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: Kerry arrives in Iraq; Nat-sec luminaries pop popcorn for new Afghanistan combat film; Bergdahl becomes an “out-patient”; Sinclair gets dropped to a light colonel; Kirby zorches; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Kerry arrived in Iraq. As the U.S. scrambles to recover from its flat-footed recognition that the determined ISIS was a problem it couldn’t ignore, President Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to help the administration get a better handle on the situation and send ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Kerry arrived in Iraq. As the U.S. scrambles to recover from its flat-footed recognition that the determined ISIS was a problem it couldn’t ignore, President Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to help the administration get a better handle on the situation and send a message to the Maliki government in person that it’s time to govern inclusively or get out of the way. State’s Jen Psaki at 2:54 a.m. EST: "Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad, Iraq today, June 23, where he will meet with a Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Maliki, to discuss the crisis in Iraq.  Following on President Obama’s announcement last week, he will discuss U.S. actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat from ISIL and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government that represents the interests of all Iraqis."

Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton and Ahmed Rasheed this hour from Baghdad: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad on Monday to push for a more inclusive government, even as Baghdad’s forces abandoned the border with Jordan, leaving the entire Western frontier outside government control. Sunni tribes took the Turaibil border crossing, the only legal crossing point between Iraq and Jordan, after Iraqi security forces fled, Iraqi and Jordanian security sources said.

"The tribes were negotiating to hand the post over to insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant who took control of two main crossings with Syria over the weekend.Kurdish forces control a third border post with Syria in the north, leaving central government troops with no presence along the entire Western frontier which includes some of the most important east-west trade routes in the Middle East." More here.

As Kerry lands in the Middle East, the U.S. faces opposing regional interests in its effort to blunt the insurgency in Iraq. The WSJ’s Jay Solomon here.

Khamenei says that the U.S. should avoid Iraq. From the AP: "Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Sunday that he was against any intervention by the United States in neighboring Iraq, where Islamic extremists and Sunni militants opposed to Iran have seized a number of towns and cities… ‘We strongly oppose the intervention of the U.S. and others in the domestic affairs of Iraq,’ Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted as saying, in his first reaction to the crisis. ‘The main dispute in Iraq is between those who want Iraq to join the U.S. camp and those who seek an independent Iraq,’ said the ayatollah, who has the final say over government policies. ‘The U.S. aims to bring its own blind followers to power since the U.S. is not happy about the current government in Iraq.’ Ayatollah Khamenei said Iraq’s government and its people, with the help of top clerics, would be able to end the ‘sedition’ there, saying extremists are hostile to both Shiites and Sunnis who seek an independent Iraq." More here.

ISIS fighters control much of Iraq’s western border after seizing three more towns. The WaPo’s Liz Sly: "Al-Qaeda-inspired rebels captured three more towns in the western Iraqi province of Anbar on Sunday, expanding their onslaught against crumbling Iraqi security forces deeper into the heart of the Middle East. The latest conquests give the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unchecked control of hundreds of miles of territory spanning the Iraqi-Syrian border, erasing the line drawn between the two countries by colonial powers. The gains also put the militants within easy reach of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies that are among those in the region watching with alarm as the fighters rout Iraqi security forces and close in on Baghdad." More here.

Iraq’s military is seen as unlikely to turn the tide on ISIS. The NYT’s Alissa Rubin and Michael Gordon: "As Iraqi Army forces try to rally on the outskirts of Baghdad after two weeks of retreat, it has become increasingly clear to Western officials that the army will continue to suffer losses in its fight with Sunni militants and will not soon retake the ground it has ceded. Recent assessments by Western officials and military experts indicate that about a quarter of Iraq’s military forces are ‘combat ineffective,’ its air force is minuscule, morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption. As other nations consider whether to support military action in Iraq, their decision will hinge on the quality of Iraqi forces, which have proved far more ragged than expected given years of American training.

"… Michael Knights, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote recently that 60 out of 243 Iraqi Army combat battalions "cannot be accounted for, and all of their equipment is lost." More here.

