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: U.K. and U.S. Marines end mission in Afghanistan; Feds and states split on Ebola response; Stalemate with the Islamic State continues; North Korea closer to a nuclear missile; and much more.

By David Francis The combat mission for American Marines and all British forces fighting in Helmand Province officially — and unexpectedly — ended Sunday. The announcement, which was not made public by the Pentagon prior to the closings of Camp Leatherneck for the Marines and Camp Bastion for the British, shows the White House’s resolve ...

By David Francis

By David Francis

The combat mission for American Marines and all British forces fighting in Helmand Province officially — and unexpectedly — ended Sunday. The announcement, which was not made public by the Pentagon prior to the closings of Camp Leatherneck for the Marines and Camp Bastion for the British, shows the White House’s resolve to end combat operations in Afghanistan. President Obama is standing firm on his commitment to get combat troops out of the country, even as some lawmakers, wary of a repeat of the current chaos in Iraq and Syria, warn of the dangers of U.S. troops leaving.

FP’s Lynch, on how the U.S. and British forces "high-tailed it out of Taliban stronghold"… But there were no White House statements issued Sunday to commemorate the occasion, no press conferences convened to celebrate the day. Instead, U.S. Marines and British forces in southern Afghanistan quietly lowered and folded their flags in a solemn ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, the largest U.S. base to be handed over to Afghan authorities, and Britain’s neighboring Camp Bastion to mark the formal transfer of power to the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps. The two countries lost hundreds of troops in Helmand, but the situation there remains so dangerous that the precise timing of the base closures was kept secret for security reasons." More here.

The Washington Post’s Tim Craig reports on the bloodshed in Helmand. "About 400 British soldiers have been killed there, as well as more than 350 U.S. Marines." More here.

Now that all British forces are out of the country, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon vowed that they would never be back. More from The Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith here.

Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian’s defense correspondent, on the failure of the U.K. mission: "There are few senior British politicians, soldiers or diplomats prepared to make extravagant claims about Afghanistan’s stability, saying that at best the U.S., U.K. and the other coalition countries have given the government in Kabul a chance…One of the biggest failures for the U.K. is that it did not stem the cultivation of poppies for heroin production," something British troops were specifically tasked to do. More here.

M. Ashraf Haidari, writing for FP, on how Afghanistan can finally quit its drug habit. Read his strategy here.

The New York Times’ editorial board also weighs in on the failures of efforts to stop Afghanistan’s opium trade. More here.

Josh Smith at Stars and Stripes reports that Maj. Paul Greenberg, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said that the alliance would provide "continued aviation support" to Afghan forces fighting in Helmand. Greenberg said the goal was to have the Afghan Air Force "fully operational by 2016." More here.

Right now, about 34,000 American troops are still in Afghanistan. Under Obama’s drawdown plan, that number is expected to drop to 9,800 next year. These troops would serve as part of a "noncombat train, advise, and assist mission."

Tim Craig at The Washington Post says U.S. money will keep going to Afghanistan. "Senate Democrats plan to keep supporting Afghanistan’s reconstruction but the spending must be linked to human rights reforms and closer scrutiny of whether the country can maintain its new programs and buildings, says a congressional report due to be released Monday." More here.

States and the federal government are at odds over how to stop the spread of the Ebola virus. Publicly and privately, federal public health officials are pushing back against the mandatory quarantine of medical workers returning from Africa by governors in New York and New Jersey. On Sunday, NIH Director Anthony Fauci called the quarantine "draconian" and unnecessary. Governors Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said that the federal response wasn’t doing enough after a doctor in New York City came down with the virus last week.

Last week, prominent epidemiologists thought the White House was close to calling for a national quarantine. However, Fauci’s comments on Sunday’s "Meet the Press" indicates the White House believes the solution to staunching the spread of Ebola starts in Africa. More from NBC News, here.

Illinois has also placed impacted medical workers under quarantine; Virginia and Maryland have not. More from the Washington Post here.

Late Sunday, Cuomo and Christie both eased their quarantine requirements. Both states are now closer in line "with federal protocols and marking a significant break with the way the policy has been carried out in New Jersey." The New York Times’ Marc Santora and Michael Shear, here.

Kaci Hickox, a 33-year-old nurse with Doctors Without Borders who has twice tested negative for Ebola, wrote a first-person account in The Dallas Morning News, saying her current predicament "is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me." She said she was hiring lawyers to challenge her quarantine, and also claimed she was being held in a cold tent with only scrubs to keep warm. More here.

Doctors Without Borders is "very concerned about the conditions and uncertainty [Hilcox] is facing and is attempting to obtain information from hospital officials." More here.

Via Mashable, photos of the tent where Hilcox is quarantined are here.

The U.S. response to the virus in Africa is taking shape. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power is in Africa visiting Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. From the BBC: "The Pentagon announced that a new commander, Maj. Gen Gary Volesky, had taken over the U.S. military mission to fight Ebola in West Africa. It said that troops from the U.S. 101st Division who arrived in Liberia 38 days ago had established two new laboratories and that a 25-bed hospital should be operational in the capital Monrovia by November." More here.

Writing for The Hindu in India, Nissim Mannathukkaren claims that global inequality is at the heart of the Ebola tragedy and criticizes the West — but also developing nations like China, India and Brazil, for their disproportionate focus on protecting themselves — rather than helping in Africa. More here.

Writing for FP, Kalev Leetaru argues that Ebola panic is not due to coverage of the disease from cable networks. More here.

