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: IS turned back in Kobani; Turkey opens bases to U.S. troops; At least 85 killed in Iraq over the weekend; NATO convoy attacked in Afghanistan; and a bit more.

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel Thanks to the Kurds and U.S. airstrikes, the Islamic State has been turned back in Kobani. Late last week, Kobani appeared to be on the verge of falling. Now, after a series of American airstrikes and with an assist from the Kurdish peshmerga, IS has been turned back. Officials ...

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

Thanks to the Kurds and U.S. airstrikes, the Islamic State has been turned back in Kobani. Late last week, Kobani appeared to be on the verge of falling. Now, after a series of American airstrikes and with an assist from the Kurdish peshmerga, IS has been turned back. Officials fear that thousands could have been killed if the Syrian border town fell; some 200,000 people had already fled across the Turkish border to escape the group (Details on the battle for Kobani can be found here).  Fighting in Kobani had been taking place in view of Turkish tanks, which have refused to get involved.  However…

U.S. troops get the green light to use bases in Turkey. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt and Kirk Semple: "Turkey will allow American and coalition troops to use its bases, including a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, for operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, Defense Department officials said Sunday. Obama administration officials have urged the Turkish government to play a more significant role in fighting the extremists who have seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and driven refugees into Turkey.

"An American military team will arrive in Turkey this week to work out details of the training program and discuss what kind of missions can be flown from the Turkish bases, administration officials said. The basing and training agreement follows two days of talks in Ankara, the Turkish capital, between the authorities there and John R. Allen, the retired American general who is coordinating the coalition’s response to the Islamic State. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has been traveling in South America, has said the United States has sought access to Turkish air bases, including one at Incirlik in southern Turkey." More here.

At the same time, FP’s David Kenner reports that Turkey can’t seem to make up its mind on who is the bigger enemy, IS or the Kurds. There are two primary conflicts, according to [Suat Kiniklioglu, a former MP for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)], that explain Turkish reticence to get more involved in Syria. The first is between Ankara and the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State: "The primary problem remains the divergence on what the priority should be: Assad or ISIS," he said. "Ankara wants to know what the U.S. vision for Iraq and Syria is."

"Turkey has been pressing the anti-Islamic State coalition to broaden its mandate to include the removal of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently said that Ankara is "ready to do everything if there is a clear strategy" for Syria’s future — but argued that only attacking the Islamic State wouldn’t solve the root cause of radicalization, which is Assad’s grip on power."

"Ankara also is leery about bolstering the Kurdish defenders of Kobani. The militia is known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant organization that has waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Turkish state. If forced to choose between the YPG and the jihadists, many Turkish officials appear ambivalent: "For us the PKK is the same as ISIS," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last weekend. Another AKP deputy tweeted that the Islamic State may kill, "but at least does not torture" like the PKK."

Turkey’s refusal to get its own troops involved in the fight against ISIS is also hampering peace talks with the PKK. Again, NYT’s Semple and Arango: "P.K.K. commanders say their halting, nine-year-old peace process with the Turkish government and, indeed, the future of the region, will turn on the battle for Kobani and on Turkey’s response. If Turkey does not help the embattled Kurdish forces in Kobani, the commanders say, they will break off peace talks and resume their guerrilla war within Turkey, plunging yet another country in the region into armed conflict." More here.

All of this comes after a weekend where IS suicide bombs killed at least 85 people. "The triple attack took place in Qara Tappah in ethnically mixed Diyala province, an official from the Kurdish Asayish security forces said. He said the first bomber detonated an explosives vest at the gateway to a security compound that also houses the office of a main Kurdish political party. Minutes later, two suicide bombers plowed cars filled with explosives into the compound, causing heavy damage." More here.

The BBC reports that a roadside bomb killed the police chief of Iraq’s Anbar province. "Major General Ahmed Saddag was killed when the bomb targeted his convoy near the provincial capital Ramadi." More here.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition continued its fight against IS. From AP: "The top U.S. military officer says the U.S. called in Apache attack helicopters to prevent Iraqi forces from being overrun by Islamic State militants in a recent fight near Baghdad’s airport. Gen. Martin Dempsey says the extremists were within about 15 miles (24 kilometers) and had they overrun the Iraqis, "it was a straight shot to the airport."

Dempsey also raised the prospect of putting American boots on the ground in advisory roles, something that DOD brass has been warning might be necessary since the start of the American campaign against IS. Dempsey said that there could come a "time when he might recommend that American advisers accompany Iraqi troops against Islamic State targets. Dempsey thinks Mosul, in northern Iraq, could be the "decisive" battle in the ground campaign at some point." More here.

