The Cable

Situation Report: Ramadi, always Ramadi; Poland storms Washington; Susan Rice whiffs; missile defense; and plenty more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson The taking of Ramadi 1-2-3. While the Islamic State keeps liberating U.S.-made military equipment from fleeing Iraqi troops, the Air Force and Navy are just as intent on bombing them into component parts. Over the weekend, we again saw the Islamic State in Iraq add to their American-made motor ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

The taking of Ramadi 1-2-3. While the Islamic State keeps liberating U.S.-made military equipment from fleeing Iraqi troops, the Air Force and Navy are just as intent on bombing them into component parts. Over the weekend, we again saw the Islamic State in Iraq add to their American-made motor pool when they chased Iraq forces out of Ramadi.

Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren says Iraqi forces left behind “half a dozen” tanks, about 100 wheeled vehicles — including several artillery pieces — and “dozens” of armored tracked vehicles. If there’s any bright side to this, it’s that at least some vehicles were in such disrepair that they were all but unusable.

Plenty of pictures are being tweeted of the American- and Iranian-made loot that the group has captured near Ramadi — equipment that will soon be turned against an estimated 3,000 Shiite fighters who are amassing around the Anbar capital to take it back.

Asked why the Iraqis didn’t take the vehicles with them, or at least toss some thermite grenades into the chassis before leaving, Warren admitted that “it’s certainly preferable if they had been destroyed, but in this case they were not.”

Is it a leadership issue? During his daily meeting with reporters at the Pentagon, FP asked Warren if U.S. officials are concerned about the apparent inability of the Iraqi military brass to lead in this fight, or if Baghdad’s generals are being out-generalled by the Islamic State’s military chiefs.

“There are leadership deficiencies in the Iraqi military,” Warren said Tuesday. “There are also very good leaders in the Iraqi military, as is the case in any army.” The loss of Ramadi “was a failure of a lot of things, leadership being one of them, tactics being one of them,” he said, adding that the U.S. government is working to train the Iraqi Army from the ground pounders all the way up to the generals.

Really? Really? Even before National Security Advisor Susan Rice started speaking Tuesday night, at a poignant German Embassy photography exhibit of soldiers wounded in combat, U.S. vets there who had served in Iraq were privately fuming over the fall of Ramadi — and how it could have been allowed to happen.

Rice further stoked their frustration. “Now that we have ended two wars responsibly, and brought home hundreds of American troops, we salute this new generation of veterans,” Rice told the audience of about 150 people who were seated between the hauntingly beautiful mural-sized portraits of severely disabled veterans.

Such a description of the U.S. military departure from Iraq in 2011 — when American forces left after failing to negotiate a security agreement to stay — raised eyebrows across the crowd that included active duty and former troops and officers, among them at least two generals and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen. “Responsibly, right?” one retired Army officer said sarcastically to FP’s Lara Jakes afterward.

Rice also heralded the sacrifices that American troops (hundreds of thousands who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, not hundreds) have made since 9/11. “They all made us proud,” she said. That left some wondering if she would still include soldiers like Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is facing a court-martial for deserting his post in Afghanistan in 2009, but was feted in absentia in the White House Rose Garden in May 2014 after the Obama administration secured his release from the Taliban in a prisoner exchange for five detainees who had been held at Guantanamo Bay.

Rice herself last year initially said Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction” — comments that sparked widespread criticism — before clarifying that she’d meant to praise his enlistment, and not necessarily his service. Might she again want to watch her words when speaking about troops?

Wednesday has come again, and with it, the Situation Report, as steady as the sun rising in the east. Have a tip? A joke? See something interesting? Send it along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or hit me up on Twitter: @paulmcleary

Russian missile deployments are like what? While Ramadi may hold its grip on the headlines, in Washington there’s actually just as much talk about missile defense as there is about the bloodletting in Iraq.

But not all talk is created equal, especially when it comes to rumors of the deployment of deadly Russian Iskander missiles close to Russia’s western borders.

Reports of the deployment of the short range ballistic missile — which have a range of about 400 km — “are a lot like the like the Loch Ness Monster,” Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Tomasz Siemoniak said Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “They pop up from time to time,” but Poles are so used to them that they don’t always pay much attention, he said.

Siemoniak is in town to meet with U.S. defense officials and political and business leaders, and Twitter, as usual, has been documenting his travels. There was the obligatory honor cordon photo op at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a grin and grip with Sen. John McCain, and a meeting with president of defense contractor Raytheon, which….wasn’t documented.

Siemoniak said that he met with Raytheon’s Thomas Kennedy to discuss the possible upcoming sale of the company’s Patriot missile defense system to Warsaw in what could potential be a multibillion dollar deal.

Hey, funny meeting you here! In what was surely a coincidence, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. Sandy Winnefeld also spoke earlier in the day at CSIS on the topic of missile defense. FP’s John Hudson reports that he tried to soothe Russian concerns over the U.S. backed European missile defense shield that has been in the works. Russia “shouldn’t worry about this,” Winnefeld said. “They should actually be encouraged that we are helping our allies there potentially defending us against Iran.” Sure thing.

Noted

With no notice, at 6:01 a.m. Wednesday the White House released a new report, “The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate,” which we haven’t had the chance to check out beyond a quick glance. Have a go for yourself and let us know what you think.

The CNA Corporation also released a new report on Wednesday, “The Role of the U.S. Army in Asia,” that works through some of the security challenges in the region and how the Army can tweak its role there, as the White House “rebalances” its global force structure.

Counterterrorism

Serious questions remain over how a January 15 drone strike in Pakistan killed two Western hostages. Along with American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, Ahmed Farouq, a dual citizen of the United States and Pakistan who was the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) also was killed. FP’s Sean Naylor surveys some government officials and terrorism experts, and finds lots of theories, but few answers.

Syria

The key to fighting Islamic State, writes the Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer, is garbagemen. More specifically, it’s about teaching Syrians to govern themselves. As one State Department official said, the goal of training Syrians to pick up their trash is to avoid mini-Libyas springing up across Syria and militia power raising a threat in any post-Assad Syria that emerges.”

Israel

Amos Harel of Haartez tells us that as potential compensation for an Iranian nuclear deal, Washington is prepared to offer Jerusalem more F-35 fighters and other high-end military equipment. Negotiations have already kicked off over increasing the Israeli buy of the F-35 from 33 planes to at least 50, along with more funding for the Iron Dome missile interceptor and the Arrow 3 missile defense system.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that Israel and Hamas are currently engaged in “secret talks over a number of issues,” according to the Jerusalem Post. The issues include “the possibility of expanding the Gaza Strip’s borders into Sinai.”

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told BBC that Ukraine is now in a “real war” with Russia, and while he doesn’t trust his counterpart in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin, he has no choice but to negotiate. In the interview, Poroshenko said, “‘I fear anything. I believe they are preparing an offensive and I think we should be ready and I think that we do not give them any tiny chance for provocation. That will totally be their responsibility.’”

Defense Budget

In Defense News, John T. Bennett writes that despite opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, House appropriators are proposing a Pentagon spending bill with nearly $90 billion in a politically controversial war account. Bennett is referring to the Overseas Contingency Operations account, where $88.4 billion — up from the $51 billion that the White House has requested — doesn’t count toward the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act.

Tech

In a follow-on from an earlier piece about military gear that’s being kept away from cops, John Kelly and Steve Reilly write for USA Today that many local police forces already own “prohibited equipment” like armored vehicles and grenade launchers.

 

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

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