Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Afghanistan in an electoral crisis; U.S. gives up on anti-Castro “prop” plane; China targeted U.S. think tanks on Mideast; Jordan a sitting duck; Israel weighs a ground invasion; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Afghanistan is now confronting a full-blown electoral crisis. The election earlier this year had brought high hopes that after years of sacrifice of blood and treasure the country could perhaps get on solid political footing. Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two front-runners and well-known to Washington, seemed poised to ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Afghanistan is now confronting a full-blown electoral crisis. The election earlier this year had brought high hopes that after years of sacrifice of blood and treasure the country could perhaps get on solid political footing. Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two front-runners and well-known to Washington, seemed poised to win. But in runoff results released yesterday it was his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, who appears to have won the second round. Now Abdullah is claiming widespread fraud, fanning the flames of protests in his favor, and the U.S. is warning it would withdraw financial and security support if either takes office illegally. Reuters this hour: "…Underscoring the magnitude of the crisis, Abdullah said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would visit Kabul on Friday. Kerry arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The U.S.-China talks finish on Thursday. Thousands of Abdullah supporters gathered in the capital on Tuesday, demanding their leader form a parallel cabinet and unilaterally assert his own rule – a dangerous move that would further fracture the fragile country. More here.

Reuters’ Mirwais Harooni and Maria Golovinna reported last night that the Independent Election Commission on Monday announced that Ghani won the June 14 second round with 56.44 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. The tally might change when the final official numbers come out on July 22. …Officials warned this was not the final result, however. ‘The announcement of preliminary results does not mean that the leading candidate is the winner and there is possibly the outcome might change after we inspect complaints,’ IEC chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters." More here.

John Kerry, in a statement released late last night, who noted reports of a "parallel government" with "gravest concern": "… The apolitical role of the security forces must be respected by all parties. We call on all Afghan leaders to maintain calm in order to preserve the gains of the last decade and maintain the trust of the Afghan people.  Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community."

On Thursday, the man nom’ed to become the next ISAF commander, Gen. J.C. Campbell, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee to explain how ISAF will transition in the coming months, how he can lead a command that is itself in transition, and how his experience as a regional commander in the East can help. But for an administration that had hoped to check another box and begin to depart Afghanistan amid so much upheaval in Iraq after the U.S. withdrew there, Campbell’s job Thursday defending the administration’s drawdown plans for Afghanistan won’t be an easy one.

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The U.S. finally gives up on its anti-Castro propaganda plane. FP’s John Hudson, who wrote the piece a year ago that raised questions on the program: "The United States officially ended one of the most ineffective and widely criticized programs of the last decade aimed at undermining the Cuban government, the State Department revealed Monday. Foggy Bottom’s inspector general released a report showing that AeroMarti, a multimillion dollar boondoggle that involved flying an airplane around Cuba and beaming American-sponsored content to the island’s inhabitants, ended in April. Since launching in 2006, the program was plagued by a simple problem: Every day the plane flew, Havana jammed its broadcast signal, meaning fewer than 1 percent of Cubans could listen to its TV and radio shows." More here.

Sen. Robert Mendendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seeking an inquiry into the source of claims that led to what is thought to be a Cuban plot to smear him. The WaPo’s Carol Leonnig and Manuel Roig-Franzia, on Page One: "Sen. Robert Menendez is asking the Justice Department to pursue evidence obtained by U.S. investigators that the Cuban government concocted an elaborate plot to smear him with allegations that he cavorted with underage prostitutes, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"…According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media." More here.

Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey appear before a closed door meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee today to talk Iraq and Afghanistan… Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby will brief reporters at the Pentagon at 2pm today.

The U.S. Navy can’t meet its funding needs for surface warships and a new class of nuclear attack submarines from 2025 to 2034, according to the service’s latest 30-year shipbuilding plan. By Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, here.

Situation Report corrects – In our item yesterday on Shin Shoji of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, we made a typo. It’s NHK, not whatever we wrote. Sorry for the confusion.

