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: More American troops to Iraq; Is Patrick Kennedy in trouble? A quadruple amputee does pull-ups; Saying good-bye to Todd Breasseale; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Less than two weeks after announcing it would send 300 troops into Iraq to conduct assessments and advise the Iraqi forces, the Pentagon sends more troops in. The Pentagon is sending an additional 300 troops into Iraq, on top of the "up to" 300 announced June 19 as the threat to Baghdad ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Less than two weeks after announcing it would send 300 troops into Iraq to conduct assessments and advise the Iraqi forces, the Pentagon sends more troops in. The Pentagon is sending an additional 300 troops into Iraq, on top of the "up to" 300 announced June 19 as the threat to Baghdad grows amid the scramble to stem the impact that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is having across northern Iraq and the Maliki government grows desperate. Pentagon officials said there was no "triggering event" that led to them announcing the additional forces late yesterday, but officials recognized they needed more forces to conduct security for the American forces already there, as well as additional capabilities – including a detachment of helicopters and drones. This may raise alarm bells for those for whom intervention seems like a very bad idea, while at the same time raise questions if the U.S. military shouldn’t be doing more much more quickly.

The numbers can get confusing in a hurry, but suffice to say there are nearly 1,000 troops total now serving in Baghdad – including about 470 conducting security around the U.S. embassy in Baghdad as well as "airport road," the route between Baghdad International and downtown; another 90 troops are assigned to the new "Joint Operations Command" in Baghdad, and another 90 advisers working to conduct an assessment of Iraqi forces and their capabilities. In addition, there are roughly 100 troops who were serving in what’s called the Office of Security Cooperation at the embassy. That’s all for a total of about 750.

And in addition to those troops, there are a number of special operations forces that the Pentagon has not acknowledged publicly operating across the city of Baghdad and the rest of the country. And in addition to that, officials tell Situation Report that there are more civilians from other government agencies, including the FBI and others, headed into Iraq. All told, the contribution of troops and civilians to a new war that President Barack Obama had sought to end three years ago appears to be growing and quickly.

Iraqi lawmakers want to form a government to counter the new Caliphate formed by ISIL. Amid the reality that there are very real threats to Baghdad – even if many experts think it’s unlikely to really fall to Sunni militants anytime soon – the Iraqi government is scrambling to show it can respond to the reality around it. But it’s increasingly likely that it’s too little too late for the Maliki government. Reuters this morning: "Iraq’s new parliament convened on Tuesday under pressure to name a unity government to prevent the country splitting apart after an onslaught by Sunni militants who have declared a "caliphate" to rule over all the world’s Muslims. The session in Baghdad’s fortified "green zone" could end the eight-year rule of Shi’ite Islamist Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with foes determined to unseat him and even some allies saying he could be replaced by a less polarising figure. Iraqi troops have been battling for three weeks against fighters led by the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Fighting has raged in recent days in former dictator Saddam Hussein’s home city, Tikrit." Read more here.

Kaine, a Democrat, and McCain, a Republican, propose a change to the legal underpinning for the U.S. fight against Islamic groups. Defense News’ John Bennett: "…For years, lawmakers in both parties and both chambers have advocated rescinding the September 2001 authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) or updating it, especially as al-Qaida has been weakened in Pakistan and Afghanistan but gained strength elsewhere. Experts and some pro-reform lawmakers contend the 2001 measure is outdated, and should at least be updated to reflect a changed fight against al-Qaida and similar forces in places beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Now, the possibility of US military action in Iraq and the threat posed by groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have members like Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., saying a new force-authorization measure is needed to provide an adequate legal basis." More here.

Mission creep? Obama’s armed drones in Iraq strikes CFR’s Micah Zenko, and FP commentator, as just that. Read that bit here.

Is State’s Patrick Kennedy in trouble? FP’s John Hudson: "Eye-opening new revelations about the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide and its cozy relationship with the State Department are raising new questions about a senior Foggy Bottom bureaucrat who has found himself in Capitol Hill’s crosshairs before — and seems certain to now do so again. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s current under secretary for management, led a review of the private security firm in 2007 after its guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. Kennedy’s review, however, failed to reference a scathing State Department memo on the contractor completed just weeks earlier that found the company had systematically overcharged the government.

"…As under secretary for management, Kennedy holds large sway in the promotion and appointments of officials throughout the State Department. The powerful bureaucrat is responsible for a range of department operations related to human resources, budgets, facilities, consular affairs and security. It’s unclear if Kennedy’s review in 2007 simply missed the internal memo of Blackwater misconduct or whether it was suppressed. Though the incident is now seven years old, anger remains on Capitol Hill about how the State Department, and in particular, Kennedy, manages relations with government contractors." Read the rest here.

Read about a poll that suggests that ISIL’s role in the take over of Mosul is overrated, below.

Welcome to Tuesday’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.

Pakistan begins an assault on militant strongholds, the NYT’s Declan Walsh, here.