The Wall Street Journal is raising questions about the effectiveness of the American strategy to fight IS. Islamic State militants have gained territory in Iraq and Syria despite weeks of bombing by the U.S. and its allies, raising questions about the coalition’s strategy of trying to blunt the jihadists’ advance while local forces are being trained to meet the threat on the ground. "In Syria, fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have taken large sections of the city of Kobani in recent days, said Ismet Sheikh Hasan, the defense minister of the city’s Kurdish administration. "Most of the eastern and southern parts of the city have fallen under the ISIS control," he said. "The situation is getting worse." More here.

The prospect of sending more American troops back to Iraq has promoted an interesting suggestion. FP’s Justine Drennan:"The former CEO of Blackwater thinks he knows how to defeat the Islamic State: American mercenaries. ‘If the old Blackwater team were still together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be that necessary ground combat team,’" Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, wrote on his company’s Web site.

"There are plenty of reasons why this could be a bad idea," Drennan writes. "Boots on the ground would increase the risk of Americans getting killed, captured, and potentially beheaded, regardless of whether those boots belonged to mercenaries or members of the regular military. The move would be hugely expensive for the U.S. government and give it less oversight than it would have over its own forces. And it would hand the Islamic State a propaganda bonanza." More here.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is taking the White House to task for causing civilian deaths in Syria. From FP’s John Hudson: No longer just a PR problem for the Assad regime and radical Syrian rebel groups, the monitoring organization has begun publishing allegations of civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. military. And the observatory’s founder, Rami Abdul Rahman, says he’s not going to stop. "We are going to continue to document all crimes committed against the Syrian people as long as there are hearts beating inside all of us because we do not follow any government or any international intelligence apparatus," Abdul Rahman told Foreign Policy.

Republicans are also taking President Obama to task for his ISIS strategy. "They’re winning, and we’re not," Sen. John McCain said on CNN this weekend. More here.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice countered that the campaign to beat IS is going to take time. "It can’t be judged by merely what happens in one particular town or one particular region. The American people need to understand that our aim here is long-term degradation and building the capacity of our partners," Rice said on Meet the Press.

From Defense One, a reminder that IS is better than al Qaeda at using the Internet. Lauren Ryan writes, "From 9/11 to the executions of James Foley and Scott Sotloff, there seem to be no limits to the violence the two terrorist groups are willing to carry out. Now both groups use social media to wage their own brand of jihad, but they use it very differently. And their separate techniques not only reveal key divisions between the two terrorist groups, but also illustrate the depths of extremism that ISIS will plumb-and that al-Qaida won’t.

The Pentagon is estimating the cost of U.S. air operations in Iraq and Syria at about $7.6 million a day. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio with the scoop here.

FP’s Thomas Ricks writes the Army is asking itself, who are we and what do we do? Read his take here.

Is Baghdad about to fall to IS? From the Telegraph: Iraqi officials have issued a desperate plea for America to bring US ground troops back to the embattled country, as heavily armed Islamic State militants came within striking distance of Baghdad.. Amid reports that [IS] forces have advanced as far as Abu Ghraib, a town that is effectively a suburb of Baghdad, a senior governor claimed up to 10,000 fighters from the movement were now poised to assault the capital.

Lastly on IS, former CIA chief and current JHU SAIS professor John McLaughlin outlines a number of challenges facing the ISIS coalition. Read his take here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report, my first at the helm. How did I do? 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. Follow us: @davidcfrancis and @njsobe4.

In Cairo yesterday, donors pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild the Gaza Strip but the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process loomed. The NYT’s Michael Gordon: "An international donor conference here on reconstructing Gaza garnered $5.4 billion in pledges on Sunday. But even as diplomats highlighted the contributions, they warned that the effort to rebuild the Palestinian enclave could be jeopardized unless a diplomatic solution was found to break the cycle of violence between the militant group Hamas and Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry still believes peace is possible: "In remarks to reporters on Sunday night, Mr. Kerry said that a political solution on Gaza – one that met Israel’s security needs as well as the Palestinians’ insistence that their political rights be respected – could not be fully achieved without progress toward a broader Middle East peace deal. And Mr. Kerry signaled that he had not given up on the idea of forging a comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis even though talks between the two sides broke down last year." More here.

