FP’s Situation Report: U.N. plans to address the Islamic State and Ebola; Freed hostages may not change Turkey’s calculus; A bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan is in reach; and a bit more.
By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel Driving the week are a series of high-level meetings at the United Nations, including President Barack Obama’s annual address to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday morning. Later that day, he’ll chair a special session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss efforts to address the threat of the Islamic ...
By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel
By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel
Driving the week are a series of high-level meetings at the United Nations, including President Barack Obama’s annual address to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday morning. Later that day, he’ll chair a special session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss efforts to address the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Also at the top of Obama’s agenda is building support for his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. Six months ago, no one would have predicted this pair of issues would dominate the annual U.N. meeting, showing just how rapidly the security landscape is changing these days and how difficult it is for world leaders to keep up.
Stopping the flow of foreign fighters to terrorist groups is at the top of Obama’s U.N. priority list. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt and Somini Sengupta: "President Obama will preside this week over an unusual meeting of the United Nations Security Council poised to adopt a binding resolution that would compel all countries to put in place domestic laws to prosecute those who travel abroad to join terrorist organizations and those who help them, including by raising funds." More here.
On Thursday, the U.N. will do its best to draw some attention to the still escalating Ebola epidemic in West Africa. FP’s Colum Lynch: "Acting on the initiative of the Obama administration, the 15-nation U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution [last] week declaring the Ebola virus a threat to international peace and security, and urging the U.N.’s member states to rally financial, political, and medical support to contain the plague. The resolution was co-sponsored by 131 countries, the largest official show of international support for a Security Council resolution in history, according to the United States."
Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization: "This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced." More here.
It was a huge moment for Turkey over the weekend when 49 hostages that the Islamic State captured when it overran the Turkish embassy in Mosul in June were freed. Ever since their capture, the Turkish government has sought to minimize its role in confronting the Islamic State out of fear for the hostages’ safety. Whether Turkey now feels it has the flexibility to become more involved in the U.S.-led coalition remains unclear until more is known about what it took to get the hostages freed.
But don’t expect a dramatic change in Turkey’s position, writes Henri Barkey for FP: "The end of the hostage crisis in Mosul, however, does not necessarily mean Turkey has a free hand to confront IS. Ankara still faces a second quasi-hostage crisis that gives Turkish leaders reason to think twice about joining Obama’s coalition. South of Turkey’s border with Syria, a squadron of Turkish soldiers guards an ancient tomb which is said to belong to Suleyman Shah, the first Ottoman sultan’s grandfather." More here.
Still, Islamic State attacks are sending thousands of refugees across Syria’s border with Turkey. The NYT’s Ben Hubbard in Ankara: "A United Nations official said Sunday that the refugee crisis near the Syrian border town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, could be one of the greatest refugee flows since the civil war in Syria began." More here.
More on the Turkish operation to free the hostages below.
The U.S. and its allies are training Kurds on using sophisticated weaponry. The WSJ’s Joe Parkinson and Dion Nissenbaum: "The U.S. military and its allies have launched an urgent effort to train Kurdish forces to use sophisticated weapons that the West is expected to supply in the coming months for a stepped up counteroffensive against the extremist group Islamic State. For the past month, American, British and French advisers have been training fighters from the semiautonomous Kurdistan region in battlefield techniques at military bases across northern Iraq.
"…The program spotlights what military analysts say will be the key role of advisers and covert operatives in a battle the U.S. has pledged to fight without deploying ground troops." More here.
But what does this all mean for the Kurds and their fight for independence? The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins has a new piece in the Sept. 29 issue of the magazine that addresses just that question. You can read it here.
Masrour Barzani, the Kurdish intelligence chief and the son of Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish President, tells Filkins: "Iraq exists only in the minds of people in the White House … We need our own laws, our own rules, our own country, and we are going to get them."
Term of the day: combat Darwinism. A U.S. official tells Filkins that the Islamic State is the result of what he calls combat darwinism, "by which only the strongest, most fanatical fighters survived the American onslaught in 2006 and 2007, when Al Qaeda in Iraq was nearly destroyed."
"These are the guys we didn’t kill," he says.
Another case of strange bedfellows in the fight against the Islamic State — the United States and Hezbollah. The NYT’s Anne Barnard in Beirut: "Weeks after Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party, helped repel an Islamic State attack on the town of Arsal on the Syrian border, new American weapons are flowing to help the Lebanese Army – which coordinates with Hezbollah – to secure the frontier." More here.
Several suspects are detained for ‘planning IS operations’ in Jordan. Jordan Times’ story: "Security authorities recently arrested several takfirists associated with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported on Sunday. The detainees confessed to having connections with the group’s commanders in Syria, and said they were entrusted with carrying out terrorist operations in Jordan targeting several vital locations, and spreading panic and chaos in the Kingdom." More here.
ICYMI — A must-read from the weekend about an Al Qaeda cell in Syria that poses at least as much of a direct threat to the United States as ISIS. The NYT’s Mark Mazzetti, Michael S. Schmidt, and Ben Hubbard: "American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched." More here.
Obama reiterates his pledge that there will be no combat role for U.S. forces in Iraq in an exclusive op-ed for The Tampa Bay Times. Read that here.
Meet a man who survived an attempted execution by the Islamic State. Lauren Bohn for FP tells the story of a 17 year-old Yazidi boy who pretended to be dead to escape Islamic State executioners, here.