"Hamas will pay": The bodies of three teenagers are found. It’s not clear just where things will go after the three Israeli teens were found after they were abducted some 18 days ago, but it looks grim this morning. CNN: "Vowing that ‘Hamas will pay,’ Israel stepped up airstrikes on Gaza following the deaths of three teenagers that Israeli authorities blame on the militant group. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the students had been ‘murdered in cold blood’ by people he described as ‘animals.’ Hamas, the militant Islamic organization that controls Gaza, denied it was behind the abductions. If Netanyahu ‘brings a war on Gaza,’ the group warned, ‘the gates of hell will open to him.’… The Israeli government, which held an emergency security Cabinet meeting about the issue, already appears to be taking action. The West Bank homes of the two prime suspects Israel has identified in the kidnapping case were destroyed. And Israeli security forces stepped up airstrikes on Gaza.

"Overnight into Tuesday, more than 40 Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza, according to Palestinian security and medical sources. The strikes targeted Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups, the sources said. The Israeli military later said that forces had carried out strikes against 34 targets in Gaza, targeting terror infrastructure, after the firing of 18 rockets at Israel since Sunday evening." More here.

Meantime, Gen. Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander and head of U.S. European Command briefed the press yesterday on Russia and Ukraine, the ceasefire, what all of this means for the military footprint in Europe and foreign fighters. Read the transcript, here.

This is amazing: A quadruple amputee Iraq vet, the first such wounded warrior to survive the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, now has two transplanted arms tries to heal. The WaPo’s Michael Ruane on Page One: "…It has been 18 months since Marrocco, 27, of Staten Island, underwent a rare double arm transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He had lost both legs and parts of both arms to a makeshift bomb in Iraq on Easter 2009. At the time of his injury, he was the first service member from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive the loss of four limbs. He then became the first service member to receive a double arm transplant and still is one of only seven people in the United States who have successfully undergone the procedure."

"…Over the past two months, in his first extensive interviews since the announcement of the surgery, he spoke about his recovery, his past and his future and showed how much his arms have progressed. ‘I feel great,’ he said as he sat in Walter Reed’s occupational and physical therapy complex, the Military Advanced Training Center (MATC), in early May. ‘Arms feel great,’ he said. ‘I can’t complain about anything with the arms, really.’

"He can do pull-ups, push-ups and drive a car. He produces a robust Twitter feed and has a Facebook page where he describes himself as a ‘wounded warrior – very wounded.’" Click here for the story and a video.

Yesterday at the Pentagon, folks bid adieu to Todd Breasseale. He’s retiring after a long and storied career in the U.S. Army, finishing up as the Pentagon’s public affairs officer for legal affairs, U.S. Southern Command, and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Breasseale, is funny and animated but is quick to take seriously his role in doing honest public affairs work and telling the story of what the government is doing. At an hourlong-plus ceremony at the Pentagon briefing room yesterday punctuated with belly laughs and poignance, Breasseale was roasted and toasted, with a telling number of officials, former charges and press all in attendance. He was also there with his husband, Mark, to whom he gave a basket of beer as a retirement gift (not flowers!) in what would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

Todd, on working with the press: "I sought only to tell the public about its military and found that along the way, it was possible to establish cordial, respectful relationships with the press, whose protections we fight for. Press empowerment isn’t just important, it is uniquely American and I’m damned glad to have been a part of it."

Col. Steve Warren, his boss, yesterday, at his retirement: "The Army will not be as good tomorrow as it is today."

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon pressec, who, quoting a favorite line of his father’s about how people learn: "There are those who read to learn, there are those who observe to learn, and there are those who pee on a lot of electric fences to learn…" Todd, who was responsible for the Pentagon’s Gitmo account and had to talk about a number of sensitive and controversial issues, travelled to the highly secure detention facility at Guantanamo Bay frequently. Kirby: "Todd peed on a lot of electric fences, but he never stopped learning."

Where’s he going now? RUMINT suggests he’s going to leverage his press contacts across town to become a "fixer" for former Pentagon head lawyer Jeh Johnson (under whose leadership Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed) who is now of course at the Department of Homeland Security.

Who’s Where When today – Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work delivers remarks at the Pentagon’s Iftar Dinner Celebration of Ramadan… Today, Secretary Mabus will preside over the ceremony promoting Vice Adm. Michelle Howard to the rank of four-star admiral held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Howard is the first female four-star in the 238-year history of the United States Navy. She’ll relieve Adm. Ferguson as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations… Mabus then flies to Boston, where he will re-enlist four sailors at Fenway Park during a Red Sox game… Air Force Secretary Debbie James is visiting bases in North Dakota.

Also today: We warmly welcome the addition of Kate Brannen (who started yesterday but we didn’t forgot) to the growing team of Foreign Policy awesomeness. Kate comes from Politico, where she was answering the "3am call" and doing another newsletter by another name. She’s pumped that she’ll have normal hours (but she’ll sit in for us occasionally albeit at sane hours) and we’re just excited that she’s here. Welcome to Kate.

