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 makes a pitch; Putin breathes new life into NATO; A nuanced approach to Iraq, Syria; Is a station chief to blame for Benghazi?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel John Kerry just made a pitch to allies on joining a coalition of the willing, and outlined the parameters of how the administration sees the war against the Islamic State unfolding. Secretary of State John Kerry, just now in Wales: "…Contrary to what you sort of heard in the ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

John Kerry just made a pitch to allies on joining a coalition of the willing, and outlined the parameters of how the administration sees the war against the Islamic State unfolding. Secretary of State John Kerry, just now in Wales: "…Contrary to what you sort of heard in the politics of our country, the President is totally committed; there is a strategy that is clear, becoming more clear by the day.  And it really relies on a holistic approach to ISIL.  That is to say that we need to do kinetic, we need to attack them in ways that prevent them from taking over territory, that bolster the Iraqi security forces, others in the region who are prepared to take them on, without committing troops of our own, obviously.  I think that’s a redline for everybody here, no boots on the ground…

"We need a major humanitarian component that needs to be coordinated with the economic component, which will be real, to help Iraq get on its feet.  We need a foreign fighter component. 

"In addition, we need an all-military aspect.  Some people will not be comfortable doing kinetic.  We understand that.  Or some people don’t have the capacity to do kinetic.  But everybody can do something.  People can contribute either ammunition or weapons or technical know-how or intel capacity.  People can contribute advisors…We’re building up our ISR platform and intel capacity.  We also are building up the kinetic capacity, and that will be a clear part of this. "

"We very much hope that people will be as declarative as some of our friends around the table have been in order to be clear about what they’re willing to commit, because we must be able to have a plan together by the time we come to UNGA, we need to have this coalesce.  We need a clarity to the strategy, and a clarity to what everybody is going to undertake."

But the White House is taking a nuanced approach in Iraq and Syria when it comes to building a coalition – and it’s only focused on Iraq for now. Many inside the Pentagon and elsewhere see Iraq and Syria as one "theater," but the White House is approaching the two countries as two different places when it comes to building a policy and a coalition. As it looks to garner international support, it’s selling the idea that Iraq is the place to go after militants, even if the Islamic State’s origins across the way in Syria. Limiting the pitch to Iraq may be an easier sell but it could back to bite the administration. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung on Page A-11:  "President Obama and his top national security officials are fanning out across the globe this week and next, seeking commitments to help the Iraqi government in its fight against Islamic State militants. Those expecting an international action plan against the Islamic State in neighboring Syria are likely to be disappointed.

"In recent days, the administration has spoken repeatedly of building a broad coalition to degrade and defeat the militant group that controls a borderless swath of both countries. Last week, Obama said he has requested options for military action against the Islamic State in Syria, giving rise to a widespread belief that U.S. airstrikes might be imminent.

"But the administration’s primary goal in the upcoming consultations, senior administration officials said, is to organize expanded international military, diplomatic and other support for Iraq’s new government and security services, enabling them to reverse gains made by the Sunni Muslim militant group and push its forces back toward Syria." Read the rest here.

The havoc wrought by the Islamic State extends far beyond Iraq and Syria. Aaron David Miller for FP: "…"Terror and terrorists have always constituted a significant threat to the any lasting Israeli-Palestinian deal. But these aren’t your grandfather’s terrorists. Unlike Hamas and Hezbollah, who reflect certain nationalist aspirations of Palestine and Lebanon and who have made certain tactical adjustments to deal with their state sponsors, IS ascribes to a more universal Salafi/Jihadi code which frees them from certain prohibitions like killing and torturing fellow Muslims, minorities and enslaving women." More here.

On Iraq and Syria, this is the time to ‘think slow’. Former Army infantry officer Craig Whiteside in War on the Rocks – his BLUF: "The momentum for expanded airstrikes against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria is increasing, if for no other reason than that the tool is readily available and has low risk for the United States. Unfortunately, the results of such a campaign will be extremely limited if they are not part and parcel of a policy that achieves a stable Iraq… This is the time to "think slow" and not just react out of anger for the Foley/Sotloff tragedies and other IS atrocities." Read the whole thing here.

