Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Taliban insurgents set their sights on Kabul; Afghan president shakes up his government in wake of attacks; U.S. and Turkey are closer to a deal on the Islamic State fight; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Kabul is the focus of Taliban insurgents seeking to undermine the fledgling government of new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan capital has been under siege in recent days with a dozen attacks in the last two weeks. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the attacks were intended to scare ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Kabul is the focus of Taliban insurgents seeking to undermine the fledgling government of new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan capital has been under siege in recent days with a dozen attacks in the last two weeks. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the attacks were intended to scare foreigners out of the capital as well as to undermine Ghani. They follow the ratification of a bilateral security agreement between Kabul and Washington that will allow for 10,000 American troops to stay in the country in 2015.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil: "The past two weeks have seen a string of attacks on diplomatic and international targets in Kabul, including a deadly assault Saturday on a guest house belonging to a nongovernmental organization, Partnership in Academics and Development. This past Thursday a suicide attack hit Wazir Akbar Khan, the heart of the diplomatic quarter, and a car bombing struck a British diplomatic convoy." More here.

The attacks, which targeted both Afghan officials and foreigners, have already forced the resignation of Kabul’s Chief of Police Gen. Zahir Zahir. Ghani is scheduled to travel to London and Brussels this week to rally global support for his country. But political fallout in Kabul has already begun.

Ghani has been unable to form a new government amid escalating violence and has dismissed most of the existing ministers in Afghanistan’s government. The New York Times‘ Joseph Goldstein: "The underlying problem, which various factions in the government point to, is the power-sharing agreement that followed this year’s disputed presidential election. It makes Mr. Ghani president and his election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive. Since the deal was struck in September, Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah have been unable to agree on a new cabinet, leaving the government in the lurch and raising questions about the long-term chances of the power-sharing deal." More here.

Optimism had grown in recent weeks that Ghani and Abdullah would be able to find a way to work together. Their original agreement allowed the United States to finalize the bilateral security pact. Now, with the fate of Ghani’s government uncertain, there are sure to be questions from Washington about whether the pact will hold.

More on Afghanistan below.

As U.S. airstrikes this weekend pounded the Islamic State in Raqqa, the group’s self-proclaimed capital, the United States and Turkey edged closer to a deal on fighting the group. At least 30 airstrikes were conducted in the Islamic State stronghold. Observers from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described the number of attacks as a significant increase. As the United States escalated attacks, it neared a deal to bring Turkey into the fight.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Adam Entous: "As part of the deal, U.S. and Turkish officials are discussing the creation of a protected zone along a portion of the Syrian border that would be off-limits to Assad regime aircraft and would provide sanctuary to Western-backed opposition forces and refugees. "U.S. and coalition aircraft would use Incirlik and other Turkish air bases to patrol the zone, ensuring that rebels crossing the border from Turkey don’t come under attack there, officials said." More here.

News of the deal comes after the coalition targeted Kobani this weekend following an Islamic State attack on a border crossing into Turkey — the first time the Kurdish-controlled post had been attacked.

More on the Islamic State below.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

12:00 p.m. Obama meets with Cabinet members to discuss federal programs and funding that provide equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Brussels ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting. The trip also includes a meeting of the coalition to counter the Islamic State and the U.S.-EU Energy Council.

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 media events on their schedules.

What’s Moving Markets

Bloomberg’s Gregory Viscusi, Tara Patel, and Simon Kennedy on the new reality of oil prices: "Oil’s decline is proving to be the worst since the collapse of the financial system in 2008 and threatening to have the same global impact of falling prices three decades ago that led to the Mexican debt crisis and the end of the Soviet Union." More here.

The Guardian‘s Will Hutton on how low oil prices give Europe a chance for reinvention: "The European economy, in particular, dependent on oil imports, is an obvious and immediate potential beneficiary. Suddenly, the balance of economic advantage with Russia, no less dependent on oil and gas exports, will flip." More here.

U.N. climate talks opening in Lima today have the best chance in a generation to produce results, Suzanne Goldenberg reports for the Guardian. "The two weeks of talks in Peru are intended to deliver a draft text to be adopted in Paris next year that will commit countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without compromising the economic development of poor countries. Diplomats and observers of the UN climate negotiations said recent actions by the US and China had injected much-needed momentum." More here.

The EU is planning to extend more financial aid to Greece, according to a Handelsblatt report. More here.

Afghanistan

Reuters’s Kay Johnson and Mirwais Harooni on the Afghan army without NATO: "Afghan district police chief Ahmadullah Anwari only has enough grenades to hand out three to each checkpoint in an area of Helmand province swarming with Taliban insurgents who launch almost daily attacks on security forces. … As most foreign combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 after 13 years of war, the experiences of Anwari and other police chiefs and army commanders across the country are NATO’s biggest worry." More here.

Andrew Quilty for Foreign Policy on civilians fleeing attacks in North Waziristan: "Following several high-profile attacks on Pakistani soil by Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), including one at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport on June 8, which resulted in 36 deaths, the Pakistani military launched an offensive that targeted insurgent hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan. The ensuing exodus saw some 100,000 refugees fleeing North Waziristan since late June and crossing the border into eastern Afghan provinces such as Paktika and Khost." More here.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Habib Khan Totakhil: "A suicide bomber Monday killed at least nine people in an attack on the funeral of a pro-government tribal chief in northern Afghanistan, officials said, the latest assault amid a sharp rise in insurgent violence in the country." More here.

Reuters’s Dominic Evans on delays in Iraq: "U.S. air support and pledges of weapons and training for Iraq’s army have raised expectations of a counter-offensive soon against Islamic State, but sectarian rifts will hamper efforts to forge a military strategy and may delay a full-scale assault." More here.

Islamic State

USA Today‘s Jane Onyanga-Omara: "An Egyptian militant organization which was reported to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the killing of an American oil worker." More here.

The Washington Post‘s Loveday Morris on phantom soldiers in the Iraqi military: "The Iraqi army has been paying salaries to at least 50,000 soldiers who don’t exist, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday, an indication of the level of corruption that permeates an institution that the United States has spent billions equipping and arming." More here.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Miriam Jordan on Iraqi interpreters seeking U.S. citizenship: "Today, 38,000 Iraqi applicants are awaiting interviews for the expedited refugee program, also known as the Direct Access Program, and the backlog is growing at the rate of 2,000 each month, according to the State Department. A department official said the U.S. is eager to resume processing their cases, but didn’t offer a time frame. Several thousand more are in the pipeline for SIV processing, the State Department said." More here.

Reuters on 300 people being prosecuted for ties with the Islamic State: "Security authorities say about 550 German citizens have joined Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and about 60 have been killed, some in suicide attacks. Around 180 are believed to have returned." More here.

The Washington Post‘s Missy Ryan on Syrian rebels: "The U.S. military will subject Syrian rebels taking part in a new training program to psychological evaluations, biometrics checks and stress tests under a screening plan that goes well beyond the steps the United States normally takes to vet foreign soldiers, a sign of the risks the Obama administration faces as it expands support for armed groups in Syria." More here.

Reuters’s Dominic Evans on delays in Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State: "U.S. air support and pledges of weapons and training for Iraq’s army have raised expectations of a counter-offensive soon against Islamic State, but sectarian rifts will hamper efforts to forge a military strategy and may delay a full-scale assault." More here.

Russia

Reuters’s Aliaksandr Kudrytski on a new Russian convoy in Ukraine: "More than 1,200 metric tons of cargo including construction materials, clothes and medicines arrived in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, state-run television channel Rossiya 24 reported today. Russia may soon dispatch a new aid column, the Tass news service said, citing Oleg Voronov, a representative of the Emergency Situations Ministry. Ukraine has said the missions help channel arms and supplies to insurgents." More here.

