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: Turkey allowing Kurdish fighters into Kobani; Support for the Islamic State grows in Lebanon; Syrians killed in uprising against IS; Sweden hunts a Russian sub; and much more

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel Turkey, in a shift in policy, is allowing Kurdish fighters into Kobane. The shift came only hours after the United States dropped weapons and supplies to fighters in the besieged city. In a statement on Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced: "We are helping the Peshmerga cross into ...

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

Turkey, in a shift in policy, is allowing Kurdish fighters into Kobane. The shift came only hours after the United States dropped weapons and supplies to fighters in the besieged city. In a statement on Monday, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced: "We are helping the Peshmerga cross into Kobane. Our discussions are still underway. Turkey has been in ‘full cooperation' with the international coalition over Kobane."

More on the move from Turkish expert Halil Karaveli in The New York Times: "Opening a passage for the Peshmerga creates the impression that Turkey has changed its stance and is on board with the coalition against ISIS, but this move is actually in Turkey's own interests."

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

Turkey, in a shift in policy, is allowing Kurdish fighters into Kobane. The shift came only hours after the United States dropped weapons and supplies to fighters in the besieged city. In a statement on Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced: "We are helping the Peshmerga cross into Kobane. Our discussions are still underway. Turkey has been in ‘full cooperation’ with the international coalition over Kobane."

More on the move from Turkish expert Halil Karaveli in The New York Times: "Opening a passage for the Peshmerga creates the impression that Turkey has changed its stance and is on board with the coalition against ISIS, but this move is actually in Turkey’s own interests."

So why the change of heart? Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat, told The Wall Street Journal: "There are two reasons why Turkey was forced to acquiesce to this: firstly, a stronger awareness in Ankara that the fall of Kobane could upend Turkey’s peace process. Second is because Ankara wants leverage in Washington to help their ultimate objective of convincing the U.S. to give stronger support to the Turkish goal of regime change in Syria." More here.

With more than 135 air strikes, the United States is escalating its campaign in Kobane. On Monday, U.S. Central Command said they had struck a "stray" shipment of arms from an American airdrop in order to prevent "these supplies from falling into enemy hands." For more on the airdrops, see here.

FP’s David Kenner reports from Turkey on the moderate Syrian rebels who can’t get along: "The Syrian opposition coalition, which President Barack Obama has touted as the ‘legitimate representative of the Syrian people’ and supported as the opposition’s interlocutor in negotiations with the Syrian regime, has been plagued by a lack of funds and a crippling distrust among the exiled anti-Assad forces.

"As a result, the institutions that U.S. officials hoped could fill the vacuum in areas abandoned by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have been largely excluded from the international campaign in Syria. Washington has not coordinated with the FSA; in the words of one Arab intelligence officer, the loosely knit collection of militias ‘is not ready yet to control the ground.’ Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition coalition continues to be hobbled by a rivalry between its two major patrons, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have struggled to place their allies in positions of power within the organization." More here.

The Islamic State’s support grows in Lebanon as Sunni anger rises. The WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov: "In Tripoli’s Bab-el-Tabbaneh neighborhood, where an Islamist militia already holds sway and where Lebanese army checkpoints come under gunfire or grenade attack almost nightly, support for the Sunni radicals of Islamic State is clear. Giant murals of the militant group’s black-and-white flags are painted on the sides of buildings off the main thoroughfare.

"…Separated from Lebanon by strongholds of the Syrian regime, Islamic State is not about to take over Tripoli anytime soon. But it is posing an insidious threat from within. Among Lebanon’s Sunni community-27% of the population, according to the Central Intelligence Agency-the violent movement is finding fertile ground in the same kind of resentment and alienation that propelled its meteoric rise in Syria and Iraq." More here.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon denies that the Islamic State has air power. Speaking on MSNBC, Rear Adm. John Kirby said: "We don’t have any indication that they actually have fighter jets in their capability or even the capability to fly them, and we don’t have any indications they have any air defense or anti-air capability at all right now."

700 Syrians were reportedly killed in an uprising against IS, and no one is paying attention. From the Washington Post: "The little-publicized story of this failed tribal revolt in Abu Hamam, in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province, illuminates the challenges that will confront efforts to persuade those living under Islamic State rule-in Iraq as well as Syria-to join the fight against the jihadist group, something U.S. officials say is essential if the campaign against the militants is to succeed." More here.   

Mount Sinjar, where the U.S. fight against IS started, is in trouble again. More here.

In the FP newsroom, we often wonder how one can determine how the fight against IS is going, absent the presence of objective reporters on the ground. According to WaPo, satellite images are the key. "New satellite images-released by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and shot by Digital Globe-offer another perspective. The pictures show from bird’s eye view how Kobane has turned into a war zone." Check out the images here.

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Who’s where when today: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon for and meeting with Israel’s Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon at the Pentagon at 10:45 a.m. The cordon will be held on the steps of the Pentagon’s River Entrance… Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk will travel to the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman on October 21-31 to meet with a wide range of government officials, regional partners, and multilateral institutions in support of international coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.

What’s moving markets today: Are low oil prices snuffing out the U.S. shale boom? China posts better than expected GDP data, growing 7.3 percent year-on-year in the July-September period. It’s the slowest rate in almost six years, but beats forecasts. Defense giant Lockheed Martin announces earnings today; their data could be an indicator of the health of the defense sector.

Israel’s defense minister met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday in New York. The Jerusalem Post’s story: "Israel will not allow construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip if Hamas rebuilds infiltration tunnels destroyed by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday. ??During a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at his office in New York, Ya’alon expressed his concern over a Hamas claim that its members were continuing to dig underground passageways leading from the coastal enclave into Israel.?" More here.

