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: Panetta’s book drags Hillary into the Iraq debate; a former French intel officer targeted in KG strikes; Biden walks it back; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel Today’s national security issues — from Ebola to the Islamic State — are poised to influence upcoming elections in the U.S. With Ebola’s arrival in the U.S. last week, it looks like the disease and the Obama administration’s response could play into the upcoming midterm elections, where control of ...

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

Today’s national security issues — from Ebola to the Islamic State — are poised to influence upcoming elections in the U.S. With Ebola’s arrival in the U.S. last week, it looks like the disease and the Obama administration’s response could play into the upcoming midterm elections, where control of the U.S. Senate is at stake. And with the U.S. launching a military campaign that could take years to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State, it’s clear that issue will still be with us in 2016 when Hillary Clinton is expected to square off against a GOP rival.

Two books coming out this week, pull Clinton deeper into the debate. FP’s Gopal Ratnam: "The books, by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, paint Obama’s inner circle of advisers as feckless and distrustful of the military, but the excerpts that have trickled out ahead of the Oct. 7 publication of both works also highlight Clinton’s opposition to the president’s handling of the Iraq troop withdrawal, discussions over what the United States should give in order to free missing U.S. prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl, and whether to arm the moderate Syrian opposition.

"Given Clinton’s name recognition and her possible presidential bid, accounts of foreign-policy dissension within the Obama administration on Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are likely to have resonance for some time to come. Indeed, the new books are likely to cause heartburn within both the White House and the tight circle of trusted aides advising Clinton as she considers a 2016 presidential run." More here.

You can read an excerpt of Panetta’s memoir, Worthy Fights, here.

And an excerpt from Hill’s book, Outpost, can be read here.

U.S. and coalition airstrikes are disrupting the Islamic State but doing little to wrest territory from their control. Whether this marks progress or not depends on one’s expectations going into the military campaign. The WSJ’s Nour Malas, Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib: "Fighters are fleeing their bases, they travel at night and in smaller units and are cutting back on cellphone and radio communications to evade detection, according to U.S. officials and opponents of the group on the ground.

"However, Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began."

Other signs of an enemy adapting: "In Syria and Iraq, they took down many of their trademark black flags, and camouflaged armed pickup trucks. They also took cover among civilians." More here.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby responds: "You know, everybody paints them as this great adaptive, capable, agile enemy. We’re pretty adaptive, capable and agile ourselves," he told reporters Friday. Full transcript here.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State released a new video Friday depicting the beheading of of Alan Henning, a British citizen. Its next victim will be an American, the group says. FP’s Shane Harris: "Following the Islamic State’s previous pattern, at the end of the video a masked killer shows the next hostage that the group promises to execute if the bombing campaign doesn’t stop. That man is identified in the video as Peter Kassig, an American aid worker." More here.

The parents of Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger who served in Iraq in 2007 and has since converted to Islam, released a letter the 26-year old wrote while in captivity. The BBC report here.

The Pakistani Taliban declared allegiance to the Islamic State on Saturday. Reuters’ Saud Mehsud and Maria Golovnina with the report here.

In case you missed it: An alarming twist in the tale — A former French intel officer was one of the targets of U.S. strikes against the Khorasan Group in Syria last month. And he survived. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero from Irbil: "A former French intelligence officer who defected to al Qaida was among the targets of the first wave of U.S. air strikes in Syria last month, according to people familiar with the defector’s movements and identity.

"Two European intelligence officials described the former French officer as the highest ranking defector ever to go over to the terrorist group and called his defection one of the most dangerous developments in the West’s long confrontation with al Qaida.

"… The former officer, according to one rebel source, is an explosives expert who fought in Afghanistan and in Syria with al Qaida and had assembled a group of about five men that was operating out of a mosque in Idlib." More here.

Vice President Joe Biden apologizes after publicly knocking Arab members of the coalition against the Islamic State. The backpedaling followed remarks he gave at Harvard University Thursday when he told students that Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia had funded and armed extremist groups battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were (Jabhat) al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world," Biden said at Harvard.

Forced to walk it back. On Saturday, Biden called Turkey to apologize and yesterday, he rang the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who requested a formal clarification of Biden’s remarks. Not exactly the best payback for joining the U.S. in airstrikes in Syria. The WaPo’s Liz Sly: "The furor over the comments, made during a foreign policy address at Harvard University last week, have exposed deep rifts between the United States and its regional allies over who is to blame for the rise of the Islamic State and how to go about confronting it, underscoring the fragility of the coalition formed to fight the extremist group. More here.

The Daily Beast’s Foreign Editor Christopher Dickey says Biden was merely telling the truth. You can read that here.

Starting six months ago, Turkey began cracking down on oil smuggling along its border, one of the Islamic State’s big moneymakers. The AP report from Turkey: "In about two dozen interviews, Turkish authorities, smugglers and vendors along Turkey’s 900-kilometer border with Syria paint a remarkably similar picture: Oil smuggling was a booming business until about six months ago, when Turkish authorities ramped up a multi-layered crackdown that has significantly disrupted the illicit trade." More here.

The Islamic State is using American ammo. The NYT’s C.J. Chivers: New field data suggests "that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power. Rifle cartridges from the United States, the sample shows, have played a significant role.

James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, the organization that is gathering and analyzing weapons used by the Islamic State: "The lesson learned here is that the defense and security forces that have been supplied ammunition by external nations really don’t have the capacity to maintain custody of that ammunition." More here.

