FP’s Situation Report: U.S. alienates Syrian rebel groups; Turkey greenlights expanded role against ISIS; Boko Haram leader looks alive; and a bit more.
By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel Complaints and criticism about the U.S. strategy to crush the Islamic State keep rolling in from the Syrian rebels. Now, they’re saying Baghdad is at risk if the U.S. doesn’t change its approach. FP’s Shane Harris: "A senior member of a Syrian opposition group that maintains daily contact with ...
By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel
By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel
Complaints and criticism about the U.S. strategy to crush the Islamic State keep rolling in from the Syrian rebels. Now, they’re saying Baghdad is at risk if the U.S. doesn’t change its approach. FP’s Shane Harris: "A senior member of a Syrian opposition group that maintains daily contact with Syria’s moderate opposition forces, and who has criticized the administration for not consulting with the rebels on airstrikes, now says the U.S. needs to ‘accelerate and significantly modify’ its anti-Islamic State campaign in order ‘to prevent further advances toward Baghdad.’"
"… Whether Baghdad is really at risk of falling is a highly debatable point. The Islamic State has been trying to overrun the city since June to no avail. The Shiite-dominated capital appears, so far, to be impervious to the Sunni-extremist group’s advances, in part because tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen have made clear that they were prepared to fight to the death to defend the city. But if Baghdad were to fall, it would effectively put the Islamic State in control of Iraq and spell political disaster for the White House. That the Syrian rebels are connecting the fate of Iraq with their fight next door underscores how desperately they want help from the United States, and how unsuccessful they’ve been in securing it." More here.
The Nusra Front is becoming a thorn in the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State. The group is linked to Al Qaeda, but it’s also viewed by many Syrians as a key opponent to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. By targeting Nusra, the U.S. risks alienating the very people it needs to fight the ground war against the Islamic State. McClatchy’s Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay: "In its first aerial attacks on Islamists in Syria on Sept. 23, the United States hit not only Islamic State positions but eight bases belonging to the Nusra Front, reportedly killing around 50 fighters. Obama administration officials identified the targets as the Khorasan group, a unit of senior al Qaida figures whose activities the United States had been monitoring for months as it sheltered with Nusra.
"… The moves infuriated rebels and puzzled some analysts, who questioned the wisdom of attacking groups that, however distasteful, remain the vanguard of the anti-Assad fight." More here.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian talked about French participation in airstrikes in Syria yesterday, but no commitment was made. Military Times Andrew Tilghman with the story here.
The Turkish government gets an OK for military operations in Syria and Iraq. From Hurriyet, one of Turkey’s major newspapers: "A comprehensive motion authorizing the government to deploy the Turkish army into Iraq and Syria and to allow the deployment of foreign troops on Turkish soil was approved Oct. 2 in Parliament, providing the necessary legality for Turkey’s potential contribution to the international coalition’s efforts to destroy jihadists." More here.
Hagel praised the Turkish Parliament’s vote. The decision comes as the Islamic State closes in on the border town of Kobani, which has been under siege for weeks. The WSJ’s Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak: "Parliament’s action isn’t expected to herald immediate military action from Ankara, which is hesitant to send in ground forces or launch airstrikes without first securing agreement of a U.S.-backed no-fly zone in northern Syria."
In the meantime, U.S. airstrikes might ramp up to prevent Kobani from falling, says Aaron Stein, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. "What is odd is that ISIS artillery positions seem exposed and easy to hit, yet the strikes have been so few." More here.
The Pentagon says that medals for the new Iraq mission will fall under Operation Enduring Freedom. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman, here.
It is so difficult to get a glimpse into what life is like under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria because there are no reporters on the ground, but a new report from the U.N. provides insight into the nightmarish conditions. FP’s Colum Lynch: "The 26-page report — which documents rights abuses from July 6 through Sept. 10 — constitutes the most detailed U.N. account of crimes committed by the Islamic State and sheds further light on its mass enslavement of women and girls.
"… The trafficking in sex slaves is only one facet of the Islamic State’s violent campaign to transform huge stretches of Iraq and Syria into an Islamic caliphate. Forces loyal to the movement’s self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have committed multiple mass murders of ethnic and religious minorities like the Yazidi, Iraqi Shiites, and even fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to "repent" and declare their belief in the Islamic State’s harsh view of Islam. More here.
Iraq still hasn’t finalized its new government. Al-Awsat’s Hamza Mustafa: "Iraq’s main political camps remain unable to agree on candidates for two key ministerial positions, dashing hopes for finalizing a government line-up ahead of Eid Al-Adha." The needed positions: the interior and defense minister. More here.
How a "blonde, tattooed Texas girl" became an ISIS Twitter star. Jennifer Williams writes about her experience for Lawfare, here.
The U.S. military is once again about to launch huge train and equipping programs to develop ground forces to fight the Islamic State. But are they poised for success? FP’s Kate Brannen: "While the U.S. military has more experience and resources to do this than any other country, the track record remains mixed and is scattered with spectacular failures. And as the Obama administration launches ambitious new efforts in Iraq and Syria, experts point to the pitfalls inherent in training any security force."
A former senior defense official tells FP: "You have to have a clear political end state up front and then you have to resource that end state. This is strategy 101: You fight wars for a purpose. If you’re going to go in and arm a country’s military, then the political objective should drive that." More here.
