Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: How much will it cost to defeat ISIS; Obama says U.S. intel underestimated Islamic State; The grim task of no-fly zones; Ghani takes over in Afghanistan; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel As the United States moves into the eighth week of its bombing campaign against the Islamic State, the public still has little info about the the scope, duration and cost of the U.S. strategy. On Friday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States plans to train ...

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

As the United States moves into the eighth week of its bombing campaign against the Islamic State, the public still has little info about the the scope, duration and cost of the U.S. strategy. On Friday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States plans to train an initial 5,000 Syrian rebels, but that this would not be a sufficient number to retake territory seized by the Islamic State. For that, the U.S. would need to train between 12,000 and 15,000, a much larger mission than had previously been discussed publicly.

Dempsey also warned about what the operation could do to the Pentagon’s budget. FP’s Brannen: "The Pentagon’s 2015 budget was based on stable or declining military commitments, and congressional flexibility allowing the Defense Department to reform its pay and benefits system, close bases, and cut weapons programs, Dempsey said."

The military’s commitments have gone up (ISIS, Ebola, Ukraine …) and Congress has yet to grant the Pentagon much in the way of flexibility. So yes, the Defense Department is going to have budget problems, Dempsey said. More here.  

CSBA’s defense budget guru, Todd Harrison, is out today with a report on the cost of U.S. military operations against the Islamic State. He estimates that the United States has already spent somewhere between $780 and $930 million. Future costs depend entirely on how long they’ll go on, the intensity of the bombing and the number of troops deployed.

Assuming a moderate level of air operations and 2,000 deployed ground forces, the costs would likely run between $200 and $320 million per month, Harrison says. This adds up to $2.4 to $3.8 billion per year.

But if things ramp up significantly, to include the deployment of 25,000 U.S. troops on the ground, as some have recommended, costs would likely reach $1.1 to $1.8 billion per month, and $13 to $22 billion annually.

Key quote: "The cost estimates presented here highlight the high degree of uncertainty involved in current operations. One source of uncertainty are the desired end states in both Iraq and Syria-i.e. what the United States would like to leave in place if and when ISIL is destroyed." You can read Harrison’s full analysis here.

President Barack Obama acknowledged last night on 60 Minutes the extent to which the rise of the Islamic State took the U.S. by surprise. Here’s the key exchange with 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft:

Kroft: How did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?

Obama: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.

Kroft: I mean, he didn’t say that, just say that, "We underestimated ISIL." He said, "We overestimated the ability and the will of our allies, the Iraqi army, to fight."

Obama: That’s true. That’s absolutely true.

But his comments might not ring true with everyone. One former senior defense official told Situation Report that after the U.S. pulled all of its troops and most of its intel out of Iraq in 2011, today’s situation there became completely predictable.

And the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake writes that the record doesn’t support Obama’s intel failure claim. Read that here.

In the interview, Obama is fairly frank about the progress of the Iraqi government (not great) and chances for success in Iraq versus Syria. He also articulated the difference between having "boots on the ground," versus the 1,600 U.S. troops in Iraq now, saying, "There’s a difference between them advising and assisting Iraqis who are fighting versus a situation in which we got our Marines and our soldiers out there taking shots and shooting back." You can find the full transcript here.

70 percent of troops say no more boots on the ground in Iraq. The Military Times reader survey asked more than 2,200 active-duty troops this question: "In your opinion, do you think the U.S. military should send a substantial number of combat troops to Iraq to support the Iraqi security forces?" About 70 percent said no.

Marine 2nd Lt. Christopher Fox: "It’s kind of futile in the end – regardless of how well we do our job, the Iraqi government isn’t going to be able to hold up." More here.

On Face the Nation, Army Gen. Carter Ham warned the next phase of the fight against ISIS will be much more difficult. "As ISIL forces blend into the cities and into civilian populations, identifying and targeting them will become increasingly difficult," he said.

Ham also explained the "extraordinarily difficult" and bloody task of imposing a no-fly zone. "We should make no bones about it: It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel."

