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.

FP’s Situation Report: 300 back to Iraq; But spies may be the key there; The CIA toyed with a UBL scary doll; Abdullah turns it up; Kyle Carpenter isn’t a winner; and a bit more.

  Iraqi forces ready their push after Obama’s announcement of sending 300 advisers there. President Obama announced that he would send 300 troops to Iraq, not as combat forces, but as advisers who will assess the capabilities of the Iraqi forces – as well as the sectarian dynamics there – but, in a read-my-lips moment, ...



Iraqi forces ready their push after Obama’s announcement of sending 300 advisers there. President Obama announced that he would send 300 troops to Iraq, not as combat forces, but as advisers who will assess the capabilities of the Iraqi forces – as well as the sectarian dynamics there – but, in a read-my-lips moment, vowed not to allow this to become the beginning to a larger re-entry into the Iraq conflict. He did leave the door open for airstrikes as he pushed for the Maliki government to address the situation. Reuters this morning: "Iraqi forces were massing north of Baghdad on Friday, aiming to strike back at Sunni Islamists whose drive toward the capital prompted the United States to send military advisers to stiffen government resistance.

"…In the area around Samarra, on the main highway 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, which has become a frontline of the battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the provincial governor, a rare Sunni supporter of Maliki, told cheering troops they would now force ISIL and its allies back.

Obama walks the line on Iraq: sending advisers, holding off on airstrikes for now. FP’s Gordon Lubold and John Hudson: "Obama said that the troops would not be combat forces but would serve in a train-and-advise role, adding that the U.S. has already been building up its intelligence capabilities inside the country and would create ‘joint operation centers’ in northern Iraq and in Baghdad to share intelligence and coordinate planning against the threats posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.

"But as he attempted to walk the line between addressing the security crisis in Iraq without being dragged into another war there war, Obama stressed that he would ensure that the deployment of troops and other assets would not amount to ‘mission creep.’

"…In response to a reporter’s question on if this would be the beginning of a ‘boots on the ground’ scenario, Obama held firm, saying that ultimately this was a problem Iraq’s military and political leaders would have to solve. He was harshly critical of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who he accused of alienating the country’s Sunni minority. But he stopped short of saying Maliki should go." More of that story here.

But it’s spies, not soldiers, which are the key to beating ISIS. FP’s Shane Harris: "In ordering hundreds of military advisors to Iraq and dramatically ramping up intelligence-gathering on jihadist fighters threatening Baghdad, President Barack Obama sent his strongest signal yet that U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) may be likely.

"Since ISIS fighters took control of two key Iraqi cities last week, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have blanketed portions of the country with spy satellites and drones, giving them what one senior administration official called "round-the-clock coverage" of locations where ISIS is active. The military personnel headed to Iraq — as many as 300, Obama said — will work alongside Iraqi military forces in special intelligence centers, using drone video feeds and spy satellite photographs to track and attack ISIS fighters. They’ll also be in a prime position to help carry out U.S. airstrikes the moment Obama orders them.
"…Primarily led by the Pentagon, intelligence collection in Iraq grew ‘exponentially’ over the past 36 hours, another senior administration official told Foreign Policy. Last week the intelligence agencies began collecting more information from drones and satellites in earnest, officials said, while the Pentagon is trying to intercept ISIS communications. However, the group’s general avoidance of phones and text messaging will make that task more difficult. ISIS members mostly rely on couriers to communicate. But if ISIS has any hope of taking more Iraqi cities, or Baghdad, it will almost certainly have to coordinate attacks over the phone or radio, making the group more vulnerable to America’s digital spying nets." More here.

There are clearly challenges to replacing Maliki. The NYT’s Alissa Rubin and Rod Nordland in Baghdad: "…At least three people, who like Mr. Maliki are all members of the Shiite majority, have emerged as possible candidates to take over as prime minister, with more potential nominees in the wings as parties negotiate alliances from the recent elections. Any prospective successor must convince Iraq’s Sunni Muslims and its ethnic Kurds that he can hold Iraq together, as well as vanquish a Sunni-led insurgency that has escalated into a crisis threatening to partition the country.

"…The Kurds want the Iraqi central government to recognize the contested city of Kirkuk, endowed with oil, as part of the autonomous Kurdish territory they have carved out in the north. The Kurds also want assurances that they can sell the oil from Kurdistan without oversight from the central government.

