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: Obama to unveil strategy to “defeat” IS; Afg’s fate relies on a CEO; Can Shabab’s new leader pull it off?; Fuhgeddaboudit a bigger defense budget; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel The military is about to get a whole lot busier, but Obama says that still doesn’t mean ground troops. President Barack Obama’s appearance yesterday on Meet the Press with new host Chuck Todd laid the groundwork for how, later this week, Obama will outline his plan to "degrade" and ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The military is about to get a whole lot busier, but Obama says that still doesn’t mean ground troops. President Barack Obama’s appearance yesterday on Meet the Press with new host Chuck Todd laid the groundwork for how, later this week, Obama will outline his plan to "degrade" and ultimately "defeat" the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It’s an effort that administration officials have been hinting publicly in recent days could last as long as three years. But in unveiling his long-anticipated strategy for defeating the group, to include expanded airstrikes and military assistance, the President this week will have to make an extremely nuanced argument: explaining how he will keep his pledge not to put U.S. boots on the ground while expanding an air war that will most believe will necessitate more U.S. advisers on the ground to call in those airstrikes and advise and train indigenous forces.

The NYT’s Eric Schmitt, Michael Gordon and Helene Cooper: "… The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway… The next phase, which would begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, scheduled this week, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes.

"The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation – destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria – might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.

Obama, yesterday on MTP: "What I want people to understand is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum" of the militants. "We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities; we’re going to shrink the territory that they control; and, ultimately, we’re going to defeat them." More here.

"The president was adamant that he had no intention of sending American combat troops to go after ISIS, repeating no fewer than three times during the interview that he would not do so, and calling the idea of putting United States boots on the ground ‘a profound mistake.’" More on this, including all the previous wars and operations this new strategy won’t look like, here.

A new report this morning from a little known small arms research organization known as Conflict Armament Research shows the IS has anti-tank weapons from Syrian rebels. The WaPo’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff: "…Militants with the group have picked up significant caches of arms after seizing Iraqi and Syrian military installations. The new research suggests they have also amassed arms after overrunning the moderate Syrian rebels being supplied by the United States and other allied nations. To catalog the arms, field researchers embedded with Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria for 10 days toward the end of July and were allowed access to Islamic State weapons that were captured after clashes." More here.

Talks on a new Iraqi government snag over disputed Kurdish territories. Rudaw’s Nawzad Mahmoud, here.

From today’s WSJ editorial on Obama’s plans to fight the Islamic State: "…It’s good that Mr. Obama is finally recognizing the threat to the region and the U.S. from Islamic State, but it’s important that he tell the truth about what he’s asking Americans to support. His intervention may not be on the scale of the initial Iraq invasion, and fewer American troops may be needed. But air power alone won’t defeat the jihadist army, and so some U.S. forces will have to be deployed "on the ground." More here.

As Obama frames how he’ll go after the IS, the Pentagon said it had expanded airstrikes into Iraq’s Anbar province around Haditha Dam. The AP’s Lolita Baldor with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Georgia: "… U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that if the dam were to fall into the militant’s hands ‘or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq’ including U.S. interests there." More here.

Arabs vow to confront ISIS and cooperate with international efforts. Reuters’ Lin Noueihed and Omar Fahmy: "Arab League foreign ministers agreed on Sunday to take all necessary measures to confront Islamic State and cooperate with international, regional and national efforts to combat militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria." More here.

But: the WSJ’s Jay Solomon’s reporting shows Arab nations aren’t so sure. Solomon: " A chief element of President Barack Obama’s plans to combat Islamic State militants is to line up a coalition of Arab nations to help. Arab officials, so far, have been lukewarm about the idea."

Meantime, Obama also announced a new role for the U.S. military when it comes to fighting another potential threat to the Americans: the Ebola virus. The WaPo’s Lena Sun and Juliet Eilperin on Page One: "…The move significantly ramps up the U.S. response and comes as the already strained military is likely to be called upon further to address militant threats in the Middle East. The decision to involve the military in providing equipment and other assistance for international health workers in Africa comes after mounting calls from some unlikely groups – most prominently the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders – demonstrating to the White House the urgency of the issue." More here.

Why can’t Obama fix the world, anyway? The New Yorker’s David Remnick,  here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. 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, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Forget the President, Afghanistan’s Fate Relies on the CEO. FP’s John Hudson and Yochi Dreazen: "The future of Afghanistan may come down to a simple question: Can a country have a CEO? The job title that’s synonymous with Wall Street is now dominating backroom discussions in Kabul as the country struggles to decide how to divide power after a contested presidential election mired by allegations of systemic fraud. The runoff, the first in the country’s history, pits Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister, against Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, who has been contesting the results ever since the June 14 vote.

"Abdullah is disputing the outcome of the election, which is expected to declare Ghani the winner as early as next week. To stave off a bloody confrontation, Barack Obama’s administration is pushing for a unity government that would give the losing candidate the title of ‘chief executive officer,’ an administrative position with uncertain powers and influence." More here.

Who’s where when today and yesterday – Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno speaks to students at the Army War College… Secretary Hagel was in Georgia yesterday. Find his remarks with Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, here. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke at Notre Dame this weekend. Read the South Bend Tribune’s story, here.

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco visited Yemen on September 6. The WH’s statement, here.

To the Instagram-ers out there: Follow @GENRayOdierno for the Army Chief of Staff’s pics from Army Football’s home opener.  The Black Knights beat Buffalo 47-39.

