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: Obama at the Pentagon; Military chiefs huddle on the Islamic State next week; Never enough ISR; More Syrian chemical weapons; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel President Barack Obama is making a rare visit to the Pentagon today. There he’ll be meeting with combatant commanders at 3 p.m. to receive an update on the U.S. campaign to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State, as well as the U.S. military’s effort to help contain the Ebola ...

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

By Kate Brannen and Nathaniel Sobel

President Barack Obama is making a rare visit to the Pentagon today. There he’ll be meeting with combatant commanders at 3 p.m. to receive an update on the U.S. campaign to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State, as well as the U.S. military’s effort to help contain the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, according to National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. He’s also using the visit to thank members of the military for their service around the world.

The president will also be meeting with his National Security Council to discuss operations against the Islamic State, including efforts to strengthen the Iraqi Security Forces, train and equip the Syrian opposition, and build an international coalition.

Looking ahead, there’s another pivotal meeting on the Islamic State next week. FP’s Gopal Ratnam: "Military chiefs from more than 20 countries — many already involved in the fight against the Islamic State and some who are considering joining the group — will meet in Washington early next week to discuss progress on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as plans to create a ground force to consolidate gains against the group.

"… The meeting will be hosted by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from Oct. 13 to 14, according to a U.S. military official who declined to name the countries sending representatives because many nations participating in the bombing don’t want to publicly discuss their role. This is the first gathering of coalition military leaders, the official said." More here.

On the agenda: the possibility of creating a ground force to consolidate gains against the group. Why? Because airstrikes have had limited effect. AP’S Vivian Salama in Baghdad: "After two months, the U.S.-led aerial campaign in Iraq has hardly dented the core of the Islamic State group’s territory. The extremist fighters have melted into urban areas when needed to elude the threat, and they have even succeeded in taking new territory from an Iraqi army that still buckles in the face of militants." More here.

Another topic that could come up during next week’s discussions is the need for more ISR resources. With so many of Centcom’s ISR capabilities still tied up in Afghanistan, there is a limitation on what can be done in Iraq and Syria. FP’s Kate Brannen: "About half of Centcom’s ISR orbits are tied up in Afghanistan, with no big shift in resources since airstrikes began in Iraq in Aug. 8, [a] senior Defense Department official said without divulging the actual number of orbits. But that’s all about to change, as the United States plans to draw down the number of troops in Afghanistan to just 9,800 by January."

"… According to the senior Defense Department official, members of the coalition against the Islamic State are making small contributions in terms of ISR capabilities, but it’s going to take time to get them more fully integrated." More here.

Making people nervous — the Islamic State’s progress near Baghdad: The WSJ’s Tamer El-Ghobashy and Ali A. Nabhan: "Anbar province, a crucial buffer zone between Islamic State militants and the Iraqi capital here, is at new risk of falling to the militant group, officials from the region said.

"The officials said the militants have strengthened their positions in Anbar in recent weeks and on Thursday overran the small city of Hit-a strategically important route between Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi and Haditha city, home to Iraq’s second-biggest dam." More here.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State’s grip on Kobani appears to have been weakened by U.S. and coalition airstrikes, but it’s not over yet. Reuters: "The town has become the focus of international attention since the Islamists’ advance drove 180,000 of the area’s mostly Kurdish inhabitants to flee into adjoining Turkey, which has infuriated its own restive Kurdish minority by refusing to intervene.

"Islamic State hoisted its black flag on the eastern edge of the town on Monday but, since then, air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition that includes Gulf states opposed to Islamic State have redoubled."

Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister of Kobani district, told Reuters by phone: "They are now outside the entrances of the city of Kobani. The shelling and bombardment was very effective and as a result of it, IS have been pushed from many positions." More here.

Check out Andrew Quilty’s photo essay of the women of Kobani, who’ve left behind not only their homes in Syria, but also their husbands and sons who have stayed to fight. You view that at FP here.

Kobani has shed a spotlight on Turkey’s inaction against the Islamic State and exposed the country’s strategic calculations as it weighs an expanded role in the U.S.-led coalition. CFR’s Steven Cook for FP: "Even while [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] insists that it will take a ground invasion to keep Kobani from the hands of the self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Turkish tanks stand sentry along the border within view of the fight, doing little more than observing.

"… Erdogan’s inaction can be explained by the unique dilemmas IS poses for Turkey. Every policy response designed to resolve these dilemmas merely creates new challenges, from domestic politics to the long-simmering question of Kurdish autonomy."  More here.

The U.S. is increasingly dismayed by Turkey’s view from the sidelines. The NYT’s Mark Landler, Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt: "Even as it stepped up airstrikes against the militants Tuesday, the Obama administration was frustrated by what it regards as Turkey’s excuses for not doing more militarily. Officials note, for example, that the American-led coalition, with its heavy rotation of flights and airstrikes, has effectively imposed a no-fly zone over northern Syria already, so Mr. Erdogan’s demand for such a zone rings hollow." More here.

How it’s playing in Turkey. Hurriyet’s story: "Turkey has called on the United States to intensify its aerial attacks against the jihadist militants in northern Syria to avoid the fall of Kobane, a senior Turkish official has said."