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Who’s where when: Secretary of State John Kerry kicks off a day of meetings in New York City with United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at 8:45 a.m. Find Kerry’s complete U.N. General Assembly schedule for today here.
Remember Afghanistan? Well, after months of edge-of-your seat suspense and turmoil, it officially has a new president… and a new chief executive. The NYT’s Rod Nordland in Kabul: "Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president-elect, and his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, have joined together in a national unity government in which they will share power.
"After eight months of enmity over the protracted presidential election, with two rounds of voting, an international audit and power-sharing negotiations finally behind them, they will have to confront the challenges of jointly governing a country that in many ways is far worse off than it was before the campaign began last February." More here.
For the United States, this means the long-awaited bilateral security agreement is finally within reach. The WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov in Kabul: "Sunday’s resolution of Afghanistan’s electoral dispute means that as early as next week the new Afghan leader will sign a security agreement with the U.S. that will allow a limited American military presence in the country after the U.S.-led coalition’s current mandate expires in December." More here.
The Wall Street Journal has the full text of the final agreement between Ghani and Abdullah here.
Ban Ki-moon tells FP he has pressed Iran to release two reporters and other political prisoners. FP’s Lynch: "U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has directly appealed to Iran to release the Washington Post’s Iranian-American reporter, Jason Rezaian, and his journalist wife, Yeganeh Salehi, Ban told Foreign Policy in an interview on Friday. Ban said that he brought up the case of the two detained journalists in a closed-door meeting Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Ban urged Zarif not only to release the two reporters, but also to free other political prisoners in Iranian jails." More here.
China and Iran to conduct joint naval exercises in the Persian Gulf. The NYT’s Thomas Erdbrink and Chris Buckley: "Two Chinese warships have docked at Iran’s principal naval port for the first time in history, Iranian admirals told state television on Sunday, adding that both countries would conduct four days of joint naval exercises." More here.
Obama, who campaigned for nuclear disarmament, is overseeing a major overhaul of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The NYT’s William J. Broad and David E. Sanger: "Supporters of arms control, as well as some of President Obama’s closest advisers, say their hopes for the president’s vision have turned to baffled disappointment as the modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself." More here.
The situation in Yemen grows worse. The Guardian’s Peter Salisbury in Sana’a: "Fighting has intensified in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, in the biggest challenge to the country’s transition to democracy since former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted in 2012." More here.
Top-level turnover makes it harder for DHS to stay on top of evolving threats. The WaPo’s Jerry Markon, Ellen Nakashima and Alice Crites: "Over the past four years, employees have left DHS at a rate nearly twice as fast as in the federal government overall, and the trend is accelerating, according to a review of a federal database. The departures are a result of what employees widely describe as a dysfunctional work environment, abysmal morale, and the lure of private security companies paying top dollar that have proliferated in Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks." Full story here.
Three major decisions loom for the Navy. Defense News’ Chris Cavas: "Congress again is hung up on a budget, but lawmakers have left town to fight the midterm elections, leaving the Pentagon to wait and see what happens in one budget year before it can nail down the next. Meanwhile, there’s work to do, and the US Navy has several major decision points coming up – questions that need to be decided regardless what Congress ultimately comes up with.
"At the top of the decision list sit three programs: the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS); the Small Surface Combatant (SSC) and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). A decision on how to skew UCLASS – toward surveillance or strike – had been expected by the end of summer. But with Pentagon officials unable to reach a consensus, it has been punted off into a murky future." More here.
More details are emerging about the negotiations behind the freeing of 49 hostages from Turkey’s Consulate in Mosul: Hurriyet’s story: "Political bargaining and diplomacy played a key role in freeing 49 hostages from extremist jihadists, Turkey’s president has said, denying that a ransom was paid but hinting that a swap deal might have taken place to save the country’s Mosul consul general and 48 others."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a press conference yesterday: "I do not know what they mean by bargaining. If they refer to materialistic bargaining, it’s totally out of the question. But if they talk about diplomatic bargaining, yes, it’s certainly true. This is a diplomatic success, the result of a political bargain." More here.
But questions still remain over the freeing of the Turkish hostages, including whether Turkey’s decision to stay on the sidelines of the anti-ISIS coalition last week had anything to do with the timing. Al-Awsat’s story, here.
Stronger ambassadors can make U.S. foreign policy swifter, stronger and more agile. Ronald Neumann, Dennis Blair and Eric Olson for Defense One: "Our current decision-making framework is an ineffective, stove piped diplomatic, military and intelligence chain of command relying on complex Washington decision-making procedures that operate by committee … We propose a solution: a complete reorganization of the structure of how we conduct foreign policy in ‘fragile states’ such as Iraq." More here.
Agence France-Presse says no more freelance work from Syria. It’s not worth it. Michele Leridon, AFP’s Global News Director: "Journalists are no longer welcome in rebel-held Syria, as independent witnesses to the suffering of local populations. They have become targets, or commodities to be traded for ransom.
"That is also why we no longer accept work from freelance journalists who travel to places where we ourselves would not venture. It is a strong decision, and one that may not have been made clear enough, so I will repeat it here: if someone travels to Syria and offers us images or information when they return, we will not use it. Freelancers have paid a high price in the Syrian conflict. High enough. We will not encourage people to take that kind of risk." More here.
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