Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Fall of Kobani could provoke a larger role for Turkey; An MOH talks about his PTSD; SIGAR knocks UNDP; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel Breaking overnight — The U.S.-led coalition makes a push to save Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, from falling into Islamic State hands. AP’s report: "Warplanes believed to have been sent by the U.S.-led coalition on Tuesday struck positions held by Islamic State militants near a Syrian border town ...

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

Breaking overnight — The U.S.-led coalition makes a push to save Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, from falling into Islamic State hands. AP’s report: "Warplanes believed to have been sent by the U.S.-led coalition on Tuesday struck positions held by Islamic State militants near a Syrian border town that beleaguered Kurdish forces have been struggling to defend.

"The airstrikes began late Monday and came as Kurdish forces pushed Islamic State militants out of the eastern part of Kobani, where the jihadists had raised their black flag over buildings hours earlier, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On Tuesday morning journalists on the Turkish side of the border heard the sound of warplanes before two large plumes of smoke billowed just west of Kobani." More here.

From The NYT’s Alan Cowell and Anne Barnard: "If confirmed, the reports could indicate an escalation in American-led efforts to help the Kurds resist, if not repel, an onslaught by the Sunni militants whose forces control portions of Syria and Iraq." More here.

What does it mean if Kobani, which sits right on the border of Turkey, falls? All eyes are on this Syrian border town, where after a siege of more than two weeks, Islamic State fighters made their way inside the city yesterday. If the Syrian Kurds who have been fighting tirelessly to save their town lose, there will be questions about the effectiveness of U.S. and coalition airstrikes. Already questions are being raised about why the U.S. has moved to save some towns from an Islamic State massacre (Sinjar and Amerli in Iraq) while letting others fall.

Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg: "The theme of the week in the Syria conflict-that airstrikes are of only limited use in the struggle to degrade and destroy the Islamic State terror group-is about to be underscored in terrible fashion in the besieged border town of Kobani, which is under sustained, and mainly unanswered, assault by as many as 9,000 ISIS terrorists armed with tanks and rocket launchers."

Rooz Bahjat, Kurdish intelligence official: "A terrible slaughter is coming. If they take the city, we should expect to have 5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours." More here.

The fate of the town could push Turkey to take a more active role in the coalition. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the Obama administration’s special envoy in the fight against Islamic State, and Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state, are traveling to Turkey this week to discuss an expanded role for the country.

Meanwhile, reports of Islamic State mortar attacks in Baghdad turn out to be false. State Department spokeswoman @marieharf tweeted an update on the situation last night:

"Re: reports that mortars landed in the Green Zone (aka International Zone) today: We’ve confirmed there was NO mortar attack today in the IZ … Security systems that detect/warn of incoming indirect fire activated apparently by approaching friendly aircraft – but was no incoming fire."

Joe Biden’s comments about Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates and their direct and indirect support for Islamic extremist groups in Syria got the vice president into a lot of trouble over the weekend. But what he said wasn’t exactly false. FP’s Gopal Ratnam: "The leaders of the three countries were apoplectic, but there are elements of truth in everything Biden said, particularly when it comes to Turkey, which would be a pivotal player in any serious effort to defeat the Islamic State."

"… Jon Alterman, a senior vice president for global security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Biden’s comments weren’t incorrect but were a bit imprecise. ‘There was certainly support for terror groups coming out of friendly countries in the region,’ Alterman said. But one could conclude from Biden’s comments that the ‘governments in the region were directly supporting these groups, and I don’t think that’s what he meant to say. The extent to which governments supported or condoned such support is unclear.’" More here.

Biden has one more apology call to make. The NYT’s Mark Lander: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has one more stop on what has become a Middle East apology tour in the wake of his impolitic answer to a Harvard student’s question: Saudi Arabia. After apologizing to officials from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, Mr. Biden is trying to connect with Saudi leaders, a senior official said, to clarify that he did not mean to suggest that Saudi Arabia backed Al Qaeda or other extremist groups in Syria." More here.

The Pentagon has already spent $1 billion in Iraq and Syria since the summer. The AP’s Lolita Baldor: "The Pentagon has spent as much as $1.1 billion on U.S. military operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria since the mission began in mid-June, including more than $62 million alone in Navy airstrikes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. More here.

Vanity Fair with a look at daly life inside of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s stronghold, here.

For Al-Monitor, Paul Saunders examines Russia’s role in the fight against the Islamic State: "In one way, Moscow may well have been the first member (beyond the Assad regime) of the de facto coalition against the groups that coalesced to become IS. After all, Russia’s policy since the beginning of the Syrian civil war has been to support Assad to prevent the chaos that can help extremists gain power. This has led Russia to supply arms, and reportedly to share intelligence, with the Syrian government. When IS dramatically gained ground in Iraq, Russia quickly provided ground attack fighter jets and other weapons to Baghdad.

"Yet, Russia objects to key elements of the Barack Obama administration’s strategy to fight IS." More here.

Where does the Islamic State get its weapons? Julia Harte and R. Jeffrey Smith for FP: "Much of the Islamic State’s arms and ammunition were captured on the battlefield, but intelligence reports have suggested that the group’s income from oil sales and other sources is high enough to finance purchases of additional weapons directly from the companies and dealers that routinely profit from strife in the Middle East." More here.

Pakistani Taliban denies reports that it’s pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The Express Tribune’s Tahir Khan from Islamabad: "Pakistani Taliban said on Sunday that they have declared allegiance only to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban supremo, rejecting the media reports that the group has declared allegiance to the Islamic State." More here.

