Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: U.S. contemplates final strategy in Afghanistan; Europe fears a new Cold War; Kerry ties Assad to the Islamic State; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat The Pentagon is cementing plans to leave 1,000 security personnel in Kabul after the majority of U.S. troops withdraw later this year. The Pentagon also could retain the power to conduct air attacks to support local troops until the formal mission to Afghanistan concludes. These are among several decisions ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

The Pentagon is cementing plans to leave 1,000 security personnel in Kabul after the majority of U.S. troops withdraw later this year. The Pentagon also could retain the power to conduct air attacks to support local troops until the formal mission to Afghanistan concludes. These are among several decisions Pentagon planners are making as the United States plans to end more than a decade of war.

The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe: "Gen. John F. Campbell is weighing several major decisions that may determine how quickly U.S. troops will withdraw next year, how far they will go in helping Afghan forces fight and how many Americans will remain on the ground when President Obama leaves office…The final size of the stay-behind presence at the embassy, expected to be far larger than a similar civilian-led office established when U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, provides possible hints about the scale of the military and financial support that U.S. officials believe Afghanistan’s forces will require well into the future." More here.

Campbell is making these decisions amid concerns that the withdrawal of U.S. troops could create a power vacuum that could allow the Taliban to return. There are also worries that weak Afghan security forces could allow a repeat of what’s happening in Iraq and Syria. However, reports yesterday indicated that Afghan security forces scored a victory over the Taliban in the western Farah Province, an encouraging development for the beleaguered Afghan army.

There are growing concerns in Europe that the conflict in Ukraine is turning into a larger, Cold-War style effort by Russia to exert its influence in Eastern Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili sounded alarms yesterday, reflecting growing fears throughout Europe that Russia has ambitions outside of Ukraine.

From the Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski, Naftali Bendavid and Alan Cullison: "‘This is not just about Ukraine,’ Ms. Merkel said in a question-and-answer session after giving a foreign-policy speech in Sydney. ‘This is about Moldova, this is about Georgia, and if this continues then one will have to ask about Serbia and one will have to ask about the countries of the Western Balkans.’" More here.

Despite these warnings, European leaders refused to pass new economic penalties against Russia on Monday. The failure to levy new sanctions is a public acknowledgement that the sanctions are simply not working. European leaders did pledge to up the diplomatic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a tactic that has failed so far.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State have a symbiotic relationship. Speaking at Foreign Policy’s annual Transformational Trends conference, Kerry said the Obama administration’s emerging strategy to dislodge Assad focuses on tying Assad to the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Kerry also disputed the notion that coalition airstrikes inside Syria are helping Assad.

FP’s John Hudson and Gopal Ratnam: "The Obama administration’s strategy against the Islamic State initially focused on stopping the militants’ advances in Iraq but recently the U.S. and its partners have realized that without degrading ISIL’s stronghold inside Syria, the group can’t be defeated inside Iraq. The anti-ISIL coalition is also seeing that moderate rebel groups fighting the Islamic State and who could potentially be an alternative to Assad are facing mounting attacks by both the Syrian regime and ISIL militants." More here.

Kerry’s insight into the Obama administration’s thinking comes as the White House assess whether it should step up covert aid to rebels while an overt Pentagon plan to train opposition groups gets underway. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen also revealed details about Islamic State finances. He said that fighters are paid about $1,000 per month and the group generates between $1 million per day and a few million dollars per week in oil revenue.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the Situation Report.

If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Send me a note at and I’ll sign you up. Like what you see? Tell a friend. Don’t like what you see? Tell me. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to me early. Follow me: @davidcfrancis.

Who’s Where When Today

10:00 a.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets to examine U.S. strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 2:30 p.m. Senate Intelligence Committee has a closed-door briefing.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is traveling. 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.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in London where he’s set to meet British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

What’s Moving Markets

From the Guardian’s Graeme Wearden: "[European Central Bank chief Mario] Draghi gave a clear signal that the ECB could begin buying eurozone government debt if its existing stimulus measures don’t bring inflation back to target." The announcement comes as Japan’s economy sinks into recession, renewing fears of a global slowdown. More here.