"The Sunnis want to lead at least one security ministry, such as defense or interior, and control some of the other powerful ministries such as education or higher education, both rich in patronage and jobs." More here.

Sunnis accuse Iraq forces of a jailhouse massacre. Reuters’ Oliver Holmes in Baghdad, here.

Who thinks what on Iraq?

McCain and Graham want more: "We welcome President Obama’s articulation of the U.S. national security interests that are at stake in Iraq, especially the threat posed by ISIS. The President’s willingness to send U.S. military advisers to Iraq is a positive step, but more needs to be done." More here.

SASC Chairman Carl Levin is okay with advisors, but wary of more: "The plan President Obama outlined today to send up to 300 noncombat advisors to Iraq is a reasonable step to enable us to assess the security situation there. We should be extremely cautious about taking any actions beyond that step, such as air strikes, and three conditions should be met before we consider any such actions." More here.

Rep. Kinzinger (R-IL), an Iraq War vet, calls for U.S military engagement in Iraq: "Seeing cities that American troops fought so hard for fall into the hands of terrorists is absolutely heartbreaking, and we must act decisively if we hope to prevent further chaos throughout the region." More here.

CSIS’ Tony Cordesman: "The President’s decision to send 300 more U.S. military advisers to Iraq is a key first step in dealing with the crisis. It ensures that the United States as well as Iran will have a presence on the ground, while any U.S. use of airpower alone
would have effectively empowered Iran’s Revolutionary Guards because they would have been present with Iraqi forces." More here.

Former State Department senior adviser Vali Nasr says Obama needs to walk a careful line because of the sectarian dynamics on the ground. Nasr to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: "This is now being billed as the sharp edge of a Sunni revival in the region, and that’s the way the Shiites are seeing it… And the Sunni countries in the region are not separating ISIS from the rest of the Sunni forces, and Iraqi Sunnis have not stood up and for instance condemned massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers in Tikrit…And all of that gives a sense that everybody is accepting ISIS as now the voice of Sunnis. And that’s exactly what will cause the Shiites to be very worried about any kind of concession to the Sunnis…[Obama] has to walk a very delicate line." More here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Russian troops are on the move – again – and are building up near the Ukraine border. AP here.

We don’t do "top talkers." But if we did, this story would be one of them: The CIA’s plans for an OBL action figure called "Devil Eyes." The WaPo’s Adam Goldman on Page One: "Beginning in about 2005, the CIA began secretly developing a custom-made Osama bin Laden action figure, according to people familiar with the project. The faces of the figures were painted with a heat-dissolving material, designed to peel off and reveal a red-faced bin Laden who looked like a demon, with piercing green eyes and black facial markings. The goal of the short-lived project was simple: spook children and their parents, causing them to turn away from the actual bin Laden. The code-name for the bin Laden figures was ‘Devil Eyes,’ and to create them the CIA turned to one of the best minds in the toy business, said those familiar with the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the project publicly.

"…The toymaker was Donald Levine, the former Hasbro executive who was instrumental in the creation of the wildly popular G.I. Joe toys that generated more than $5 billion in sales after hitting the shelves in 1964. The CIA’s interest in Levine was twofold: He had an eye for toys and a vast network of contacts in China, where the bin Laden action figures were ultimately manufactured. Levine had done business there for nearly 60 years and had the means to have the action figures discreetly developed and manufactured.

"Levine died last month at age 86, after a lengthy battle with cancer. In response to questions about his work on the bin Laden toys, his family said in a statement: ‘Don Levine was a dedicated Patriot, and proud Korean War veteran. When called on, he was honored to assist our country.’" More here.

Kyle Carpenter received the MOH yesterday at the White House. Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: "He never asked for this. And by rights, he wasn’t supposed to be here. Illuminated by camera bulbs and chandeliers in the East Room of the White House, Marine veteran William Kyle Carpenter nonetheless stood stoic and strong as the president of the United States told his story.

"’His injuries were called catastrophic,’ said President Obama. ‘It seemed as if he was going to die.’ Much has taken place in the nearly four years since Nov. 21, 2010, when Carpenter, then a 21-year-old lance corporal, threw himself on a grenade in Marjah, Afghanistan, to save the life of a friend and Marine comrade, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, while both were standing watch on a rooftop. Today, he became just the second living Marine from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor." More here.

