Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Who’s doing what against the Islamic State; New offensive against IS in the works; Arab Spring fallout continues; Farewell to a DC legend; and much more.

Before we get to today’s news, KP’s Kate Brannen has an interesting tidbit on how the air campaign against the Islamic State is being fought. When the Obama administration announced the start of a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria last month, much was made of the five Arab states recruited to ...

Before we get to today’s news, KP’s Kate Brannen has an interesting tidbit on how the air campaign against the Islamic State is being fought. When the Obama administration announced the start of a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria last month, much was made of the five Arab states recruited to confront the group. According to Kate, the role these nations are playing in the coalition is now less transparent.  

"In fact, the Pentagon won’t be talking about allied contributions anymore at all: On Tuesday, in a quiet change, the Defense Department said it would no longer provide daily information on what its coalition partners were doing in the fight against the Islamic State.

"U.S. Central Command announced the shift Tuesday in its daily update about airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. ‘Beginning with this news release, out of respect for participating nations, U.S. Central Command will defer to partner nations to publicly comment on their airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq,’ the release said.

"The policy change comes after a week’s gone by without any mention of participation by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan or Bahrain in airstrikes in Syria. The last day it noted help from coalition partners was Oct. 14."

Now, on to the news.

A report in the Washington Post indicates that the United States and Iraq are planning an offensive to take back territory won by the Islamic State. From WaPo’s Karen DeYoung: "The plan, described as methodical and time-consuming, will not begin in earnest for several months and is designed to ensure that Iraqi forces­ do not overextend themselves before they are capable of taking and holding territory controlled by the militants." More here.

The devil is in the details. According to the Post, this new campaign might require "U.S. advisers in the field with the Iraqis, should that be recommended by American military commanders." This could represent an escalation of the American role in the conflict, as well as a potentially explosive political issue for the White House; President Obama has consistently maintained that no American boots would be on the ground in Iraq. But there is growing doubt that this promise will be kept: a new survey of Militarytimes.com readers show that 54 percent believe American troops will return to Iraq.

Iraq’s new defense minister has strong words for the Islamic State. Al Awsat’s story: "In his first televised speech following his appointment on Saturday, Iraq’s new Defense Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi pledged that Iraqi forces would retake all areas of the country that have been taken over by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ‘We are committed to the liberation of the provinces that have fallen under ISIS control and securing the return of refugees to their homes, securing peace and stability for our country,’ the new defense minister pledged on Tuesday." More here.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the Arab spring continues. Four year ago, the Arab Spring was celebrated in the west as the potential birth of new democracies across the Middle East. Now, it’s clear that the protests-and the issues that drove them-are much more complex that Western media made them out to be at the time. Tunisia is the latest example.

Tunisia is among the Arab world’s most educated countries, but militants are recruiting heavily there. The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick: "Nearly four years after the Arab Spring revolt, Tunisia remains its lone success as chaos engulfs much of the region. But that is not its only distinction: Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters than any other country to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

"[I]nstead of sapping the appeal of militant extremism, the new freedom that came with the Arab Spring revolt has allowed militants to preach and recruit more openly than ever before. At the same time, many young Tunisians say that the new freedoms and elections have done little to improve their daily lives, create jobs or rein in a brutal police force that many here still refer to as ‘the ruler,’ or, among ultraconservative Islamists, ‘the tyrant.’" More here.

Not only is it wrong to blame the Islamic State’s rise on the U.S. failure to secure a two-state solution-it’s also flat-out dangerous. Aaron David Miller for FP: "In any conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian problem, I’d be the first to concede that failure to resolve it damages U.S. interests in the Middle East and undermines American credibility. But what has become even more stunningly clear in recent years is that even if the United States could fix the Palestinian issue and produce a two-state solution, that accomplishment alone would not stabilize the angry, broken and dysfunctional Middle East. The region is already in the process of melting down for a tsunami of reasons that have nothing to do with the Palestinians. But talking about the consequences of not fixing the Palestinian issue, particularly in Chicken Little the ‘sky is falling’ terms, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been wont to do, doesn’t help matters-it makes them worse." More here.

