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: Support for Maliki crumbles; Pentagon sends 130 more troops into Iraq; Building a coalition of the willing; Is Putin’s convoy a Trojan Horse?; Williams was a true friend to the troops; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Support for Maliki is crumbling and that may open the door for broader coalition support for an effort to counter the Islamic State in Iraq – and for greater U.S. intervention. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, ensconced inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, is watching as his Iranian backers, political leaders and even his ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Support for Maliki is crumbling and that may open the door for broader coalition support for an effort to counter the Islamic State in Iraq – and for greater U.S. intervention. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, ensconced inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, is watching as his Iranian backers, political leaders and even his own military are backing away. Maliki appears to have no choice but to go, but in the coming days the question will become how he’ll do it, under what terms and how ugly it will be.

FP’s Yochi Dreazen on Maliki’s diminishing support: "Washington and Tehran don’t see eye to eye on many things, but they paved the way for Nouri al-Maliki to become Iraq’s prime minister eight years ago and have helped him keep the job ever since. With Iran now joining the United States in calling for Maliki’s departure, the embattled Iraqi leader faces a historic choice: peacefully hand the reins to a successor or buck his closest allies and use force to stay in power.

"Maliki was an accidental prime minister from the start, with both Washington and Tehran seeing him, in essence, as the best out of an uninspiring field of Shiite candidates for Iraq’s top job. Once in office, Maliki skillfully satisfied both of his patrons, impressing many in the United States by using his military to crush one of Iraq’s most powerful anti-government militias while simultaneously building goodwill in Iran by consolidating power in Shiite hands at the expense of the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities." More here.

Maliki won’t go easily. AP this hour: [Maliki] said Wednesday he will not relinquish power until a federal court rules on what he called a ‘constitutional violation’ by the president to replace him with a member of his own party. The embattled premier has grown increasingly isolated, with Iraqi politicians and much of the international community lining up behind Haider al-Abadi, a fellow member of his Shiite Dawa party tasked by the president with forming a new government that can unite the country in the face of an onslaught by Sunni militants.

Maliki in his weekly televised address to the nation: "Holding on (to the premiership) is an ethical and patriotic duty to defend the rights of voters…The insistence on this until the end is to protect the state." More here.

Late yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending an additional 130 troops into Iraq. Amid a continuing series of humanitarian airdrops for the Iraqis stuck atop Mount Sinjar, the U.S. is contemplating a rescue mission for those civilians, which number in the tens of thousands. That prompted the Defense Department to announce that it had sent an additional 130 military personnel – including Marines and U.S. Special Forces – to "assess the scope of the humanitarian mission" and essentially plan such an operation.

From a defense official: "These forces will not be engaged in a combat role.  They will work closely with representatives from the U.S. Department of State and USAID to coordinate plans with international partners and non-government organizations committed to helping the Yazidi people."

The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: "The proposal is still under development and hasn’t been approved by [Obama.] U.S. officials said the rescue mission is one of many options the U.S. military is weighing after dropping food and water to dying refugees over the past six days. ‘People are looking at ways to do something more than just drop water and supplies,’ one senior U.S. official said. ‘You can only do that for so long.’" More on that Page Oner here.

And although President Barack Obama has pledged no "boots on the ground," sending these forces into Iraq to do such planning could put them in direct contact with fighters from the Islamic State, or IS.

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq is now nearing 1,000 if not more. Before yesterday’s announcement of the additional troops, there were more than 800 known military personnel inside Iraq, with additional forces and other personnel the U.S. hasn’t acknowledged publicly. Now, there are about 1,000 troops on the books.

Meantime, the U.S. is scrambling to build a coalition of the willing. FP’s Lubold, John Hudson and David Francis: "In his multiple press briefings since authorizing airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, President Barack Obama has yet to make a vocal public case for allies to join the fight. But as the White House sets the stage for a drawn-out campaign against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, the president is quietly asking the leaders of other nations to stand with him.

"…In the debate in Britain, Cameron took fire from members of his own Conservative Party for his reluctance to intervene. "It’s immoral that the only thing we are doing is dropping food and water and leaving these people in the firing line of slaughter," said Conservative MP Conor Burns on Monday.

The German and French governments have expressed support for U.S. airstrikes as the only way to stop IS and open humanitarian corridors for the Yazidi community trapped on Mount Sinjar. So far, neither government has committed to direct, lethal assistance for the effort. On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on members of the European Union to return from vacation to discuss arming the Kurds.

Jim Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe when an international coalition was assembled for airstrikes in Libya in 2011 and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, to Situation Report: "NATO should recognize that the overflow of two or three different civil wars in Syria and Iraq should ultimately mean violent extremists coming back to Europe, and that means a threat to the alliance…As much as we don’t want to be involved in this, we have a job to do here." Read our bit about how the U.S. is building a coalition of the willing here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s tardy edition of Situation Report, where we had a few more problems in the cockpit – the $%&$ computer wouldn’t turn on, seriously! Apologies for the lateness this morning. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Name that op! Yesterday we noted that the current U.S. military airstrike mission over northern Iraq did not have a name – which is odd since the military loves to name its missions. Over the transom, we have begun to hear from folks who want to name it.