And ICYMI – The WSJ’s Dave Caldwell’s profile of Army’s new coach, here.

Despite tough talk from potential 2016 candidates, the defense budget isn’t likely to get any bigger anytime soon. Defense News’ John Bennett: "…Possible presidential candidates of all stripes are using hawkish rhetoric against the Islamic State after it captured territory in Iraq and began beheading American journalists. From the interventionists to the isolationists, the candidates agree Washington must take the fight to the Sunni group before it strikes the homeland. Many also are talking tougher than the sitting commander in chief on countering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

"…Yet there also seems to be agreement on another matter: For now, these new threats don’t warrant voiding sequestration nor turning back on the post-9/11 defense-spending spigot.

Gordon Adams, who ran national defense budgeting for the Clinton administration: "The only people calling for increased defense are the people who have always called for increases to defense spending. There’s nothing new here yet." More here.

After the Pentagon confirmed the head of Shabab had been killed, the Somali-based group named Godane’s successor and reaffirms its ties to al-Qaida. More from the Long War Journal, here.

Somali militants pledge allegiance to new leader, Reuters here.

But can Shabab under new leadership pull it off? FP’s Kate Brannen and Lubold took a look Friday: "…Experts say [Shabab leader Godane] ruled the group like a tyrant and had killed off several of his likely successors, leaving others at a distance. That raises questions about who might take over for him and how effective that person could be to lead a group that had been seen as an emerging threat in the region.

A U.S. official to FP: "Al-Shabab’s emergence as an al Qaeda affiliate has a lot to do with [Godane’s] leadership… Removing Godane from the battlefield doesn’t end the threat from al-Shabab, but there’s no question it has dealt the group a major setback."

"…Hussein Mahmoud Sheikh-Ali, the senior counterterrorism aide to Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, told Foreign Policy on Friday, Sept. 5, that Godane had not created an organization in which a clear successor would be up to the task of replacing him should he be killed." More here.

Immigration is seen as a bonanza for a slumping global defense industry. Al-Jazeera’s Kate Kilpatrick, here.

It’s been a summer of international crisis. These are the important stories you may have missed amid the chaos. FP’s Elias Groll, here.

"Shaky" Ukraine ceasefire holding for now, Reuters here.

While the West stands ready to sanction Moscow, many are more worried about what Putin has up his sleeve. FP’s Keith Johnson and Jamila Trindle: "Despite a tenuous and partial cease-fire announced by Ukraine and Russia on Friday that could bring a respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, both the United States and the European Union have a fresh slate of sanctions locked-and-loaded and ready to unleash on Moscow.

"EU officials huddled Friday, Sept. 5, in Brussels to finalize the fourth round of sanctions on key Russian economic sectors, including finance, energy, and defense, while U.S. President Barack Obama said that the United States is working to ‘deepen and broaden’ existing sanctions meant to ratchet up financial pressure on Russia.

"…More broadly, the question now is whether the drumbeat of Western sanctions, which threaten to choke off much-needed financing for big Russian banks and energy companies, will trigger tough reprisals from Putin. Russia and the West, that is, could be locked in a different kind of arms race than that which prevailed through the Cold War: an escalation of economic measures and countermeasures." More here.

Ukraine’s volunteer fighters who survived the massacre at Ilovaisk describe a harrowing escape — with no help from the army that claimed to have their backs. Alec Luhn in Ukraine for FP: "…The late August massacre of volunteer troops leaving the strategic town of Ilovainsk through what they’d been promised was a ‘humanitarian corridor’ was one of the bloodiest single episodes so far in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, leaving at least 100 dead. The conflict has now killed at least 2,600 people.

"But in the days since, in interviews, volunteer fighters who escaped the bloodbath also described the battle as a turning point — one that revealed the lack of communication and trust between the three dozen volunteer battalions that have sprung up to assist Ukraine’s run-down military and the army leadership, which has been beset by complaints that it has treated the volunteers as cannon fodder." More here.

A new generation of architects is using rail lines, shopping centers, and football fields to keep the peace from Belfast to Baghdad. For FP’s Magazine, Nate Berg profiles three design firms that work in conflict-torn areas. 

Karen Lee Bar-Sinai, a founder of the Israeli firm SAYA, on her mission of developing projects that anticipate the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "We see ourselves — and it’s a strange place to be as a designer — not as shaping the space directly, but as indirectly influencing how better decisions can be made about that space… It’s not about realizing the design; it’s about making that gap smaller between what we believe can happen today and the peaceful reality we envision in our minds." More here.

Meantime, are Israel and Hamas moving towards another round of fighting in Gaza? The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff: "…The reconstruction of Gaza has not even begun. Hamas salaries have not been paid – and Abbas has made clear that he has no intention of paying them any time soon. Building materials are not entering Gaza in large quantities – indeed, there are new restrictions on the supplies of iron. The various crossing points are functioning in the same limited fashion as they were before the conflict. In short, the situation is just like it was two months ago, if not worse.

"Furthermore, the idea of Palestinian ‘unity’ is proving to be empty of significance. The PA security forces in the West Bank continue to arrest key Hamas activists. The victory celebrations organized by Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza after the ceasefire are proving to the Palestinian public to have been a bad joke.

"What does this mean for Hamas? The former Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, gave a hint of the answer in a speech Friday in a partially destroyed mosque in the Shati refugee camp, where he lives. ‘Our conflict with the enemy was not the last,’ he said, of the 50-day war." 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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