FP’s Situation Report: Obama calls on other countries to help with security crises; Airstrikes in Syria continue; The Khorasan Group comes out from the shadows; and a bit more.
By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel This morning at the United Nations, President Barack Obama "will call on the world to join him in this effort to degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State, according to a White House official. His speech to the U.N. General Assembly, which begins at 10 a.m., "will lay out ...
By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel
By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel
This morning at the United Nations, President Barack Obama "will call on the world to join him in this effort to degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State, according to a White House official. His speech to the U.N. General Assembly, which begins at 10 a.m., "will lay out a broad vision of American leadership in a changing world," the official said. Obama plans to outline the areas where he sees momentum building, and where, with the help of allies, the United States is making progress. This includes fighting the Islamic State, taking on Ebola, sanctioning Russia and supporting a ceasefire in Ukraine, brokering a new government in Afghanistan and outlining a vision for combating climate change. The litany of crises is cause for concern and pessimism for many people, but Obama plans to counter this gloom with "a forceful and optimistic message of American leadership."
With the Pentagon saying it’s planning for a "credible and sustainable persistent campaign" against the Islamic State in Syria, it comes as no surprise that airstrikes continued yesterday and today. Just this morning, Central Command released new numbers for airstrikes in Syria, saying a strike northwest of Al Qa’im had destroyed eight Islamic State vehicles. Yesterday, the U.S. military conducted two airstrikes in Syria that resulted in one damaged and one destroyed armed vehicle. Strikes continue in Iraq too — near Erbil and Baghdad. CENTCOM did not mention any participation from the five Arab partner nations that were involved in Monday night’s strikes, raising questions about how extensive their involvement will be going forward.
U.S. strikes in Syria haven’t beaten ISIS in Iraq, but can they do it in Syria? FP’s Brannen: "The Pentagon is already describing its first wave of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria as ‘very successful,’ but in Iraq, where the air campaign has been going on for weeks, progress appears minimal.
Michael Stephens, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, on Iraq: "It’s been disappointing to see the lack of forward movement, not only from the Iraqi Army but also the Peshmerga, who have decided that they’ll only go to a certain point and essentially draw a line in the sand."
But after six weeks of airstrikes should the metric for success in Iraq be whether the Iraqi security forces have retaken land seized by ISIS? Not everyone thinks so. Dafna Rand, who recently served on the National Security Council staff before going to work at the Center for a New American Security, said if in six months, the Iraqi security forces still haven’t won back territory, then it’s a fair question to ask about what progress has been made.
In the meantime, U.S. airstrikes have largely stopped the Islamic State’s momentum in Iraq, and hopefully that’s what they’ll accomplish in the near term in Syria, Rand said. More here.
Speaking of the Iraqi army, the new prime minister is shaking up the military high command. Al-Awsat’s Hamza Mustafa in Baghdad: "Iraqi Prime Minster Haider Al-Abadi launched a major reorganization of Iraq’s top military leadership on Tuesday, in a step many observers say was aimed at defusing growing public anger over Iraqi military defeats at the hands of radical Islamist militants. More here.
It took many by surprise when the United States announced early yesterday morning that airstrikes in Syria targeted not just the Islamic State, but an organization called the Khorasan Group, which is made up of senior Al Qaeda operatives devoted to attacking Western targets. The immediate questions were: who are these guys and how come we haven’t heard much about them before?
FP’s Shane Harris, John Hudson and Justine Drennan: "U.S. intelligence agencies have been tracking the group’s evolution for years, but until now, the White House avoided taking military action. As it happened, though, the attacks on the Islamic State have finally given the administration a pretext for hitting Khorasan, which U.S. intelligence officials say is trying to learn how to build bombs that can be sneaked onto commercial airliners."
"… Still, it’s unclear what — if any — concrete intelligence prompted the United States to attack the group now. Officials who spoke with reporters about the Syria strikes didn’t offer any information about a specific plot. Nor did they explain why the current threat — which was reportedly described to members of Congress a year ago — is any more dire than it was in July, when Khorasan’s efforts to recruit Westerners prompted security officials to tighten security checks at some overseas airports with direct flights to the United States."
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official to Foreign Policy: "Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their capabilities match their desire." More here.
The Al Nusrah Front posted photos showing the aftermath of U.S. bombings that targeted the Khorasan Group. Thomas Joscelyn for Long War Journal compiled the photos and posted them, noting the "Khorasan group" is simply part of al Qaeda, and not another entity. You can read his post and look at the photos here.
U.S. intelligence agencies learned this summer of a plot from al Qaeda veterans in Syria to attack European and American airplanes. Then the Khorasan Group went dark. The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake here.
Meanwhile, the FBI and the DHS have issued an intelligence bulletin to local law enforcement urging vigilance in the wake of U.S. airstrikes launched in Syria, reports The Hill’s Mario Trujillo here.
Airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State brought together Persian Gulf nations that are at odds with each other. The WaPo’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: "The differences among the countries have grown so stark and acrimonious that earlier this year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, which has funded Islamists across the region to the consternation of the other three nations. In the months that followed, they have continued to wage a proxy war of sorts in Egypt and Libya, where the UAE recently conducted airstrikes against rebels backed by Qatar." More here.