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalç?n Akdo?an: "It’s great unfairness to claim that Turkey is doing nothing." More here.

Kurdish protests against Turkey’s inaction in Kobani turn deadly. Al Jazeera’s story: "At least 12 people were killed in demonstrations across Turkey, local media reported, as Kurds demanded the government do more to protect the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane from ISIL fighters." More here.

The Islamic State shoots down a second Iraqi military helicopter. AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra with more from Baghdad here.  

Has the U.S. turned off the Islamic State’s oil spigot? FP’s Keith Johnson: "Two weeks after the beginning of the Pentagon’s campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS in Syria, the U.S. military’s Central Command says that it has hit some 16 mobile oil refineries, a key piece of ISIS’s ability to make money off the oil fields found in territory it has overrun. But the Defense Department is not tracking the impact of those strikes on ISIS’s oil operations; that falls to the Treasury Department, which spearheads the fight against terror financing. A Treasury spokesperson said that it is too soon to make any formal estimate of how the military campaign has affected ISIS’s oil operations.

"Still, rough estimates are available. The Pentagon said that each of those mobile refineries could churn out between 300 and 500 barrels a day of refined products such as diesel fuel. So airstrikes so far may have wiped out as much as 8,000 barrels a day of ISIS’s refining capacity — or almost half the 18,000 barrels a day of capacity that ISIS was believed to have at the peak of its expansion this summer." More here.

Turns out Syria failed to mention the existence of four other chemical weapons facilities. AP’s Cara Anna from the United Nations with the story here.

The confusing evolution of how the Obama administration talks about the fight against the Islamic State and why words matter. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung here.

Will Syria be Obama’s Vietnam? Fredrick Logevall and Gordon Goldstein on the NYT’s op-ed page, here.

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Who’s where when: Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Dr. Mike Gilmore delivers the morning keynote at the International Test and Evaluation Association’s annual symposium at 8 a.m. in Arlington… Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet participates in an open discussion forum at the International Institute for Strategic Studies at 10 a.m.

Members of NATO’s military committee met in Virginia yesterday. The AP’s Brock Vergakis, here.

A compilation of Leon Panetta’s best jokes about his past life as a walnut famer. Spoiler alert: they’re all the same. FP’s Simon Engler with that here.

Drawing on the example of Obama’s recent appointment of Gen. John Allen as special envoy for Iraq and Syria, the WaPo’s David Ignatius suggests the president could be looking to shake up his White House team, which has been criticized for being too insular, after the midterms.

A senior White House official: "The John Allen appointment symbolized a broader openness to bringing in the best people in the country to think through and manage these problems." More here.

U.S. troops could be fighting Ebola for up to a year in West Africa. FP’s Kate Brannen: "The Pentagon’s fight against the Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa could last a year, the top American general overseeing operations in Africa said Tuesday, marking yet another expansion of the White House’s desperate fight to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

"The Pentagon has been steadily growing its Ebola effort, saying that up to 4,000 U.S. troops could eventually deploy to West Africa. Already, there are 350 on the ground, with about another 3,000 on their way.

Gen. David Rodriguez to reporters at the Pentagon: "We’re going to stay as long as we’re needed, but not longer." More here.

NPR’s Jason Beaubien in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, reports on the challenges and the progress being made on the ground. You can listen here.

The EU asks Spain for more info as two people are quarantined. The WSJ’s David Roman, Christopher Bjork and Shirley Wang, here.

The Navy’s top officer said Tuesday he would oppose sending a second carrier to the Persian Gulf region. Military Times’ David Larter: "During a live video question-and-answer session with sailors, Chief of Naval Operations Jon Greenert said he is satisfied with the level of naval forces in the Middle East, and said the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria shouldn’t require more ships or carriers." More here.

Hezbollah claims responsibility for yesterday’s attack on Israel. The Daily Star’s Mohammed Zaatari: "Despite its preoccupation with the Syria crisis Hezbollah claimed responsibility for planting a bomb that wounded two Israeli soldiers on the south Lebanon border Tuesday, two days after a Lebanese soldier was wounded by Israeli fire in the area." More here.

The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff with an Israeli perspective: "It’s thus likely that in the coming months we’ll see occasional flare-ups along the border but no all-out escalation. And yet, the outcome of Tuesday’s attack, which wounded two soldiers, could have been much worse, and one is forced to recall that in July 2006, no one predicted that a cross-border attack (with far more dire results) would precipitate the Second Lebanon War." More here.

Iran’s president says differences remain on the details of a final deal on the Iranian nuclear program: AP’s report from Tehran: "Hassan Rouhani says Iran and the six-nation group – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany – have come a long way in sorting out major issues but that they still differ over issues such as ‘quantity … The two sides face a Nov. 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal." More here.  

The Christian Science Monitor is launching a new section on security and privacy in the digital age. You can check out the site here: and follow on Twitter here: @CSMPasscode. To kick off the new site, Christian Science Monitor is co-hosting an event– featuring White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel– with the Center for National Policy. The event begins at 9:30 a.m. today. By signing up, you’ll receive information about how to watch today’s event online.

Finally, Peter Feaver writing for FP about why military leaders shouldn’t resign in protest over policy disagreements. You can read that here.

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