A reminder that the United States is still fighting a war in Afghanistan. From Al Jazeera:  "A suicide bomber targeting a NATO convoy in the Afghan capital has killed one civilian and wounded three others, officials said. The attack took place around dawn on Monday on the road to the city of Jalalabad, Afghan authorities said.

Who’s Where When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is traveling. Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno conduct a AUSA joint press conference at 11:45 a.m., …Commanding General, U.S. Army Pacific, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, conducts a press briefing on the topic of "Pacific Pathways-Asia Pacific Rebalance" at 12:30 p.m. …Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces Command, Gen. Mark A. Milley, and commanding general, First U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, conduct an open press briefing on the topic of "Army Total Force Policy Implementation" at 5 p.m…Commanding General, U.S. Army Cyber Command, Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, hosts a media roundtable on the topic of "Army Cyber" at 1 p.m. …Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Command, and U.S. Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, hosts a media roundtable on the topic of "Military Health" at 4 p.m. All take place at the Washington Convention Center.

Child rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Prize last week. FP’s Elias Groll asks if the award will backfire. "In some quarters of Pakistan, Yousafzai has become a symbol of Western interference in the country, and conspiracy theories abound that her story was in fact created by the CIA, which carries out ongoing drone strikes in the northwestern parts of the country." Read more here.

Where is Kim Jong Il? He hasn’t been seen in 38 days, leading to speculation about health problems. Via the BBC, more here.

The Key to Fighting Terrorism? Build Trust. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, home to a large Somali expat population, says outreach to at-risk communities is the key to stopping terrorism.

Edward Snowden wants a fair trial on American soil. He’s probably not going to get it. More here.

According to Russian state media, Moscow and Beijing are close to signing a gas deal that would supply China with Russian energy at an extremely low price. The deal was agreed to at the height of the Ukraine crisis and allows Russia to diversify exports at a time when it’s reliant on Europe, which gets its gas through Ukraine. Speaking of Russia and Ukraine…

Ahead of talks meant to secure a fragile truce between Russia and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled troops back from the Ukrainian border. "The Kremlin said the order meant that 17,600 servicemen, who had in the summer participated in military drills in the southern Rostov region on the border with Ukraine, would be pulled back."

Despite the cease-fire, fighting in Ukraine has claimed hundreds of lives. According to the United Nations, at least 331 people have died in eastern Ukraine since a ceasefire between Kiev and pro-Russia separatists was signed. Reuters estimates that 10 people are killed in fighting each day.

Alec Luhn writes in FP that Putin’s base in Russia is growing to include hipsters. "Set, or Network, in English: an organization that’s something of a cross between the Komsomol — the Soviet organization that once groomed youth to join the Communist Party — a street art collective for patriotic hipsters, and a personality cult." Read it here.

From FP’s Reid Standish: Don’t call Putin dirty names. It will get you arrested. More here.

On his first visit since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, UN chief Ban Ki-moon is in Libya trying to broker a peace deal between rival politicians and militias. "Instability has plagued the oil-rich country and the new parliament elected in July has been forced to meet outside the capital as rival militias battle for control of the city," says the BBC.

From Germany’s Deutsche Welle, at least seven people were killed by a car bomb detonated outside a café in Mogadishu. Al Shabaab is believed to be responsible for the attack.

At least 67 people killed by suicide bomb in Yemen. From the BBC: "The attacks come amid a deepening political crisis triggered by the rebels’ takeover of Sanaa last month."

A U.S. Marine was taken into custody Sunday for allegedly killing a transgendered person in the Philippines, reports Andrew deGrandpre at the Marine Corp Times. deGrandpre also reports that Gen. Jim Amos, the retiring Marine Corp commander, misled Congress on his completion of training early in this career. More here.

Hagel praises Colombia for its counterterrorism work. For years, Colombian forces have been battling the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Recently, they’ve made inroads against the group. Hagel will also visit Chile and Peru on his six-day swing through South America.

Central African Republic’s transitional president Antoinette Montaigne has opened talks with the Christian Militia that’s been terrorizing the country. The talks are an attempt to " to put a stop to days of heavy violence that killed one U.N. peacekeeper and injured more than a dozen others."

Nigeria’s Former Minister of Education and one of the coordinators of BringBackOurGirls, Oby Ezekwesili, said Nigerian citizens must step up to defeat Boko Haram. Via Nigeria’s Vangaurd News.

And finally, Ultrascan AGI, a group that tracks global terrorism threat, warns that health care and beauty products pose a threat. They call it Pharma Terrorism. Read about it here.

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