FP’s Situation Report, presented by Lockheed Martin: America’s longest war is officially over; The Islamic State executes nearly 2,000 in six months; Russia declares NATO expansion a national security threat; and much more.
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat
The war in Afghanistan, America’s longest, is now formally over. The 13-year war, which claimed more than 2,200 American lives and cost more than one trillion dollars, ended quietly at a ceremony in Kabul yesterday. U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders promised their ongoing commitment under the rebranded Operation Resolute Support and insisted the war was a success. But the Taliban is poised for a comeback with a recent surge in violence in Kabul and around the country. There are concerns that Afghanistan’s military and fragile political institutions will crumble as the United States leaves.
The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable: “[T]he withdrawal of international combat support comes at an especially tense time for Afghanistan, with the Taliban aggressively testing the will of the new national unity government. Since early November, Taliban forces have waged an unprecedented terrorism campaign in the capital and made steady inroads in several provinces, such as Helmand, where U.S. and British forces once held sway.” More here.
More on Afghanistan below.
The Islamic State’s brutality knows no bounds with 2,000 executions in six months. The beheading of two American journalists and one American and two British aid workers introduced the West to the group’s savagery. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports nearly 2,000 Iraqis and Syrians have also been executed. It’s a grim reminder of the barbarism U.S. military advisers will confront as they prepare to train Iraqi troops.
Reuters with more: “Reuters cannot independently verify the figures but Islamic State has publicized beheadings and stoning of many people in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq. These are for actions it sees as violating its reading of Islamic law, such as adultery, homosexuality, stealing and blasphemy.” More here.
More on the Islamic State below.
Russia declares NATO expansion a national security threat. Ukraine dropped its non-aligned status last week. This weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin countered by declaring NATO expansion — something Ukraine says it now wants — as a core threat to Russian national security. But this change to Russia’s military doctrine will do nothing to stop Russia’s reeling economy. And it won’t restore the absolute power Putin had before the Ukraine crisis turned into a Russian disaster.
AFP with more on the military doctrine changes: “The new document, approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, decries the ‘reinforcement of NATO’s offensive capacities directly on Russia’s borders, and measures taken to deploy a global anti-missile defense system’ in Central Europe. The alarmed tone of the new version comes in the wake of repeated protests by Moscow over NATO’s decision to position troops in alliance member states like Poland or the Baltic states that border Russia.” More here.
More on Russia below.
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Who’s Where When Today
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey have no public or media events on their schedules.
President Obama is on vacation in Hawaii.
What’s Moving Markets
Bloomberg on Saudi Arabia’s plans to open its stock market to foreign investors in April: “The world’s biggest oil exporter is removing barriers to one of the world’s most-restricted major stock exchanges as it pursues a $130 billion spending plan to boost non-energy industries.” More here.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Daniel Altman on a bad business model: “It’s often called the razor-and-blades business model, or freebie marketing. Give consumers a proprietary platform — or at least sell it to them cheaply — and then force them to buy replacement parts to make it work.” More here.
The Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati on the continued U.S. and international presence in Afghanistan: “The U.S. military’s involvement here will continue. Some 18,000 foreign troops — about 10,600 of them American — are staying under the terms of two security pacts the Afghan government signed with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in September.” More here.
Deutsche Welle’s Florian Weigand on Afghanistan and German foreign policy: “Germany’s deployment in Afghanistan has started a momentum that is now almost impossible to stop. In the future, the international community will expect Germany to contribute.” More here.
NBC News on Obama’s uncertainty about Afghanistan: “Obama acknowledged that Afghanistan remained a dangerous place, and that the role of the remaining military presence was as a supporting role to advise and assist Afghan forces. Civilian casualties in the country this year are on track to hit 10,000, and some 5,000 Afghan forces were also killed in 2014.” More here.
The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt on the battle to change Islamic State psychology: “Even as President Obama and his top civilian and military aides express growing confidence that Iraqi troops backed by allied airstrikes have blunted the Islamic State’s momentum on the ground in Iraq and undermined its base of support in Syria, other officials acknowledge they have barely made a dent in the larger, longer-term campaign to kill the ideology that animates the terrorist movement.” More here.
Reuters on the latest air strikes: “US-led forces on Sunday conducted eight air strikes against Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria and five strikes on Isis targets in Iraq, the US military said in a statement.” More here.
The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov on Qatar’s reduced role in the fight: “[U]nder pressure from bigger neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, it has moved in recent weeks to distance itself from its traditional posture of championing Islamist movements — particularly the Muslim Brotherhood — in Egypt and elsewhere.” More here.
The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Loveday Morris on an uncomfortable alliance: “Iranian military involvement has dramatically increased in Iraq over the past year as Tehran has delivered desperately needed aid to Baghdad in its fight against Islamic State militants, say U.S., Iraqi and Iranian sources. In the eyes of Obama administration officials, equally concerned about the rise of the brutal Islamist group, that’s an acceptable role — for now.” More here.
NPR’s Scott Neuman on an Iranian general killed by the Islamic State: “A senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was killed by a sniper’s bullet in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra as he was training Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen fighting militants of the self-declared Islamic State, Iran says.” More here.
