Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: U.S. and Afghanistan sign bilateral security agreement; Repressive states take advantage of Islamic State fight; 60 Minutes blowback; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel Breaking — The U.S. finally signed a long-awaited security deal with Afghanistan today that allows American troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond this year. Finalizing the deal brings to an end months of hand-wringing and delays as the U.S. hoped it could avoid the worst-case scenario of withdrawing all ...

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

Breaking — The U.S. finally signed a long-awaited security deal with Afghanistan today that allows American troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond this year. Finalizing the deal brings to an end months of hand-wringing and delays as the U.S. hoped it could avoid the worst-case scenario of withdrawing all of its troops by the end of the year, leaving behind unfinished business and a precarious security situation (à la Iraq). The WaPo’s Sudarsan Raghavan in Kabul: “The Bilateral Security Agreement allows for 9,800 U.S. soldiers to stay in the country past 2014 to help train, equip and advise Afghan military and police forces. It arrives as the Taliban Islamist movement is increasingly attacking areas around the country in an effort to regain control as most foreign troops are scheduled to leave by the end of the year.

“The signing was undertaken a day after Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as Afghanistan’s new president in a power-sharing government in the first democratic handover of power in the nation’s history.” More here.

It’s still early days in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State, but it’s safe to say there will be numerous unintended consequences along the way. Last week, the United Nations provided a first glimpse at how good intentions can quickly deliver unwanted and unforeseen results. President Barack Obama championed and pushed through a measure that requires member states to take steps to prevent their citizens from traveling abroad to participate in or finance acts of terrorism.

FP’s Colum Lynch and Elias Groll: But the measure “could end up giving China and similarly repressive states such as Russia and Middle Eastern monarchies powerful new tools for cracking down on separatist groups branded as terrorists. The resolution, which is legally binding, is so sweeping and vague that it effectively leaves it to each country to decide who to target, and how, because there is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism.”

Martin Scheinin, who from 2005 to 2011 served as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism: “I am quite sure that [the resolution] will be used by repressive regimes exactly for the purpose of stigmatizing people who are not terrorists.” More here.

It’s clear the president tried to deflect blame Sunday night when he told 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft that the intel community had “underestimated” the Islamic State’s activities in Syria and therefore failed to foresee the group’s rapid advance into Iraq. But his comments received almost immediate blowback and rather than working to shift blame instead seem to be refocusing criticism on the president. FP’s Shane Harris: “America’s spies are having none of it, and since the interview have been pointing to various warnings — some of them public — that the intelligence agencies gave after the Islamic State attacked two Iraqi cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, in January 2014, and before they took over Mosul and Tikrit in June.

“In February, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), presented the Senate Armed Services Committee with his agency’s "annual threat assessment." The assessment had a prominent warning about the Islamic State: The group "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group’s ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria," Flynn said in his prepared remarks.” More here.

And you can read Flynn’s complete assessment from February here.

The intel community was tracking the Islamic State’s rise closely, but the White House wasn’t listening to the warnings. The NYT’s Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt: “By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq. But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq.”

Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: “This was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat.” More here.

Beware the run-up-to-war hype. We’ve seen it happen before. For the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain dig into what they call the fake terror threat used to justify bombing Syria: “As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the ‘homeland.’ A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

“The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded ‘The Khorasan Group.’ After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat — too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.” More here.

A new Marine Corps crisis unit will be based in Kuwait. Defense News’ Joe Gould and Paul McLeary: “Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Central Command will be equipped to perform noncombat evacuation, humanitarian assistance, infrastructure support, tactical aircraft recovery, fixed-site security and theater sustainment missions, said Brig. Gen. John Love, assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.” More here.

Meanwhile, the UAE wants to buy more than 4,500 MRAPs. IHS Jane’s Jeremy Binnie in London with the story.

Speaking of imminent threats, Obama’s terrorism alert system has never issued a public warning. FP’s John Hudson: “This month, as officials in the Obama administration trumpet new warnings about ‘credible’ threats to the United States homeland, the long-ignored role of America’s primary terror alert system is under serious scrutiny for the first time. The National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), a function of the massive Department of Homeland Security, didn’t issue any public advisories this summer as Western passport holders took up jihad in Syria by the thousands and anti-American extremists carved out safe havens in Iraq. In fact, NTAS, the successor to the George W. Bush administration’s color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, has been silent for longer than most realize.” More here.

