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.S. wants a lean Iraqi fighting force to take on the Islamic State; Conflicting U.S. policies hurt American standing in Syria; Iran’s supreme leader backs extension of nuclear talks; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat The United States wants to form a lean Iraqi fighting force to take on the Islamic State. Past lessons from rebuilding foreign militaries have taught the Defense Department that a smaller force is more effective than a larger one. Now, DoD wants to train a small number of Iraqi ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

The United States wants to form a lean Iraqi fighting force to take on the Islamic State. Past lessons from rebuilding foreign militaries have taught the Defense Department that a smaller force is more effective than a larger one. Now, DoD wants to train a small number of Iraqi soldiers to fight the Islamic State.

The Washington Post‘s Missy Ryan and Erin Cunningham: "As the Obama administration scrambles to counter the Islamic State, commanders have decided against trying to rebuild entire vanished divisions or introduce new personnel in underperforming, undermanned units across the country, according to U.S. officials. Rather, the officials said, the hope is to build nine new Iraqi army brigades — up to 45,000 light-infantry soldiers — into a vanguard force that, together with Kurdish and Shiite fighters, can shatter the Islamic State’s grip on a third of the country." More here.

At its peak, the Iraqi military counted 400,000 troops in its ranks. After the advance of the Islamic State last summer, there are now few as 85,000 active troops. The Obama administration hopes that training a spearhead force capable of making progress against the Islamic State would allow other Iraqi security forces to join the fight.

The White House’s conflicting policies on the Islamic State and Syria are hurting U.S. standing in the region. The current U.S. policy of not directly targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has left some civilians in the region with the impression that Assad and President Barack Obama are working in concert.

The New York Times‘ Anne Barnard: "They see American jets sharing the skies with the Syrians but doing nothing to stop them from indiscriminately bombing rebellious neighborhoods. They conclude, increasingly, that the Obama administration is siding with Mr. Assad, that by training United States firepower solely on the Islamic State it is aiding a president whose ouster is still, at least officially, an American goal." More here.

The longer Obama keeps these contradictory policies the more U.S. standing in the region will suffer. However, the White House has repeatedly insisted that it did not want a wider conflict. So far, the Obama administration has paid lip service to removing Assad, but it has not been a priority.

More on the Islamic State below.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed support for the deadline extension of talks with Western powers on the country’s nuclear program. Earlier this week, Khamenei said that Iran stood up to the West in talks originally scheduled to end Nov. 24. Thursday, he backed the deadline extension.

The New York Times‘ Thomas Erdbrink: "Ayatollah Khamenei’s opinion is crucial because he will have the final say over any potential deal on Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but which the West suspects is a ruse to obscure a bomb-making effort." More here.

Khamenei’s comments are likely aimed at hard-liners in Iran who oppose the deal. His public support of the extension could be a message to moderate their position. It also is a glimmer of hope that a deal could get done after the letdown following the previous deadline.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey have no public or media events on their schedules. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is traveling.

Secretary of State John Kerry has no public appointments.

What’s Moving Markets

Al Jazeera on plummeting oil prices: "OPEC has decided against cutting the amount of oil it produces despite a glut in global supplies, triggering a five-dollar collapse in crude prices." More here.

FP’s Keith Johnson with more on OPEC’s decision: "For the first time in six years, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ meeting in Vienna on Thursday actually matters. But in the grand tradition of cartels everywhere — and this oil-pumping one in particular — internal discord, conflicting agendas, and vastly different thresholds for pain are conspiring to make it all but impossible to reach agreement on cutting oil production, which is needed to reverse a sharp and prolonged downturn in global oil prices." More here.

Bloomberg’s Andre Tartar and Anna Andrianova on Russia on the brink of recession: "Russia, which receives about half of its budget revenue from oil and gas taxes, is closing in on its first slump since 2009 after dodging recession this year as it lurched from one crisis to another following the takeover of Crimea from Ukraine in March." More here.

The New York Times’ Liz Alderman on efforts to avoid a lost decade in Europe: "Flanked by the German and French flags during a news briefing at the French Finance Ministry, Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, and his German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, called for a ‘New Deal’ as they released a report that warned of a ‘lost decade’ of growth if France and Germany stood by and did nothing." More here.

Bloomberg’s Ian Wishart on the European Union giving members more time to get their budgets in shape: "France and Italy will escape immediate punishment over weaknesses in their 2015 budget proposals as the European Union tries to balance the need for continued austerity with a desire for greater investment." More here.

The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Schechner on Europe’s battle with U.S. tech companies: "Europe escalated its war against U.S. technology superpowers as the Continent’s two largest economies and the European Parliament on Thursday backed fresh efforts to rein in the growing influence of companies such as Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google Inc." More here.

The BBC on the labor strikes paralyzing Greece: "A 24-hour general strike over austerity measures has closed schools and public offices and heavily disrupted transport throughout Greece." More here.

Islamic State

Noah Bonsey, writing for Foreign Policy, on why Obama’s strategy to fight the Islamic State is doomed to fail without changes: "Growth is essential to the Islamic State’s future, and its best opportunities are in Syria. … The twin crises of the Islamic State and Syrian regime are inextricably linked. … For a ‘freeze’ to help, it must be fundamentally different from a ‘cease-fire.’" More here.

The Washington Post‘s Dan Lamothe on the A-10, once on its way to the scrap heap, being used against the Islamic State: "The planes arrived at an undisclosed base in the region between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21, and will support Operation Inherent Resolve — the mission against the Islamic State — and other operations in the region, Air Force officials said." More here.

Reuters reports foreign ministers in the anti-Islamic State coalition to meet next week: "The Dec. 3 meeting, chaired by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, is expected to review progress in the fight against Islamic State and to discuss how coalition members will coordinate politically in future. The meeting will be held at NATO headquarters but diplomats said NATO was only providing the building and the United States was organizing and chairing the meeting." More here.

Der Speigel‘s Christoph Reuter visits a playground in Aleppo: "Nearby, shots can be heard, sometimes isolated, other times entire salvos. Periodic explosions shake the surrounding buildings. But Majid, Juju and the others don’t pay any attention. Not because they underestimate the danger, but because they know it so well. ‘Mortar,’ 11-year-old Emad says in response to a muffled boom. ‘Tank rounds sound different.’ They have a higher pitch, he says." More here.


The Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman on hard-liners’ push to scuttle a deal: "Western officials say there are continuing signs that a range of hard-line factions in Tehran are impeding [Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif in his ability to make the final compromises needed for a historic agreement. Opponents include some in the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commanders of Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and members of the Iranian parliament." More here.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar on negotiations with Iran: "The Nov. 24 deadline for a deal expired with neither a significant change in Iranian demands nor a more cooperative attitude from Tehran. Despite this, Western countries led by the U.S. administration have extended the talks to next summer. In our willingness to play Iran’s game, I believe that we are marching toward signing a very bad deal." More here.

The Economist on Iranian reformists under fire after the missed deadline: "As winter rains came to Tehran, the president sought to reassure citizens that there would, eventually, be a comprehensive deal. But Iranians entertain big doubts. They don’t dispute the commitment of the reformist president; having promised to end the long nuclear crisis and get sanctions lifted, he has more to lose than anyone if it all ends in failure. The question is whether hardliners would block him." More here.

Defense Secretary

FP’s Gopal Ratnam on the dynamic between a new defense chief and Gen. Dempsey: "When President Barack Obama was wavering about whether to start bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq in early August, the Pentagon official who made the final argument in favor of the strikes was Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, not Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. When the administration needed to sell those strikes on Capitol Hill and when the White House war cabinet met to discuss the course of the campaign, Dempsey was also clearer and more forceful than Hagel." More here.

The Washington Post‘s Dan Lamothe on Hagel’s calls to troops on Thanksgiving: "The secretary was not available for media interviews, but wanted to wish the troops a happy Thanksgiving despite the recent controversy, the official said. He has quietly made phone calls to rank-and-file troops on holidays throughout his tenure in the Pentagon." More here.

The Economist laments that a change in DoD leadership is not likely to yield a change in Obama administration foreign policy: "There seems to be little chance that Mr. Hagel’s dismissal signals a similar turning-point. Instead, unnamed presidential staffers said he was too deferential to uniformed commanders, too silent in councils of war and inarticulate as a spokesman for Team Obama’s policies, notably when it came to the fight against the fanatics of Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq." More here.

Politico‘s Philip Ewing reports that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is now a candidate to replace Hagel: "Johnson is part of a field that’s said to include Bob Work and Ash Carter, the current and former deputy secretaries of defense, as well as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. And Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, is still another possibility." More here.


The Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan and Mohammad Sharif on a string of attacks in Kabul: "A suicide bomber attacked a British Embassy vehicle in the eastern part of the Afghan capital Thursday morning, killing six, including a British citizen, and injuring more than 30, according to law enforcement officials. Ten hours later, a suicide bomber and two gunmen attacked a foreign guesthouse near the compound of the International Relief and Development Organization, a humanitarian agency based in Arlington." More here.


The New York Times‘ David M. Herszenhorn on Ukraine leaning toward NATO: "As Ukraine’s new Parliament, firmly controlled by a coalition of pro-Western parties, convened for the first time on Thursday, President Petro O. Poroshenko urged lawmakers to repeal a 2010 law that codified the country’s nonaligned status in global affairs, and to instead pursue membership in NATO." More here.

The Washington Post‘s Michael Birnbaum on life in annexed Crimea: "Eight months into the Russian annexation of the Black Sea resort region of Crimea, traces of Ukraine’s 60-year rule here are rapidly being wiped away. Now Ukrainians themselves worry that they are next." More here.


The Wall Street Journal‘s Julian E. Barnes on more prisoners being released from Guantánamo: "The Pentagon is preparing to transfer additional detainees from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the coming weeks, according to defense and congressional officials." More here.


The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner on a Hamas ring plotting attacks: "The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, says it has exposed an extensive Hamas military infrastructure in the West Bank that was planning to carry out attacks on Israelis, according to a statement issued by the agency on Thursday." More here.


The New York Times‘ Jeffrey Gettleman on Ebola raging in Sierra Leone: "While health officials say they are making headway against the Ebola epidemic in neighboring Liberia, the disease is still raging in Sierra Leone, despite the big international push. In November alone, the World Health Organization has reported more than 1,800 new cases in this country, about three times as many as in Liberia, which until recently had been the center of the outbreak." More here.

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark on an Ebola vaccine: "The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said, raising hopes that protection from the deadly disease may be on the horizon." More here.


Al Jazeera on Boko Haram attacks in northern Nigeria: "A bomb blast has hit a bus station in northeastern Nigeria killing at least 40 people, according to witnesses and security personnel. At least five soldiers were among the victims of Thursday’s attack in a village just outside of Mubi, the second largest city in Adamawa state." More here.

Revolving Door

Defense News‘ Pierre Tran: "Thales has appointed Philippe Logak as interim chairman and chief executive until Dassault and the French government reach an agreement on a long-term appointment, the defense electronics company said on Thursday." More here.

And finally, a day after Thanksgiving, Stephen M. Walt outlines for Foreign Policy what world leaders should be thankful for. More here.



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