Not sure how excited anyone will be about this, but of course we’ll accept other noms at This is not meant to be some kind of jingoistic endeavor, by the way, but we find it remarkable that the military hasn’t come up with anything as of yet.  A name will undoubtedly come shortly, we’re sure, but again – to name something is to define it, and the Obama administration isn’t quite there yet. In the meanwhile, this one from reader Brian Brunner:  "Operation ByeSIS." Another from CrazyCrazyLarry, "Operation Dessert Bombing," which we assume is a play on words in some way.

Good point! We used odd wording to introduce a headline yesterday for a Bloomberg piece about the number of sorties flying over Iraq: "The U.S. is almost flying 100 sorties over Iraq each day, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports." That prompted one reader to rightly write: "Enjoy reading your reports, but in all my years on the military, I never almost flew on a mission. :)"

Awkward: HRC calls Obama to clarify her comments. USA Today’s David Jackson: "Hillary Rodham Clinton called President Obama on Tuesday to try and clear the air over some foreign policy criticism the former secretary of State made in a recent magazine article, aides said. ‘Secretary Clinton was proud to serve with President Obama,’ said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. ‘She was proud to be his partner in the project of restoring American leadership and advancing America’s interests and values in a fast changing world.’" More here.

Is Putin’s convoy into Ukraine a Trojan horse? Hard to say. Here’s Michael Weiss for FP: "A convoy of 280 Russian Kamaz military vehicles — all painted a nice, soothing white, absent any license plates, and brandishing flags of the Red Cross — are en route from the Moscow suburbs to a relatively peaceful border crossing just north of Kharkiv, Ukraine. If the Russian state-controlled media is to be believed, they are collectively transporting around 2,000 tons of baby food, grain, bottled water, sleeping bags, sugar, and medicine to a war-ravaged nation next door.

"Of course, if you believe the Russian media, eastern Ukraine’s desperate state of affairs has nothing to do with the fact that for the last several months Moscow has underwritten, encouraged, and armed disparate factions of pro-Russian separatists — many of them Russian nationals, intelligence agents, and even soldiers posting to Instagram photos of themselves driving Russian anti-aircraft missile systems." Read the rest of his story here.

Ukraine says Russian convoy won’t be let in, Reuters this hour, here.

Public interest groups are calling for John Brennan’s head over at CIA. FP’s Andrew Weiner: "A coalition of public service groups released a letter Tuesday calling for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan in the ongoing fallout of revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency snooped on Senate staffers working on a report on President George W. Bush-era interrogation practices. The letter to President Barack Obama was signed by 20 groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, Public Citizen, and the Project on Government Oversight. The groups’ call for Brennan to step down echoes Congressional calls that came in late July from Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, both Democrats." More here.

Palestinians are mulling the Egyptian proposal for a Gaza truce. AP’s Mohammed Daraghmeh in Cairo: "…Since the truce went into effect Sunday, Israel has halted military operations in the coastal territory and Gaza militants have stopped firing rockets. The cease-fire was meant to give the two sides time to negotiate a more sustainable truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory. A member of the Palestinian delegation to Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo said Wednesday that his team was considering an Egyptian proposal, which was tabled on Tuesday. Egyptian mediators have been were ferrying between the Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts in an attempt overcome the differences between the sides." More here.

Hagel changes the hair policy for military personnel. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: "Dreadlocks, cornrows, twisted braids and other hairstyles popular among African American women will be more accepted across the military after a forcewide review of hairstyle policies prompted several changes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. The three-month review came after a spate of complaints that service-level grooming policies were racially biased against black women who choose to wear their hair naturally curly rather than use heat or chemicals to straighten it." More here.

There are some folks who think the Obama administration is cutting too deep when it comes to nukes. A new report published by the Belfer Center of Harvard’s Kennedy School is out called "Cutting Too Deep: The Obama Administration’s Proposals for Nuclear Security Spending Reductions," by Matthew Bunn, Nickolas Roth and William Tobey, here. The NYT piece by them on their bit, here.

There’s been a leadership shake-up at United Launch Alliance. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: " The United Launch Alliance has a new leader for the first time in its nine-year history. Michael Gass, who has led the company as president and CEO since its founding in 2006, will be stepping down, the company announced Tuesday. His replacement is Tory Bruno, most recently vice president and general manager of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems at Lockheed Martin. Bruno’s appointment is effective immediately, although a company announcement notes Gass will "work collaboratively to ensure a smooth leadership transition and continued commitment to mission success" through the end of the year." More here.

Adrian Cronauer, the inspiration for the main character in Good Morning Vietnam, remembers Robin Williams. Military Times’ Jeff Schogol: "…Cronauer, who left the Air Force as a sergeant in 1966, said he has no issues with Williams’ performance in the movie. ‘It was never intended to be a point-by point accurate biography,’ he told Military Times on Tuesday. ‘It was intended to be a piece of entertainment, and it certainly was that. It was nominated for an Academy Award and you don’t get much better than that.’ In an interview on Tuesday, Cronauer reflected on his memories of the late actor and the movie that made Williams a bona fide movie star." Click here for the Q&A with Schogol and Cronauer, who inspired the character Williams played.

How Williams was a "true friend" to the troops, travelling to 13 countries as part of six USO tours: Frank Thorpe of the USO: "It’s an understatement to say he’s the Bob Hope of our generation." Read the WSJ bit, here.

Williams fought demons for years but always showed up for work on time and never missed a line; the NYT, here.


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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