Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Iraqis may have all but retaken the Mosul dam; The Guard deploys to Ferguson; Ukrainian forces claim they’ve snagged a key rebel town; Bob Work to Asia; and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: Iraqis may have all but retaken the Mosul dam;  The Guard deploys to Ferguson; Ukrainian forces claim they’ve snagged a key rebel town; Bob Work to Asia; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

As U.S. airstrikes in Iraq continue, Iraqis say they have wrested the Mosul dam back from Islamic State militants. The massive dam on the Tigris, captured by Islamic State militants weeks ago, had served, not only as a potent symbol of the militants’ battlefield effectiveness as they charged across northern Iraq, but represented a real threat under IS control: blowing up the already fragile dam could send a 60-foot torrent roaring downriver. This morning, Kurdish forces say they have recaptured the dam from the IS. Way too soon (and probably inaccurate anyway) to say this is a turning point, but if the reports are true it would show at least a partial turning of the tide and be welcome news to American policymakers whose fingers are crossed that the U.S. bombing campaign, in conjunction with support to the Iraqis, is having an effect. The next 24 hours will reveal to what degree this is true – and what it means.

Reuters this morning: "…A Twitter account belonging to a media organization that supports the Islamic State said the dam was still under the group’s full control. On Sunday, a Mosul dam engineer who has been in close contact with Islamic State militants holding the dam said they had been placing roadside bombs along roads leading in and out of the complex in anticipation of an assault." More here.

U.S. airstrikes help the Kurds gain against IS.  Meantime, after the revelation that the humanitarian crisis atop Mount Sinjar wasn’t nearly as bad as feared, there had been some question what that would mean for the U.S. airstrike campaign in Iraq. But recent days have shown that there is no immediate plan to suspend airstrike operations, all in an attempt to help the peshmerga and Iraqi forces to reverse the situation against the IS. But the conflict in Iraq, as yet un-branded by the Obama administration, has brought strange bedfellows. The WSJ’s Joe Parkinson: "U.S. jets, drones and bombers pounded Sunni insurgent positions on Sunday to ease the siege of the strategically vital Mosul Dam, as Washington and its Kurdish allies turned up pressure on the radical group Islamic State.

"…Hundreds of guerrillas linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have this weekend fought in a broader Kurdish offensive against the insurgents under U.S. air cover. They joined the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region’s Peshmerga forces around the regional capital of Erbil and the Sinjar mountains, where thousands from the Yazidi religious minority have been trapped by the rapid advance of Islamic State fighters. It wasn’t immediately clear whether PKK guerrillas were assisting in the Kurdish ground offensive launched Sunday in conjunction with U.S. air attacks to retake the Mosul Dam.

"…Last week, PKK commanders said they met U.S. advisers dropped on Mount Sinjar to assess the humanitarian crisis there and had ‘constructive discussions.’ A U.S. defense official couldn’t confirm whether the meeting took place and stressed in response to reports that the PKK was fighting alongside the Peshmerga that ‘it’s hard to tell from Washington who’s on the front line in a Kurdish-Iraqi fight.’" More here.

Interviews with witnesses show the Kurds, now getting weapons and air support from Washington, left the Yazidis defenseless earlier this month. Christine van den Toorn for the Daily Beast, here.

Obama needs to go to war with the Islamic State, or it will go to war with America. Washington Institute’s Jim Jeffrey for FP: "…Well, another American war in Iraq is exactly what is going to happen, sooner or later. The president has already slowed the Islamic State’s (IS) momentum with his strikes near Erbil, but it is not clear if this is a one-time response or the beginning of a campaign to first contain, then destroy the jihadist force. The sooner we begin such a campaign, the less complicated our involvement will be, the greater our chances of success, and the more likely IS’s forces can be defeated before they tear apart the region completely — and directly threaten America." More here.

Iraq must sort out its politics to have any hope of routing the Islamic State. The Economist’s analysis, here.

China’s strategic dilemma in the Middle East – and Iraq. The FT’s Nick Buter, here.