One of the most influential Army officers of the Iraq theater on why the United States seems destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. For FP, John Nagl reflects on his experiences during the 2003 Iraq War: "The United States is now at war in Iraq for the third time in my lifetime, and after being in the middle of the first two I’m planning to sit this one out…Although it’s too soon to say how it will turn out, it is not too early to say that unless we get the endgame right, the United States will fight yet another war in Iraq before too long.

"…With luck, we have learned a few things from these decades of war in Iraq: that the enemy has a say about when wars end, that in the absence of American leadership such evil forces will rise to power that we get dragged back in to fix things again, that wars are messy and slow and last a long, long time. Unless we finally get it right, I expect a fourth war in Iraq. I’m not optimistic." More here.

Kobani has become the focal point of the fight against the Islamic State. This Syrian border town has emerged as the most important battle of the American campaign. Whether or not it’s strategically important-and DOD officials insist it isn’t-the optics of the fight have elevated it in the eyes of the international press.

If Kobani wasn’t strategically important to begin with, it is now. FP’s Brannen and Gopal Ratnam: "The Obama administration’s rapidly intensifying efforts to prevent Kobani from falling into the hands of the Islamic State have backed the United States into a corner. While Pentagon officials maintain that the town isn’t strategically significant, the United States has invested so much in saving Kobani that its fall would hand the Islamic State a publicity win and deal a symbolic blow to the U.S.-led war effort.

Shashank Joshi, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London to FP: "I think the U.S. was caught between trying to discount the significance of Kobani and then realizing that it had no choice but to be drawn in, because Kobani has become a token for the campaign’s ability to succeed with airpower alone… I think against their better judgment the U.S. found itself compelled to provide greater and greater airpower, even when that came at the expense of more consequential areas like Anbar province." More here.

From WSJ, U.S. Cooperated Secretly with Syrian Kurds in Battle For Kobani. More here.

Turkey has been a reluctant participant in the fight against the Islamic State. But with Kobani on the brink, there are new signs that Ankara might be forced to do more. Here’s the latest evidence: A kidnapping in Turkey shows the Islamic State’s broad reach. More from WaPo here.  

Did the United States drop weapons into the hands of the Islamic State? From the Daily Beast: At least one bundle of U.S. weapons airdropped in Syria appears to have fallen into the hands of ISIS. More here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. 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 david.francis@foreignpolicy.com 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. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @davidcfrancis and @njsobe4.

Who’s where when today: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey provides the keynote address at the Geno Auriemma Leadership Conference at 8 a.m. at the University of Connecticut School of Business… Yesterday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Todd C. Chapman met with senior civilian and military officials in Canberra, Australia, for the U.S.-Australia Political-Military Talks.

What’s moving markets today: Markets have been on a wild ride in recent weeks. Positive earning reports could end this roller coaster. Is the Ebola scare a threat to a business’s bottom line? Boeing, a giant in the defense contracting business, posts earnings of $2.14 a share vs. a $1.97 estimate.

Ban Ki-moon wanted to visit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone but decided that the fuss over his trip would hinder the fight against Ebola. FP’s Lynch with an exclusive: "It was conceived as a show of international solidarity with the people of Ebola-afflicted West Africa. On Oct. 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to make a surprise trip to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to underscore the need to end the region’s increasing isolation and counter what he has argued is an overblown fear of contagion.

"But Ban’s travel plan-which was not made public-has been quietly canceled. A week after Ban’s office instructed staff members to get their visas in order, it sent a follow-up note advising Ban’s entourage that ‘the secretary general’s visit to Ebola-affected countries will not take place.’"

"…The decision underscores the challenges that the United Nations faces in convincing a weary world that the Ebola epidemic, however fatal, is no cause to seal off a country’s border. Ban has struggled to coax airlines and shipping companies to operate in the region. ‘Isolation only hampers international efforts to reach people in need,’ he told the Security Council during a Sept. 18 meeting convened at the request of the United States." More here.

Obama’s Ebola travel restrictions come as paranoia about the disease in the United States is dying. FP’s Francis, here.

The gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine might be settled, at least in the short term, but tensions between the two countries continue to drive news. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Berlin yesterday, where he warned against returning to the mistrust of the Cold War. The 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling is next month.

