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: How Kerry isn’t coordinating with Syria; What’s Turkey got to do with it?; The war against Ebola already has a name; Remembering Michael Arnold; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel This morning, a reminder that the U.S. is still at war in a place called Afghanistan. As the U.S. draws down from that re-forgotten war in Afghanistan, to a force of 9,800 by December, whether the White House draws parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan and whether it will pause ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

This morning, a reminder that the U.S. is still at war in a place called Afghanistan. As the U.S. draws down from that re-forgotten war in Afghanistan, to a force of 9,800 by December, whether the White House draws parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan and whether it will pause to rethink its drawdown policy as many experts hope, is unclear. Regardless, there are still thousands of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan and they remain in harm’s way. An attack on foreign troops there this morning was a reminder of how fragile Afghanistan remains. Reuters’ Mirwais Harooni and Kay Johnson this morning: "A suicide car bomber killed three foreign troops and wounded 13 Afghan civilians in an attack on a convoy near the U.S. embassy in Kabul on Tuesday, the NATO-led coalition said, one of the worst attacks on international forces in the Afghan capital in months. The attack near the heavily fortified embassy comes amid a months-long political stalemate and an emboldened insurgency, with a presidential election still unresolved as most foreign combat troops prepare to leave by the end of the year." More here.

Meantime, Obama today will commit up to 3,000 troops – more than he has publicly committed yet to fight the Islamic State – to combat the Ebola virus in Africa. The NYT’s Helene Cooper and Michael Shear on Page One: "Under pressure to do more to confront the Ebola outbreak sweeping across West Africa, President Obama on Tuesday is to announce an expansion of military and medical resources to combat the spread of the deadly virus, administration officials said.

"The president will go beyond the 25-bed portable hospital that Pentagon officials said they would establish in Liberia… Mr. Obama will offer help to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in the construction of as many as 17 Ebola treatment centers in the region, with about 1,700 treatment beds. Senior administration officials said Monday night that the Department of Defense would open a joint command operation in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate the international effort to combat the disease… Officials said the military expected to send as many as 3,000 people to Africa to take charge of responding to the Ebola outbreak." More here.

The Operation in Africa already has a name: It’s called Operation United Assistance. The Obama White House has been criticized for failing to name the military operation in Iraq over weeks of airstrikes and hundreds of millions spent. But the new Ebola operation already has an operation name. The WaPo’s Lena Sun and Juliet Eilperin, also on Page One: "…By the end of the week, a general sent by U.S. Africa Command will be in place in Monrovia, Liberia – the country where transmission rates are increasing exponentially –  to lead the effort called Operation United Assistance.

"…The president’s decision to enlist the U.S. military, whose resources are already under strain as it responds to conflicts in the Middle East, reflects the growing concern of U.S. officials that, unless greater force is brought to bear, the epidemic could wreak havoc on the continent." More here.

Also this morning, it’s been one year since a gunman walked with creepy purpose into a building at the Washington Navy Yard and killed 12 people. Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, the command most affected by that horrible day, said this of today: "Demonstrated that day was not just unbelievable evil, but also incredible bravery and selflessness…

"NAVSEA is not just a bunch of offices and people; we’re a family.  And, just as families come together to celebrate in times of joy, they also come together to aid one another in times of need and over the past year I have been heartened beyond words to see our people come together to support one another.   The road to recovery has not been easy, but we’re on the right path and more importantly we’re not alone on that path. In the face of tragedy, NAVSEA continued to operate – dispersed, in pain, in shock, but not once did we falter in our mission to support the Fleet…

"On this day, we must remember the men and women we lost: Michael Arnold, Martin Bodrog, Arthur Daniels, Sylvia Frasier, Kathleen Gaarde, John Johnson, Frank Kohler, Mary Knight, Vishnu Pandit, Kenneth Proctor, Gerald Read, Richard Ridgell. They gave their lives for their country, their Navy, and their NAVSEA Family…" But, he said:  "There are ships to be repaired and delivered; guns, missiles and radar to be fielded; and young people to be welcomed into our family.  I am proud, honored, and humbled to be the Commander of this amazing organization."

Never forgetting: The WaPo did a splashy Page Oner on how shipbuilders are building a ship without the help of their shipmate, ship designer Michael Arnold, killed at the hands of that gunman one year ago today. Read that one here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to become 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.