Prowess: U.K.’s David Cameron argues for a protracted mission in Iraq, meaning months, even if it doesn’t mean ground troops. Cameron: "Yes we should use all the assets we have – our diplomacy, our political relationships, our aid, the military prowess and expertise we have to help others – as part of a strategy to put pressure on Islamic State and make sure this terrorist organisation is properly addressed and it cannot cause mayhem on our own streets." The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt, here.

A bit more on Iraq below.

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The National Guard has been called up in Ferguson, Missouri. Reuters’ Ellen Wulfhorst this morning: "Missouri’s governor said on Monday he would send the National Guard into the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson to restore calm after authorities forcibly dispersed a crowd protesting last week’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by police. Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order deploying the U.S. state militia, saying demonstrators had thrown Molotov cocktails and shot at police as well as a civilian, a description of the night’s events diverging widely from some eyewitness accounts." More here.

Bob Work is headed to Asia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work left yesterday for swing through Asia, with stops across the Pacific. Today, he’s in Hawaii, where he is visiting U.S. Pacific Command; he’ll head to Guam, then South Korea, then Japan, and be back sometime about Aug. 24. More details to follow.

Staffers on a plane:  Kelly Magsamen, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Security Affairs, Cara Abercrombie, principal director for East Asia, Luke Collin, Country Director for Japan, Matthew Squeri, Country Director for Korea, Paul Vosti, Director for Guam Policy, Greg Grant, special assistant and speechwriter, and Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, public affairs officer.

The U.S. and South Korea begin a military drill – despite the threats from the North. AP: "… The beginning of the "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" exercise, which will last until August 29, came as Pope Francis led a mass for inter-reconciliation in Seoul at the end of the five-day trip to South Korea. Although largely played out on computers, the drill involves tens of thousands of South Korean and US soldiers and is aimed at testing combat readiness for a North Korean invasion." More here.

A source in Seoul tells Yonhap news agency that North Korea is launching a new model of tactical rockets. Yonhap: "North Korea has introduced and test-fired new tactical rockets that can pose a threat to South Korea’s major military facilities, a military source here said Monday. ‘The five short-range projectiles that North Korea fired off last week were found to be novel tactical missiles, according to our analysis jointly with the United States of the North’s photo of the rockets,’ said the source, asking not to be named." More here.

A defector from North Korea finds his voice – in rap. The WaPo’s Anna Fifield in Seoul, here.

The top officer at the oldest American sub base in Groton is retiring. AP’s Michael Melia: "…an admiral whose ties to Groton date back to his birth, may become the last flag officer to serve here as his submarine group is eliminated in a Navy streamlining. Rear Adm. Kenneth Perry, a career submarine officer with responsibility for all 23 U.S. attack submarines on the East Coast, is retiring Friday at the same ceremony where his Submarine Group 2 will be formally disestablished." More here.

Ukrainian forces claim to have captured a key rebel town. The NYT’s Andrew Kramer: "The Ukrainian military on Sunday moved into the heart of the separatist hub of Luhansk for the first time, officials said, chipping at one of the cornerstones of the pro-Russia rebels’ disintegrating virtual state.

"…The claim could not be independently confirmed, though a photograph of the flag and police station was circulating on social media, and the report was consistent with the progress of fighting there going into the weekend. Along with increased Ukrainian pressure on rebel positions in Donetsk, the army’s move into Luhansk focused attention on the profound reversal of the separatists’ fortunes since they declared independence in April. Interviews across eastern Ukraine portray a rapid breakdown in discipline in the rebel ranks. Many fighters have abandoned their uniforms in favor of civilian clothes, and three senior leaders have left the war zone in recent days." More here.

Putin is nakedly invading Ukraine… Writing for FP, Michael Weiss asks, "why won’t anybody say anything?" Weiss’s BLUF: "…So the foreigners have now retired (or been retired), just as Russia nakedly dispatches columns of armored vehicles into Ukraine, and stages a piece of pseudo-humanitarian theater to legitimate a more open form of warfare. This is win-win for Putin: If Ukraine declares war on Russia, he gets to ride in to save his faltering rebellion. If it doesn’t, he keeps waging deniable "incursions" to send the rebels heavy machinery.