More on Europe and Japan from the New York Times‘ Jonathan Soble and Liz Alderman: "Europe must now decide whether to follow Japan’s lead by injecting more money into the economy, as the region’s central bank considers a similarly aggressive bond-buying campaign known as quantitative easing. And the United States, which just ended its own six-year stimulus effort, doesn’t offer much of a cushion should other economies stumble further." More here.

Writing for China’s Global Times, Ding Yifang argues that investing in its strategic partner Russia is well worth the financial risks: "International investment in particular involves special risks that result from political, price and contract default factors. While it’s necessary to watch these risks, more attention is needed on strategic interests." More here.


Radio Free Afghanistan has details on the Afghan success in Farah Province. "Farah police chief, Abdul Razzaq Yaqoobi, said 18 militants were killed and 13 others wounded after government forces in the Bala Buluk district received reinforcements on November 17." More here.

The Wall Street Journal’s Habib Khan Totakhil and Ehsanullah Amiri on a Taliban attack in Kabul: "Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said the target was an advisory company working for the U.S.-led coalition." More here.

Islamic State

Defense One‘s Molly O’Toole reports officials are in the dark on Obama’s new war powers. "[S]enior officials at the Pentagon and on the Hill say they don’t know what the administration will propose for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), or when the White House will propose it — if at all." More here.

The New York Times‘ Alan Cowell and Maïa De La Baume with details on the Westerners who appeared in Paul Kassig’s beheading video: "The identifications were made by a British father whose son had traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State, and by senior French officials who saw in the video footage a French citizen they had been monitoring for years." More here.

The Daily Beast‘s Shane Harris on Obama’s review of U.S. hostage-negotiation policy: "The review, which will include a specific emphasis on how the U.S. treats hostages’ family members, follows criticism that current hostage-negotiation operations are plagued by bureaucratic infighting and a lack of leadership, particularly by the White House." More here.

The Washington Post‘s Carol Morello on the refugee "mega-crisis" caused by the Islamic State: "More than 13 million people, roughly the equivalent of Istanbul or greater metropolitan London, have been displaced by the conflict in the two countries, said António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees." More here.

Vocativ‘s Lindsey Snell provides a rare report from inside Kobani: "We spent five days in the embattled city, going to the front lines and talking to fighters, all of whom said they needed more help from the West in the form of heavy weaponry." More here.

Apart from oil revenues, the Islamic State also raises money through the sale of archeological artifacts. "ISIS’ illicit antiquities trade has been a lucrative source of revenue for the group, aided by a growing black market of willing buyers who allow items as big as statues and as small as cylinder seals to make their way from the ground in Iraq and Syria to auction houses and museums in Asia, Europe and the United States," reports Kathleen Caulderwood for the International Business Times. More here.

Reuters‘ Saud Mehsud and Mubasher Bukhari on a Talibani splinter group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State: "Jundullah announced its backing after meeting a three-man delegation representing IS led by al Zubair al Kuwaiti." More here.

Reuters’ Raheem Salman with details on the fight in Baiji: "If confirmed, the recovery of the facility could provide critical momentum for government forces charged with restoring stability in a country facing its worst security crisis since dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003." More here.

The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad: "Funding for the fight to combat Ebola and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will be addressed in the lame-duck spending bill, a GOP leadership aide told The Hill Monday." More here. 

Stars and Stripes’ Chris Carroll: "According to a report this weekend in the Istanbul-based Hurriyet Daily News, military officials from both countries agreed that the U.S. would begin training and equipping 2,000 Free Syrian Army fighters at a training center in central Turkey in late December." More here.