The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi on the cost of the U.S. refusal to negotiate with the Islamic State: “The challenge of dealing with hostages has grown more acute and complicated over the past year with the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has beheaded hostages from nations that have refused to pay ransoms.” More here.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Tayler on U.S. missteps with Russia: “The sanctions and the increasingly charged military stand-off between Russia and NATO member countries have done little to dent Putin’s popularity, which the respected Levada Center rates at 85 percent. A majority of Russians — 59 percent according to the center’s last poll, in November — believe their country is on the right track.” More here.
The New York Times’ Jack Ewing and Alison Smale on Germany cooling on Russia: “The announcement last week by the German chemical giant BASF that it had canceled a planned deal with Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, involving natural gas extraction and distribution, was the latest example of how German companies are delaying projects and investment.” More here.
The Wall Street Journal’s Ulrike Dauer on German disappointment over a lack of progress on peace talks: “German government officials urged members of the international contact group on eastern Ukraine to resume negotiations for setting the line separating government-controlled areas from separatist-occupied territories.” More here.
The Verge’s Dante D’Orazio on The Interview’s weekend haul: “Sony Pictures has revealed that the film pulled in over $15 million over the holiday weekend from online purchases and rentals alone in the US and Canada. The studio has also announced that the film has already been rented or purchased over 2 million times.” More here.
CNN’s Brian Todd and Ben Brumfield on doubts about North Korea’s role in the Sony attack: “Some U.S. cyber experts say the evidence the FBI has presented to attempt to incriminate hackers working for the communist regime is not enough to pin the blame on Pyongyang.” More here.
FP’s Isaac Stone Fish on Pyongyang’s Associated Press bureau: “On Dec. 24, NKNews.org, a website that focuses on North Korea, released a roughly 4,000-word story on the Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang, alleging, among other things, that the AP pulls its punches on its reporting in order to keep in Pyongyang’s good graces.” More here.
The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer on North Korea’s use of a racial slur: “North Korea on Saturday compared President Obama to a ‘monkey in a tropical forest’ as it blamed the administration for disrupting its Internet access amid a hacking dispute related to the movie ‘The Interview.’” More here.
The Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Carol Morello on a crackdown in Pakistan: “After pledging for years to crack down on violent Islamists, Pakistani authorities are now taking exceptional steps to do so, with a major military operation against the militants and a vow to rein in radical propaganda.” More here.
FP’s Keith Johnson on natural gas and Israel: “Israel is trying to figure out if it will be able to develop the massive natural-gas fields that lay just offshore at all — or if they’ll remain there, tantalizingly out of reach.” More here.
The Associated Press on a Palestinian push for a U.N. Security Council vote to end Israel’s occupation: “Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said a draft resolution would be submitted to the Security Council on Monday. A vote could be set for Tuesday.” More here.
The Times of Israel on U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham’s threat to defund the U.N.: “Graham, a staunch pro-Israel senator, expressed support for the [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] position, declaring that Congress would not ‘sit back and allow the United Nations to take over the peace process.’” More here.
The Herald Sun’s James Dowling on an al Qaeda magazine calling for more attacks: “Previous issues suggested to western followers they should not join the ‘jihad’ in the Middle East, but instead carry out attacks in Australia and other western nations.” More here.
The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad on Iran’s criticism of the United States: “Iran’s supreme leader has stepped into the debate over police violence and race in America, likening police shootings of black people in Ferguson and elsewhere to the Palestinian struggle in Gaza in a series of tweets using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.” More here.
The BBC reports on Libya’s first air strikes against militants in the embattled city of Misrata. More here.
National Security Agency
Der Spiegel on the safety of encryption tools: “The Snowden documents reveal the encryption programs the NSA has succeeded in cracking, but, importantly, also the ones that are still likely to be secure.” More here.
New Defense Chief
The Military Times’ Leo Shane III: “The top issue on the Senate agenda to kick off the new congressional session in 2015 will be confirmation hearings for Ash Carter, President Obama’s nominee to replace Chuck Hagel as his defense secretary, a process that is expected to move quickly — but not necessarily calmly.” More here.
The Associated Press on the surrender of a top al-Shabaab leader: “A leader with the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, who had a $3 million bounty on his head, surrendered in Somalia, a Somali intelligence official said Saturday.” More here.
The New York Times‘ Mohammed Ibrahim on a deadly Christmas Day attack on peacekeepers in Somalia: “At least three soldiers, one civilian and five attackers were killed, the African Union Mission in Somalia said, and three attackers were captured after the gunfight at the Halane base camp near the airport in Mogadishu, the capital.” More here.
The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly on the Ebola czar: “Ron Klain, the Obama administration’s ‘Ebola czar,’ on Sunday defended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after a technician at one of its facilities in Atlanta was potentially exposed to the deadly disease.” More here.
The New York Times‘ Thomas Fuller on the similarities of the disappearance of an AirAsia jet and the one that disappeared nine months ago: “This plane, too, had Malaysian connections: The Airbus A320-200 was operated by the Indonesian affiliate of AirAsia, a regional budget carrier based in Malaysia.” More here.
And finally, news junkies, do you think you know what happened in 2014? Take Carnegie Endowment’s quiz. More here.