Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

The Impact of the Pause in Afghanistan

The Trouble in Iraq, History Repeats Itself in Syria and more.

Welcome to the Monday edition of FP's Situation Report.

Welcome to the Monday edition of FP’s Situation Report.

Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at

Assessing the impact of the suspension of some joint operations in Afghanistan isn’t straightforward. It’s been less than a week since the spate of insider attacks forced ISAF in Kabul to halt some joint operations, hindering the partnership between Afghan forces and their international partners and making it significantly harder to work "shoulder-to-shoulder." But it remains unclear to what degree operations have actually been curtailed.

ISAF seems to have taken the last week to focus on tightening "force protection" measures and won’t discuss how many joint operations, which now require approval at the two-star level, have taken place.

An ISAF commander in Afghanistan told Situation Report that forces in the southwestern sector of the country have upgraded the way in which they are protecting their force and are looking closely at their "force protection posture" everywhere in which his command works with or meets with Afghans.

"We’re doing another full-blown risk assessment of all the places… where we live, where we work, and with those units we routinely mentor with to see if there are any improvements or adjustments that we do need to make in our force protection," Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, who commands forces in ISAF’s southwest sector, said in an e-mail through his spokesman.

Overall, ISAF insists that the only real change to occur as a result of last week’s directive is the level of approval required for joint operations.

"Yes, some things have changed but in many places, very little has changed," said Lt. Col. Richard Spiegel, a spokesman for ISAF’s Joint Command. "Some operations were cancelled and some delayed but we never built a wall and we never walked away," he said.

But officials will not provide a way to quantify what has changed, either. "We aren’t going to put a figure on it," he said.

If this goes on more than another few weeks, it could have a long-term impact on the relationship between the U.S. and Afghan forces, a former Special Forces instructor tells Situation Report. But that might not be an entirely bad thing, either.

"If this goes on longer, if it extends beyond a few weeks, then expect adaptation," said Roger Carstens, who has worked with indigenous forces in several countries. He said he has seen this before, albeit on a smaller level, where circumstances dictated that mentors had to leave their local partners. "When all of the fear, anger, and confusion dissipated, the supported unit stepped up and accepted the challenges and responsibilities absent their mentors," Carstens said. "The result: surprisingly good."

Read Carstens’ piece on insider attacks on FP’s AfPak Channel in which he notes his own close call working with indigenous forces recently in Somalia.

In the meantime, insurgents have become more active in the southwestern sector of Afghanistan where Gurganus’ command operates and as surge forces there have departed. About 100 insurgents working in smaller, low-level groups have tried to attack ANSF and coalition forces in a number of districts in the area, Gurganus said, but Afghan forces have countered with their own operations and killed about half of them. "No doubt about it, the insurgents are increasing their activity as they perceive that we’re pulling out of here and so we think the ANSF will continue to be tested," Gurganus said.

Meanwhile, Iraq poses distinct security challenges. The Sunni group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has begun to have an impact as it attempts to take back territory it says it lost and mounts a campaign known as "Destroying the Walls." A research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War says the trend and focus of the effort is alarming.

In case you missed it: read the NYT’s Michael Gordon’s Sunday piece about the Obama administration’s stumble out of Iraq.


The Air Force says it’s building resiliency into its systems to fight cyber attacks. The Air Force’s efforts to protect it and the Defense Department’s ability to move data is called the Joint Aerial Layer Network, which essentially creates multiple and alternative forms of communication should an enemy jam its radio, cellular, computer, or even satellite communication systems, reports Killer Apps’ John Reed.


News flash: In Syria, history repeats itself. If you want to be smart on what’s happening in Syria today, then read a 30-year old defense intelligence memo that shows that in Syria the roots of today’s rebellion were ever-present.


Eleven Years and Counting

Monday Morning in Libya

Brewing in the Sinai

Your Opinion Counts

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.