The Cable

Situation Report: U.S. advisers to reach out to Sunni tribes; more violence in Ukraine; lawmakers speak out on anthrax blunder; war powers debate in Senate; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson The long game. There’s no timetable attached to the White House’s new plan for U.S. forces to identify, vet, train, and equip Sunni fighters in Iraq’s Anbar province to punch back against the Islamic State. And with that open-ended commitment comes the likely possibility that President Barack Obama – ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

The long game. There’s no timetable attached to the White House’s new plan for U.S. forces to identify, vet, train, and equip Sunni fighters in Iraq’s Anbar province to punch back against the Islamic State. And with that open-ended commitment comes the likely possibility that President Barack Obama – who campaigned on ending the war in Iraq way back in 2008 – will hand off a different kind of Iraq war to his successor.

But there’s a lot we don’t know about how the new plan, which was announced Wednesday, will actually shake out. The key points are this: 450 U.S. troops will deploy to the al-Taqaddum military base in Anbar, and from there will start tapping those old contacts among the Sunni tribes that U.S. forces developed during the “surge” in 2007 to see who is willing to fight. After those contacts are reestablished, a long vetting process will begin, and then, at some point, training and integration into the Iraqi security forces. FP’s Lara Jakes and Paul McLeary have more.

That last piece is what turned out to be the trickiest during the last go-around, when then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to follow through on plans to bring the Sunni fighters into the Iraqi Army and police force. But it’s assumed it’ll be different this time with Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. That’s one part of the plan we know Washington is counting on. Inshallah.

Still here. Not going anywhere. While all sorts of attention is being lavished on Iraq, a major offensive by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine earlier this month continues to chew holes through the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed between Kiev and the rebels in February. The fighting has erupted just days after the U.S. and the major European powers gathered in Germany at the G-7 summit to reaffirm their commitment to sanctions against Moscow for supporting the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.

FP’s John Hudson attended a small meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday during his latest swing through Washington, where he pushed back on criticisms from Russia that Kiev is failing to work toward reconciliation with separatist leaders.

With no real reason to pull his punches, Yatsenyuk was blunt. “My government will never talk to terrorists,” he said, until they are “behind bars or sitting in a prison cell. …Russia wants us to establish a direct contact with the terrorists.” Yatsenyuk and Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko have been rolling through town this week, meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, in a bid to garner more support for Ukraine’s cash-strapped government.

Things have been busy on the national security front, and the Situation Report is bouncing between multiple global flashpoints. Have anything you’d like to flag? Drop us a note at or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Let’s get together

Chinese Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of Beijing’s Central Military Commission, will be at the Pentagon on Thursday, arriving to an “enhanced honor cordon” at 10 a.m. where he’ll be met by Defense Secretary Ash Carter for a toothy meet and greet for the cameras. Unsurprisingly, Carter and Changlong won’t address the press during the visit — a rare point of unconditional international agreement between the rivals.

Friends helping friends

Over the past few days, the U.S. government has announced over $2.5 billion worth of high-tech weapons sales to two allies who are facing some pretty unique, and completely dissimilar, threats.

The big one is the $1.9 billion approval to sell three Aegis Shipboard Combat Systems to South Korea. The system features an advanced radar and missile package that allows a ship to track distant, fast-moving aircraft and knock them out of the sky. Dozens of the systems are already afloat with U.S. allies, including Australia, South Korea, and Japan. (Don’t worry, China!) The Aegis does have a big black spot on its record, however. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, using the system, shot down Iran Air flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, killing all 290 civilians on board.

When Iran demanded that the U.S. apologize for the shoot-down, George H.W. Bush, who was running for president at the time, uttered his famous phrase, “I will never apologize for the United States – I don’t care what the facts are.”

The State Department has also announced $600 million in weapons sales to Lebanon, a country on a spending streak since Saudi Arabia gifted it $3 billion to buy (mostly French) weapons earlier this year. But Washington is in the game, too. The U.S. wants to sell Beirut six Super Tucano attack airplanes (pics here), and 2,000 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems (watch the guided missiles go boom here) for $462 million. Sierra Nevada Corp. makes the Tucano, while BAE Systems provides the explosives.

Lebanon has been dealing with repeated clashes with Islamic State fighters coming across its borders, and the U.S. government’s announcement says that the equipment will help the country meet “future challenges posed by internal and border security threats.” On June 5, State also said that it was planning to sell Lebanon $146 million worth of Tucano-friendly Hellfire missiles, made by Lockheed Martin.


A bipartisan team of lawmakers hasn’t given up on the idea of drafting a new authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State, even in the face of some A-list congressional opposition. Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced a draft of their proposal this week, and the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he’d hold a closed-door committee meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the proposal.

After receiving a closed-door briefing from military officials on the inadvertent shipment of live anthrax spores to 68 labs in 19 U.S. states and the District of Columbia — and, let’s not forget, facilities in Canada, Australia, South Korea, and the U.K. — some House lawmakers are speaking up. House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Wednesday that “this is something you’ve got to take really seriously. Something did not go right here. And we all have to find out what did not go right.” Over 30 American civilian and military personnel are taking medical precautions to try to ward off any symptoms stemming from anthrax exposure.

Islamic State

The Independent reports that, according to Australian intelligence, the Islamic State has managed to seize enough radioactive material “to suggest it has the capacity to build a large and devastating “dirty” bomb.” The jihadist group said in the most recent edition of its propaganda magazine, Dabiq, that it is looking for just such a capability.


With the massive Paris Air Show kicking off next week at the Le Bourget airfield outside of the French capital, air power expert Douglas Barrie of the International Institute for Strategic Studies takes a hard look at some recent air campaigns in Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and what they mean for the future of European air power.

With tens of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees getting in boats to try to float across the Mediterranean to Europe, some analysts are questioning whether the grey-hulled military ships picking them up at sea are really the best option. Defense News ships guru Christopher Cavas has the story.


Attacks by suicide bombers at cultural sites and high-volume tourist destinations in Egypt are keeping officials in Cairo up at night, writes the Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham. Specifically, a running gunfight on Wednesday between Islamic militants with explosives and Egyptian security forces outside the ancient Karnak temple in Luxor has brought the issue front and center.

Think Tanked

The Center for a New American Security has dropped a new report, A World of Proliferated Drones: A Technology Primer, which explores the proliferation of drones to states, non-state actors, and individuals. It’s an exciting new world, so you better get smart on it before drones decide to get smart on you.


Enjoy this clip of the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, launching a small car-like object into the sea as part of the testing program for its brand-new electromagnetic catapult system. Nothing explodes, but it’s some good fun.

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

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