In France, selling warships to Russia doesn’t seem like a great idea right now. But there’s someone else that could buy them-and make it a win-win for European security. James Stavridis and Leo Michel for FP: "France should propose a ‘lease to buy’ agreement that would bring the two Mistral ships under EU control and, eventually, common ownership.

"The strategic rationale for such a bold initiative is compelling. Since 1999, the European Union-with strong encouragement from successive French governments-has worked to develop the European political will and capabilities necessary to execute the so-called Petersberg tasks, ranging from humanitarian and rescue missions to post-conflict stabilization. Although the EU’s performance to date has disappointed many, European leaders remain committed, by and large, to playing a global role in promoting security commensurate with the EU’s economic and diplomatic weight. The Mistrals would provide the EU with a formidable and flexible tool to do just that." More here.

Poland is looking for a good deal on U.S. stealth missiles. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "Poland wants to buy cruise missiles from the U.S. Air Force ‘without delay’ if the price comes down, according to a spokesman for the embassy in Washington. Under a streamlined procedure for NATO allies, congressional committees this month approved a proposed package of as many as 40 of the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and upgrades to Poland’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets to carry them, together valued by the Pentagon at as much as $500 million." More here.

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta got the green light from CIA/DOD before he published his memoir, but he threatened to go ahead without it. The WaPo’s Greg Miller: "…Others involved in the process said Panetta became so frustrated with CIA delays and demands for redactions that he appealed to CIA Director John Brennan and threatened to proceed with publication without clearance from the agency.

"‘It was contentious,’ a former U.S. official said, and exceeded the acrimony that has come up in previous conflicts between senior CIA officials eager to capitalize on the demand for books about their careers and a panel that exerts extensive control over how much they can tell." More here.

Thirteen years after Wisconsin’s 829th Engineer Co. deployed to build Afghanistan’s war infrastructure, they’re back to tear it apart and take it home. Meg Jones for FP from Afghanistan: "When Nick Grob and Lucas Kramer first arrived in Afghanistan, the rubble from the 9/ 11 attacks on the World Trade Center was still being cleared in New York. Grob and Kramer were part of a small group of electricians, plumbers, and carpenters from the Wisconsin National Guard’s 829th Engineer Company that quietly deployed in the fall of 2001 with the task of building infrastructure for the United States’ war effort in Afghanistan. They built housing, installed wiring, and laid pipes.

"…Kramer and Grob find themselves in a bewildering set of circumstances that neither soldier could have foreseen. ‘I think it’s really neat that we turned the lights on in this war, and now we’re back turning them off,’ said Kramer. The troops are part of an unprecedented effort to save as much as possible, to recycle and reclaim billions of dollars’ worth of material used to wage a war." Full story here.

The Pentagon and State blame Afghans, not U.S. mismanagement, for resurgent poppy fields. FP’s O’Grady: "A report released Wednesday by Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko documented that despite investing $7.6 billion in counternarcotics programs there, opium poppy production in Afghanistan reached an all-time high in 2013. Yet, the federal agencies funding the programs claim they’re making progress and that the problem is a lack of cooperation on the Afghan end, not mismanagement of U.S. funds." More here.

After the NYT revealed that Obama could bypass Congress for a deal with Iran, Dems make noise that they want a say. FP’s Hudson: "Demanding a bigger role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, key Democrats are beginning to openly criticize the Obama administration for its plans to avoid an immediate vote on a deal aimed at reining in Tehran’s nuclear program. Full story here.

Sweden’s military calls alleged Russian submarine incursion "fucked up." FP’s Groll: "The Swedish Navy continues to stalk the waters off the coast of its capital for a foreign-all but certainly Russian-submarine, and the country’s military brass on Tuesday sounded an exasperated note to describe the unsuccessful hunt. ‘This is very serious,’ Sverker Göransson, the country’s top military commander, told reporters. ‘I would even go so far as to say,’ he continued, ‘to say that it’s fucked up.’" More here.  

China has a near monopoly of the rare-earths market, which is critical to many defense, energy and other high-tech products. In a new CFR report, Eugene Gholz, an Associate Professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, explains the potential vulnerabilities this poses to global trade and how China’s grip on the market is likely to diminish. Full report here.

And finally, Washington bids farewell to Ben Bradlee, the famed Washington Post editor who oversaw Watergate coverage and transformed the Post into an international force. He was 93.

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