Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: U.S. Shouldering the Burden in the Islamic State Fight; Possible Outcomes in Syria; Terror Fears in Canada; Investment Tips from Keith Alexander; and much more.

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel As the fight against the Islamic State rages on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the military burden is falling on the United States. Yesterday, FP’s Kate Brannen had a great tidbit: the Pentagon would no longer be giving any details on who’s doing what in the fight against IS. ...

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

As the fight against the Islamic State rages on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the military burden is falling on the United States. Yesterday, FP’s Kate Brannen had a great tidbit: the Pentagon would no longer be giving any details on who’s doing what in the fight against IS. Via FP’s Justine Drennan, here’s an updated list of who has done what to date.

A bit more on the Islamic State…

Military Times’ Jeff Schogol reports on new safety concerns after a recent kidnapping plot in Turkey, where thousands of U.S. troops and their families are stationed not far from the Syrian border. "The attempted abduction, reportedly carried out by Turkish gang members whom the Islamic State enticed with a promise of $500,000, targeted a popular Syrian rebel commander who had crossed into Turkey seeking refuge from ongoing violence across the border, according to a report by the Washington Post. It was a close call for the commander, who was shot in the stomach before managing to escape-and the clearest indication yet that the Islamic State has established a potent network inside Turkey, the Post reported.

"…An Air Force spokesman declined to say whether airmen in Turkey are taking extra security precautions in light of the kidnapping attempt." More here.

The Air War College’s Dr. Nori Katagiri is out with a new book that argues that we’re in better shape against the Islamic State than most people think. Katagiri in an e-mail to Situation Report: "In many cases, threats and power of ISIS are exaggerated. History of our engagement with violent insurgencies is not always rosy, but if history is a guide, it suggests that we are likely to adapt to changing strategic circumstances as we fight ISIS and its associated groups and individuals. What we have to do is to make sure to prevent ISIS from evolving into a mature armed political group. We are well suited in this regard as we seek to curtail their oil routes, pound their logistics bases with air strikes, train and advise local forces." More from the UPenn Press, here.

Are we doing better in the fight against the Islamic State than we think? Much of the news surrounding U.S. operation in the Middle East is negative due to a number of factors. First, there aren’t many reporters on the ground to observe what’s happening. Second, the advance of the Islamic State this summer was so fast that it took all of us-including the media-by surprise. Third, the beheading of two American journalists skewed coverage.

A new study from the RAND Corporation assesses four possible future scenarios for the conflict in Syria: prolonged conflict, regime "victory," regime collapse, and negotiated settlement. The full report, here.

Al Awsat’s managing editor Eyad Abu Shakra comes down hard on Washington for having no long-term plan in Syria: "Washington has thus far refused to clarify what the future holds for the territories it hopes the ongoing air strikes will drive ISIS away from. Indeed, it is quite unlikely that leaders in Washington, as well as other western capitals, spend sleepless nights worrying about the fate of these territories. This is based on pronouncements made by senior U.S. officials alluding to the fact that bringing down Assad’s regime is no longer considered a priority. This position conflicts with the declared policies of Washington’s Arab coalition partners, as well as Turkey." More here.

Meanwhile, terror fears grip Canada. A gunman attacked parliament yesterday and a soldier was fatally shot at a war memorial. Many details around the attacks are still unknown, but fears of terrorism are rising within Canadian borders. The violence comes as Canadian jets begin bombing the Islamic State, and after the Islamic State threatened Canada last month.

More on the shooter from WaPo’s Carol Morello and Mark Berman: "The gunman in Wednesday’s assault was identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old from Montreal, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials. He had recently been designated a "high-risk traveler" by the Canadian government and had his passport seized, the Globe and Mail reported. Later in the day, a U.S. law enforcement official said the gunman, a convert to Islam, had changed his name to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau from Michael Joseph Hall. He was also known as Abdullah Zehaf-Bibeau, the official said."

Are fears of Islamist terrorism in Canada coming true? FP’s Standish: "On Monday, a soldier was killed in what officials suspect as a terrorism-related incident when a man targeted and crashed his car into a vehicle carrying two Canadian troops. On Tuesday, Canadian authorities raised the terrorism threat level from low to medium, citing online chatter from radical groups about targeting Canada. Just a day later, a gunman killed a Canadian soldier, wounded three others, and exchanged gunfire in the halls of Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa with police and security personnel."

From NYT’s Shreeya Sinha, In the West, a Growing List of Attacks Linked to Islamic Extremism. More here.

I don’t really know what to say about this next item on Keith Alexander’s investment strategies. I’ll let it speak for itself. From FP’s Shane Harris:

Ex-NSA chief Keith Alexander was investing money in an obscure commodity run by a shadowy cartel (read that sentence twice to let it sink in). "At the same time that he was running the United States’ biggest intelligence-gathering organization, former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander owned and sold shares in commodities linked to China and Russia, two countries that the NSA was spying on heavily.


"At the time, Alexander was a three-star general whose financial portfolio otherwise consisted almost entirely of run-of-the-mill mutual funds and a handful of technology stocks. Why he was engaged in commodities trades, including trades in one market that experts describe as being run by an opaque ‘cartel’ that can befuddle even experienced professionals, remains unclear. When contacted, Alexander had no comment about his financial transactions, which are documented in recently released financial disclosure forms that he was required to file while in government. The NSA also had no comment." More here.

On to the ongoing Blackwater saga, with more from FP’s Drennan…

A federal court has convicted four former Blackwater guards of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007. "More than seven years after an incident that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead and severely strained relations between Baghdad and Washington, a federal jury on Wednesday convicted four former employees of the Blackwater private security firm on murder and manslaughter charges.

"Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Laurent Heard were among the Blackwater employees riding in a convoy of armored vehicles through downtown Baghdad in September 2007 who abruptly began firing machine guns and throwing grenades at unarmed Iraqis in a busy traffic circle, killing 14 and wounding 17 others. During the trial, the men’s lawyers maintained they were responding to gunfire at Nisour Square and acted in self-defense, while the prosecution said the shootings were unprovoked. Jurors in Washington sided with the government, convicting Slatten of first-degree murder, a charge that carries a life sentence, and the three others of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, and using military firearms while committing a felony, which means they each face a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison. All four men are military veterans." More here.

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Who’s where when today: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon for and meeting with the Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Han Min-koo, at the Pentagon at 1:15 p.m. The cordon will be held on the steps of the Pentagon’s River Entrance… Hagel and Han will conduct a press briefing tomorrow at 4:15 p.m. in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room… Under Secretary Wendy Sherman delivers keynote remarks on the EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran at a symposium entitled "Assessing Iranian Nuclear Negotiation Strategy" sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, at CSIS at 5:00 p.m.

What’s moving markets today: It’s already a busy day in Europe. There, leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss climate change and energy policy and Europe’s struggling economy, among other topics. The meeting is taking place as Europe gets some good news: manufacturing in the Eurozone grew unexpectedly this month, easing fears of a recession.

On this side of the pond, U.S. stocks are poised to rally. Will earnings reports coming out this morning allow them? Manufacturers are moving production back to the United States from China, according to the Boston Consulting Group. More on that here. Dark skies ahead for American blue chips like Coke and IBM, who are having a hard time navigating market volatility, according to WSJ. But defense stocks, once thought to be vulnerable because of the coming drawdown, are doing great.

For years, German soldiers quietly held Kunduz, a province in northern Afghanistan. Things are changing. From NYT’s Azam Ahmed: "In an area that has not been a primary front against the Taliban for years, there are now two districts almost entirely under Taliban rule, local officials say. The Taliban are administering legal cases and schools, and even allowing international aid operations to work there, the officials say." More here.

U-T San Diego reports on a congressional candidate who wore a U.S. Navy SEAL Trident for more than a year despite never completing the training to earn it. That story, here.

NATO fighter jets scrambled yesterday as a Russian spy plane-possibly looking for the sub in Sweden-violated Estonian airspace. The FT’s Sam Jones in London and Richard Milne in Oslo: "A Russian maritime spy plane flew into Estonian territory on Tuesday in the most serious violation of Nato airspace by Moscow since the end of the cold war. Fighters were scrambled from Lithuania-where NATO’s Baltic air policing force is stationed-and from Denmark and Sweden as the aircraft, an Ilyushin 20 "Coot," armed with an array of high-tech surveillance and electronic warfare equipment, circled the Baltic sea. Two military officials with knowledge of the incident said that NATO sovereign airspace had been violated.

"…The spy plane was intercepted and escorted out of Estonian airspace by Portuguese F-16 fighters, based in Lithuania as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission.

"…An Ilyushin spy plane flying in the Baltic also triggered NATO jets to be scrambled from their base at Siauliai on Monday but did not pass into actual NATO airspace. NATO officials are unclear as to whether the incidents are connected with the Swedish hunt for a suspected Russian submarine in waters close to Stockholm." More here.

Russia annexes and deploys forces to a tiny but strategic Arctic island. Tyler Rogoway for Foxtrot Alpha: "It is a tiny island, just some 500 square meters in size, that was just discovered earlier this year. Sitting just a meter above the ocean, Yaya Island will now be home to Russian forces and part of Russian territory, the result of just one more move to increase a militarily resurgent Russia’s claim on the Arctic and its vast energy resources potential.

"…Russia says that its strategic realignment towards the Arctic is in response to NATO and especially United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark’s renewed interest in it, but really, both sides are primarily interested in the regions potentially massive petroleum and natural gas deposits, said to amount between 17% and 30% of the world’s total supply. In addition, basing ballistic missiles at these high latitudes would allow for more rapid and long-ranged attack and could partially take the place of highly expensive ballistic missile nuclear submarine patrols, at least for the ‘first strike’ mission set. Even theater ballistic and anti-ship missiles could make operating in the arctic zone a dangerous task for NATO ships." More here.

Does Laura Poitras’ new film solve the Snowden riddle?  FP’s Groll, here.

Doctors say that the CDC’s new Ebola tracking plan is just political theater.  FP’s Francis: "A day after the Obama administration announced travel restrictions from West African nations-restrictions that federal public-health officials had once said were unnecessary-the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that passengers coming from Ebola-stricken countries would be monitored for symptoms for 21 days.

"…So far, none of the 562 who have been monitored under the CDC program has tested positive for Ebola. Details on how they would be monitored over the next three weeks were scant. According to Bryan Lewis, an infectious-disease expert at Virginia Tech University, the monitoring lacks true medical value." More here.

Laurie Garrett argues in FP that China’s response to the SARS virus ten years ago was "effective but brutal." She argues there’s a better way to stop the spread of Ebola. More here.   

CJA, the San Francisco-based human rights organization, is out with a new letter urging the USG to forbid torture in interrogations everywhere in the world and calls on the United States to reject the Bush-era’s interpretation of the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The letter is here.

And finally, if you like dogs, you’ll love War Dogs by FP’s Rebecca Frankel. Here’s a preview of the book, and you can buy it for the dog lovers in your life here.

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