CBS’ Bob Schieffer asked Former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy who the president’s most influential advisor is right now. Her answer: "I think he hears from a number of key people, certainly his national security adviser, but also Secretary of State Kerry is very important, as are General Dempsey and a number of his military advisers." A SitRep reader points out that missing from that answer is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Read the full transcript here.

Syrian opposition forces, Obama’s key to defeating the Islamic State, say the Pentagon isn’t consulting them on airstrikes. FP’s Shane Harris: "Just four days after the United States began a campaign of airstrikes in Syria to destroy the forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Obama administration’s strategy is showing signs of backfiring and may be losing the support of some of the people it needs most to succeed.

"In a pointed statement issued Friday, a group that supports moderate Syrian rebel forces said it ‘condemns’ the U.S. bombing campaign because it hasn’t been planned in consultation with rebels on the ground, who could help direct American aircraft toward Islamic State fighters. Some rebel forces claimed that U.S.-led airstrikes have killed civilians, and they’re also accusing Barack Obama’s administration of taking its eyes off the main target — the Islamic State — to go after other militant groups that, while considered enemies of the United States, are nevertheless fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad."

Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command: "We have seen no evidence at this time to corroborate claims of civilian casualties, but we take these reports seriously and will look into this matter further." More here.

Abadi feuds with Maliki. Al-Awsat’s Hamza Mustafa: "Attempts by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to distance himself from the legacy of his predecessor Nuri Al-Maliki have created a rift between the two that is hindering attempts to appoint ministers to key posts, an informed source told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat the conflict between the two men ‘revolves around a number of important matters, the most important of which is Maliki’s insistence, along with that of his supporters within the State of Law coalition, on submitting Hadi Al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization . . . as a candidate for minister of interior, something which Abadi rejects.’ More here.

The Iraqi army is trying to win back deserters. The NYT’s Kirk Semple in Qush Tapa, Iraq with the story.

U.S. airstrikes fail to halt the Islamic State’s advance on Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish border town. The NYT’s Karam Shoumali and Anne Barnard in Mursitpinar, Turkey: "The extremist Sunni militants have been closing in on the town from the east and west after moving into villages with tanks and artillery, outgunning Kurdish fighters struggling to defend the area." More here.

Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. both see the Islamic State as a threat, but mutual mistrust is getting in the way of an agreement on strategy. Reuters’ story: "Moscow suspects Washington’s ulterior motive is removal of its ally, Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad. Washington refuses to consider working together as long as Moscow insists that U.S. strikes need Syrian and U.N. approval. Diplomatic efforts, from high-level talks at the United Nations to informal contacts in Moscow, have failed to resolve those misgivings, which echo broader problems in US-Russian relations, already at a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine, American officials say." More here.

White House still not ready to confirm the death of Mohsin al-Fadhli, leader of the Khorasan Group. Reuters with the story here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to be one 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @k8brannen and @njsobe4.

Who’s Where When: Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work attends a reception for alumni of the Center for a New American Security tonight. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, is briefing the media on the role of airpower in current operations in the Pentagon Briefing Room at 1 p.m… Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld discusses the military’s public-private partnerships at 3:45 p.m. at the Concordia Summit in New York (livestream here)…  Senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia delivers remarks at the Miles of Giving Foundation’s charity golf tournament in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Vice President Joe Biden announced Dr. Colin Kahl as his new National Security Advisor on Friday.  More from the WH here.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN today. Ha’aretz’s Barak Ravid: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday before leaving Israel for the United Nations in New York that he would refute ‘all of the lies directed at us’ with regard to Israel’s recently concluded war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on Monday. His comments come after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in his own U.N. address Friday charged that Israel had conducted ‘a war of genocide’ in Gaza. More here.