Why did it take two administrations to learn that Baghdad doesn’t work like Washington? James Traub for FP: "…Earlier this week Blinken agreed to talk to me on the record about what went wrong. He pointed out, first, that the crisis Iraq is experiencing — invasion by Sunni extremists — is not the political collapse the administration’s critics had long warned of. Even in recent months, he pointed out, ‘virtually all of the actors have continued to try to work within the political system, within the four corners of the constitution, albeit pushing those corners to the max.’ Instead of political failure producing civil war, the external security threat represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, had pushed the political system almost to collapse. Maliki, he said, could have reacted to the threat in such a way as to bring the parties together; he has plainly failed to do so, and now Iraq’s Sunni minority appears to be throwing in its lot with extremists and their Baathist allies of convenience." More here.

Little action is expected in Iraq from the GCC nations. Defense News’ Awad Mustafa, here.

Welcome to Monday’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.

When drones fall from the sky: Part II of the WaPo’s big investigative series on drone safety by the WaPo’s Craig Whitlock ran today on Page One. Today’s bit is about how the military is flying more drones in the U.S.

Yesterday’s, a great read about the increasing frequency of drones crashing – more than 400 since 2001 – notes: "Defense Department officials said they are confident in the reliability of their drones. Most of the crashes occurred in war, they emphasized, under harsh conditions unlikely to be replicated in the United States. Military statistics show the vast majority of flights go smoothly and that mishap rates have steadily declined over the past decade. Officials acknowledge, however, that drones will never be as safe as commercial jetliners. ‘Flying is inherently a dangerous activity. You don’t have to look very far, unfortunately, to see examples of that,’ said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. ‘I can look you square in the eye and say, absolutely, the [Defense Department] has got an exceptional safety record on this and we’re getting better every day.’ The Post’s analysis of accident records, however, shows that the military and drone manufacturers have yet to overcome some fundamental safety hurdles[.]"

Also, Whitlock notes that sometimes drone pilots have no idea why a drone crashes; Whitlock, yesterday: "…The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been ‘possessed’ and plagued by ‘demons.’"

Today’s piece here. Yesterday’s piece, When Drones Fall From the Sky, here.

Afghanistan, the re-forgotten war, back on screen with new film "The Hornet’s Nest," that celebrates the sacrifices of men and women in combat. ABC News’ veteran journalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos, also with ABC, went to Afghanistan in 2011 to film a story about what troops go through in combat in some of the worst parts of the country. The Restrepo-like film is full of bang-bang and can at times drip with melodrama, capturing a harsh reality we fear only those already in the choir really appreciate, but in the end tells the tale of the sacrifices of the troops and leaves not a dry eye in the house.

Or backyard, as the case was last night. The film was screened by a number of nat-sec luminaries in the Frontgate-worthy backyard of the home of Café Milano owner Franco Nuschese, who steals up to Walter Reed occasionally to visit wounded warriors and opened up his house for a schwank affair under big white tents, snacks and an open bar, backyard torches and popcorn.

It was hosted by Bill Cohen, Ash Carter, Jim Jones, Ellen Tauscher, John Allen, Jane Harman, David Gergen, Juleanna Glover, Jeremy Bash, and Wendy Anderson.

Former ISAF commander Allen, who introduced the film: "’The Hornet’s Nest’ is not a film about the war in Afghanistan.  It is the war in Afghanistan, and vividly depicts the reality of infantry close combat in the Kunar and Helmand provinces.  For the Afghan war veteran who sees this film, all the old feelings will come back.  For the American who’s never been to Afghanistan who sees ‘The Hornet’s Nest’, you’ll now know why you’re thanking our precious troops for their service.  It must be seen to be believed … and understood."

Anderson, Chuck Hagel’s deputy chief of staff, who helped organize the event before the showing: "It’s been a long 13 years. And there is no one for whom those 13 have been longer than our men and women in uniform.  As we watch the doc tonight, I would ask that we consider – each on our own way – how to help or assist the entire community of men and women who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan."