Hamas and Israel are expected to conduct indirect talks next week in Cairo. The talks come two months after the cease-fire was put into effect and aim to tackle some of the long-term issues still lingering in Gaza. According to Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: "We have no reason to prevent the building of clinics or schools. But we do have to make sure that the supervisory mechanisms prevent them from using construction materials to rebuild the tunnels." More on the talks here.

The United States and Japan reach an agreement on access to bases following environmental incidents. Stars and Stripes’ Erik Slavin: "Japanese officials will have access to U.S. military bases in Japan following oil spills or other environmental accidents, according to a bilateral agreement struck as part of the ongoing realignment of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region. The supplement to the Status of Forces Agreement also grants base access to Japanese inspectors when surveying land that will be returned to the Japanese government, according to a U.S.-Japan statement issued Monday afternoon." More here.

Russia is seeking to further influence the entire Nordic-Baltic Sea region, and it looks like the sub in Sweden is another incursion. Erik Brattberg and Katarina Tracz for FP: "What can NATO do to keep the game from being changed in Putin’s favor? The alliance’s credibility lies in its ability to uphold Article 5 of its charter, which establishes a collective defense among the allies: An attack on one NATO country is to be considered as an attack on the alliance as a whole. While Sweden and Finland are not NATO members and thus not subject to Article 5, the nearby Baltic states are. Putin’s adventurism off Sweden’s coast is an implicit threat to those countries, too. Defending the Baltic states is about more than just reassuring allies. It’s ultimately about maintaining the functioning of the entire trans-Atlantic alliance." More here.

Sweden is hunting a Russian submarine. Too bad it did away with its anti-sub helicopters in 2008. FP’s Groll, here.

Russia and Ukraine finally agree on something: a new energy deal. But don’t expect it to last. FP’s Francis: "Moscow and Kiev have reached a tentative deal for Gazprom to deliver 5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas by the end of March, enough to get Ukraine through the winter. Russia had stopped supplies to Ukraine in June; Russia said it was because Ukraine hadn’t paid its bills, while Ukraine maintained Russia was using its energy as a weapon in the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

"However, the deal is only a stopgap. Kiev and Moscow will be back at the negotiating table in the spring, and history shows that gas deals between the two fall apart quickly. Gazprom and Ukraine are also still locked in battle at the International Court of Arbitration in Stockholm over the remaining money Ukraine owes Gazprom." More here.

In Ukraine, executions-and the propaganda around them. From FP’s Standish: "The Amnesty [International] investigation shows that extrajudicial killings committed by each side tended to follow a distinct pattern. Pro-Russian forces from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR] and Luhansk People’s Republic [LNR] targeted suspected sympathizers or collaborators with pro-Kiev forces, as well as ordinary criminals. One high-profile example was the execution, under the authority of DNR’s self-appointed minister of defense, Igor Strelkov, of two rebel commanders for looting." More here.

Is Ukraine using cluster bombs in its fight against pro-Russia separatists? Human Rights Watch says so. More here.

More on the Islamic State…

In Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry courts support against the Islamic State. The AFP’s story: "Kerry is among foreign dignitaries visiting Jakarta for the inauguration of Widodo, a former furniture exporter who is the first leader of the world’s third-biggest democracy to come from outside the political and military elites. During his one-day visit, the United States’ top diplomat will use a series of bilateral meetings to urge Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, and other Southeast Asian leaders to take more action against the growing threat from IS, officials said." More here.

In the fight to stop Ebola, Nigeria got right everything America got wrong. FP’s Francis: "Nigeria seemed like the ideal petri dish for the virus to grow. That’s what makes the World Health Organization’s announcement that ‘Nigeria is now free of Ebola virus transmission’ a massive relief in the fight to stop the pandemic that began in December 2013.

"…So how did Nigeria, a country with poor public-health infrastructure and a GDP of $510 billion, manage to contain the disease when the United States, a country with sophisticated public-health infrastructure and a GDP of $17.3 trillion, could not? First, a bit of luck: Nigeria’s ‘patient zero,’ a man from Liberia, collapsed in a Lagos airport, making it easier to identify those exposed to the disease.

Richard Downie, an expert on Nigeria at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: "What impressed me the most about the response, and somewhat surprised me given Nigeria’s track record in dealing with other crises, is that they were so thorough about it… They quickly amassed a list of anyone who may have come into contact with the index case. They hit the streets. They had a fast response, came up with a plan and did the legwork on the ground." More here.

Ebola panic has spread to the Middle East, too. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Lebanese Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said his country is "more exposed than other nations, as we have very large Lebanese communities in infected countries." More in Lebanon’s Daily Star, here.

In France and Australia, lawmakers walk a fine line between xenophobia and security. FP’s O’Grady, here.

The Arms Control Association released yesterday a new report on ways to save tens of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons over the next decade. "The Unaffordable Arsenal," by Tom Z. Collina, lays out options for saving roughly $70 billion over ten years that would still allow the United States to maintain warhead levels as planned under the 2010 New START Treaty. No new arms control agreements have to be negotiated to achieve these savings. The full report, here.

The Center for International Policy launched the Security Assistance Monitor, a new program and web resource that will track U.S. military, police assistance and arms sales with a focus on Africa, Central Asia, the South Caucasus and the Middle East. More on that here.

And finally, Oscar Pistorius, also known South Africa’s Blade Runner who was once celebrated for running on prosthetic legs in the Olympics, gets five years in prison for killing his girlfriend. More here.

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