Obama says he isn’t coordinating with Assad on strikes in Syria. So is this man his go-between? FP’s Elias Groll: "Immediately after the United States began its bombing campaign in President Bashar al-Assad’s backyard, the Syrian leader received a conspicuous visitor: Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad. The two men discussed the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants and, according to the Syrian state media summary of the meeting, Assad told the Iraqi official ‘that Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.’ It was at least their second meeting in as many weeks.
"While the report contained no specific mention of U.S. bombing in Syria, Assad’s comment walks that fine line where it can be easily interpreted as a signal to Washington that Damascus will not stand the way of — and indeed welcomes — U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State, which Assad sees as a mortal enemy." More here.
The U.S. told Iran directly of its intent to strike the Islamic State in Syria. Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi, Louis Charbonneau and Arshad Mohammed: "he United States informed Iran in advance of its intention to strike Islamic State militants in Syria and assured Tehran that it would not target the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
"The communication, confirmed in part by a senior U.S. State Department official, may signal the estranged foes are inching toward a level of contacts rarely seen in over three decades since the 1979 Islamic revolution when a hostage crisis prompted Washington to sever ties with Tehran." More here.
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Who’s where when: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey delivers remarks at the Newman’s Own Award Ceremony in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes at 10:30 a.m.
A court in Jordan has acquitted a militant Islamic cleric known as Abu Qatada on terrorism charges. The NYT’s Ranya Kadri and Alan Cowell: "The 54-year-old cleric, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, faced accusations relating to a plot to bomb Israeli, American and other Western tourists at millennium celebrations in 2000. In June he was acquitted on separate charges of planning to carry out a terror attack on the American school in Amman." More here.
Without troops on the ground, it’s difficult to gauge the success of U.S. airstrikes. US News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "The absence of ground troops in support of airstrikes makes it nearly impossible to confirm whether a target was killed, and that the strike went according to plan.
Mike Golembesky, a former Marine Corps commando who specialized in operating behind enemy lines to call in airstrikes: "You can only gather so much information from drone cameras and radio/phone chatter… This type of air campaign will only get you so far. These guys are rats, and if we are serious about destroying them, then eventually someone is going to have to kick in the door and shine the light on them." Full story, here.
This doesn’t sound like an absence of ground troops: The U.S. Army is preparing to deploy a division headquarters to Iraq. Army Times’ Michelle Tan: "An official announcement is expected in the coming days. But Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno recently confirmed the Army "will send another division headquarters to Iraq to control what we’re doing there, a small headquarters." More here.
The 6 fictions we have to stop telling ourselves about Obama, the Islamic State, and what the United States can and can’t do to save Iraq and Syria. For FP, Aaron David Miller offers the big picture on what should be expected in the weeks and months ahead. Find the full piece, here.
In Turkey, Ankara wants to hear the U.S.’s endgame in Syria – particularly as it relates to Assad. Hurriyet’s Serkan Demirtas, here.
After talks in Cairo yesterday, a comprehensive deal on Gaza remains elusive, but neither Israel nor Hamas wants renewed fighting. The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren: "Without much fanfare, an Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for indirect ceasefire talks with Hamas, and while a comprehensive long-term agreement currently appears elusive, if not highly unlikely, the resumption of hostilities seems equally unlikely, even if no deal is struck." More here.
In the meantime, where is the Israeli public after this summer’s war with Hamas? New poll data from the Israeli think tank Mitvim sheds light on the picture. A key finding illustrates that the Israeli public is not satisfied with Israel’s global standing, and thinks that Operation Protective Edge damaged it. Israelis rank their country’s global standing at an average of 5.1 out of 10. Only 13 percent think that Israel’s global standing is good, while 35 percent think that it is not. A plurality (45 percent vs. 24 percent) believes Operation Protective Edge caused damage to Israel’s foreign relations.
Nimrod Goren, Chairman of Mitvim, told Situation Report in an email yesterday: "The polls show that while the Israeli public defines itself as more right-wing, it tends to support foreign policy positions that are typically associated with the center-left. The peace process emerges as a central issue for the Israeli public – as a condition for improving Israel’s foreign relations and as a key foreign policy priority on its own."
And the Iranian issue has slipped off the public’s radar, Goren added: "The Iranian nuclear threat, which has dominated Israel’s foreign policy and national security discourse over the past years, is losing traction. Only 12 percent mentioned it among the top two foreign policy priorities for Israel in the coming six months." Full results, here.
What’s the worst-case scenario for the Ebola epidemic? The WaPo’s By Lena H. Sun,Brady Dennis and Joel Achenbach: "The virus could potentially infect 1.4 million people in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of January, according to a statistical forecast by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday. That number came just hours after a report in the New England Journal of Medicine warned that the epidemic might never be fully controlled and that the virus could become endemic, crippling civic life in the affected countries and presenting an ongoing threat of spreading elsewhere." More here.
Over at the Pentagon, a big day for the F-22, which flew its first combat operation Monday night. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: "An Air Force official confirmed that the Raptor was used over Syria Monday during nighttime operations against the Islamic State … The F-22 fleet has been held back in recent combat operations, in part due to the small size of its fleet. While the Pentagon originally planned on a major buy of the Lockheed Martin-built jets, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed to end the plane’s production in the early days of the Obama administration." More here.
Pro tip: never salute holding a cuppa coffee or a dog. Marine Corps Times with the story on Obama’s unfortunate coffee salute and the outrage that ensued here.
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