Remember, as any military type will tell you, no one "wins" the Medal of Honor. But Obama might not know just yet. His parting words yesterday after awarding the MOH to Carpenter that were cut off by the official WH transcript but picked up by Federal News Service: "All right. Thank you very much, everybody. Let’s big — give one more round of applause to our latest Medal of Honor winner, Kyle Carpenter."

So there were other plans in the works for how to free Bergdahl. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes and Adam Entous: "Before the U.S. agreed to release five Taliban detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, two groups of U.S. military personnel worked for more than year on alternative plans to secure his freedom-including one proposal to pay off militants and another to release an Afghan warlord. Those efforts, which ran on parallel tracks, underscore the extent to which U.S. agencies pursued competing approaches to free the only American prisoner of war, held since 2009. The options were presented to senior U.S. State Department officials leading the talks involving the Taliban, but those negotiators didn’t view them as realistic, according to administration officials."

"…But the idea of paying a ransom to militants to free Sgt. Bergdahl likely would have drawn as much or more criticism. ‘It is crazy,’ said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif), a member of the House Armed Services Committee." More here.

Who’s Where When today – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon to welcome the Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key to the Pentagon at 8:30 a.m… Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos hosts a Medal of Honor flag presentation at Marine Barracks Washington in honor of Cpl Carpenter and attends the Hall of Heroes ceremony at the Pentagon for him… Navy Sec. Ray Mabus travels to Pascagoula, Miss, for the keel laying of USS Tripoli (LHA 7).  Tripoli is an America Class Amphib, which will bring to bear some of the latest technology to the Fleet — including a hybrid drive propulsion system that was designed for fuel efficiency — the ships can use diesel-electric propulsion as well as their gas-turbine engines depending on their speed.

An excerpt of Mabus’ speech provided early to the Situation Report: "She will be over forty thousand tons, more than 800 feet long, carry aircraft and equipment and more than 1000 Marines, most of a Marine Expeditionary Unit.  She will be in the fleet for two score years or longer and project American power, reassure allies and friends, deter potential adversaries, deliver lifesaving aid and crucial training around the globe.  It will be a visible symbol of America and of freedom."

Who’ll be at this year’s Aspen Security Forum July 23-26? Glad you asked. This year’s see-and-be-seen event kicks off with a conversation between Gen. Ray Odierno and Wolf Blitzer, Day Two headliners include Sec. Jeh Johnson and Dina Temple-Raston at lunchtime and an early evening talk with Gen. Martin Dempsey and Lesley Stahl, Adm. Jonathan Greenert and David Ignatius are up on Day Three, and it all closes with a doubleheader: first, Lisa Monaco and Margaret Warner, then Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Wolf Blitzer. Full schedule here.

Northrop is poised to win a Navy deal worth up to $3.9 billion. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio with the scoop: "Northrop Grumman Corp. is in line to get a five-year U.S. Navy contract valued at as much as $3.86 billion to build new surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, according to a Defense Department document…Such multiyear deals are prized by defense contractors because they make cancellation unlikely and lock in a funding commitment. The aircraft to be built by Northrop, the fifth-biggest U.S. contractor, would extend the range at which a Navy carrier battle group can detect incoming enemy missiles or planes." More here.

Abdullah Abdullah is turning up the heat on the Afghan vote and is, as the NYT editorial today says, "playing with fire." The NYT’s Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "The Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah intensified his political brinkmanship on Thursday, insisting that he would not accept any result put forth by the country’s election commission as his supporters appeared to be gearing up for street protests. Essentially turning his back on the entire election process, Mr. Abdullah, who was the leading vote-winner in the first round of voting, said he could no longer trust the system to address his accusations of widespread fraud and collusion against him in the recent presidential runoff vote." More here.

The NYT’s editorial’s BLUF on what Abdullah is doing: "As hard as it is to lose, both candidates have to be prepared for such a result. Political uncertainty could lead the United States and other international donors to rethink their commitment of monetary aid and other support in the future. That is not an outcome that Afghanistan can afford." More here.

What’s a TEU? In Afghanistan, it’s time to pack up. The buzzword among loggies in Afghanistan is "TEU," a Twenty Foot Equivalent – the way troops and contractors measure the size of loads being packed up. A TEU is about how much that can be fit into a standard shipping container. And these days, there are tens of thousands of TEUs. AFP’s Dan De Luce from Forward Operating Base Pasab: "…From refrigerators to ammunition cases, troops are sorting through piles of gear, deciding what will be kept, what will be given to the Afghans and what will be shredded or melted down. ‘We just don’t destroy stuff and get rid of it. We do our best to reintegrate it into the system, but some stuff is just plain broken,’ said US Army Major Rob Wolfenden, 37, who is helping oversee the withdrawal from Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar province.