Who’s where when today – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by ISIL at 9:30 a.m in Hart 216… Navy Secretary Ray Mabus participates in a ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Navy Yard at 8:00 a.m… Adm. Mike Rogers, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and Director, National Security Agency, delivers remarks at the 5th Annual Billington Cybersecurity Summit at 8:05 a.m. at the Capital Hilton in Washington… Deputy Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity Richard Hale participates in a panel discussion on Cybersecurity in the Federal Sector at the 5th Annual Billington Cybersecurity Summit at 1:30 p.m., also at the Hilton… Gen. Phil Breedlove, commander, U. S. European Command and SACEUR, conducts a press briefing at 11:30 a.m. in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room… Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh addresses the Air Force Association’s 2014 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition at 1:15 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center… Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno participate in a Medal of Honor recognition ceremony at 2:00 p.m. in the Pentagon Auditorium…

Obama awarded Medals of Honor to two Vietnam-era soldiers yesterday. ABC News, here.

Wanna know how has the Gulf responded the Arab Spring and its aftermath? A new CNA report provided early to Situation Report examines how Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE’s strategic posture in an increasingly unstable region: "…This study scrutinizes and contextualizes Saudi, Qatari, and Emirati activity in two case studies, Egypt and Syria. This examination reveals that the basic determinants of the Gulf monarchies’ foreign policies have not changed, though the circumstances emerging from the Arab uprisings have challenged these countries to find a new utility for their traditional foreign policy tools." Full report, here.

This is what John Kerry means when he says the U.S. is not coordinating with Syria. FP’s Harris and Hudson: "The United States insists that it’s not helping the Syrian government conduct airstrikes against Islamic State militants by providing intelligence on the fighters’ locations.

"…On Sunday, though, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to leave the door open to some kind of interaction between Washington and Damascus, adding fuel to speculation that the two capitals actually are working together in a covert fashion. Some of Assad’s top aides have said that any strikes against the Islamic State in Syria would violate the country’s sovereignty, but they’ve also said they’re willing to work with the United States if the two sides can plan the strikes together.

"Asked on CBS’s Face the Nation about whether the United States would ‘coordinate’ airstrikes with Assad, Kerry seemed to equivocate. ‘No, we’re not going to coordinate with Syria,’ Kerry said. ‘We will certainly want to deconflict to make certain that they’re not about to do something that they might regret even more seriously. But we’re not going to coordinate.’
"On Monday, reporters asked State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf what Kerry meant by ‘deconflict,’ but she didn’t answer the question directly." More here.

Kerry is open to talking to Iran, the NYT’s Michael Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink, here.

The Islamic State pledges attacks against the U.S. if it keeps this up. Reuters this hour, here.
Politicians and pundits are tripping over one another to hype the dangers posed by the Islamic State. FP’s Elias Groll and Simon Engler: "…the Obama administration’s statements on the group paint a picture of an increasingly powerful, well-funded, and well-armed group with lethal ambitions in the Middle East but one whose threat to the United States remains limited. Many outside experts share that assessment. Here at home, however, the debate over the Islamic State is taking on an increasingly hyperbolic tone, with Republican critics of the administration — and even some Democrats — struggling to do outdo each other when it comes to painting ever more alarming pictures of the group. Below are five of the politicians and pundits making eye-opening claims about the Islamic State." Keep reading for more from Lindsey Graham, Jim Inhofe, Rick Perry, Bill Nelson, and Bill O’Reilly, here.

ISIS draws a steady stream of recruits from Turkey. The NYT’s Ceylan Yeginsu on Page One: "… As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports and government officials here. Recruits cite the group’s ideological appeal to disaffected youths as well as the money it pays fighters from its flush coffers. The C.I.A. estimated last week that the group had from 20,000 to 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

"The United States has put heavy pressure on Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to better police Turkey’s 560-mile-long border with Syria. Washington wants Turkey to stanch the flow of foreign fighters and to stop ISIS from exporting the oil it produces on territory it holds in Syria and Iraq." More here.

Turkey denies buying smuggled oil from ISIL. Turkey’s Hurriyet has this story: "Energy Minister Taner Y?ld?z has again denied claims that Turkey has bought smuggled oil from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants, responding to a New York Times report that Turkey was a destination for black market oil supplied by militants. ‘The Turkish Republic is a constitutional state and it must buy and sell according to that,’ Y?ld?z told reporters on Sept. 15 during a visit to Qatar. ‘It is not our problem if someone says that ISIL oil is mixed with oil coming from Kirkuk. We have not been informed about it, and the whole world knows we would take necessary measures if we were told about something like that,’ he added. Y?ld?z slammed such reports as having certain intentions and ‘trying to create an image of Turkey cooperating with ISIL.’" More here.

