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: Discord over strategy seems clear; Mattis on half-heartedness; Where is the DIA nom?; My last SitRep; The bathhouses in Damascus are empty; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel   Where’s the DIA nom? A friend to Situation Report points out that the Obama administration is heading into what amounts to a protracted battle against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria but only has an acting, civilian director at the Defense Intelligence Agency – with yet no nomination ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel  

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel  

Where’s the DIA nom? A friend to Situation Report points out that the Obama administration is heading into what amounts to a protracted battle against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria but only has an acting, civilian director at the Defense Intelligence Agency – with yet no nomination for a permanent replacement. Readers will remember that Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn left the job in early August and the expected nomination of Lt. Gen. Mary Legere to replace him was pulled back by the White House as we reported first at FP here. Maj. Gen. Vincent Stewart, a Marine, is the likely nominee, but that’s not a done deal. There were quiet efforts to "civilianize" the DIA job, but those efforts seem not to have gone anywhere and it’s likely a uniform’s name will be put forward soon.

We’re told that a nomination is "in process," but there’s been no sign of it anywhere and it’s unclear when such a person would be nominated and then confirmed for a job that is central to the military’s ability to be smart about fighting the enemy.

Meantime, the military has some concerns about Obama’s strategy. The apparent disconnect between how the military sees the current conflict and how to resource it and the White House’s vision of the same is defining the mission in these early days. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkard and uneasy relationship. Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group."

Former Central Command commander Jim Mattis, to the House intel committee yesterday: "Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility…We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground." Read the rest of that here.

Odierno walked back yesterday’s NYT headline. Military Times’ Jeff Schogol: "Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno believes that Iraqi ground forces, not U.S. troops, are needed to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq, according to his spokeswoman.

"…During a Wednesday media roundtable in Germany, Odierno told reporters that airstrikes were not enough to defeat the Islamic State group, the New York Times reported… The story noted that Odierno did not specify if those ground forces needed to be U.S. troops; the headline simply read: "U.S. Army Chief Says Ground Troops Will Be Needed Against ISIS."

"In response, Army Lt. Col. Kathleen Turner issued a statement to media outlets on Wednesday clarifying that Odierno was not calling for U.S. ground forces to be used against the Islamic State group.

Turner in a statement: "The body of the NY Times story is accurate with General Odierno’s comments; however their headline is disappointing and misleading… General Odierno was referring to the Iraqi Ground Forces." Full story, here.

On the ground, the U.S. faces a long road ahead to oust ISIS. The NYT’s Michael Gordon, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper: "The American air campaign to thwart the advance of fighters from the Islamic State has been the easy part of President Obama’s strategy in Iraq and Syria. Soon begins the next and much harder phase: rolling back their gains in Mosul, Falluja and other populated areas, which will require American advisers to train and coordinate airstrikes with Iraqi forces.

"Pentagon officials are more willing than their counterparts at the White House to acknowledge that this will almost certainly require American Special Operations forces on the ground to call in airstrikes and provide tactical advice to Iraqi troops." More here.

Does the U.S. understand what kind of war it’s getting into? Jonathan Lord for War on the Rocks, here.

Intel: ISIS isn’t the whole picture in Syria. The WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman and Julian Barnes: "The U.S. is tracking multiple terror plots based out of Syria that target the West-threats that current and former intelligence officials say have been traced to al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and not to Islamic State, the extremist group that has seized the world’s attention.

"…Islamic State extremists, who have seized control of territory and towns across Iraq and Syria, represent a serious danger to U.S. and Western interests, mainly in the region, said the officials. But so do groups more tightly affiliated with the Pakistan-based leadership of al Qaeda. Two such groups are the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and a cell of al Qaeda leaders now in Syria that works closely with Nusra Front known as Khorasan." More here.

Despite lingering logistical questions about arming the Syrian rebels, Congress approves Obama’s plan by a landslide. FP’s John Hudson: "Barack Obama asked Congress to approve military action in Syria, Democrats and Republicans united against him. This time, they’ve got his back. On Thursday, the Senate followed the House in authorizing a program that would train-and-equip Syrian rebels, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s plan to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Though the administration has conceded that the program alone is too limited to succeed in eradicating the Sunni militant group — and that it has no agreement with the Syrian rebels to direct their attacks against the Islamic State as opposed to the Syrian government, lawmakers approved the measure with a 73-22 vote." More here.