Meanwhile, deadly clashes on Lebanon’s border with Syria signal dark days ahead. The Daily Star’s Rakan Al-Fakih: "Lebanon’s northeastern border with Syria braced for more violence after fierce clashes between Hezbollah and the Nusra Front over the weekend left nearly two dozen combatants dead, according to security sources." More here.

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Who’s Where When: Secretary of State John Kerry meets with National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the White House.

An Army vet threw a grenade-style toss out for the first pitch at the Nats game last night. The Nats went on to beat and Giants 4-1, and live to fight again tonight. The AP’s story with a video, here.

A Medal of Honor recipient and his battle with PTSD. FP’s Yochi Dreazen tells the story of Ty Carter, whose bravery in Afghanistan won him the U.S. military’s highest commendation, but also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder: "Today, Carter’s fight isn’t against a heavily armed Taliban militant, but against the social stigma attached to post-traumatic stress. The 34-year-old staff sergeant devotes his days to traveling around the United States delivering speech after speech — to strangers he doesn’t know, but whose night terrors he well understands — in an effort to convince troops and others not only that the psychological reaction is real, but also that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s a lonely fight, however. No other living Medal of Honor recipient publicly talks about personal experiences with PTSD." More here.

The above article is adapted from Dreazen’s book, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, which comes out today. If you’re in Washington, you can attend a launch for the book this Thursday hosted by the Center for a New American Security. Info here.

Also out this week: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s book, "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace." The WaPo’s Dana Milbank writes that Panetta’s book is just the latest from a former Obama administration official that shows a level of disloyalty that is "stunning": "The lack of message discipline is puzzling, because Obama rewards and promotes loyalists. But he’s a cerebral leader, and he may lack the personal attachments that make aides want to charge the hill for him." More here.

The WaPo’s David Ignatius asks "Why did these officials continue to serve a president with whose policies they often seemed to disagree?" You can read his review here.

SIGAR vs. UNDP — The IG blasted the United Nations’ chief development agency yesterday for exercising a ‘baffling’ lack of oversight of a multibillion-dollar program that funds the payroll of the Afghan police. FP’s Colum Lynch: "The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, on Monday disclosed a series of letter exchanges with Helen Clark, the administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), detailing the allegations.

"The accusations could prove particularly awkward for Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand who is believed to be a likely candidate to succeed Ban Ki-moon as U.N. secretary-general when the former South Korean foreign minister steps down in December 2016." More here.

Dispatch from the frontlines of Ebola. Peter Tinti reporting from Guékédou, a town in southern Guinea near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia: "The transnational nature of the Forestière region, which shares long, porous borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, underscores just how different this Ebola outbreak is from its antecedents in central Africa. During those crises, the bulk of the outbreaks were in relatively remote areas, enabling local health officials and the international community to get out in front of an epidemic before it could sufficiently spread beyond those unfortunate communities. This crisis, however, requires a coordinated effort across three countries, each with its own sets of challenges and sociopolitical peculiarities." More here.

Obama discussed the Ebola outbreak in a meeting with his national security principals yesterday. The WaPo’s Mark Berman and Brady Dennis: "President Obama said Monday the U.S. government would increase passenger screenings in the United States and Africa to detect the Ebola virus, even as he resisted calls to impose a ban on those traveling from the three countries most affected by the outbreak." More here.

In case you missed it — African troops retake al Shabaab safehaven. Reuters’ Feisal Omar:"African Union and Somali troops on Sunday took control of Barawe, a port town used by al Shabaab to bring in arms and fighters from abroad, after the al Qaeda-linked militants fled without a fight, the AU and a Somali official said."

Hussein Nur, a university lecturer in governance and leadership in Mogadishu, said Barawe’s loss was a major blow to al Shabaab, adding: "For the government, it means al Shabaab no longer has a base in the range of about 200 km away from Mogadishu. However, this is not the elimination of al Shabaab. They are still strong and control large swathes of Somalia." More here.

And a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed six suspected militants Tuesday. More here.

Iran orders its elite troops to lay off US forces in Iraq. The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake: "Pay no attention to the Shi’ite militias threatening to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The elite Iranian forces backing those militias have been ordered not to attack the Americans. That’s the conclusion of the latest U.S. intelligence assessment for Iraq. And it represents a stunning turnaround for Iran’s Quds Force, once considered America’s most dangerous foe in the region." More here.

The Brits paid a ransom to free a hostage in Libya. Al Awsat’s story here.

The WH had some words for Bibi about what "American values" really are.  Reuters’ Steve Holland, here.

Water as a weapon and the fight for Iraq’s dams. The WaPo’s Erin Cunningham from Baghdad: "The Islamic State militants who have rampaged across northern Iraq are increasingly using water as a weapon, cutting off supplies to villages resisting their rule and pressing to expand their control over the country’s water infrastructure.

"The threat from the jihadists is so critical that U.S. forces are bombing the militants close to both the Mosul and Haditha dams – Iraq’s largest – on a near-daily basis. But the radical Islamists continue to menace both facilities." More here.

Heads roll at the VA. AP’s report: "The Veterans Affairs Department said it is firing four senior executives as officials move to crack down on wrongdoing following a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care, and falsified records covering up the delays." More here.

FP’s Simon Engler interviews The Most Interesting Man in the World… about landmines. Find that story, here.

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