The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: The Kurds set sight on Mosul; Former DoD brass take aim at Obama on Capitol Hill; Russia has a friend in Greece; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat The Kurds set their sights on Mosul after taking back Kobani. The Islamic State appeared unstoppable when it swept Mosul with ease last June. Now, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official says government forces are readying to oust the extremists. But the Kurds are going to need help. FP’s Elias ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

The Kurds set their sights on Mosul after taking back Kobani. The Islamic State appeared unstoppable when it swept Mosul with ease last June. Now, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official says government forces are readying to oust the extremists. But the Kurds are going to need help. FP’s Elias Groll: “Mosul is mostly comprised of Sunni Arabs, and is located in disputed territory that Kurds have also claimed as their own. To defeat the Islamic State, the Kurds must avoid the perception of arriving as a conquering army.” Meanwhile, Mohamed Eljarh writes for Foreign Policy about the Islamic State’s increasing presence in Libya after an attack on a Tripoli hotel killed 10 Tuesday, including an American.

More on the Islamic State below.

Former Pentagon brass are out but not down. High-ranking DoD officials are bound by the chain of command to keep quiet when they disagree with the president. Once they retire, the muzzle is off, and Sen. John McCain is giving some a congressional forum to air their grievances. FP’s Kate Brannen: “All agreed that the White House’s foreign policy lacks a strategic framework that could shape U.S. engagement in the world.”

Russia has a new friend in Athens. EU leaders called for a new round of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. But Greece’s new government immediately pushed back and is refusing to join in. FP’s Keith Johnson and Jamila Trindle report on new fissures in European unity: “The first official visitor to new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was the Russian ambassador, and on Tuesday Greece rejected the European Council’s decision to consider ‘further restrictive measures’ against Russia.”

More on Russia below.


The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Peter Baker on the significance of the president’s trip: Obama “rarely travels overseas to mark the death of a foreign leader; more often, he dispatches the vice president, secretary of state or other dignitaries to represent the United States.”

Writing for Foreign Policy, David Andrew Weinberg on King Salman’s troubling ties to radical Islam: Salman “served as Saudi Arabia’s financial point man for bolstering fundamentalist proxies in war zones abroad.”

The Guardian’s Dan Roberts and Jason Burke: “Barack Obama has been forced to defend his unwillingness to challenge Saudi Arabia’s autocratic rulers as he led a US delegation to shore up relations with its new king, just hours after lecturing India on religious tolerance and women’s rights.”

Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin on the controversy over whether a Saudi television station blurred first lady Michelle Obama: “Several videos posted on Saudis’ Facebook pages obscured Michelle Obama’s face. They were removed shortly after they were posted.”

The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor on another dispute, this time over the first lady’s failure to wear a headscarf: “Exceptions are made for foreigners, however, and Michelle — who did wear loose clothing that fully covered her arms — appears to have been one of them.”

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of the Situation Report, where, unlike Marshawn Lynch, we’re happy to answer any questions you might have.  

Connect with me at and @davidcfrancis and spread the word about SitRep — your 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.


9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the impact of the Budget Control Act on U.S. national security. 10:00 a.m. Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 2:00 p.m. Heritage Foundation hosts a panel on “Challenges and Opportunities Facing Secretary of Defense Nominee Ashton Carter.” 2:30 p.m. House Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a cybersecurity hearing. 4:00 p.m. President Obama hosts the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to consider Ashton Carter’s nomination at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 4.


The Wall Street Journal’s Stelios Bouras and Alkman Granitsas on the new Greek cabinet: “The new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis … is now part of a team of prominent critics of Europe’s economic approach appointed with the task of rolling back Greece’s austerity plan and reducing the country’s massive debt load with its international creditors.”

FP’s Jamila Trindle on a risky bet in Ukraine: “A new analysis out Wednesday concludes that a $100 investment in Russia over 10 years would lose $30 to political turmoil. But Russia’s chief victim in nearly a year of strife, Ukraine, is an even riskier place to bankroll, and the same investment there would lose $34.”

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick: “The Obama administration on Tuesday outlined a politically fraught plan for allowing oil drilling in U.S. coastal waters.”

ISLAMIC STATE: As the deadline to swap Japanese journalist Kenji Goto for Jordanian bomber Sajida al-Rishawi fast approaches, the Japanese government pledges to work for his release. Meanwhile, flights to Baghdad were suspended after a commercial airline was shelled.

Reuters on a Jordanian pilot whose fate is also on the line: State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide “Nakayama said he hoped Japan and Jordan could work together for his release too.”

The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier on another former Pentagon official blasting the president: “The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency slammed the Obama administration on Monday as ‘well intentioned’ but paralyzed and playing defense in the fight against Islamic militancy.”

The Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly: “Transport Minister Bakr al-Zubaidi, speaking at a news conference at the airport, insisted that the facility is safe and urged the airlines to return.”

UKRAINE CONFLICT: The uptick in fighting is draining Ukraine’s coffers as an American diplomat pushes back against Russia’s propaganda machine.

The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison and James Marson: “Western donors are prodding Mr. Poroshenko to show his creditworthiness by more aggressively rooting out government corruption—an arduous task, Ukrainian officials say, as the country fights a war.”

FP’s John Hudson: “Last year, Congress mandated additional aid for Russian-language broadcasting in Eastern Europe by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America to serve as counter-messaging to RT.”

YEMEN: Political squabbling after the fall of pro-American President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi has the Houthis playing the blame game.

The New York Times’ Mona El-Nagga: The Houthis “said on Tuesday that separatist forces in the south were responsible for the impasse preventing an end to the political crisis convulsing the country.”

RUSSIAN SPIES: Moscow condemns the arrest of spies in the United States while an inquiry into the murder of a former spy opens in London.

The Guardian’s Alec Luhn on Russia’s condemnation of the arrest of alleged Russian spies in New York: “[F]oreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich accused the United States of detaining Russian citizens without presenting evidence.”

The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris has details on ties between the alleged Russian spies and state-run media.

The Times of London’s Deborah Haynes on a Tuesday hearing on the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.”

CHARLIE HEBDO AFTERMATH: Anti-terror raids continue across the continent as European nations struggle with their religious identities.

The Associated Press: “Anti-terror raids in France and Belgium netted eight more suspects on Tuesday as Paris urged its EU partners to step up the fight against terror financing with new measures to make transactions more transparent.”

France 24 on President Francois Hollande reassuring his country’s Jewish community: “France is your homeland.’”

Der Spiegel’s Katrin Kuntz and Gregor Peter Schmitz on jihadists in Belgium: “Thirteen terror suspects have been arrested in the country this month, but the suspected ringleader of the alleged attack plans, a 27-year-old named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, remains at large and is thought to be in Greece.”

IRAN: Democrats agree to a reprieve on new sanctions while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a backlash to his planned speech to U.S. Congress.

The Associated Press’s Deb Riechmann: “Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a leading proponent of the legislation, says he remains skeptical a deal will materialize, but says he and nine other Democrats now won’t push the bill at least until the end of March.”

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren on Israeli reactions to the planned speech: “Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence chief who frequently briefed the Israeli prime minister on security matters, denounced the event as ‘irresponsible.’”

AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: The Taliban agrees to peace talks in Beijing.

The Anadolu Agency’s Shadi Khan Saif: “It has been rumoured for months, with information trickling out from the Afghan government, Pakistan and China but it was only on Tuesday that the meeting was finally admitted by the Taliban.”


Joe Dougherty is leaving RAND on Friday to join Lockheed Martin as media relations manager for the littoral combat ship program. He revealed the news in an e-mail to friends and colleagues.

National Journal’s Early Bird daily national security newsletter is set to cease publication on January 30.

AND FINALLY, FP’s David Francis on a misguided attempt to honor the late King Abdullah.



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