Jordan, one of Washington’s staunchest allies in the Middle East and one on which it relies heavily, is a sitting duck for ISIS. The NYT’s Ben Hubbard reporting from Maan, Jordan on Page One: "…Across the Arab world, the drive for democratic change has stalled, for the moment at least, and in its place has been a resurgence of strongmen and Islamic militants, both selling the promise of stability and order as counterpoints to the tumult that followed the Arab Spring. For many here, the radical Sunni jihadis of ISIS are seen as a force battling oppression, an unsettling prospect for Sunni rulers, like the king of Jordan, as much as for Shiites, like the prime minister of Iraq. As other Arab nations have fallen prey to protests, wars and Islamist insurgencies, Jordan has maintained its reputation as a pro-American bastion of stability better known for hosting reefugees than for civil unrest.

"But Maan has long challenged that image with a mixture of poverty, Islamism, criminality and neglect that has fueled recurrent clashes between the government and the town’s heavily armed populace."

Maan’s mayor, Majid Sharari: "There is no ISIS here, but there could be because there is oppression, frustration, high prices and unemployment… All that could lead to chaos." More here.

Robin Wright on the new way of war: killing kids.  Read it on the New Yorker blog, here.

Meantime, the Iraqi Parliament wobbles over forming a government. The NYT’s Alissa Rubin and Suadad Al-Salhy: "…Even a senior leader in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite party that now opposes Mr. Maliki, said that ‘replacing Maliki now could be seen as a victory for the terrorists, and it also could adversely reflect the security leadership’s morale because if Maliki is not there anymore, they could be dismissed or accused of corruption.’

"The Sunnis are demanding an amnesty for the tens of thousands of Sunni imprisoned – unjustly, they say, in most cases – by the Maliki government and a bigger say in how the country is run, including its security services. While some Shiites might be willing to give that to them, others are adamantly opposed.

"The Kurds believe they have an absolute right to include Kirkuk and some surrounding disputed villages in the autonomous Kurdish region, but neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites want to cede that ground, especially since the Kurds have made it plain that their ultimate goal is independence." More here.

Is Baghdadi the new UBL? If the Middle East and the West have a new boogie man, they may have found it in the leader of ISIS. Abdulrahman Al-Rashed for Al-Awsat: "The emergence of the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has rekindled fears that a new figure has emerged capable of uniting Al-Qaeda’s different branches under a single commander. The emergence of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has ended a dry spell for Al-Qaeda that has lasted for three years, following the death of Osama Bin Laden. The time and place of Baghdadi’s emergence raises questions about what this group is, who controls it and who was able to break into it. ISIS emerged suddenly in Syria, at a time when the collapse of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime seemed inevitable. The emergence of ISIS saved the Syrian regime by frightening the rest of the world with the specter of a terrorist regime replacing Assad, and by fighting against his other opponents." More here.

Israel weighs a ground invasion. Michele Chabin for USA Today this morning: "Israel’s military launched fresh airstrikes against targets in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Tuesday in a bid to halt a barrage of rocket fire that has pummeled southern Israel in recent weeks. But it is not yet clear whether a full ground invasion of the Palestinian coastal enclave by troops will take place. Israel is seeking to "retrieve stability to the residents of southern Israel, eliminate Hamas’ capabilities and destroy terror infrastructure operating against the State of Israel and its civilians," its military said in a statement." More here.

Israel calls up 1,500 reservists after rocket attacks from Gaza. LA Times’ Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem: "Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on Monday evening, officials said, as the Israeli military sent more forces to the border and called up army reservists in the escalating crisis… Capping a day of attacks, Palestinian militants fired 40 rockets in one hour late Monday, setting off air raid sirens in communities as far as 50 miles from the Gaza Strip, Israeli military officials said. A dozen rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system and about 30 struck open areas, officials said." More here.

Bahrain orders a senior U.S. diplomat to leave. The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono: "The Bahraini government declared a visiting senior U.S. diplomat persona non grata Monday after he met with representatives of a Shiite opposition party, and it took the highly unusual step of demanding his immediate departure from the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom. Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, had ‘intervened flagrantly in Bahrain’s internal affairs’ by meeting with a political party ‘to the detriment of other interlocutors.’

