The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: The patriarch of the House of Saud dies; When a body count is not a body count; Someone’s missing in Davos; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat The patriarch of the House of Saud is dead. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud died Thursday at the age of 90. His passing comes as the oil-rich kingdom battles low oil prices and the rise of extremism across the Middle East and Africa. And relations with ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

The patriarch of the House of Saud is dead. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud died Thursday at the age of 90. His passing comes as the oil-rich kingdom battles low oil prices and the rise of extremism across the Middle East and Africa. And relations with the United States, a long-time ally, have been strained as President Barack Obama seeks a nuclear accord with Iran, Saudi’s rival. Abdullah’s 79-year-old brother, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, is expected to take his place. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: “Abdullah kept his country relatively stable at a time when much of the region was wracked by violence and rapid political change. The future of Saudi Arabia will be shaped by how well his brother will be able to do the same.”

More on Abdullah below.

When a body count is not a body count. White House officials gloated about so far killing 6,000 Islamic State fighters, but the Pentagon quickly pushed back. FP’s Kate Brannen on ghosts of past wars: The Defense Department objected “not necessarily because it was wrong, but because the military wants to avoid anything reminiscent of the famously inflated ‘body counts’ used during Vietnam.”

More on the Islamic State below.

Someone’s missing on a busy day in Davos. Last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was one of the hottest tickets at the World Economic Forum. This year? Not so much, report’s FP’s Jamila Trindle. Meanwhile, FP’s Isaac Stone Fish details a long-awaited interview with tech-giant Ren Zhengfei, founder and president of Huawei, that left reporters wanting more. Trindle, again, tells us German headmaster Angela Merkel ordered Europe to do its homework and prepare for the end of stimulus — even as the European Central Bank flooded the market with cash. Amid all of this, FP’s David Rothkopf wonders why women comprise only 17 percent of Davos attendees.


The Washington Post: “Combining an avuncular style with a reputation for honesty and a shrewd understanding of the media, King Abdullah was popular with his subjects, who found him a refreshing corrective to his corrupt and autocratic predecessor, King Fahd.”

The New York Times: “The king’s death adds yet another element of uncertainty in a region already overwhelmed by crises and as Saudi Arabia is itself in a struggle with Iran for regional dominance.”

The Wall Street Journal: “The Saudi kingdom, as it enters a period of transition, may feel more vulnerable to external threats and eager to show the world that it still has the solid of backing of the U.S.—the country the kingdom always has seen as its ultimate protector.”

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we’d welcome a visit from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even if the White House isn’t interested.

Connect with me at and @davidcfrancis and spread the word about SitRep — your suddenly hungry destination for global security news and Washington whatnot. Like what you see? Tell a friend. Tell your colleagues. Don’t like what you see? Tell me. Or holler with tips, reports, or anything else the world needs to know, and I’ll try to include it.


12:30 p.m. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby will conduct a briefing.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Davos to address the World Economic Forum.


Writing for Foreign Policy, Paola Subacchi asks if the European Central Bank’s 1.1 trillion euro bond buyback is enough to get the European economy going.

The New York Times’ David Leonhardt debates how Africa can feed itself, now that its economies have caught up with global growth.


A mini-interview with Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily, from FP’s Lara Jakes: After receiving billions of U.S. dollars worth of Abrams tanks, F-16 fighter jets, Hellfire missiles and Apache helicopters, it turns out what Iraq really wants to fight the Islamic State is … light guns and ammo.

Faily said Sunni tribal fighters on the front lines against the extremists are short on AK-47 rifles and other small arms. So Baghdad wants the United States to supply American-made M-16 rifles to Iraqi forces who, in turn, then would give tribal fighters their AK-47s — the most commonly used small arms weapon in the Middle East.

The plan would play into the Shiite-led government’s nascent outreach to Sunni tribes who were sidelined from power for much of the last decade. “The United States needs to appreciate the nuances of Iraqi culture, and bring some sense of urgency in dealing with ISIS,” Faily told Foreign Policy. “The tribes that are willing to put their sons and guns into the fight — we don’t want that opportunity to be lost.”

Weapons were once so plentiful in Iraq that for years it embraced a one-gun-per-household policy. Faily could not explain why guns are now so scarce, although the Islamic State has ordered citizens to either join the battle or disarm across Iraq’s Sunni-dominated regions.

Secretary of State John Kerry promised Thursday to help supply a “very significant number” of M-16s for Baghdad’s forces so that the Kalashnikov rifles can be given to other fighters.

The M-16, a Vietnam-era rifle, is more expensive and harder to use and maintain than the so-called “spray and pray” AK-47. It’s possible Baghdad hopes to immediately collect the castoffs — and not waste time bickering with Washington military equipment sales to Iraq.


The Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning and Jay Solomon on U.S. claims to have retaken 700 square kilometers of territory from the Islamic State.

The Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes on preparations for an offensive to take Mosul.


The New York Times’ Maïa de La Baume on France’s turn toward secularism in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Deutsche Welle on two terror arrests in Germany.


The New York Times’ Rick Lyman and Andrew E. Kramer on Ukraine’s retreat from a key airport.

Writing for Foreign Policy, James Miller and Pierre Vaux on the lack of U.S. support for Ukraine’s military.


The New York Times’ Shuaib Almosawa and Rod Nordland on U.S. fears of chaos as the Yemeni government falls.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Amal Mudallali reports on why Yemen’s implosion matters.


The Miami Herald’s Mimi Whitefield reports on the second day of normalization talks between the U.S. and Cuba proceeding in an upbeat mood — despite differences over human rights.

The New York Times’ Ernesto Londoño introduces the two female delegation leaders in charge of U.S. negotiations: Josefina Vidal and Roberta Jacobson.


FP’s Neil Joeck: The trip “gives President Obama a chance to make this visit the centerpiece of a revived Asia policy and a worthy foreign policy legacy.”

Writing for the Hindu, Samir Saran of India’s Observer Research Foundation and Bruce Jones of the Brookings Institution suggest that the United States should help India finance its green modernization and allow for an “India exception” at the Paris climate summit.

Reuters’s Sanjeev Miglani and Douglas Busvine on bilateral efforts to remove the last remaining obstacle for a U.S.-India nuclear deal: India’s laws hold equipment suppliers responsible for accidents.


FP’s Siobhán O’Grady on Boko Haram’s blame game.


The Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman on a court verdict creating a setback for EU sanctions against Iran.

The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick warns of a further collapse of order in Libya as armed fighters capture the central bank’s Benghazi branch.


The Council on Foreign Relations has a comprehensive report on what’s next for the Taliban.


The Washington Business Journal’s Jill R. Aitoro on a change of leadership at ASI Government.

AND FINALLY, here’s to 52 years of France and Germany making nice after a rough spell from the 1910s to the 1960s.


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