There is a new president in Afghanistan: Ashraf Ghani is sworn in. The WSJ’s Nathan Hodge and Margherita Stancati in Kabul: "Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani took office Monday in the country’s first democratic transfer of power, making a pledge to stamp out corruption and calling for peace with the Taliban insurgents who marked the day with a fresh attack in Kabul." More here.

The WaPo’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran tweets, "After all blood and treasure spent in #Afghanistan US delegation to Ghani inauguration will not include any cabinet members."

Have Russia and Ukraine finally ended their energy spat? FP’s Keith Johnson: "Russian brinksmanship over energy supplies to Europe is peaking, yet the European Union, Ukraine, and Russia apparently reached a deal to keep natural gas flowing, preventing millions from freezing this winter. On Friday, the parties struck a preliminary agreement whereby Russia would resume exporting natural gas to Ukraine –which it hasn’t since June– in exchange for billions in back payments. Although the arrangement only holds through March, and Moscow and Kiev still must ratify it, nervous policymakers from Brussels to Belgrade are starting to breathe again. More here.

The WaPo’s Carol D. Leonnig reported this weekend on the Secret Service’s fumbled response after a gunman fired several shots at the upstairs residence of the White House in 2011. Read that story, with scoops from inside the WH, here.

U.S. troops battling Ebola are getting off to slow start in Africa. The WSJ’s Drew Hinshaw in Liberia and Betsy McKay in Atlanta: "The American military effort against history’s deadliest Ebola outbreak is taking shape in West Africa, but concerns are mounting that the pace isn’t fast enough to check a virus that is spreading at a terrifying clip.

"On Saturday, a handful of troops from the Navy’s 133rd Mobile Construction Battalion led a bulldozer through thigh-high grass outside Liberia’s main airport, bottles of hand sanitizer dangling from their belt loops. They had been digging a parking lot in the East African nation of Djibouti this month when they received a call to build the first of a dozen or more tent hospitals the U.S intends to construct in this region."

A detail to remember: "The files on most of Liberia’s Ebola cases are stored in three-ring binders on a shelf in an abandoned World War II-era chimpanzee testing lab, filled with bats." More here.

At War on the Rocks, Paul Avey fires back at Tom Ricks’ charges that the most recent issue of International Security is "boring," and that political scientists are irrelevant. You can read his essay here.

Rival political groups to hold talks today in Libya, but militias aren’t welcome. Reuters’ Ulf Laessing: "Libya’s elected parliament will hold its first talks on Monday with members from an opposing city linked to a rival assembly, lawmakers said, starting a badly needed dialogue as the oil-producing country teeters on the edge of collapse.

"The House of Representatives, the internationally recognized parliament elected in June, was uprooted last month when an armed group from the western city of Misrata took control of the capital Tripoli and set up its own assembly and cabinet there.

"The meeting in Ghadames, a southern town near the Algerian border, was brokered by the United Nations in an attempt to prevent the country from descending into anarchy and civil war, three years after the uprising that ended the 42-year-rule of Muammar Gaddafi." More here.

Today at high noon, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosts a Twitter discussion on security and justice issues in Libya. Join the hour-long conversation with #USIPLibya.  Deets here.

Meet the Zumwalt: The US Navy’s stealth destroyer that will go to sea next spring. Defense News’ Christopher Cavas: "The ship is plainly visible from Front Street, across the Route 1 bridge in downtown Bath. Nothing like this angular, almost hulking giant has ever been seen here, even after well over a century of shipbuilding at Bath Iron Works. The futuristic shape of the Zumwalt, DDG 1000, has become familiar after more than a decade of graphics presentations and artist drawings, and models of the destroyer have been a staple at naval expositions for years. But now the whole ship is coming together, all construction blocks assembled and set afloat. People walk her decks and she rises and falls with the tide as all that planning turns into a real thing. She’ll take to the sea for the first time in the spring." The story with graphics here.

China thinks it can defeat America without a battle. Joseph Bosco for Real Clear Defense here.

Minor infractions are sending Cambodian refugees back to a land they hardly recognize — and once fled in terror. Katya Cengel for FP here.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola