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: Dempsey presents a scenario for U.S. combat troops in Iraq; Iraq’s former defense minister says help is needed; Hagel announces nuclear weapon overhaul; and much more.

  By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey presents a scenario for U.S. combat troops in Iraq as voices in Washington are growing to let the deployed American troops join the fight against the Islamic State. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said a new Authorization for the ...



By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey presents a scenario for U.S. combat troops in Iraq as voices in Washington are growing to let the deployed American troops join the fight against the Islamic State. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force would be "dead on arrival" in Congress without allowing for American troops to fight back. McKeon: "I will not support sending our military into harm’s way with their arms tied behind their backs."   

FP’s Kate Brannen reports: "When it’s time for Iraqi security forces to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, or territory along the border with Syria, it might be necessary to place American troops closer to the front lines, Dempsey said. "‘I’m not predicting they’ll need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it.’" More here.

The number of American troops in Iraq is growing. Last week, President Barack Obama authorized sending an additional 1,500 U.S. personnel to Iraq. The previous cap was 1,600 U.S. troops, with roughly 1,400 already deployed.  

Iraq’s former defense minister, Abdul Qader Obeidi, said additional American help is needed. Obeidi says the planned spring offensive to retake Mosul and the province of Nineveh, both captured by the Islamic State, is unrealistic because more time is needed to train the Iraqi army. At this point it could not succeed without  close-air support, army aviation assets, and logistical help from an outside partner to mount a cohesive battle against the militant group.

FP’s Gopal Ratnam interviewed Obeidi: "[W]e used to fight pockets of resistance in the past, now you’re going to be fighting a force that’s holding an entire province. At the same time, the most difficult battle is fighting in the cities. This requires specially trained forces. When we build such a force they need life support: logistics including ammunition, food, water, fuel…. It’s an entire system. You need a logistical system in place before you build a fighting force to operate in Mosul."

"Iraqi forces need the fire support and power. When we used to fight with American troops, there were special pieces of artillery. Americans used a special ammunition guided through satellite and had pinpoint accurate fire. Without such accuracy there’s going to be a lot of destruction." More here.

More on the Islamic State below.

The conflict in Ukraine rages on as Russia escalates the standoff with the West. Sophisticated Russian weapons not yet seen on the battlefield have been spotted near Donetsk. Russian planes are threatening American airspace. Moscow announced that it would scale back nuclear weapon reduction efforts with the United States. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered an overhaul of the U.S. nuclear weapon program to correct long-standing problems. It’s 2014, but it’s starting to feel a lot like 1984.

FP’s Michael Weiss and James Miller on the new Russian weapons in Ukraine: "Not since the last week of August have we seen such large of consignments of Russian armaments being imported into east Ukraine. NATO appears to have noticed, too." More here.

Days after Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, Putin has killed the spirit of cooperation championed by Mikhail Gorbachev, who warned recently that a new Cold War might already be here. The well of détente created in the wake of the Cold War has run dry. Whether this forces a rethink of American defense policy in Europe remains to be seen.

More on Russia and the Ukraine below.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

Secretary of Defense Hagel will speak about DOD’s nuclear reform efforts from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota this morning.  10:00 a.m. Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser talks about global energy developments at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 12:00 p.m. James G. Stavridis, the first admiral to take command as NATO commander in Europe, speaks at the William G. McGowan Theater in Washington, D.C. about his new book. 3:00 p.m. Oleg Mahnitskyi, senior advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaks at the National Press Club. 3:00 p.m. CSIS hosts an event on "Formulating a New Foreign Policy Approach toward Russia." Watch it here.

What’s Moving Markets

From CNBC’s Katrina Bishop: "Investors breathed a sigh of relief on Friday, as the euro zone’s economy grew more than expected in the third quarter and Germany narrowly avoided falling into recession." More here.

Ahead of the G-20 conference in Australia, which begins tomorrow, Australia doesn’t want to talk climate change. James Massola, Nick O’Malley and Philip Wen of the Australian newspaper The Age report: fearing a spillover from the U.S.-China climate agreement, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stressed that jobs and growth, not climate change, should be the focus of the meeting. More here.

FP’s David Rothkopf asks if income inequality is a bigger threat than the Islamic State. "The deeper we get into the recovery, the worse many of these metrics are becoming. Wages are stuck. Inequality is creeping steadily upward." More here.

Islamic State

The New York Times’ Rick Gladstone and David D. Kirkpatrick on the return of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now urging others to "erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere": "Mr. Baghdadi’s speech appeared to end days of rumors that he had been killed or grievously wounded in an airstrike carried out in northwestern Iraq on Saturday by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State." More here.

From AFP, U.S. bombs Al-Qaeda group for the third time in Syria. More here.

The Islamic State’s advance has been stopped in some places, reports the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan: "Among the tactical successes that Hagel described was Iraqi Kurdish forces’ expulsion of Islamic State militants from the northern town of Zumar and Iraqi forces’ advance into areas around the Baiji oil refinery after weeks of fighting." More here.

However, the New York Times’ Kareem Fahim reports the American offensive has angered civilians: "It was not that the militants were popular in Raqqa, according to nearly a dozen residents, who spoke in interviews in the city or across the border in Turkey. Rather, the Islamic State had become an indispensable service provider." More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Lauren Wolfe on the refugees trapped in Syria. More here.

