Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Syrian rebels still not happy with U.S. strikes; ISIS targets civilians in Baghdad; A missing Marine; Pierson out at the Secret Service; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel A big red flag: Moderate Syrian rebels, who are central to President Barack Obama’s fight against the Islamic State, aren’t happy with U.S. airstrikes. There are a handful things about the U.S. air campaign that are alienating civilians and rebel groups on the ground but at the top of ...

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

A big red flag: Moderate Syrian rebels, who are central to President Barack Obama’s fight against the Islamic State, aren’t happy with U.S. airstrikes. There are a handful things about the U.S. air campaign that are alienating civilians and rebel groups on the ground but at the top of the list are reports of civilians deaths caused by U.S. bombs. The Islamic State will no doubt try to use these reports — true or not — to its advantage. Still, it’s concerning when the very people the strikes are supposed to benefit don’t see it that way.

FP’s David Kenner interviewed six Free Syrian Army commanders who are currently exiled by the Islamic State and hiding out in southeastern Turkey. Here’s his report from Antakya, Turkey: "FSA fighters and commanders complained to Foreign Policy that they have received no increase in support since the international effort to combat the Islamic State began, despite promises from the Obama administration that the United States would begin supplying arms to the rebels. The FSA fighters also disparaged the airstrikes, saying they would mainly kill civilians and give the Assad regime a chance to gain ground.

"Anti-Assad Syrian civilians have echoed this opposition. While Islamists have seized on the attacks to brand U.S. President Barack Obama as an "enemy of God," even the traditionally secular protesters in the town of Kafr Anbel held a poster blasting the coalition for killing civilians." More here.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby responded to reports about civilian deaths on Tuesday, telling reporters at a briefing: "Nobody takes civilian casualties or collateral damage more seriously than we do. Nobody … And when we think we’ve caused it, we look into it, and if we have to make amends, we’ll make amends. We still haven’t seen credible, what we would consider operational reporting, that would verify that."

ISIS steps up attacks on civilians. Al Awsat’s Hamza Mustafa: "Security in Iraq has deteriorated remarkably over the past few days with Baghdad and other central and southern cities witnessing a surge in car bombs and mortar attacks, in a response to the US-led airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, an Iraqi military official-who requested anonymity because he was not permitted to brief the media-said that ISIS’s inability to retaliate to airstrikes has led it to resort to launching reprisal attacks on civilians in Shi’ite-populated areas." More here.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also criticized U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, saying they offer only a "temporary" solution to the problem of terrorism. The WaPo’s Liz Sly with the story from Mursitpinar, Turkey, here.

Lebanon is often overlooked in the debate about the Islamic State, but the country is at the center of the strategic dividing line as regional and world powers vie for its support with promises of money and weapons. The WSJ’s Sam Dagher in Beirut: "The Syrian regime, Russia and Iran-through their local ally Hezbollah-are pressing the Lebanese government and its security forces to lend support in the widening regional conflict. A visiting senior Iranian official publicly offered the Lebanese army an unspecified grant on Tuesday to help fight "the wicked terrorism" on the border with Syria."

"… Opposing this pro-Iranian and pro-Assad alliance are the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Western powers. With the anti-Islamic State campaign widening to Syria and creeping closer to Lebanon’s borders, those countries are seeking-also through their local allies-to shore up the support of the Lebanese government and its military.

Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science: "Assad and allies find themselves in a predicament. While implicitly welcoming U.S.-led strikes, they are anxious over the strategic goals of the coalition. Ultimately this coalition will find itself in confrontation with Assad. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ " More here.

Retired Gen. John Allen, Obama’s envoy to the coalition against ISIS, told CNN’s Elise Labott last night that’s it’s important to manage expectations about the fight against ISIS, especially in Syria. "It is going to take a while. It could take years, actually .. But the process of getting that unfolded is occurring right now with the idea of locating training camps and beginning to accumulate the Syrian elements that will go into those training camps, ensuring that we’ve got the right kind of combination of trainers who can provide the substance that they’re going to need to be credible and capable fighters on the ground as time goes on." Full transcript here.

Photos by Andrew Quilty of Syrian Kurds fleeing an Islamic State offensive on the town of Kobani on FP here.

Writing for FP, CFR’s Micah Zenko examines the current coalition against ISIS, and asks: "An easy prediction is that at some point, some members of this coalition will want to redirect their airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. When that becomes the mission, what becomes of the coalition?" Full piece here.

The New Yorker’s George Packer takes some of the blame off Obama and the United States for today’s Middle East."It turned out that the winding down of the American war in Iraq, and the end of the Bush torture policy, and a hands-off approach toward internal conflict in countries like Egypt, Syria, and Iran, did not create the space for a new partnership between the United States and the Muslim world, or allow for positive change within those societies.

"It’s hard to think of a worse year in modern history for the life conditions of Muslims internationally than 2014 (and there’s been plenty of competition). This has very little to do with what Obama and the United States have done this year-or, more often, failed to do. It turned out that there were violent, intolerant, destabilizing forces within Muslim societies that go deeper and farther back than recent American actions and policies." More here.

9 attempts to explain the crazy complexity of the Middle East. The WaPo’s Adam Taylor pulls together some visuals that illustrate the web of relationships here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at kate.brannen@foreignpolicy.com and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @k8brannen and @njsobe4.

Who’s where when: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon to welcome France’s Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian to the Pentagon at 3:15 p.m… Hagel and Le Drian hold a joint press availability at 5:00 p.m…  Gen. John Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, briefs the press via satellite at 12:00 p.m … Secretary of State John  Kerry meets with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the State Department.

The Navy is searching for a Marine who went missing in the Persian Gulf after bailing out of an MV-22 Osprey when the aircraft lost power taking off from an amphibious assault ship. Stars and Stripes with more here.  

Checking in (and cashing in) with the NATO secretary-generals, past and present: FP’s Tom Stackpole: "Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the retiring head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, might have just set the record for cashing in after leaving office. On Wednesday, former Norwegian premier Jens Stoltenberg’s first day as Rasmussen’s replacement and just one after officially Rasmussen stepped down as NATO’s secretary general, he announced the launch of Rasmussen Global, his brand new consulting shop." More here.

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg, on his first day on the job, offers what’s seen as an olive branch to Russia. Reuters’ Adrian Croft in Brussels: "Former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who took over on Wednesday as NATO secretary-general, struck a more conciliatory tone towards Moscow than his Danish predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen."

Stoltenberg: "I see no contradiction between a strong NATO and our continued effort to build a constructive relationship with Russia. Just the opposite." More here.

The ceasefire in Ukraine isn’t really working and people are still being killed. The NYT’s Andrew Roth in Donetsk: "Although both the Ukrainian government and the separatist rebels who hold Donetsk formally declared a cease-fire on Sep. 5, the increasing tally of the dead and wounded in recent days has shown the agreement to be largely a fiction." More here.

Poland’s new premier signals a shift in Ukraine policy. The WSJ’s Marcin Sobczyk and Patryk Wasilewski: "Poland’s new prime minister Wednesday signaled a coming shift in her government’s foreign policy, saying Warsaw would assume a more hands-off approach to the separatist conflict in Ukraine and would focus on its own security rather than the fate of its eastern neighbor." More here.

The Secret Service’s public screwups cost Julia Pierson her job. FP’s John Hudson: "The director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, abruptly resigned Wednesday after revelations of a series of frightening security breaches in the protective bubble that is meant to safeguard President Barack Obama and his family prompted widespread calls for her ouster. For an administration that often refuses to abandon top officials in the early days of a scandal, Pierson’s firing happened at lightning speed." More here.

The WSJ’s Reid J. Epstein reports that "Pierson was fired so fast she didn’t even get a face-to-face meeting with the president."  

Hagel orders steps to improve the U.S. military healthcare system. Reuters’ David Alexander: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took steps on Wednesday to improve the U.S. military healthcare system after a review concluded that some patients had to wait too long to see a doctor and others received care that was below standard.

"The Pentagon chief gave Defense Department hospitals and clinics with underperforming units 30 days to develop plans to reduce wait times and deal with other access issues. He told facilities with quality problems to submit improvement plans in 45 days." More here.

The State Department approved a $1.8 billion sale of Patriot missiles to the Saudis yesterday. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta with the story here.

As protests in Hong Kong continue, China tells SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to butt out.  FP’s John Hudson: "The Chinese government rebuked the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, instructing New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez to keep his opinions about Hong Kong’s democratic unrest to himself. On Tuesday, Menendez had sent a letter to Hong Kong’s chief executive, urging him to respect the democratic rights of Hong Kong’s people.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Geng Shuang to FP: "Hong Kong affairs fall entirely within China’s internal affairs…We hope that some countries and people can be prudent in their words and deeds, refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Hong Kong in any way, do not support the illegal activities such as the ‘Occupy Central,’ and do not send any wrong signals." More here.

There’s new evidence that North Korea has completed construction on a facility to launch a longer-range rocket that can carry a heavier payload. The NYT’s Choe Sang-Hun in Seoul: "Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea has completed a yearlong project to upgrade its main satellite launching station, which is widely believed to be a test site for its intercontinental ballistic missile program, a United States research institute said on Wednesday." More here.

Do you have 2016 on the brain? Well, here’s Defense One’s guide to "Everything You Need To Know About the GOP’s 2016 Candidates On National Security." Molly O’Toole with the rundown on everyone from Rand Paul to Jeb Bush here.

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