New subject: Looks like Scotland will not go independent after all. Read that in the NYT, "Scots Reject Independence from Britain," here. News of the rejection was also in the print edition of the WaPo this morning: "Scots reject independence from U.K." But the WSJ played it vague since its deadline is likely earlier, with the headline: "Vote Echoes Beyond Scotland: Independence Effort Changes Balance in the U.K. and Elsewhere, Even if Ballots Fall Short."

TIME put together some amazing Scotland Tweets, here.


Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, my last. More on that at the bottom. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.


How scarce resources drive security: Spies say the wars of the future could be sparked by climate change and vicious fights over water. FP’s Shane Harris: "…The strain of a growing world population, coupled with the effects of pollution and climate change, has taxed many of the water systems that feed the world’s people and are vital for agriculture. More than half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared, and climate change around the world has altered weather patterns and led to water shortages, experts say.

"Scarcity now poses a global security threat that U.S. intelligence agencies take as seriously as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, according to the strategy, which was produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all American intelligence agencies. And hints of a dystopian future can already be seen. In East Africa, drought has led to lethal fighting among Somali clans for access to potable water. The United Nations World Food Program has estimated that 650 million people are living in areas where flood and droughts can lead to wild spikes in food prices. Public anxiety — and fascination — has given rise to a new genre of films, ‘cli-fi,’ with apocalyptic climate-change scenarios at the heart of their plots." More here.

An al Qaeda leader linked to OBL who was recently released from Iranian custody was reportedly killed in the Af-Pak region. Bill Roggio for The Long War Journal, here.

French intelligence made the hit in Somalia happen: We’re late in pointing this out, but the French magazine Le Point reported last week that the strike that targeted the al-Shabab leader in Somalia earlier this month came at the hands of French intel. The magazine says the strike on Sept. 1 was carried out based largely on intel from France’s DGSE, it’s CIA equivalent. According to the article, which is in French, but we had a loose translation of its gist provided by a SitRep reader and a friend to SitRep, the French government asked the Pentagon not to mention its involvement in the strike. The piece is here.

More evidence that France is the new hotness when it comes to fighting militants: AP this hour: "France Strikes Islamic State Group’s Depot in Iraq," here.

Spain is sending Patriot missiles to Turkey’s border with Syria. Stripes’ Matt Millham, here.

Thousands of miles away from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, Australia is the first to find itself on the frontlines of the newest terror war against ISIS. FP’s Siobhan O’Grady and Reid Standish: "Islamic State fighters, Western officials have repeatedly stressed, pose a different kind of threat than their terrorist precursors. With a large contingent of foreign fighters holding Western passports, they can easily cross international borders, possibly carrying out attacks far removed from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The threat these fighters pose to the West has typically focused on the group’s alleged ambition to strike targets in Europe and the United States.

"But this week, Australia has emerged as the group’s potential first target." More here.

Obama’s no-combat pledge leaves room for US forces near the front lines. Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning, here.

Damascus bathhouses remain empty as the conflict keeps bathers away. Al Awsat’s story, here.

Germany’s interior minister says that Berlin and Ankara need to increase cooperation against ISIS. Hurriyet’s story, here.

Assad’s army is stretched but still strong. Reuters’ Sylvia Westall, here.

Who’s where when today – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld Jr. participate in the 2014 National POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony at the Pentagon River Parade Field at 10:00 a.m… U.S. Strategic Command Commander Adm. Cecil D. Haney delivers remarks on strategic deterrence and the future of the Ohio Replacement Program at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga… Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall participates at the Better Buying Power 3.0 Rollout at CSIS at 8:30 a.m… Navy Secretary Ray Mabus delivers remarks at the Joint Energy Contract announcement at the White House at 10:00 a.m… Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Alan Shaffer delivers keynote remarks at the USIP Peace Tech Summit at 12:45 p.m…

Dempsey is urging new rules for cybersecurity. Inside Cybersecurity’s Chris Castelli: "The federal government needs to impose carefully calibrated cybersecurity standards on the private sector but it might not happen until there is a crisis, according to Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The United States is still working to understand how to reconcile values like the freedom of information, privacy and security in the context of cyberspace, Dempsey said in a recent speech on national security challenges at the University of Notre Dame, IN." More here.

Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio has a Lockheed GPS III scoop: Lockheed lost $26.2 million in an award fee over a delay. Read that  here.

For FP, USIP’s Kristen Lord and Ann-Louise Colgan write ahead of International Peace Day this Sunday, here.

Russia and China are close to another mammoth natural gas deal that could reshape the world’s energy map. FP’s Keith Johnson: "Right as the West is tightening the screws on Russia’s energy sector, Vladimir Putin is accelerating his own pivot to the east, moving closer to another giant natural gas deal with China. If consummated this fall, the multibillion-dollar deal would at least partially alleviate Russia’s fears about finding future markets for its gas exports and China’s worries over finding future energy supplies, especially natural gas, for its growing economy and population. By potentially boosting Russia’s leverage with respect to Europe while dealing a blow to other gas exporters’ hopes of leaping into the Chinese market, the deal’s knock-on effects could be felt from Brussels to British Columbia." More here.

An Israeli official says that Syria hid chemical weapons after giving up raw materials. Read it on Ha’aretz, here.

Stop glorifying football players and start glorifying soldiers. UVA’s Mark Edmundson for TIME: "…The [football] players: we treat them like Hector and Achilles and Aeneas and Ajax. We look at them as though they were man-gods. And after a decade and a half of being worshipped, is it surprising if pro athletes turn out to be willful, spoiled, bullying and selfish? Remember how the gods in the Greek myths were prone to act? They were willful and selfish and all the rest.

"If we could start worshipping real heroes-true thinkers and just warriors and lovers of humanity-we could take back a little bit of our investment in football idols. That would be a fine change for us all-and I’ll bet it wouldn’t be a half bad thing for the players, either." More here.

Today is the last Situation Report I’ll write. It’s been a little over two years since I launched SitRep with about 13,000 expectant readers out of the gate. Since then, SitRep has swelled to an astonishing 150,572 daily subscribers as of 6:32 this morning. I’ve been enormously gratified by your over-the-top love notes, your occasional criticisms – almost always cast as gentle nudges instead of downright nasty-grams, but I got those, too  – and your requests to "stick me on" the distro list. I loved mixing my own reporting with the best of FP’s, along with all the reports, events, perspectives, scoops and bits of "candy" you sent me for maximum tease, every day, that made SitRep what it is and helped propel me out of bed at 5:30 am each morning to make the doughnuts.

The world has been an incredible place in the last couple of years and it’s been a humbling honor to be able to deliver a piece of it to your inbox each morning. SitRep will continue. But I like to mix it up every once in a while, so I am moving to Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where I’ll be reappearing in similar form in coming weeks. More on me and that here. After today, you can be sure to reach me at and know that the inbox is always open.

Credit roll ­­SitRep wouldn’t have been possible without a cast of characters who have helped me along the way, from Susan Glasser for seeing the vision and hiring me to launch SitRep, to Peter Scoblic for his generous support and bleary-eyed edits in the early days, to Noah Shachtman for his love of SitRep and his own 3 ½ minute edits as he walked his kid to school (did you really read them?) to current jefe Yochi Dreazen for his backing of SitRep and for getting me the help I needed to make it happen even better each morning, to FP chief David Rothkopf for stroking the checks. Then there are the substitute bus drivers in whose capable hands SitRep thrived: John Reed, Kevin Baron, Dan Lamothe and Kate Brannen. Then there’s also the folks who helped build an amazing number of readers and who provided logistical and moral support on difficult days – FP’s own Chris Cotnoir, Tara Vohra and Tim Showers.

There’s also the FP reporters whose sourcing and observations and overall great reporting and writing gave SitRep sparkle in no small way: Shane Harris, Kate Brannen, John Hudson, Colum Lynch, Elias Groll, Keith Johnson, Jamila Trindle and a host of others.

But a big round of applause goes to wingman Nathaniel Sobel, who, like me, has SitRepped (now a verb) in half a dozen airports, backseats, trains, coffee shops in Jerusalem, on his iPhone, to the floor of the basement in his grandparents’ condo in Florida, and in dozens of other places. It all came at the expense of his social life to be sure. SitRep became a calling for him, too – as he recalls working in an airport in Utah before catching a redeye one night and thinking he was the only one really working in the whole place. "I loved that," he told me.

We’ve already dragged on too long. But mostly thanks to you readers for making this an awesome ride. Best to you.

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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