The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: An expanded air campaign against the Islamic State stalls; Ground efforts in Iraq are failing; U.S. collects evidence against North Korea through a hack of its own; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Plans to expand air strikes against the Islamic State are stalled. The United States and Turkey still are unable to agree on priorities in the bombing campaign in Syria and, as a result, the expected expansion of American-led bombings is going nowhere. The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung: Syrian President ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Plans to expand air strikes against the Islamic State are stalled. The United States and Turkey still are unable to agree on priorities in the bombing campaign in Syria and, as a result, the expected expansion of American-led bombings is going nowhere.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung: Syrian President Bashar “[al-]Assad’s military surrounds, and regularly bombards from the air, Western-backed moderate opposition fighters and civilians in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, in the northwest corner of the country. Turkey fears that Aleppo’s fall would not only add to the 1.6 million refugees who have already crossed its border from Syria and Iraq, but also would undermine its main priority of pushing Assad from power.” More here.

Efforts to fight the Islamic State on the ground are failing. The United States has made significant gains with some 1,700 bombs dropped on the Islamic State, turning back the terror group in some places while slowing its charge across Iraq and Syria. However, Iraqi officials and tribal leaders said the lack of a political process to accompany these strikes is driving Sunnis to join the group.

The Guardian’s Martin Chulov: “Samarra to the north of the Iraqi capital and Sunni areas just to the south remain tense and dangerous, despite more than seven months of air strikes that have supported the embattled Iraqi military and the large number of Shia militias that fight alongside it. Controlling both areas is considered vital to establishing control of Iraq.” More here.

More on the Islamic State below.

The United States is collecting evidence of North Korea’s responsibility for the Sony hack through a breach of its own. Despite protests from some in the tech world, U.S. officials insist they have information indicating North Korea is behind the Sony hack. The United States has been able to gather its proof by exploiting a 2010 National Security Agency hack of North Korea’s network.

The New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Martin Fackler: “The evidence gathered by the ‘early warning radar’ of software painstakingly hidden to monitor North Korea’s activities proved critical in persuading President Obama to accuse the government of Kim Jong-un of ordering the Sony attack, according to the officials and experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the classified N.S.A. operation.” More here.

More on North Korea below.

Top Press Pack Story: Charlie Hebdo protests turn deadly.

The Wall Street Journal’s Max Colchester and Drew Hinshaw: “[T]he protests underscore the challenge France faces in defending long-held values without fueling resentment among Muslims.” More here.

The Associated Press’s Dalatou Mamane: “President Mahamadou Issoufou said late Saturday that five people were killed in the capital, Niamey, when Christian churches and bars were set ablaze.” More here.

Reuters: “Four Muslim preachers who had convened the meeting in Niamey were arrested, the police said. Protesters burned the French flag and set up roadblocks on streets in the city’s center, but no casualties were reported on Saturday.” More here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we hope you’re fortunate enough to have the day off.

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Who’s Where When Today

1:30 p.m. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service project at an undisclosed location in the Washington, D.C. area.

What’s Moving Markets

The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin on President Obama challenging Republicans on taxes: “President Obama plans to propose raising $320 billion over the next 10 years in new taxes targeting wealthy individuals and big financial institutions to pay for new programs designed to help lower- and middle-income families, senior administration officials said Saturday.” More here.

FP’s Keith Johnson on colliding energy agendas in Europe: “Bulgaria is becoming the latest wishbone in the struggle between Moscow’s efforts to assert its energy dominance over Europe and the West’s efforts to cage that gassy bear.” More here.  

Writing for China’s Global Times, Zhang Lihua and Vasilis Trigkas on why China should be worried about the eurozone: “On the economic front, the exit of Greece from the eurozone and the collapse of the monetary union would leave the US dollar as the sole reserve currency for the years ahead and thus limit China’s ability to diversify its monetary reserves away from the currency of its major geopolitical and security competitor.” More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Edward Harrison on an unprecedented currency shift: “To put the Swiss franc move in perspective, in the currency cross rates for free-floating major foreign exchange currencies — like the Swiss franc or the U.S. dollar, the euro or the British pound sterling — a 2 or 3 percent move would be considered big. A 20 percent move is outlandish, a freak black swan event without precedent.” More here.

Islamic State

The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner on arrests by Israel: “In a tale of would-be jihadists, a band of men trained for battle by slaughtering sheep and riding horses at a farm in the Galilee region of northern Israel with hopes of joining the Islamic State group in Syria, according to the Israeli Shin Bet internal security agency and court documents released Sunday.” More here.

Paris Attacks

The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum: “Belgian authorities are still pursuing the mastermind of a foiled plot to kill police officers, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said Sunday, as hundreds of Belgian soldiers fanned out across the country to protect high-profile targets.” More here.

The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi and Jim Yardley track the Charlie Hebdo gunmen’s evolution. “The 10-year evolution from easily spooked amateur to hardened killer is a story of steadily deepening radicalism that occurred virtually under the noses of French authorities, who twice had Chérif in their grasp.” More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, J.M. Berger with concerns about new laws and civil liberties in Europe: “The proposals are varied, but they all increase the power that a government has to act against suspects, decrease the amount of evidence needed to use such power, or both.” More here.