Here’s a window into the worldview of Turkey’s new PM. Writing for War on the Rocks, the German Marshall Fund’s Josh Walker, who has known Davuto?lu for more than a decade, offers his personal perspective: "…Op-eds and commentaries in prominent U.S. media outlets have highlighted Davuto?lu’s pan-Islamist leanings and his outsized belief in Turkey’s rightful role as leader of the Muslim world, recalling the glory of the Ottoman centuries. However, these op-eds, some of them scathing, fail to capture the full picture of the Ahmet Davuto?lu I know, whose humanness-as a father, husband, and teacher-permeates all aspects of his personality." More here.

The U.S. has launched its first strike in its expanded Iraq offensive. McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef: "The United States bombed an Islamic State position southwest of Baghdad on Monday in what the U.S. Central Command said was the first airstrike undertaken under expanded rules of engagement President Barack Obama outlined in a speech last week. The Central Command statement posted Monday night provided no details of the strike, but the area southwest of Baghdad is a Sunni Muslim stronghold where Islamic State forces have been active since June. The statement said the Islamic State forces were firing on Iraqi security forces." More here.

Obama reversed himself on the laws of war. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole, here.

Israel wants to join the coalition against the Islamic State. Ha’aretz’s military correspondent Amos Harel for FP: " …The benefits Netanyahu receives by securing himself a place on Obama’s new coalition are equally clear: He is looking to position Israel at the vanguard of the Western fight against terrorism, not as some archaic relic of colonialist occupation, as Israel is sometimes described in European circles." More here.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Coalition Building: Jim Stavridis draws on his experience as a former supreme allied commander of NATO: "…As the coalition gets up and running, there are lots of other things to consider, like the use of donor conferences at the level of the secretary of state or secretary of defense; how to integrate with civilian agencies on the ground in the region (many of the Islamic State’s hostages are aid workers); whether and when to hold summits with heads of state and governments; the applicability of financial and economic tools by the coalition; and how to structure command and control on the ground. All of this will come with time. The ideas above are just a beginning, as the coalition comes together. We know how to do this — let’s get underway." More here.

U.S. policy offered no hope to the family of American journalist Jim Foley. The NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi on Page One, here.

The Syrian opposition blasts a report that it cut a deal with the Islamic State. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin this morning, here.

Officials say that the U.S. won’t play nice with Assad. The AP’s Julie Pace: "The United States would retaliate against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air defenses if he were to go after American planes launching airstrikes in his country, senior Obama administration officials said Monday. Officials said the U.S. has a good sense of where the Syrian air defenses, along with their command and control centers, are located. If Assad were to use those capabilities to threaten U.S. forces, it would put his air defenses at risk, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the administration’s thinking on the matter." More here.

How Putin got his way in Ukraine, by Time’s Simon Shuster (yes that’s really his name), here.

Russia needs government investment to avoid recession, Reuters this hour, here. 

The French are Europe’s new war hawks. The WaPo’s Ishaan Tharoor: "…In recent years, French governments of differing ideological stripes have led calls for intervention in a range of conflicts. In 2011, conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy authorized airstrikes in the Ivory Coast to avert a crisis that some observers feared could lead to ethnic cleansing. He also rallied NATO allies in 2011 to join in a bombing campaign that would help destroy the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. In the years since, NATO countries have watched on the sidelines as post-Gaddafi Libya imploded; just this past week, France called for a new intervention.

"That’s because Sarkozy’s Socialist successor, François Hollande, has been equally hawkish about fighting insurgencies and stabilizing war zones." More here.

For the New Yorker this week, Army Davison asks "Are we at war?" Find the answer, here.

Why the public reaction to one man’s brutal murder could push Britain to become a stronger ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Nabeelah Jaffer for FP: "…In the week that might see the end of the United Kingdom, questions of British identity seem more urgent than ever in responding to crises outside its borders. With a second British hostage’s life still hanging in the balance, the pressure on politicians to bring force to bear on the Islamic State is only likely to grow." More here.

A local official says that ISIS is withdrawing from Anbar. Al-Awsat’s Hamza Mustafa: "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is adopting new tactics in anticipation of impending air strikes by the US-led coalition, an expert on armed groups has told Asharq Al-Awsat, at the same time that authorities in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province announced the group is beginning to flee areas in and around the governorate.

"In a statement issued on Sunday, the head of the Anbar Provincial Council, Sabah Karhout, said Anbar’s security forces had received information that members of ISIS were ‘fleeing the districts and surrounding areas of the province which are under their control and heading to the Western Desert region and to Syria in a state of panic.’" 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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