A third video has appeared featuring British hostage John Cantlie who is being held by Islamic State militants. BBC story here.

The Islamic State is using wheat to tighten its grip on Iraq’s territory and population. Reuters’ Maggie Fick: “The group now controls a large chunk of Iraq’s wheat supplies. The United Nations estimates land under IS control accounts for as much as 40 percent of Iraq’s annual production of wheat, one of the country’s most important food staples alongside barley and rice. The militants seem intent not just on grabbing more land but also on managing resources and governing in their self-proclaimed caliphate.” More here.

The U.S. military’s operation against ISIS remains nameless. US News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: “The Pentagon usually selects names for operations, sometimes at random, sometimes to help sway Congress to provide financial or policy support. But ultimately it’s up to the White House to shape the public message of an important foreign campaign. This latest reticence to delineate the strategy — and offer some colorful terminology to represent it — has left many E-Ring watchers, including some who used to operate inside its walls, scratching their heads.” More here.

Operation United Assistance … The name for the military’s new effort to help fight Ebola in West Africa.

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Who’s where when: Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work will provide remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations at 8 a.m. in Washington… Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder will host a media roundtable on the topic of “New Navy Autonomous Swarm Technology” at 9:30 a.m at the Pentagon.

Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller visits the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and delivers remarks about the application of open source technologies to arms control and nonproliferation challenges at the Sam Nunn School for International Affairs.

This evening, the Project On Government Oversight hosts a special film screening of Tom Christie’s parody of the Pentagon decision-making process. RSVP to

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been missing for 26 days. Where could he be? FP’s Isaac Stone Fish: “While Kim’s disappearance is not unprecedented, it’s certainly curious. ‘Kim Jong Il did periodically disappear from view, as has Kim Jong Un,’ said Mike Chinoy, senior fellow at the University of Southern California U.S.-China Institute and author of the 2008 book Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis.

“Since taking power in December 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong Il, the younger Kim has had three prolonged absences: of 21 days, 24 days, and 18 days, in March 2012, June 2012, and January 2013 respectively. Today is Kim’s 26th day of absence, and because of the unyielding opacity of North Korean politics, it’s impossible to say where he is.” More here.

Keep an eye on Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters are bracing themselves for a bigger police response. The WSJ’s Jason Chow, Jacky Wong and Kathy Chu: “The mood at pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong shifted Tuesday as a festival-like atmosphere overnight gave way to one of apprehension ahead of a Wednesday holiday that celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“Despite a light police presence at the protest sites that have sprung up around the city since Friday, some protesters braced themselves Tuesday for the prospect of attempts to break up the crowds.”

Joanne Chung, a 24-year-old management trainee at a bank who joined the protests: "Tonight will be critical. Everybody should be alert." More here.

Mainland censors scrubbing news of Hong Kong protests were busier yesterday than they were on the anniversary of Tiananmen. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian for FP: “While protester ranks swelled as Hong Kong residents joined the demonstrations, China’s small army of online censors burst into action in China’s digital public square, quickly deleting related photos and comments posted to Weibo, a Chinese social platform with 46 million daily active users.” More here.

Panama’s new president, Juan Carlos Varela, sits down with Foreign Policy to talk crime, immigration, and reestablishing the rule of law in Washington’s Central American ally. Lally Weymouth for FP, here.

In case you missed it — A four part series on the “forgotten” war in eastern Congo, which has been plagued by violent conflict for two decades. The WaPo’s Sudarsan Raghavan: “It is a war that has claimed an estimated 5 million lives, many from starvation, disease and other conflict-related causes, since 1998 — more casualties than the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined, and more than any conflict since World War II. It is a war that the world’s largest and most expensive U.N. peacekeeping mission has failed to quell. The peacekeepers, heavily financed by Washington, are now engaged in their most ambitious effort in years to end the fighting.

“And yet the war remains invisible to most outsiders, who have grown weary of the unending cycle of violence. Today, relief groups have trouble raising money to help Congo as more publicized upheavals in Syria, South Sudan and elsewhere grab the world’s attention.” More here.

 The WaPo’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux with a story this weekend about the “Stealthy Starbucks” at CIA headquarters, here.


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