"There’s a Russian chess term that explains what’s happening: mnogohodovka. It means making multiple moves at once. As ever, Putin is counting on his enemies not realizing this, and being multiple moves behind him." More from Weiss on FP, here.

Sides in Gaza talks dig in as the end to the current ceasefire loom. AP: "Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Egypt-mediated Gaza truce talks hardened their positions Monday ahead of the expiration of a five-day cease-fire, though both sides appear reluctant to return to the deadly all-out fighting that has destroyed large parts of the densely-populated coastal strip.

"…The Gaza blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militants took control of the strip in 2007, remains the main stumbling block. It has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports. A Palestinian negotiator, Qais Abdul Karim, told The Associated Press that on Sunday, Israel pressed for guarantees that Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza would be disarmed, while the Palestinians demanded an end to the blockade without preconditions." More here.

Former Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed on Nasrallah’s communication confusion: "In a long interview, published recently in two parts, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made striking efforts to polish his image. He talked about everything to an interviewer from the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar-whose affiliation to Hezbollah is such that the paper once dedicated a 1,600-word story just to the way he made his speeches or waved his finger. Speaking at length, Nasrallah tried to justify his own, his party’s, and Iranian policies in the region. He tried to polish the image of the Assad regime and went as far as saying that the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had been taught in Gulf schools for many years." More here.

NATO-based nuclear weapons are an advantage in a dangerous world. Brent Scowcroft, Stephen Hadley and Franklin Miller on the WaPo’s op-ed page this morning: "When NATO’s leaders gather in Wales in early September, they will address several issues critical to the alliance, including Russian adventurism in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, members’ contribution to collective defense, the adequacy of individual national defense budgets and plans for supporting the people of Afghanistan. In the course of their deliberations on these issues, however, they also should reaffirm the value to the alliance of the continued presence of the modest number of U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe. We believe this is necessary because we are again hearing calls for the United States to unilaterally withdraw its small arsenal of forward- deployed nuclear bombs. Those arguments are shopworn, familiar – and wrong." More here.

The Obama doctrine: What’s in, what’s out? (hint, limited bombing raids are in, and so are stronger partnerships). Defense News’ John Bennett and Paul McLeary: "…Out are the targeted armed drone strikes [Obama] launched in the hundreds during his first term to cripple al-Qaida’s core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and take out top leaders of its splinter groups in Yemen and North Africa. Also out are the kinds of risky – but largely effective – special operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

"In are ‘limited’ and ‘targeted’ uses of American air power, like those Obama has green-lighted in northern Iraq to prevent the Islamic State from slaughtering minority populations. US Central Command’s daily updates to journalists indicate American drones aren’t taking out Islamic State commanders, but hitting small vehicles by the ones and twos.

"In are shipments of US-made weapons directly to indigenous forces to fight violent Islamic groups, such as Obama has sent to arm Iraq’s Kurdish militia.

"Also in: Sending millions of dollars to American allies to fight al-Qaida splinter groups, work the US commander in chief is reluctant for his own troops to do. Obama on Aug. 11 approved $10 million in aid to Paris to assist 20,000 French troops in their counterterrorism operations in northern Africa." More here.

More on Iraq:

While covering the crisis on Mount Sinjar, the NYT veteran foreign correspondent Alissa Rubin was seriously injured in a helicopter crash. From her hospital bed in Istanbul, she dictated this account of what happened for Sunday’s paper, here.

Kurdish militants are training hundreds of Yazidis to fight IS. Reuters’ Youssef Boudlal: "Kurdish militants have trained hundreds of Yazidi volunteers at several camps inside Syria to fight Islamic State forces in Iraq, a member of the armed Kurdish YPG and a Reuters photographer who visited a training camp said on Sunday. The photographer spend Saturday at the training camp at the Serimli military base in Qamishli, northeastern Syria on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, where he saw 55 Yazidis being trained to fight the Islamic State. Dressed in green military fatigues, young and old men were taught how to use assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades by the Syrian Kurds, sweating in the 40 degree Celsius heat." More here.