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A new book about Benghazi, by commandos who were there, lays blame for the delay in reacting to the attack at the feet of the CIA station chief. The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick: "Five commandos guarding the C.I.A. base in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 say that the C.I.A. station chief stopped them from interceding in time to save the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and an American technician during the attack on the diplomatic mission there.

"In a new book scheduled for release next week and obtained by The New York Times, the commandos say they protested repeatedly as the station chief ordered them to wait in their vehicles, fully armed, for 20 minutes while the attack on the diplomatic mission was unfolding less than a mile away. ‘If you guys do not get here, we are going to die!" a diplomatic security agent then shouted to them over the radio, the commandos say in the book, and they left the base in defiance of the chief’s continuing order to ‘stand down.’

"The book, titled "13 Hours," is the first public account of the night’s events by any of the American security personnel involved in the attack. The accusation that the station chief, referred to in the book only as "Bob," held back the rescue opens a new front in a fierce political battle over who is at fault for the American deaths. More here.

Full page ad in the WaPo today blares: "A Fox News Channel Exclusive: 13 Hours at Benghazi. Finally, the Real Story."

And in Ukraine – AP’s Peter Leonard in Minsk, Belarus, this morning: The talks expected to bring a much-anticipated cease-fire to the fighting in eastern Ukraine have started in the Belarusian capital. Negotiators representing Ukraine, Russia, the pro-Russian rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe opened Friday in Minsk. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said earlier that he would sign a cease-fire if negotiators reach an agreement. The rebels say they are ready to declare a truce if an agreement can be reached on a political settlement for the mostly Russian-speaking region." More here.

World War III – Would Putin go there ?  Jeffrey Tayler for FP: "…Russia has also been purportedly breaching the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibits Russia (and the United States) from possessing the sort of missiles that could be used against targets in Europe. If Barack Obama entered the White House hoping to reduce atomic weapons stockpiles and make the world a safer place, it looks like he will leave it with a Russia boasting a more lethal arsenal of nuclear weapons than at any time since the Cold War. But Putin would never actually use nuclear weapons, would he? The scientist and longtime Putin critic Andrei Piontkovsky, a former executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow a political commentator for the BBC World Service, believes he might." More here. 

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is making it easier for the bloated, aging alliance to pretend that it still matters. The NATO summit and Russian aggression has plenty a pundit and others reason to argue why the alliance is still important. But do allies want to pay for it? Stephen Walt for FP: "If I were really cynical, I’d suspect some bureaucrats at NATO headquarters in Brussels are secretly glad about the crisis in Ukraine. Why? Because it gives the aging alliance something to do. This motive may also explain why hawkish Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen seems eager to defend Ukraine right down to the last Ukrainian and why the NATO members that lie closest to Russia are both worried by recent events and pleased that the rest of the alliance is finally paying attention to their concerns." More here.

Putin gives new lift to why the world needs a NATO alliance. The Christian Science Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi, here.

Only a strong NATO can stop Putin, and only America can rally NATO. Madeleine Albright for FP: "NATO’s heads of state are beginning their summit in Wales — what a doozy of a meeting this could and should be." More here.

The White House avoids the ‘I’ word on Ukraine. The NYT’s Andrew Higgins on Page One: "Whether on the streets of Budapest in 1956, the mountains of Afghanistan in 1979 and again in 2001 or in the swampy forests of Grenada in 1983, invasions have tended to be noisy, unmistakable affairs that screamed their purpose from the start. After four months of conflict in eastern Ukraine, however, few have chosen to use the "I" word to define the slow-burning war fed by a steady flow of Russian weapons and soldiers across the border… Amid mounting evidence that Russia has sent tanks, artillery pieces and troops into eastern Ukraine, such terminological fudges highlight the success of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in blurring the conventional boundaries between war and peace." Read the rest here.

U.S. mulls more steps in response to Israel’s land grab in the West Bank. Haaretz’ Barak Ravid: "The Obama administration is considering taking further action regarding Israel’s expropriation of 1,000 acres of West Bank land this week, on top of the condemnation Washington has already issued. ‘Maybe our reaction will find expression in other ways,’ a senior U.S. official told Haaretz, but declined to give details." More here.