Defense News‘ Gerard O’Dwyer on increased cooperation between Nordic and Baltic countries and NATO: "The intensified collaboration is happening against the backdrop of escalating regional tensions over Russia’s aggressive military actions in Ukraine." More here.

Reuters’s Vladimir Soldatkin and Robin Emmott on EU sanctions: "Russia urged the European Union on Saturday to lift sanctions against Moscow and promised to waive its food embargo, but a top EU official rejected such a move as the bloc imposed fresh measures on Ukrainian rebels." More here.

Iran

Reuters’s Mehrdad Balali on Iran’s armed forces: "Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday the armed forces should increase their combat capability regardless of political considerations, in an apparent allusion to continuing nuclear talks with the West aimed at easing tension in the Middle East." More here.

More from Reuters on an oil-for-goods deal between Russia and Iran: "Such an agreement would enable Iran to significantly raise oil exports despite sanctions over its nuclear program, and give the slowing Russian economy a much-needed boost. But it would also strain relations between Moscow and the West at a time when they are already frayed over the Ukraine crisis." More here.

Israel

Agence France-Presse on an attack on a school in Jerusalem: "An arson attack targeting first-grade classrooms at a Jewish-Arab school sparked a wave of condemnation Sunday, as months of racial tensions in Jerusalem showed little sign of abating." More here.

Haaretz‘s Nir Hasson on protests around Israel’s nation-state bill: "Over 1,000 demonstrators protested the Jewish nation-state bill outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Saturday evening." More here.

The Atlantic‘s Matti Friedman on what the media gets wrong about Israel: "During the Gaza war this summer, it became clear that one of the most important aspects of the media-saturated conflict between Jews and Arabs is also the least covered: the press itself. The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it." More here.

Defense News‘ Barbara Opall-Rome on the new Israeli Defense Forces chief: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today endorsed Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkott to become the next chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) once Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, current IDF Chief, retires early next year." More here.

Next Defense Secretary

The Associated Press’s Julie Pace and Robert Burns on the next defense chief and the White House: "[T]he friction between the White House and the Pentagon has been particularly pronounced during Obama’s six years in office. That dynamic already appears to be affecting the president’s ability to find a replacement for Hagel, who resigned Monday under pressure from Obama." More here.

Mubarak

Al Arabiya on the fallout from the dismissal of charges against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: "One person was killed following clashes between Egyptian police and protesters in Cairo, bringing the total death toll to two since clashes erupted on Saturday, a health ministry spokesman said early Sunday." More here.

China

President Xi Jinping said his country has to find more allies in the world, the South China Morning Post‘s Keira Lu Huang reports: "China made non-alignment a core element of its independent foreign policy in the 1980s but there have been growing questions from some quarters in recent years on the wisdom of not having allies, given the country’s growing influence and Washington’s renewed focus on the region." More here.

New Veterans Affairs Chief

The Military Times‘ Leo Shane on the new VA chief: "Robert McDonald was the CEO of a Fortune 50 company with $80 billion-plus in annual sales. He speaks four languages. He’s a sought-after expert on the corporate leadership circuit, with multiple lectures at Ivy League schools." More here.

Ebola

The BBC’s Mark Doyle on the continuing risk of the virus spreading: "Almost 7,000 people have now died from Ebola in West Africa and more than 16,000 have been infected. The latest figures show that between 200 and 300 people are still dying every week." More here.

The New York Times‘ Adam Nossiter on Ebola in Guinea: "Guinea went through 50 years of autocracy, military coups, massacres of civilians and plundering by its rulers. Now the aging political outsider elected to govern this nation — who spent much of his adult life in exile in Paris — is mustering a late-career tenacity to confront the deadly epidemic that still infects hundreds in this battered West African nation." More here.

And finally, FP’s David Rothkopf on the dumbing down of Washington: "Americans have an uncomfortable relationship with smart. They are perfectly happy to celebrate genius, provided it doesn’t make them uncomfortable or require too much of them." More here.

 

 

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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