From the BBC: “The EU’s foreign policy chief has called for a broad alliance to tackle terror, including with Muslim nations, at a ministerial summit in Brussels.” More here.

The Wall Street Journal’s Max Colchester and Laurence Norman report on Belgium asking Greece to extradite a suspect in last week’s foiled attack. More here.  

The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe reports former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls the Paris attacks an “intelligence failure.” More here.


Der Spiegel staff reports on the NSA arming the United States for future digital wars: “According to top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seen exclusively by SPIEGEL, they are planning for wars of the future in which the Internet will play a critical role, with the aim of being able to use the net to paralyze computer networks and, by doing so, potentially all the infrastructure they control, including power and water supplies, factories, airports or the flow of money.” More here.

ABC News’s Ben Siegel with warnings of future attacks: “An attack similar to the cyberhack of Sony Pictures Entertainment last month is ‘a problem we’re not ready for,’ Gen. Keith Alexander, former head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, said.” More here.


Al Jazeera on an alleged Israeli strike: “The Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah has confirmed the deaths of several fighters, including the son of a slain military leader and a senior commander, in a suspected Israeli air attack in the Syrian province of Quneitra.” More here.


Writing for Foreign Policy, Andrew Noakes on Nigeria’s upcoming presidential election: “[I]t will likely be determined by Boko Haram, whose campaign of terror continues to ravage Nigeria’s northeast.” More here.  

Reuters with details of Boko Haram’s latest attacks: “Suspected Boko Haram Islamist fighters from Nigeria kidnapped around 80 people, many of them children, and killed three others on Sunday in a cross-border attack on villages in northern Cameroon, army and government officials said.” More here.


The Associated Press on arrests in Yemen: “Yemeni authorities have arrested two French citizens suspected of being members of al-Qaida, the country’s national security chief said Saturday, without mentioning whether they were involved in this month’s attack by gunmen on a French newspaper.” More here.

The BBC on the kidnapping of a high-ranking government official: “Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen have abducted the chief of staff of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.” More here.


Writing for Foreign Policy, José R. Cárdenas on Obama’s tourism blunder: “With the announcement this week of federal regulations governing President Barack Obama’s alterations in U.S.-Cuba policy, it is clear the administration is continuing its bad habit of using executive action to circumvent laws it simply doesn’t like.” More here.

NPR’s Scott Neuman reports on the U.S. congressional delegation in Cuba. More here.


Reuters’s Natalia Zinets and Lina Kushch on a successful offensive for the Ukrainian army: “Ukrainian troops recaptured almost all the territory of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine they had lost to separatists in recent weeks, as thousands gathered in Kiev for a state-sponsored peace march on Sunday.” More here.


Reuters’s Stephanie Nebehay and Marina Depetris on progress toward a nuclear agreement: “Iran and major powers will meet again next month to try to narrow differences over Tehran’s nuclear programme after making limited progress on Sunday.” More here.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Reuters’s Hamid Shalizi on trouble in the new Afghan cabinet: “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s nominee for agriculture minister in his new Cabinet is on an Interpol wanted list for tax evasion in Estonia, a fact Ghani’s spokesman said was unknown to his office at the time of his nomination.” More here.

Al Jazeera reports on senior Afghan officials confirming Islamic State activities inside the country. More here.

North Korea

FP’s John Hudson on an outside approach to nuclear talks: “North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator will sit down with a team of former American diplomats in an undisclosed venue in Singapore this weekend to discuss one of the world’s most complex and dangerous problems: what to do about Pyongyang’s ever-expanding nuclear weapons program.” More here.

The New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun on the poster boy for human rights abuses changing his story: “Shin Dong-hyuk, is retracting central facts of his widely reported life story, memorialized in a 2012 book, ‘Escape from Camp 14.’” More here.


The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick on a cease-fire in Libya: “The cease-fire, beginning midnight Sunday, is the closest that international mediators have come to ending the violence in Libya since it began to escalate last summer with the breakdown into two rival national alliances of competing militias.” More here.


The South China Morning Post’s Minnie Chan on the man who procured China’s first aircraft carrier: “In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, one businessman armed with cash and a casino cover story scooped the world to buy the unfinished hulk of a Ukrainian aircraft carrier that would become the centrepiece of the PLA Navy.” More here.


Kyodo News on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging $2.5 billion to stabilize the Middle East during a visit to Cairo: “Of the total amount, $200 million in grant aid will be spent on stepping up efforts against the Islamic State group, including extending support to refugees in Iraq and Syria, Abe said.” More here.


The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff on empty Ebola treatment centers in Liberia: “The U.S. military sent about 3,000 troops to West Africa to build centers like this one in recent months…. But as the outbreak fades in Liberia, it has become clear that the disease had already drastically subsided before the first American centers were completed.” More here.

Revolving Door

The Washington Business Journal’s Jill R. Aitoro: “Stu Shea, former chief operating officer at Leidos Holdings Inc., has formed his own consulting firm.” More here.

And finally, FP’s Elias Groll on what to do in case of a Russian invasion: “The manual even tells workers to engage in a kind of passive sabotage to tank the economy and make life hard on the Russians by ‘by doing your job worse than usual.’” More here.



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