DC Seen: There were 150 or so folks there but we saw Jim Jones, Jim Amos, Norty Schwartz, Ash Carter, Wolf Blitzer, Ron Lewis, Elisabeth Bumiller, Steve Weisman, Jim Lehrer, Pete Pace, Juleanna Glover, Jim Clapper, Sally Donnelly, Arnie Punaro, Jacob Freedman, Michele Flournoy, Christine Fox, Carl Woog, Bob Hale, David Ignatius, Elise Labott, Mike Crowley, Dan Lamothe, Andrew Shapiro, Vago Muradian and many more.  The Hornet’s Nest trailer, here.

Fouad Ajami, the academic, author and pundit on the Middle East who "helped rally support for the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003,"  is dead. The NYT’s Douglas Martin: "… [he] died on Sunday. He was 68. The cause was cancer, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where Mr. Ajami was a senior fellow, said in a statement." More here.

Who’s Where When today – Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, together with the CNO, will present awards in honor of the heroic actions taken during the tragic shootings on Sept. 16th. The ceremony will take place at 9:30 a.m. at Admiral Leutze Park on the Washington Navy Yard. Watch it here.

At the Wilson Center today, five experts examine the implications that a potential Iranian nuclear deal would have on the region, particularly the Persian Gulf states. Deets here.

And the American Task Force on Palestine hosts a panel this morning on the regional implications of the crisis in Iraq with Jon Alterman, Peter Mansoor and Mazin Al-Eshaiker, moderated by Dr. Ziad Asali. Deets here.

The Pentagon confirms that a U.S. missile defense test hit its target. Reuters’ Andrea Shalal: "The U.S. missile defense system managed by Boeing Co hit a simulated enemy missile over the Pacific in a critical test on Sunday, the U.S. Defense Department said. ‘This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system,’ said Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James Syring. The Pentagon said initial indications showed that all components involved in the test performed as designed. It said program officials will spend the next several months assessing the performance of the system using telemetry and other data obtained during the test." More here.

Tom Z. Collina for the Arms Control NOW blog on the test, here.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby as The Zorcher.  The WSJ’s Ben Zimmer, the Journal’s wordsmith, writes about wordsmith Kirby and his revival of an old naval term, "zorching." Zimmer: "When Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby held a news conference last week to discuss developments in Iraq, he used a word you rarely hear in such a formal setting: ‘zorch.’ ‘As we speak right now,’ Adm. Kirby said, ‘there is no aircraft carrier zorching into the Persian Gulf.’ Acknowledging the chuckles from the press corps, Kirby added, ‘Yes, I did use that verb.’

Zimmer: "In fact, Pentagon-watchers knew that Adm. Kirby had a penchant for that verb, which means "to move or propel rapidly" in naval aviation slang. He had memorably used it in a January 2012 news conference when he was an assistant press secretary. Iran was the topic of the day, and Adm. Kirby clarified, ‘I don’t want to leave anybody with the impression that, you know, we’re somehow zorching two carriers over there.’ Adm. Kirby’s choice of vocabulary was a subject of merriment among reporters at the time, and it even inspired a "Fake Admiral Kirby" satirical Twitter account, which, fittingly, uses the handle @zorching." More here.

Never mind that Urban Dictionary has an entirely different definition for the verb, but we’ll leave it to you to turn on the Google.

Bowe Bergdahl became an outpatient at a Texas military base. The LA Times’ Matt Pearce: "Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s long road to recovery took another step forward Sunday when military officials announced that the former prisoner-of-war had become an outpatient at the Texas military base where he is being treated. Bergdahl, 28, had been receiving inpatient treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. Now, U.S. Army officials said, he is receiving outpatient care at the base. ‘His reintegration process continues with exposure to more people and a gradual increase of social interactions,’ the Army said in a statement. ‘Debriefings and counseling from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) psychologists continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.’" More here.

Army Secretary John McHugh drops Sinclair, convicted in March after pleading guilty to adultery, maltreatment of a subordinate, engaging in improper relationships, willful disobedience of an order, wrongful use of a government travel card, wrongful possession of pornography, and conduct unbecoming an officer – by two ranks. From The Army, on Friday: "Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced today that he has stripped… Jeffery Sinclair, who currently holds the rank of Brigadier General, will be retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  This is the first time the Army has reduced a retiring general officer by two ranks in a decade.

