The Cable

Situation Report: More bases in Iraq; Pentagon audit scandal; Iran backing the Taliban; no anthrax news is good news; and plenty more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson New day. New plan. Same war. Washington’s constantly evolving strategy to help Baghdad push back against the Islamic State in Anbar province took another dramatic turn on Thursday, when Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters traveling with him in Europe that he’s considering pitching a plan to ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

New day. New plan. Same war. Washington’s constantly evolving strategy to help Baghdad push back against the Islamic State in Anbar province took another dramatic turn on Thursday, when Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters traveling with him in Europe that he’s considering pitching a plan to the White House to build a series of U.S. bases throughout Iraq.

The announcement, which was quickly tempered by the White House as being “hypothetical,” would likely mean more U.S. troops being sent to Iraq to reach out to Sunni tribesmen, advise the Iraqi Army, and get deeper into the day-to-day planning of the fight. FP’s Paul McLeary reports on some of the pushback the plan is already receiving.

Voices carry. The week-long U.S. visit by top brass from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army wraps up Friday afternoon with a signing ceremony between U.S. Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. The two will put their names on the “U.S.-China Army-To-Army Dialogue Mechanism,” which will push for more cooperation on things like humanitarian relief efforts in the region, and also take first steps toward exploring training and counterterrorism partnerships.

While hardly a game changer, the agreement does build a new bridge between Washington and Beijing, and “it messages to the region that the U.S. can sit down and just talk to China,” without all of the posturing, Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security told FP. More on the visit below.

Cooked books? A quarter-century after Congress began grading all federal agencies’ ability to pass a financial audit, the Marine Corps last year became the first Defense Department office to meet the standard.

Until it didn’t.

In a sign of the mess that is the Pentagon’s accounting system, in March the leadership  of the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General revoked the Marines’ passing grade after it was discovered that members of its own audit team had ignored or covered up obvious flaws in the Corps’ books.

Reuters’s Scot Paltrow, who has done the heavy lifting on this story, reported Thursday that Daniel Blair, deputy inspector general for audits, has been demoted to a lower-ranking position following an investigation into the fudging of the Marine Corps audit. The fact that the Marines didn’t actually pass the test – despite senior defense officials shouting from the rooftops that the building is finally on the right track — counts as a pretty big blow to the Pentagon, which is struggling to meet the congressionally-imposed 2017 deadline to get its books in order, just like every other federal agency.

The Situation Report is standing down after another week of early morning assaults to kick off the day. As always, thanks for the feedback wonkery this past week. We’ll get back at it on Monday morning, and as ever, will be checking out the view at or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Afghan hangover

President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next Joint Chiefs chairman, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, finds himself under pressure to publicly apologize to a group of U.S. Marines special operators who were accused – but exonerated — of the cold-blooded murder of Afghan civilians in a 2007 suicide bombing and firefight.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina recently sent a letter to Dunford seeking a “formal, public apology” to members of the Marines Special Operations team, who after years of aggressive, and at times shady, tactics by investigators were eventually found innocent of the charges. But the investigation took its toll on the team, many of whom had their careers ruined as a result. Andrew deGrandpre of the Military Times has the story, and reported out a five-part series on “Task Force Violent” back in March that deserves a read if you missed it the first time around.

Anthrax update

While the Defense Department happily announced on Thursday that no new labs, states, or countries had been added to its list of places that received live anthrax spores from a U.S. Army lab in Utah, there was still some bad news. The samples all came from dozens of larger “lots” of anthrax being kept at Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground, and of the 26 that have been tested so far, 11 have come up positive for live spores, despite having allegedly gone through a process to kill them. Other government labs with similar lots of anthrax have tested their stocks and come up negative, which means that the folks at Dugway, at some point, are going to feel the heat from this. The Pentagon’s investigation is due to wrap up by the end of June.

Closed doors

We only know what we’ve been told we should know about Thursday’s meeting between Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chinese Gen. Fan Changlong. While his visit to the Pentagon is the first of such high rank since 2009, the Chinese had requested that no press conference or meetings with reporters take place during his visit. We assume this was welcome news to Carter, who has only poked his head into the Pentagon briefing room a handful of times since assuming office in February.

Still, word from the closed door meeting has it that Carter brought up American frustration over the string of islands – some with airstrips, and oddly, artillery pieces – Beijing is rapidly building in the South China Seas. No word as to how much the Chinese delegation paid attention.

U.S. Navy

In a major policy change, the Navy is looking into making big changes in the way it deals with transgender sailors, following the lead of similar changes currently working their way through the bureaucracy of the Air Force and the Army. The ideas being discussed include tweaking policy make sure that any potential dismissal of a sailor would have to first go up to the office of the assistant secretary of manpower and reserve affairs for approval.

Ukraine / Russia

Pro-Russian groups in Ukraine’s embattled east are doing what arts collectives and artisanal olive oil shops in the U.S. have done for years to raise money: going online to organize crowdfunding campaigns to provide cash, weapons, and supplies for their Russian-backed militias.

Know who else might be interested in a crowdfunding effort? The Russian Air Force. Three of its planes have crashed during the past week as a result of what experts believe are shortfalls in maintenance and an increased op tempo, as Moscow flies more missions along NATO’s borders. Over the past several days, a Tu-95 “Bear” bomber skidded off a runway, a Mig-29 fighter went down near the the Caspian Sea, and a Su-34 heavy strike fighter crashed in Voronezh, close to the Ukraine border.


After years of assurances that Iran would never help to fund the Taliban, it appears that Iran is, in fact, funding the Taliban. Tehran has decided to throw in its lot with the fundamentalists in order to blunt the influence of the Islamic State on its eastern flank and counter U.S. influence in the region. “Iran is betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban,” a Western diplomat told the Wall Street Journal. “They are uncertain about where Afghanistan is heading right now, so they are hedging their bets.”


After repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade — who among us doesn’t have fond memories of chain-smoking “Georgies” running vehicle inspections in Baghdad’s Green Zone? — many Georgians are growing frustrated with NATO’s reluctance to allow the small nation into its exclusive club.

United Nations

The U.N. is becoming increasingly concerned that even more Iraqi cities will soon fall to Islamic State. Internal displacement and increasing sectarian tensions are worrying leaders in Turtle Bay, pushing them to start drawing up plans for  “the United Nations’ worst-case scenario for Iraq,” as an estimated 1 million Iraqis face being forced from their homes in the expected Iraqi offensive in Anbar province in the coming months.


Vanity Fair’s Adam Ciralsky delivers a staggering profile of “Caesar,” the former Syrian regime official who secreted out thousands of photographs from Bashar al-Assad’s torture chambers in Damascus. His story is “equal parts Kafka, Ian Fleming, and The Killing Fields.”

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

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