"The State Department said Malinowski remained in Bahrain on Monday evening while U.S. diplomats in the capital, Manama, sought clarification from Bahraini officials about the request." More here.

Germans are in another uproar over U.S. spying – but they shouldn’t be surprised. FP’s Shane Harris: "Revelations that a 31-year-old German intelligence service employee has allegedly been passing hundreds of classified government files to the United States for the past several years has prompted cries of shock and outrage from some of the Obama administration’s closest allies in Berlin. But the Germans shouldn’t have been surprised. Washington has been spying on Germany for decades, and that work will almost certainly continue well into the future." More here.

HRC in Spiegel Online: Surveillance on Merkel’s phone was "absolutely wrong." Read that interview with Spiegel Online reporters and Hillary Rodham Clinton, here.

Social media producers alert: There’s this from FP’s Elias Groll: "@CIA Go home, you’re drunk." A look at the CIA’s new Twitter feed, here.

Chinese cyber spies targeted U.S. experts on the Middle East. The WaPo’s Andrea Peterson: "Middle East experts at major U.S. think tanks were hacked by Chinese cyber spies in recent weeks as events in Iraq began to escalate, according to a cybersecurity firm that works with the institutions. The group behind the breaches, called "DEEP PANDA" by security researchers, appears to be affiliated with the Chinese government, says Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of the firm CrowdStrike. The company, which works with a number of think tanks on a pro bono basis, declined to name which ones have been breached." More on that here.

For Inside Cybersecurity, Christopher J. Castelli looks at a State Department study that doesn’t break much new ground: "A yearlong State Department study effort to craft a ‘framework for international cyber stability’ has produced a draft report endorsing ongoing work on international norms of behavior for cyberspace and urging industry involvement, though the document fails to break much new ground." Read that here.

ICYMI, FP’s Shane Harris’ exclusive last week on how a solar panel manufacturer wants the Commerce Department to go after China for cyberattack, here.

What will Putin do in Ukraine? The WSJ’s James Marson in Kiev and Julian Barnes in Washington: "As Ukraine laid plans for a siege of pro-Russia separatists’ remaining bastions Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a critical decision on whether to answer rebel pleas for military help-a move that could determine what he gains or loses following a monthslong conflict that has roiled global powers… Mr. Putin has publicly ignored increasingly desperate appeals by militants to send in thousands of regular troops he has massed on the border-a force that would likely brush aside Ukraine’s growing but relatively inexperienced forces.

"His choice boils down to coming to the aid of the separatists, keeping Ukraine off-balance and bolstering his nationalist credentials at home, or consolidating his gains so far-chiefly Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in March-and averting the threat of tougher Western sanctions that could do major damage to the Russian economy, as well the risk of further international isolation. U.S. officials said it was unclear why Mr. Putin hadn’t responded more forcefully to Ukraine’s advance, and said that the option to send in troops may remain on the table." More here.

Russian and American ships sail in competing Black Sea exercises. Military Times’ David Larter: "It’s the tale of the two maritime exercises: In the Black Sea, the U.S. and its allies are starting up multinational training while Russian warships separately maneuver in a large-scale war game. The cruiser Vella Gulf entered the Black Sea on Monday and is meeting up with Bulgarian, Italian, Greek and Turkish forces there for the Bulgarian-led annual exercise dubbed Breeze. A 6th Fleet news release said the cruiser was participating to reassure allies of the U.S. commitment to stability in the area." More here.

Where do America’s remaining sources of power lie? Elbridge Colby and Paul Lettow: "…Within the United States, there is an ongoing debate about the appropriate uses of American power abroad. But whatever one’s views on how U.S. power should be used, there is little reason to support its erosion. If one favors extensive American engagement, a resilient America will be better able to lead and intervene effectively. If one favors retrenchment and restraint, a more powerful America will be better insulated from outside threats. If one favors measured engagement, strength provides options and the firmest basis for sustained success. And, irrespective of foreign policy, an economically dynamic, growing America will benefit all its citizens, particularly the generations to come." More here.



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