That’ll give [Chinese President] Xi Jinping a taste of American exceptionalism,” Ramaswamy told an assembly of the gun rights advocacy group on Saturday, the same day there were seven mass shootings in the United States.
Meanwhile, in Russia. The Kremlin has declared war on fragile masculinity. No, seriously. No details yet on whether NATO countries will arm fragile masculinity to fight back.
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