Christopher R. Hill , the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, gives his version of what happened in 2011 as the U.S. prepared to leave Iraq. You can read that at Politico here.
The Islamic State is likely going to be the next president’s problem, perhaps by Obama’s design, writes FP’s David Rothkopf. You can read more on that here.
Meanwhile, The NYT’s editorial board says that moral case against ISIS is clear, here.
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Who’s where when: Rear Adm. Margaret "Peg" Klein, senior advisor to the defense secretary for military professionalism, addresses the Military Reporters and Editors Association at 12:45 p.m. More on the MRE conference here.
Correction from an eagle-eyed reader: In an item yesterday titled, "Checking in (and cashing in) with the NATO secretary-generals, past and present," it should have used the term "secretaries-general." Thank you … and please keep your feedback coming!
Hagel was a no-show at a much-anticipated Navy briefing yesterday. Defense News’ Chris Cavas: "After months of preparation, the US Navy was set Thursday morning to brief Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on its recommendations for a new Small Surface Combatant (SSC), and a delegation led by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus waited to make a personal presentation. ‘Everything’s ready to go,’ one source said of the Navy’s presentation.
"But the SecDef never appeared. According to several Pentagon sources, he was delayed by a prior engagement, and the briefing is waiting to be re-scheduled – no easy task, given the hectic schedules of many of the principals." More here.
A culture of long deployments is pushing sailors to leave the Navy. Stars and Stripes’ Steven Beardsley, here.
In an interview with Army Times’ Michelle Tan, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno talks about new deployments and his concerns about readiness, here.
The Obamas tap someone from their former detail to lead the Secret Service. The WaPo’s David Nakamura: "Almost as soon as President Obama decided that Julia Pierson had to go as director of the Secret Service, he knew exactly whom he wanted to replace her. On Wednesday, the president and first lady Michelle Obama, aides said, personally recommended to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough that the administration reach out to former special agent Joseph Clancy, who retired in 2011 after serving as chief of Obama’s protective detail for two years." More here.
President Obama needs to "change his mind about the nature and the duration of the military support America and the West gives Afghanistan," if he wants to avoid mistakes made in Iraq writes The Economist here.
Gen. John Campbell, six weeks into his new job as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, says he’ll provide advice on American force size as needed. Talking to reporters at the Pentagon via video from Kabul: "I feel very confident that we have a good plan, but as any commander on the ground, you know, I reserve the right to be able to take a look at the risk to the force, risk to the mission, and then provide my assessments to my chain of command as we move forward." Full transcript here.
British Prime Minister David Cameron made an unannounced stop in Afghanistan this morning. The Times of London’s Lucy Fisher with the story here.
Afghanistan’s Salang Tunnel, "the only viable land route linking the capital, Kabul, to northern Afghanistan," is in miserable shape and badly needs repair. But U.S. patience for big construction projects is dwindling and so the tunnel’s fate is up in the air. The WSJ’s Nathan Hodge with the story.
Chaos in Yemen alarms the GCC. Arab News’ story: "The [Gulf Cooperation Council] bloc has said that it would not stand idle in the face of factional foreign intervention in Yemen and called for the restoration of government’s writ in Sanaa. GCC interior ministers meeting in Jeddah on Wednesday also reaffirmed the group’s support to the strife-torn country within the framework of UN resolutions and the Gulf-brokered initiative for peace and security." More here.
Boko Haram’s leader, previously believed dead by some, appears to be alive and well. FP’s Siobhán O’Grady: "A new Boko Haram video released Thursday may have confirmed that Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria-based terrorist organization Boko Haram, is alive, healthy, and perfectly happy to literally flip off the West. So much for the Nigerian government’s insistence that it killed him two weeks ago." More here.
As Putin touts Russia’s economic strength, his economy minister paints a different picture. The NYT’s Andrew Kramer, here.
The United States on Thursday partially lifted a long-time ban on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam. Reuters with the story here.
How public health efforts are in America’s national security interests. Taylor Teaford for War on the Rocks: "Public health advocates welcomed President Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. military assets in an effort to stymie the Ebola epidemic raging in West Africa … While the principal goal of this move is to tackle an increasingly dire public health crisis, it also creates the potential to expand U.S. military involvement in a region where it has long been absent … The Ebola relief effort thus presents an opportunity to develop broader links with regional governments, engage the civilian populations in a positive way, and lay the foundation for a new era of United States-West African ties." More here.
An NBC news cameraman contracts Ebola in Liberia. The NYT’s Bill Carter: "A freelance cameraman working for NBC News in Liberia has contracted the Ebola virus, the fourth American known to have contracted the disease in Liberia. As a precaution, NBC News ordered the production team working with the cameraman, which includes Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the network’s top medical correspondent, to return to the United States and enter quarantine for 21 days." More here.
What can defense futurists and others really learn from video games like Call of Duty: Black Ops? Adam Elkus for War on the Rocks takes a look: "How about a game in which a supervillain can’t cause some sort of cyber catastrophe? Or a strategy game in which a plucky group of guerrillas are crushed by an authoritarian state willing to ignore the United Nations and kill its way to victory? … I doubt it would get good reviews from Kotaku, but it might actually be our future. It is after all, our present." More here.
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