The Cable

Situation Report: Afghan funding watchers slashed; Islamic State trolling Charm City; Russian missiles being noticed; and more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Quality or Quantity, a choice you have to make. Of the $110 billion the U.S. has obligated  for development in Afghanistan over the past 14 years, there’s still $15 billion left to be spent. But the number of people watching how that cash is being dispersed is being slashed. ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Quality or Quantity, a choice you have to make. Of the $110 billion the U.S. has obligated  for development in Afghanistan over the past 14 years, there’s still $15 billion left to be spent. But the number of people watching how that cash is being dispersed is being slashed.

And congressionally-appointed Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko isn’t happy about it. Sopko will tell a U.S. House of Representatives’ oversight committee on Wednesday that his staff in Kabul will be reduced by 40 percent, from 42 to 25 deployed positions by summer 2016, the Situation Report has learned. “This arbitrary number was developed without SIGAR’s input, and embassy officials did not provide any explanation for how they determined these cuts,” he’ll say, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

While Washington is headed for the exit in Afghanistan, the country remains the largest single recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in the world, “and is projected to remain the largest single recipient for years to come,” Sopko will say. “In other words, while the troops may be coming home, the checks are still going over there.”

Watch it live at 2 pm here.

FP’s Colum Lynch gets the exclusive that the United States “has been privately leaning on France and other allies to hold off from pushing a measure at the U.N. Security Council that is designed to force movement on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process at least until negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have concluded, diplomats told Foreign Policy.”

Another day, same old Chief. Rumors have been swirling for the past week that the White House is about to name the successor to the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey.

This isn’t something controversial – the 63 year-old Dempsey’s four year term is up in October, and he’s expected to be free to focus full-time on his singing career not long after that. The smart money is on either Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, or Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh to replace him. Outgoing Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear is also said to still be in the running, though his shot may have been scuttled by the perfectly-named “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal that has ripped through the ranks of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

Lemme fix that for you. When Vladimir Putin decided to ship the potent S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran earlier this month, people noticed. In response to that announcement, the Situation Report has learned, when the House Armed Services Committee marks up its version of the 2016 defense bill on Wednesday, Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado will offer an amendment to expand the annual Iran Military Power Report to cover transfers of military technology from non-Iranian sources.

What does that mean? If enacted, the amendment would expand the range of what the Department of Defense officially and publicly considers the Iranian military capability to be. The current requirement for the annual report demands that it look just at current Iranian capabilities, but Lamborn’s language would call for future reports to include imports from other countries. That kind of reporting is currently a judgment call on the part of the U.S. military. This amendment would make it a requirement.

Good morning, friends. It’s another edition of the Situation Report in the middle of a busy week and we’re glad you’re cleaning out our Inbox with us. Anything to add? Ping us at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Who’s Where When

10:00 am: Hideshi Tokuchi, Japan’s Director-General of the Ministry of Defense and David Shear, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs speak at the Sasakawa Foundation’s security conference at the Four Seasons in Washington.10:45 am: A joint session of Congress will convene to receive Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks. 12:40 pm: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth speaks at the same event.

Iran

The crew of the commercial ship Maersk Tigris that was stopped and boarded by Iranian patrol vessels in the Strait of Hormuz is “in good spirits,” despite the circumstances, a Maersk representative said on Wednesday. Still no word on why the Iranians stopped the ship from  travelling on a well-trod commercial shipping lane.

Islamic State

The Islamic State might not have much of a stomach for those who don’t subscribe to their own viciously strict and unbending version of Islam, but when it comes to race relations, they claim to be more progressive than the United States. Radical Twitter trolls are trying to win friends among the Baltimore rioters FP’s Justine Drennan writes.

Congress

Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain is serious about taking the targeted killing drone program away from the CIA and handing it over to the Defense Department. McCain has now pledged to introduce just such legislation, explaining to reporters on Tuesday that “it’s what the president announced. It needs to be done. We’ll be looking at some kind of legislation on the defense authorization bill to see that that accelerates.”

Cyber

The head of the U.S. Air Force’s Space Command said on Tuesday that the service’s space and satellite networks are being hacked constantly: “There’s millions of probes every year into our networks, from every corner of the world,” said Gen. John Hyten. “Those probes come from everything, from nation states down to individuals just curious, down to criminal behavior,” he added.

The Business of Defense

The good people at Boeing are probably pretty happy after the U.S. State Department approved the sale of $1.5 billion in maintenance services, spare parts and logistics for Australia’s fleet of Boeing-made F/A-18E/F and EA-18G fighter jets.

Counterterrorism

Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen have started to raise questions over how careful the coalitions bombing runs actually are. Twenty-three hospitals and 30 schools have allegedly been attacked or occupied by parties in the conflict, UNICEF reports, bringing the total number of affected schools alone to over 3,500. Tweeting under the hashtag #YemenChildren, the organization also said that more than 100 children have been recruited in the region as child soldiers.

The Guardian reports that jets from the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for bombing the airport in Sanaa after ignoring a warning to turn back — with the intention of blocking an Iranian aid plane.

According to al-Jazeera, the Nigerian army has rescued almost 300 women and girls from Boko Haram.

An an American entrepreneur has been flying his small surveillance drones for the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq, reports War is Boring’s Benedetta Argentieri, and the Kurds love the absence of U.S. government red tape.

Afghanistan

An entire battalion of the Afghan army is said to be surrounded by Taliban fighters in Kunduz, prompting Kabul to rush thousands of troops to the northern province to attempt a breakout, reports the New York Times.

FP’s Siobhan O’Grady digs into yet another Afghanistan Inspector General report that outlines how $488 million of American taxpayer money at risk across a range of reconstruction and development projects.

The last 82nd Airborne Division soldiers in Afghanistan are heading home over the course of the next week, writes Drew Brooks for the Fayetteville Observer. “Their return will mark the end of a historic deployment that spanned two campaigns,” he writes, “Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.”

Following up on Finland
We previously reported on Finland’s plan to increase its defense budgets. Looks like the decision came not a moment too soon: An unidentified object has been detected in Finnish territorial waters, the BBC reports. This isn’t the first time a suspected Russian sub has been spotted in Nordic waters. The event mirrors those of last fall, when Sweden announced a budget increase just as officials began reporting that a suspected foreign vessel was operating in its waters.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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