The West is provoking Russia into a new Cold War, Putin said in a prime time interview on German television. The Guardian‘s Alec Luhn reports from Moscow: "Putin said two rounds of NATO expansion in central and eastern Europe had been ‘significant geopolitical game changers’ that forced Russia to respond." More here.

Germany, once Moscow’s closest Western ally, is starting to see Russia as an adversary, der Spiegel staff reports. "Gernot Erler…is the German government’s Russia liaison and he has spent much of his political career working towards better relations between Germany and Russia. But his recent trip to the Russian capital was a painful one. There was no one in parliament who was willing to speak with him." More here.

The New York Times‘ Alison Smale reports that one German and several Polish diplomats have been expelled from Russia. "The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that a number of Polish diplomats were being sent home in retaliation for the ‘unfriendly and unfounded’ expulsion of Russian diplomats from Poland this month. More here.

The Daily Beast‘s Jamie Dettmer reports that Ukrainians are preparing for all-out war. "Few doubt here that something is afoot. There is an air of anticipation about the Russian military build-up in recent days and the sending of reinforcements by the Kiev government to bolster defenses against a possible redoubled offensive." More here.

The European Union won’t increase economic sanctions on Russia. But it will punish pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine. More from the New York Times’ James Kanter here.

Putin will not allow a rebel defeat in Ukraine. More from USA Today, here.

Foreign Policy’s Global Thinkers

Check out Foreign Policy’s annual list of the 100 leading global thinkers shaping international affairs.


The Wall Street Journal‘s Laurence Norman reports critical differences have yet to be resolved ahead of the Nov. 24 nuclear deal deadline. "Negotiations resume Tuesday in Vienna…Western officials have said in recent days that while months of talks have significantly narrowed differences, it isn’t yet clear whether Iran’s negotiating team has the political space to make further compromises on outstanding issues." More here.

Newsweek‘s Jonathan Broder on why Congress would kill any deal with Iran: "[N]o matter what deal emerges, pro-Israel lawmakers in the new, Republican-led Congress are preparing to crush it." More here.

Reuters reports the United States is disappointed with Iran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. "Western officials say Iran must improve cooperation with the long-running International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inquiry as part of a broader diplomatic settlement which Tehran and six world powers aim to reach by a self-imposed Nov. 24 deadline." More here.


The Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash and Daniela Deane on attacks in Jerusalem: "The early morning attack was the worst attack in Jerusalem in years – harkening back to the worst days of the Palestinian intifadas, or uprisings, and is certain to enflame a city already on a knife-edge amid rising tensions between Jews and Palestinians over a contested religious site." More here.

The New York Times‘ Kareem Fahim and Merna Thomas on Egypt’s planned expansion of security zones along the Gaza Strip: "The announcement reflected growing anxiety in the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after a series of attacks that have killed dozens of soldiers, police officers and sailors in the space of several weeks." More here


The Wall Street Journal‘s Peter Wonacott on faith healers complicating the Ebola response in West Africa: "An important part of that work has zeroed in on dispelling rumors and debunking miracle cures." More here.

The death of the Ebola patient Martin Salia in Nebraska has caused a debate over whether it was a mistake to transfer the critically ill doctor from Sierra Leone to the United States. Amy Haglage reports for the Daily Beast here.

Asia Pacific

India and Australia are about to sign an agreement to strengthen their defense cooperation. Joint maritime exercises start in 2015, The Hindu‘s Suhasini Haidar reports. More here.

NSA Reform

The National Journal‘s Dustin Volz reports that the Obama administration supports the NSA reform bill. "President Obama in January pledged to reform the government’s surveillance practices, but said he could only do so when Congress sent him a bill that closely matched his recommended changes." More here.

Revolving Door

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has appointed Ambassador Ismail Aramaz as the next senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. Aramaz is expected to take up his new post early next year. Details in Turkey’s Daily Sabah here.

And finally, the Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy on a mysterious Russian space object. More here.



Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola