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: U.S. and Arab partners bomb Islamic State targets inside Syria; U.S. strikes the Khorasan Group; Lost Afghan soldiers found at Canadian border; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel Breaking overnight — The United States, along with a handful of Arab countries, launched a wide-ranging attack against the Islamic State inside Syria, bombing a series of targets in and around the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital. Earlier this morning, U.S. Central Command provided new details ...

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

Breaking overnight — The United States, along with a handful of Arab countries, launched a wide-ranging attack against the Islamic State inside Syria, bombing a series of targets in and around the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital. Earlier this morning, U.S. Central Command provided new details about the strikes and confirmed that Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all participated, however the level of each country’s involvement is still unclear. The strikes mark the opening of a new — and risky — front in the expanding U.S.-led effort against the militants controlling large portions of both Syria and Iraq. FP’s story: "Obama is expected to speak about the strikes [this] morning … according to a senior U.S. official. The official said that aircraft are conducting strikes against a ‘litany’ of Islamic State targets including command and control facilities, headquarters, and training centers." More here.

According to CENTCOM, 14 strikes were conducted using a mix of unmanned and manned aircraft, including the Air Force’s F-22, marking the first time that aircraft has been flown in battle. During last night’s attack, the U.S. also launched 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea, which are positioned in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. CENTCOM described the targets as "training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles."

The Navy released a video from last night of the USS Philippine Sea launching Tomahawk missiles. You can watch it here.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, in a statement last night, said Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, made the decision to launch the airstrikes earlier in the day after receiving authorization from President Barack Obama. Kirby is expected to brief reporters today at the Pentagon.

Burying the lead? The United States also used last night to independently strike the Khorasan Group, a little known terrorist cell inside Syria whom the Pentagon describes as "a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans" believed to pose as much of a threat to the U.S. as the Islamic State. At the bottom of CENTCOM’s release, it notes that separately, the United States "has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by" the Khorasan Group. The very existence of this group was only acknowledged and made public Thursday by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at an intelligence conference in Washington. CENTCOM said the group has "established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations."

Last night, the U.S. conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets "west of Aleppo to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities."

AP first wrote about the Khorasan Group Sept. 13, read that story here.

One of the group’s leaders — Muhsin al-Fadhli — was one of the few al Qaeda commanders who had foreknowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The WaPo’s Terrence McCoy: "Khorasan hasn’t arrived [in Syria] to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. It’s not interested in laying claim to great swaths of land and resources, as is the Islamic State … Its members have come from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan to exploit the flood of Western jihadists who now have skin in the fight – and possess very valuable passports." More here.

Last night’s actions raise many questions, but a big one is how much did Syria know beforehand? On this point, it doesn’t look like the U.S. and Assad government are going to agree. The NYT’s Ben Hubbard and Alan Cowell:"American officials said that the strikes were not coordinated with the government of Mr. Assad, whom President Obama has said has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down." More here.

But the Syrians are telling a different story. NBCNews: "The Syrian foreign ministry said Tuesday that Washington informed Damascus’ envoy to the United Nations before launching airstrikes against ISIS in Syria." More here.

EXCLUSIVE — Georgia has offered to host a training camp for the Syrian rebels. FP’s John Hudson: "In a potential boost for the Obama administration, the former Soviet republic of Georgia has offered to host a training facility for the Syrian rebels as a part of the U.S.-led war against Islamic State militants in both Syria and Iraq, according to an American administration official.

"If accepted, the offer could supplement the White House’s existing plan to train 5,000 Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia in the next year to fight against the extremists now controlling swaths of both Iraq and Syria. It would also significantly elevate Georgia’s role in the anti-Islamic State coalition as the United States and other Arab allies begin conducting airstrikes against militant targets in Syria. Georgia, which has spent years cultivating close ties with Washington in the hopes of gaining membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has also sent troops to fight alongside American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.

Meanwhile, along the Turkish border, Syrian Kurds are getting pummeled by the Islamic State, leading to a mass exodus into Turkey. The NYT’s Michael R. Gordon: "The leader of the moderate Syrian opposition appealed Monday for American airstrikes to halt the fierce attacks by militants from the Islamic State against Kurdish communities in northern Syria, just hours before the United States and allies began a campaign against the terrorist group." More here.

Turkish PM hints there may have been an Islamic State prisoner swap in exchange for the release of 49 hostages. The AP story here.

For Hurriyet, Semih Idiz on why Turkey can’t just sit on the fence against ISIL: "…The bottom line is that this overall situation cannot go on. In other words, the government is going to have to come up with a coherent strategy which indicates not just to the world, but also to the Turkish public, that Ankara will not tolerate ISIL in any shape or form. In other words, Turkey is going to have to get actively involved in the fight against this group, even if this involvement is not in the form of a direct military confrontation with it." More here.

FP’s Vanessa H. Larson looks into Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on press freedoms. You can read that here.