McHugh: "While retirement benefits are mandated by federal law, there is a requirement that an individual must have served satisfactorily in rank before receiving those benefits," McHugh explained.  "Sinclair displayed a pattern of inappropriate and at times illegal behavior both while serving as a Brigadier General and a Colonel. I therefore decided there was sufficient evidence and cause to deny him those benefits." McHugh noted that he is prevented by federal law from taking further action, and did what was "legally sustainable."  

McHugh: "During Capitol Hill hearings, I was asked whether Sinclair would receive a pension after proceedings were complete… Under federal law, if a person has earned a pension because of their years of service, they are entitled to those benefits; Congress might consider a change in the law that would allow greater flexibility and accountability."

Meantime, Special Forces conducts Naval training as Army emphasizes amphibious. Military Times’ Lance Bacon: "Army Special Forces teamed up with the Gator Navy in April for training and managed to pull off a seemingly unprecedented feat: Simultaneously launching six helicopters from a two-spot dock landing ship. The Oak Hill, while in the Atlantic, served as the landing pad for the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), better known as the "Night Stalkers," who also practiced fast-roping to the ship from helicopters. That’s the sort of tactic used to board noncompliant ships – a mission traditionally run by Navy SEALs and Marine Corps’ Maritime Raid Forces, in the latest sign the Army is boosting its amphibious operations as it emerges from a decade of land warfare.

"Landing on a ship is not common for these pilots – nor was it a cakewalk for the ship’s crew. Multiple flight deck waivers were required due to having ‘way more birds than we would normally spot,’ said Chief Warrant Officer 3 William East, the ship’s boatswain who oversaw the flight operations. Many Oak Hill sailors were at sea for the first time, having earned their flight deck qualification only a few months before… The Night Stalker operations, detailed here for the first time, are pushing the Navy’s envelope of the possible – but some are concerned that the Army is encroaching on the Marine Corps’ turf." More here.

As fighting strains the ceasefire in Ukraine, Putin urges dialogue. "Fighting flared between Ukrainian and pro-Moscow separatist forces, both sides reported on Sunday, further straining a unilateral ceasefire declared by Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed Kiev to talk to the rebels. Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, at separate ceremonies marking the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, both stressed the need to bring peace to Ukraine’s rebellious east. The seven-day ceasefire came under pressure almost as soon at it began on Friday night, with the government accusing the separatists of attacking its military bases and posts on the Russian border. The violence continued for a second night into Sunday.

Putin after laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow: "Unfortunately, what we are seeing … tells us that the fighting is still going on and last night we saw some active use of artillery from the Ukrainian side." More here.

Russia is waging a quiet war against European fracking. FP’s Keith Johnson: "Russia is trying to maintain its energy stranglehold over Europe by backing movements across the continent to demonize fracking, the head of NATO alleged. It is part of Russia’s broader use of soft power and covert means to complement its more overt efforts to reassert influence in Europe and keep countries there from developing alternatives to an energy addiction worth $100 million a day to Moscow.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engage actively with so-called non-government organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — obviously to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas." More here.

Israel confirms direct hits on targets in Syria. The LA Times’ Batsheva Sobelman and Patrick McDonnell: "Israeli warplanes and missiles struck nine Syrian military positions early Monday in retaliation for an earlier cross-border attack that killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded three other civilians in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to the Israel Defense Forces and news agency reports. The Israeli bombardment hit Syrian military command centers and launching positions, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces and news agency accounts. The attack involved both Tamuz guided missiles and military jets, according to Israeli press reports…Israel is reported to have launched at least half a dozen airstrikes in the last 18 months against military targets inside Syria. Israeli officials have generally not publicly confirmed the previous attacks, which have been confirmed by U.S. and Syrian officials. But on Monday, Israel acknowledged the retaliatory strikes. The official statement said the action was in response to the cross-border incident Sunday that killed the 14-year-old boy and wounded three others, including the boy’s father, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israeli authorities initially described the earlier attack as an ‘explosion,’ possibly from mortar fire or a planted bomb." 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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