Meantime, the man nom’ed to turn around the troubled VA weathered issues at P&G. The NYT’s Richard Oppel: "When Robert A. McDonald took control of Procter & Gamble five years ago, the markets were already shifting beneath his feet. The economic downturn led people who favored the company’s premium products, which include Tide and Gillette, to switch to cheaper brands. Other consumer products companies handled the crash better, and some of Procter & Gamble’s top talent departed. Analysts said their warnings to trim a bloated cost structure went unheeded until two years ago, when the company announced a $10 billion restructuring plan. It was too little, too late. After the company lowered its earnings guidance several times, pressure from investors, analysts and some board members grew into a public drama that did not end until Mr. McDonald resigned as chief executive last year."

"…Mr. McDonald had critics at Procter & Gamble, but on Monday some analysts, including one who was a harsh judge of his tenure there, said that trying to turn around a government bureaucracy might be more suited to Mr. McDonald’s skills. There is little dispute that as the nation’s largest health care and workers’ compensation and disability system, the V.A. presents a challenge vastly different from selling toothpaste and diapers." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: Frank Underwood to the UN? We saw this on our own site Friday and forgot to pick it up Monday. By FP’s own Colum Lynch: "President Frank Underwood, the ruthless, scheming protagonist of the Netflix series House of Cards, murdered his way to the Oval Office. What will he have to do to get a seat at the U.N. Security Council?

"Netflix producers recently approached the United Nations to see if they can film two episodes of the program, starring Kevin Spacey as the president and Robin Wright as the first lady, in August, according to U.N. officials and diplomats. Shooting would take place in the North Delegates’ Lounge and in the U.N. Security Council room itself. Like anything serious happening at the United Nations, that means getting the approval of all 15 members of the Security Council, in particular big powers like Britain, Russia, and China. And it’s not at all clear that they’ll all be willing to say yes without some Hollywood-style diplomacy.

"The request has been passed along to Britain, which will preside over the council’s presidency in August. British diplomats have detailed the request to the rest of council’s 15 member states. The issue might be the subject of debate by Security Council diplomats as early as Tuesday." More here.

When the vid of Marines singing along to Let it Go in ‘Frozen’ and it went viral, everyone thought it was sooo cute. Aaron O’Connell for the Daily Beast explains the darker meaning behind the whole thing and what it means for how the military treats sex and violence (warning, this could be a stretch): "… That most of the Marines’ millions of online admirers confused lust with a love of sing-alongs is a comic misunderstanding. But the confusion points to more serious problems with how our society thinks about both sex and soldiering. It reveals just how unaware most Americans are of how their military prepares young people to do violence in defense of the nation." Read the rest here. Here’s the original video, ("LOL!") here.

War on the Rocks’ Ryan Evans interviewed CNAS’ Richard Fontaine and asked him five questions. When it comes to foreign policy, Evans asked if the White House suffers a substance or a process problem – "…In other words, are the ideas and goals the problem or is it how these goals are being pursued by President Obama, his team, and our bureaucracies?

Richard Fontaine: "The administration faces a challenging international environment, to be sure. But the White House at times seems to believe that the United States can choose to step back from global events and that, while the costs of engagement are concrete and vivid, the costs of disengagement will not be… An active United States must do not only nation-building at home but also order-building abroad-and that requires a series of politically difficult choices…" Fontaine’s answers to four other questions, including one on Vodka, here.

The silence of the American hawks when it comes to Kiev. In the Nation, by Stephen Cohen. The header: "The regime has repeatedly carried out artillery and air attacks on city centers, creating a humanitarian catastrophe-which is all but ignored by the US political-media establishment." Cohen: "For weeks, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to ‘save our compatriots.’

"The reaction of the Obama administration-as well as the new cold war hawks and establishment media-has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the independent scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not already done so." More here.

ISIL’s role in the takeover of Mosul has been overstated. [From SitRep’s Nathaniel Sobel, who is traveling this week] Dr. Munqith Dagher, who heads a leading Baghdad-based public opinion polling and research firm, talked with Situation Report on Friday.  In polls conducted just days after reports spread that the city of Mosul fell to ISIL, fewer than twenty percent of the city’s residents said that ISIL was actually in control.  The exact identities of the rebels were largely unknown, but most people said that ex-Ba’athists, tribal leaders and ex-Iraqi Army officials were responsible. And from conversations with former Ba’athist military leaders, Dagher assessed "ISIL is not more than twenty percent of the total power on the ground."

Eighty percent of Mosul residents feel their neighborhoods are safer now than they were under the army.  While more than three quarters of Iraqis hold a negative perception of ISIL, the level of dissatisfaction with the central government measured prior to the uprisings was higher than it was  during the civil war in 2006-2007. In recent polls, more than eighty percent of Iraqis indicated that the country was moving in the wrong direction.

The U.S. needs to "bring to the table the people who are controlling the situation on the ground" was Dagher’s message in meetings with administration officials and on the Hill last week.  Pointing to Gen. Petraeus’ success in engaging Sunnis against Al-Qaeda, Dagher said fighting extremists in Iraq "isn’t reinventing the wheel."  He recommended the creation of a special envoy with the backing of the president to serve as an "honest broker" among the true power brokers in Iraq. For possible candidates who Iraqis would respect, he floated  Gen. Petraeus and former ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.


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

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