FP’s Gopal Ratnam on Obama’s options in Syria: "The Obama administration is edging closer to establishing a safe zone in northern Syria that will allow rebel fighters to remain in the country without being forced out by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rival militant groups." More here.

From the Associated Press’ Deb Riechman, on a dangerous new partnership: "Militant leaders from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida gathered at a farm house in northern Syria last week and agreed on a plan to stop fighting each other and work together against their opponents." More here.

The Islamic State is getting better at avoiding U.S. spies, Shane Harris and Noah Shachtman report in the Daily Beast: "[T]hey’re encrypting their communications and taking steps to avoid being detected by U.S. surveillance, according to several current and former officials. Without American intelligence operatives on the ground in ISIS’s home base of Syria — and with only a limited number of surveillance planes in the air — those communications are one of the only surefire ways to keep tabs on ISIS." More here.

Stars and Stripes‘ Travis J. Tritten on the politics of the fight against the Islamic State: "Congress is under mounting pressure to weigh in on the new conflict and decide on parameters for Operation Inherent Resolve as the administration strategy evolves." More here.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Donna Abu-Nasr reports that the Islamic State is printing its own currency, the dinar, in another bid for statehood. More here.

Nuclear Review

From the Associated Press‘ Robert Burns on Hagel’s planned nuclear overhaul: Hagel "concluded that problems in the nation’s nuclear forces are rooted in a lack of investment, inattention by high-level leaders and sagging morale, and is ordering top-to-bottom changes, vowing to invest billions of dollars to fix the management of the world’s most deadly weapons." More here.


The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon on Russia’s plan to curtail its participation in a joint effort to secure nuclear materials on Russian territory: "The reduced cooperation is a byproduct of the general downturn in relations between Russia and the United States, which has been compounded by President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to intervene militarily in Ukraine. But it also stems from longstanding concerns among Kremlin hard-liners about a program that brings American nuclear experts to Russia’s nuclear sites and that, they fear, may create the impression that Russia is in need of outside help." More here.

A divided European Union is unlikely to decide on tougher sanctions against Russia at a foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, but will leave the decision to its leaders who are scheduled to meet in mid-December, Reuters‘ Adrian Croft reports. More here.

It may be a consolation to Putin that his participation at the World Economic Forum in January is not affected by the sanctions regime: The Russian President has received his invitation to Davos, as Bloomberg’s Evgenia Pismennaya and Matthew Campbell report. More here.

The New York Times‘ Choe Sang-hun reports that North Korea has sent an envoy to Russia: "Choe Ryong-hae, a member of the Presidium of the Politburo of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, will travel to Moscow ‘in the near future’ as the top leader’s special envoy, the Korean Central News Agency reported." More here.

Defense ministers of Baltic and Nordic states pledge cooperation against Russia, Bloomberg’s Saleha Mohsin reports. More here.


From Reuters, key questions remain ahead of the deadline for a nuclear deal: "‘I can’t make any predictions at this time. I think it will only be on the day of the 24th that we’ll be able to make an assessment,’" said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. More here.


The Los Angeles Times‘ Laura King and Batsheva Sobelman on Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to ease tensions in Jerusalem: "Kerry met Thursday in Jordan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and declared afterward that all involved wanted to ‘de-escalate’ the situation." More here.

From AFP’s Michael Blum, on Israeli security chiefs’ public fight: "Details of the spat were plastered across Israel’s main newspapers Thursday after Netanyahu’s office issued a statement urging chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz and Yoram Cohen, the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, to stop washing their dirty laundry in public." More here.


Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani has made it a priority to improve relations with neighbor Pakistan. The United States has a role to play in this reconciliation, writes Heritage Foundation’s South Asia expert Lisa Curtis in Foreign Policy. More here.

The New York Times‘ Rod Nordland reports that Afghan leaders missed their goal for choosing a cabinet. More here.


The Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett on the Justice Department program that spies on American mobile phones: "The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population. Planes are equipped with devices — some known as ‘dirtboxes’ to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them — which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information." More here.


After a meeting with Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Obama promises that the United States will keep supporting the country’s reform process despite recent setbacks. According to the New York Times‘ Mark Landler, the United States still views Suu Kyi as symbol of democracy, even though U.S. officials have been troubled "by her unwillingness to speak out more strongly about the violence against the Rohingya." More here.


From the New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernise and Helene Cooper on a reassessment of the Pentagon’s response to Ebola in Liberia: "American and Liberian officials are debating whether to build all 17 planned Ebola treatment centers in the country or to shift money from the Obama administration that was planned for the centers into other programs to combat future outbreaks." More here.

The Pentagon has begun its first quarantine of American troops in the United States, reports the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe: "None of the troops are showing any signs of the virus, but they will be in ‘controlled monitoring’ for the next three weeks. It marks the first time the military has monitored troops in that manner in the United States." More here.

Revolving Door

FP’s Kate Brannen had an exclusive on the Pentagon’s top Mideast policy official stepping down: "Matt Spence, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, told his staff this week that he would be leaving the Pentagon early next year. His successor has yet to be named." More here.

From FP’s John Hudson: "Ilan Goldenberg, chief of staff at the Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, has jumped ship to join the Center for a New American Security. Ever since negotiations collapsed between the Israelis and Palestinians this summer, the envoy’s office has seen a steady stream of departures. A source at the think tank says his first day is Monday."

And finally, from FP’s Siobhán O’Grady: "Bolivia to monkeys: move over for camels and llamas." More here.



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