"…In the chaotic US pullout from Vietnam, troops pushed Huey helicopters off ships into the sea. But not this time, said Lieutenant Joe Mannor, of the 226th Quartermasters — "We’re saving double A batteries." More here.

Why is Rouhani’s popularity plummeting in the Middle East? FP’s Elias Groll explains why: "Bangladeshis think Iran is super, but among other countries, especially in the Middle East, animosity runs high toward Iran, according to Pew Research Center. A Pew survey released Wednesday showed that fellow Middle Easterners do not think as highly of regional neighbor Iran since Hassan Rouhani became president. In Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, the percentage of respondents who viewed Iran favorably precipitously declined between 2008 and 2014. In Lebanon, opinions on Iran remained deeply divided. According to Pew, 87 percent of Lebanese Shiites like Iran but 88 percent of Sunnis there don’t. Among countries with citizens who think Iran is OK, Bangladesh leads the way. Overall the world doesn’t show Iran much love, not a shocking revelation." More here.

Drones and More: As US counterterrorism efforts turn toward Africa, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets will become more vital. Defense News’ Paul McLeary and Aaron Mehta: "As the US pivots the counterterrorism mission toward Africa, Pentagon leaders are quick to point out that the size and scope of the continent provide significant challenges that will require a commitment to intelligence and surveillance technologies to give them, and their fledgling allies, a better picture of what lies over the next hill. If there were any questions that the Pentagon will shift resources to Africa in a post-Afghanistan world, political signs from Washington in recent weeks should end them. In late May, language from the House Armed Services Committee referred to Africa as ‘the front lines of the next phase of the terrorist threat.’ Days later, President Barack Obama called for a $5 billion counterterrorism fund, largely focused on Northern Africa.
Brig. Gen. John Linder, the head of the US Army’s Africa Special Operations Command, to Defense News: "Africa is not about maneuver warfare and it’s not about seizing terrain, it’s about sharing our lessons learned with partner nations and their forces so they can solve their own problems… We start with partnerships that develop into relationships and result into friendships. And friendships are something you earn by earning someone’s trust – and that takes a long time." More here.

The National Foundation for Credit Card Counseling (NFCC) released a survey revealing some troubling financial behavior among service members. The military prides itself on valuing fiscal responsibility and service members rate themselves highly for professional financial literacy. But the data shows that the troops are more likely than the general population to make bad financial decisions. A survey shows that nearly half of the service members polled have taken a loan out in the past 12 months, to include purchases on a credit card, loans from friends and family, or cash advance or payday lender. And three out of five service members who have taken out a loan in the last 12 months say "limited lending options" require them to look for "alternative, non-traditional lenders" to meet financial needs. And, 57 percent of servicemembers surveyed said they are very worried about the potential loss of income and job security. Survey (also) said: 28 percent of service members polled said they are now more worried than they were 12 months ago about how their financial situation will affect their future in the military; and 55 percent believe they are ill-prepared, financially speaking, for an emergency.

Gail Cunningham, a long
-time spokeswoman for the NFCC, told Situation Report:
"What I know to be true is that financial distress is with you 24/7.  You wake up with it, you take it to work with you, you come home and you take it to bed with you, and tomorrow the same old thing starts over again.  And I think of all the jobs we can think of, the one we least want the employee distracted would be in the military.  We don’t want them distracted by debt." NFCC offers programs tailored to the military to help members avoid the pitfalls of making bad choices. Find the survey here.

The WSJ editorial page slams Obama for planning to sign an international treaty that bans land mines: "As disorder spreads from Ukraine to the Middle East and the Western Pacific, U.S. President Barack Obama is about to tempt fate on one of the world’s most dangerous front lines. According to our sources, he plans next week to sign the international treaty banning land mines, an act of arms-control theater that will weaken longstanding U.S. defenses against the erratic and nuclear-armed regime of North Korea. 

"…So has peace recently broken out in Korea? ‘My military judgment is actually [that] the tensions on the peninsula have increased,’ Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey told Congress in March. He called land mines ‘an important tool in the arsenal of the armed forces of the United States.’ The current U.S. commander in Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, in April called them ‘a critical element in the defense of the Republic of Korea and our interest there.’ A 30-page military briefing on the dangers of the land-mine ban remains classified." More here.




Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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