The stalemate between the Islamic State and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces continued this weekend, with the Kurds gaining the upper hand for now. According to the Guardian, Kurdish forces pushed Islamic State fighters back in Kobani and near the Mosul dam after 12 airstrikes in Iraq and five in Syria Sunday, and 22 in Iraq and one in Syria on Friday and Saturday. It’s the latest in what appears to be a growing stalemate between the Islamic State and the coalition formed to fight it. It’s unclear whether further advances could be made without ground troops. More here.

From the New York Times: Islamic State missiles pose a challenge to allies’ aircraft. More here

FP’s Kate Brannen on the Islamic State’s recruitment of children as young as six, and what it means for the long-term fight against Islamic extremism: "The Islamic State has put in place a far-reaching and well-organized system for recruiting children, indoctrinating them with the group’s extremist beliefs, and then teaching them rudimentary fighting skills. The militants are preparing for a long war against the West, and hope the young warriors being trained today will still be fighting years from now.

"While there are no hard figures for how many children are involved, refugee stories and evidence collected by the United Nations, human rights groups, and journalists suggest that the indoctrination and military training of children is widespread." More here.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that fighting from the Syrian civil war is bleeding into Lebanon. From Hugh Naylor: "The violence is the worst in months and has centered in Tripoli, an impoverished city of predominantly Sunni Muslims that has experienced regular unrest because of sectarian divisions over the three-year-old Syrian conflict." More here.

The Guardian reports that the Islamic State is threatening to kill British jihadists trying to return home. From Mark Townsend: "A source with extensive contacts among Syrian rebel groups said senior ISIS figures were threatening Britons who were attempting to travel home. He said: ‘There are Britons who upon wanting to leave have been threatened with death, either directly or indirectly.’" More here.

More from FP on confronting multiple threats, this time from Tim Roemer on the threats that get ignored as global attention is focused on the Islamic State and Ebola. "President Barack Obama is fixated on both issues. Still, the administration and Congress must work together supporting a robust national security strategy to protect the United States from al Qaeda, cyber attacks, and other terrorism problems arising from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — not just the crises du jour. This comprehensive strategy should include critically important homeland security requirements, streamlining and reforming government, and strengthening the FBI to protect U.S. citizens from several imminent threats." More here.

The New York Times on the horrors American journalist James Foley endured before being beheaded. More here.

America has suffered its second casualty in Operation Inherent Resolve. It’s not combat related, but it’s the second American military death since the fight against the Islamic State began. More here.

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Who’s when where today: Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet is in Warsaw meeting with his Polish Ministry of Defense counterparts. They’ll discuss a range of topics including support for NATO operations and bilateral military cooperation. From DOD: "Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey have no public or open media events on their schedules." More here.

What’s moving markets today: 24 European banks fail stress tests, meaning they don’t have enough money to survive another financial crisis. This is bad news for Europe, which has been struggling to grow across the board. It serves as a reminder that the hangover from the European financial crisis has yet to go away. More here.

Elections in Ukraine and Brazil. Pro-western parties dominate in Ukraine, while South American markets are trending down after the reelection of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. More here.

China would like to use its status as the host of next month’s APEC summit to advance its proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. But its efforts are being overshadowed by the U.S.-dominated talks about a Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excludes China, writes Teddy Ng in the South China Morning Post. More here.

Homegrown terrorism comes to American shores. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said the attack on NYC police officers by Zale Thompson was "an act of terror." More from the Associated Press here.

In the wake of twin terror attacks in Canada last week, Stephen Walt writes in FP that increased security might not be the answer to confront extremism there. "With respect to international terrorism, this problem is complicated by the military role that Western countries have been playing in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, or Pakistan. As Glenn Greenwald argued in a heated but insightful column, no country — including lovable Canada — can expect to use military force abroad without eventually provoking a backlash, even if only in the form of an isolated gunman or a gang of homegrown wannabe jihadists." More here.

Also in FP, former FBI agent David Gomez says that money spent trying to stop lone wolves is not well spent. "The current discussion once again revolves around whether or not increased surveillance by Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies could have prevented the attack — and whether such efforts are worth the expense in terms of law enforcement manpower and the erosion of civil liberties in Canada. They are not." More here.

North Korea is one step closer to a nuclear missile. From FP’s Francis: "For years, North Korea has struggled to make strides in its nuclear program. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula, said that’s changed: North Korea can build a miniaturized nuclear warhead, a precursor to a nuclear missile." More here.

Revolving Door: Andy Marshal (known within the Pentagon as Yoda), head of DOD’s internal think tank the Office of Net Assessment, is retiring. Writing for FP, Jeffrey Lewis argues that this door revolved much too slowly. Lewis argues that Marshal hasn’t had a new idea in years.

"Over the years, Marshall’s views simply didn’t change very much. In 1988, he gave a talk that repeated the same themes as [a] 1972 study — although by then, Marshall was worrying about how to run simultaneous arms races against the Soviets, the Chinese, and, in all likelihood he thought, the Japanese. Marshall was also taken by the so-called ‘revolution’ in military affairs, although largely because racing the Soviets in precision munitions seemed like an area of advantage." More here.

From the Washington Business Journal’s Jill Aitoro: Computer Sciences Corp, an IT company based in Falls Church that provides tech services to DOD, is shaking up its leadership structure. You can find the details here.

And for anyone considering revolving the door by quitting a military job in protest, Peter Fever writes in FP that it’s a bad idea. More here.

Former CIA chief and current SAIS professor John McLaughlin on the troubled Asia rebalance. More here.

And finally… Looking for a glamorous backdrop for a company event? How about the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel? That’s where Porsche will celebrate its christmas party this year. More here.

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