An investigation reveals that a friendly fire airstrike that killed U.S. Special Forces was avoidable. The WaPo’s Dan Lamothe: "A friendly fire incident in Afghanistan that killed U.S. Special Forces and other American soldiers, along with an Afghan soldier, was the result of poor communication, inadequate planning and several other mistakes, according to the results of a U.S. military investigation released Thursday. The June 9, 2014, airstrike marked one of the ugliest friendly fire incidents in more than 12 years of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. A B-1B Lancer bomber dropped its ordnance on five U.S. soldiers, including members of an elite Special Forces team." More here.

Was the commander of Western Regional Medical Command a screamer? Unclear, but the Army suspended the officer, and announced it yesterday. Military Times’ Michelle Tan and Patricia Kime: "The commanding general of Western Regional Medical Command has been suspended pending "the outcome of an inquiry centered on the command climate of the organization," the Army announced Thursday. Brig. Gen. John Cho’s suspension is effective Thursday, the Army said in a statement. The Army inspector general is conducting the inquiry. Cho was suspended by Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general and commander of Army Medical Command. Horoho is slated to assign an interim commander while the suspension is in place, the Army said." More here.
Pitching an idea that may be an easier sell these days: Mitt Romney is in the op-ed pages of the WaPo with a byline under this hed: "The need for a mighty U.S. military." Romney: "… Some argue that the United States should simply withdraw its military strength from the world – get out of the Middle East, accept nuclear weapons in Iran and elsewhere, let China and Russia have their way with their neighbors and watch from the sidelines as jihadists storm on two or three continents. Do this, they contend, and the United States would be left alone.

"No, we would not. The history of the 20th century teaches that power-hungry tyrants ultimately feast on the appeasers – to use former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s phrase, we would be paying the cannibals to eat us last. And in the meantime, our economy would be devastated by the disruption of trade routes, the turmoil in global markets and the tumult of conflict across the world. Global peace and stability are very much in our immediate national interest." More here.

Read AUSA’s Gordon Sullivan’s letter to Sen. Harry Reid about why sequestration must end. Sullivan’s BLUF: "We don’t have a year to fix what ails our national defense. We must stop sequestration now. We must cease downsizing now. We must rely on the elected, appointed and uniformed leaders of this nation to structure forces capable of ensuring our security. We have precious little time to show the world how good we are." Read the whole letter here.

Rick Russell’s National Interest piece looks at where Obama’s foreign policy has gone amid all the shiny objects. Read "A Troubling ‘World Island’ Grand Tour: A World on Fire," here.

Rep. Duncan Hunter for Defense One on why it’s time to rescue US hostages: "The deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff give good reason why the Islamic State group must be crushed. Though less apparent in these tragedies is what the U.S. government must do differently to support Americans in captivity-specifically those held in hostile territory.

"At this very moment, there are Americans in the custody of extremist organizations from Iraq and Syria, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. No different than what Foley and Sotloff experienced, these individuals are under constant threat and their lives are at risk every day.

"The U.S. does not pay ransoms and is unwilling to make concessions with terrorist organizations. There is sometimes an opportunity for a rescue mission, but not always. And when a rescue is not feasible or unsuccessful, there is a presumption that other options are generally within reach to bring these Americans home. That assumption is wrong." More here.

Military aid is expected to arrive in Kurdistan, marking a shift in German policy. Rudaw’s Alexander Whitcomb: "Kurdistan Region – The first tranche of German military aid to Kurdish forces arrives in Erbil today, the first time the government is supplying military aid to a conflict zone since the Second World War.  An Antonov plane carrying the first round of supplies — all non-lethal military goods – will travel from Leipzig to Baghdad for inspection, after which the cargo will arrive at Erbil International Airport. The German-made gear will include 4,000 helmets, anti ballistic goggles, and body armor, advanced communication equipment, metal detectors, mine sweepers, equipment for disarming improvised explosive devices, night vision goggles, and binoculars, along with military design tents, field kitchens, and medical kits." 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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