Israel says it shot down a Syrian fighter jet last night. The NYT’s Judi Rudoren: "Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the Patriot air-defense system had intercepted a Russian-made Sukhoi warplane in mid-flight over the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights around 9:15 a.m. Brig. Gen. Ram Shmueli, a former head of intelligence in the Israeli Air Force now serving in the reserves, said that the pilots of the jet, which he identified as an Su-24, had ejected safely in Syrian territory and that the remains of the plane fell into the sea." More here.

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Who’s Where When. Lt. Gen. Bill Mayville, the director of operations at the Joint Staff, who has briefed before on operations in Iraq against the Islamic State, will take questions from reporters today at the Pentagon at 11 a.m.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced yesterday that Adm. Harry Harris has been nominated commander of U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. Harris is currently serving as the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet,  based in Pearl Harbor.

Looking ahead, Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House next week. The Times of Israel’s story here.

Israel backs UN move against foreign terrorists, but fears world will lose focus on Iran. Ha’aretz’s Chemi Shalev: "Israel fully supports the unprecedented resolution on fighting foreign terrorists that the [U.N.] Security Council is expected to adopt on Wednesday in a special session of world leaders headed by U.S. President Barack Obama. Israelis are concerned, however, that the high profile emphasis on Islamic State could further detract the world’s attention away the much greater threat posed by Iran’s nuclear drive, Israeli sources said." More here.

A devastating attack by the Islamic State Sunday on an Iraqi army base in Anbar province revealed the military’s weaknesses. The WaPo’s Loveday Morris: "On Monday, a day after the attack, five survivors – including three officers – said that between 300 and 500 soldiers were missing and believed to be dead, kidnapped or in hiding. Army officials said the numbers were far lower, leading to accusations that they were concealing the true toll.

"If the survivors’ accounts are correct, it would make Sunday the most disastrous day for the Iraqi army since several divisions collapsed in the wake of the Islamic State’s capture of the northern city of Mosul amid its cross-country sweep in June.

"In any case, the chaotic incident has highlighted shortcomings in an army that the United States has spent billions of dollars training and equipping, and it has further undermined the force’s reliability as a partner as President Obama expands airstrikes into provinces including Anbar." More here.

Obama’s Middle East allies are signing up for the fight against the Islamic State – but it’s not for the reason you think. James Traub for FP: "The Arab world really does face a growing threat of terrorist violence; it really does need to forge a partnership with the West to confront the Islamic State as well as more localized forces. But the West is not about to join a campaign to crush political opponents on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Egypt and its new friends in the Gulf will have to do that on their own." More here.

Afghanistan’s CEO won’t be his own boss. FP’s Simon Engler: "News outlets have rushed to describe Sunday’s deal as a tenuous path to joint governance — one in which [Ashraf] Ghani, who was declared winner of the election by an undisclosed margin, will become Afghanistan’s new president while [Abdullah] Abdullah rides shotgun as a kind of quasi-prime minister …

"But the rhetoric and the reality of Sunday’s deal are miles apart. As Foreign Policy first reported on Sept. 5, Afghanistan’s new CEO won’t be his own boss. And he won’t be an independent prime minister, either. Far from it: according to the text of the agreement, he’ll answer to the president and, as a senior Afghan official told Foreign Policy earlier this month, could be fired at any time and for any reason." More here.

Found at the Canadian border: 3 Afghan soldiers missing from Cape Cod. The Cape Cod Times’ George Brennan: "Less than two days after they ditched a chaperone at the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis, three Afghanistan military leaders attending a training session at Joint Base Cape Cod sought asylum at the Canadian border and were at least temporarily thwarted.

"The three men were detained at a Niagara Falls checkpoint at the Canadian-U.S. border at Rainbow Bridge, where they were being interviewed by federal authorities, state police and military spokesmen said Monday." More here.

More on their American cultural experience: "The three men were at Zachary’s Pub, a Mashpee strip club, the night before they went missing, Mashpee Police Chief Rodney Collins said."

Update on Pentagon’s Ebola response. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters yesterday that there are a total of 60 U.S. military personnel on the ground in Liberia, with another 30 to 40 scheduled to arrive soon. The group includes Seabees, members of the Navy’s Construction Battalion. Obama has said the Pentagon could deploy up to 3,000 military personnel to respond to the still-escalating epidemic.

Congressional panel says no to using war funds on F-35s and Apaches. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "Lawmakers have rejected the Pentagon’s request to shift as much as $1.5 billion in war spending to buy eight new Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jets and 21 additional Boeing Co. AH-64 Apache helicopters. The Defense Department asked for the additional jets and helicopters in a Sept. 8 request for permission to shift, or reprogram, about $2 billion in its war operations budget, partly to pay for expanded operations against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria." More here.

A big congrats to Missy Ryan who’s joining The Washington Post Oct. 13 as a Pentagon correspondent. The WaPo’s National Editor Cameron Barr, Deputy National Editor Scott Wilson, National Security Editor Peter Finn and Deputy National Security Editor Jason Ukman: "Missy comes to us from Reuters, where she has written extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the military. She’ll work in tandem with Craig Whitlock, Dan Lamothe and other members of the National Security team." More on Ryan’s background and new job here.

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