Ebola is ruled out in D.C., but the arrival of the disease in the United States last week had the Obama administration scrambling Friday with an announcement at the Pentagon and an end-of-the-day press conference. FP’s Kate Brannen and Justine Drennan: "The U.S. military is quickly ramping up its response to the Ebola crisis, sending 3,200 U.S. soldiers to help affected countries in West Africa, where the disease has already killed at least 3,400 people since the first case was documented in December.

"Kirby said on Friday that up to 4,000 troops are now authorized for deployment, though that number could climb if commanders there decide they need more help. The growing military response shows that the Obama administration, which only two weeks ago said that it would send up to 3,000 troops, is trying to get an increasingly dangerous situation under control.

"As the U.S. military steps up its efforts, it’s also preparing for the event that one of its troops contracts the disease." More here.

The Ebola patient in Dallas is fighting for his life. More from Reuters here.

The NYT’s Adam Nossiter reports from Freetown, Sierra Leone, on how fights over "politics, money and power" are delaying desperately needed supplies from reaching patients. You can read that report here.

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President Barack Obama spoke at the opening of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial near the Capitol yesterday. The AP’s Ken Thomas here.

The WH’s nominee for the Navy’s No. 2 position is unlikely to be confirmed by the Senate anytime soon – and no one even knows where she is now. Defense News’ Christopher Cavas, here.

Is Estonia Putin’s next stop? The NYT’s Andrew Higgins, here.

Ukraine’s military says that separatists have violated the month-old ceasefire. Reuters’ Gabriela Baczynska from Donetsk: "Ukraine’s military accused Russian-backed separatists of fresh violations of a month-old ceasefire on Sunday, saying their forces came under attack in several parts of the east including the airport at the big city of Donetsk." More here.

North Korean officials pay rare and surprising visit to the South. The WaPo’s Anna Fifield: "North and South Korea have agreed to hold another round of high-level talks after a top-level Northern delegation, including the men thought to be second and third in command behind Kim Jong Un, paid a surprise visit to the South on Saturday. The unusual and unannounced trip – the first such high-level visit in more than five years – comes at a time of intense speculation about North Korea’s leadership, given that Kim, the third-generation leader of the communist state, has not been seen in public for a month." More here.

Despite a near certain U.S. veto, the Palestinians are making moves at the UN. FP’s Lynch on Friday: "Palestinian officials are circulating a draft United Nations resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from all occupied Palestinian lands by November 2016 and proposing the establishment of an international protection force for the Palestinian people, setting the stage for a possible diplomatic showdown with the United States on the eve of the midterm congressional elections." More here.

A top IDF officer says Hamas is back in the rocket-making business. The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, here.

Fierce fighting kills 17 in east Lebanon. The Daily Star’s story: "At least 14 Syrian-based militants and three Hezbollah fighters were killed in fierce fighting in a border area in east Lebanon Sunday after jihadists attacked positions of the Lebanese group in the area, security sources said. Militant groups attacked Sunday two Hezbollah posts on the Syrian side of the border near the eastern Lebanon villages of Brital and Nahleh, killing three of its members and wounding a number of others, the sources told The Daily Star.

"The sources said members of ISIS and the Nusra Front carried out the attacks, leading to clashes between the jihadists and Hezbollah. Fourteen militants were killed in the clashes, the sources said, and several others wounded. Hezbollah captured five militants, the sources said." More here.

Al-Awsat interviews IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on how the war against ISIS will impact the global economy, here.

The US Army is using Apaches against ISIS for the first time. Defense News’ Paul McLeary: "U.S. Army pilots for the first time used an Apache attack helicopter to strike Islamist militant targets in Iraq over the weekend, according to a statement by CENTCOM. More here.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah takes a hard stance against terror. Arab News’ story here here.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and the president continue to spar over whether Congress’s permission is needed to go to war against the Islamic State. The NYT’s Jonathan Weisman: "Mr. Kaine is an unlikely leader in the fight between Congress and the White House over a declaration of war. Genial and junior, the former Virginia governor was on Mr. Obama’s short list for the vice presidency in 2008. He became Mr. Obama’s handpicked Democratic Party chairman, then his handpicked senatorial candidate after Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat, announced his retirement in 2011.

"But Mr. Kaine established his position in May, when he introduced legislation to repeal the 2002 authorization of force that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq." More here.

Citing new military ops to fight the Islamic State and Ebola, the WaPo’s editorial board argues for a bigger Pentagon budget this morning here.

Libya’s parliament moves to small port city as dangers in Tripoli increase. The WaPo’s Yasmine Ryan: "With armed groups battling for control of Libya, the eastern town of Tobruk – with its well-protected natural port, close-knit tribal society and the absence of militias – has become one of the safest places to seek refuge. The city has become the unlikely center for a broad range of politicians, activists and military figures hoping to take back the Libyan state." More here.

With Ashraf Ghani in charge in Afghanistan, the NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg is allowed back in. That story here.

The Phoenix VA is still underwater. Stripes’ Heath Druzin: "Employees of the beleaguered Phoenix VA health care system say many of the problems that led to a nationwide scandal still plague the system five months after revelations of patients dying on secret wait lists, falsified data and a toxic culture. ‘As far as the administrative culture, I haven’t seen any change at all,’ said Phoenix VA doctor Katherine Mitchell, who was reassigned after reporting problems with emergency care at the hospital. ‘Certainly, my chain of command hasn’t been changed.’" More here.

Coasties have to save a guy running in a hamster wheel in the Bermuda Triangle. The WaPo’s Lindsey Bever with the story here.

For the WSJ, the International Spy Museum’s historian and curator Dr. Vince Houghton examines what’s true and what’s not in last night’s Homeland doubleheader. The full post, here.

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