The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: Russia warns Ukraine about peacekeepers; Syrian rebel force begins to take shape; Carter wants civilian control of DoD; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Russia warns Ukraine about international peacekeepers. Ukrainian forces finished a brutal and bloody retreat from Debaltseve on Wednesday, closing the curtain on a theater of fighting with pro-Russian separatists. Now, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wants an international force to keep the fragile cease-fire, but pro-Russian separatists and Moscow say they ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Russia warns Ukraine about international peacekeepers. Ukrainian forces finished a brutal and bloody retreat from Debaltseve on Wednesday, closing the curtain on a theater of fighting with pro-Russian separatists. Now, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wants an international force to keep the fragile cease-fire, but pro-Russian separatists and Moscow say they would violate the peace deal. The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Michael Birnbaum: “Any international force on the ground would harden the battle lines after 10 months of fighting, forcing Ukraine to give up for now its attempts to reunify the nation.”

More on Ukraine below.

The Syrian rebel force that will confront the Islamic State begins to take shape. The United States has tapped some 1,200 opposition fighters that could take part in the U.S.-backed military offensive against the terror group. It’s the first step toward creating a force of 3,000 by the end of the year, Reuters reports.  

More on the Islamic State below.

Ashton Carter wants to restore civilian control of the Pentagon. New defense chief Carter plans to replace DoD spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby with a civilian, a sign of a shift toward removing members of the military from key positions in which they’re forced to defend political decisions. FP’s Kate Brannen: “When the service chiefs go to Capitol Hill to testify on the budget, they are expected to defend the White House’s request and not ask for more money or publicly disagree with decisions to cut troops or weapons programs. In turn, lawmakers frequently voice their suspicion that they are not hearing what general officers truly think.”

PRESS PACK: Obama’s Terrorism Summit

The New York Times’ Scott Shane: “President Obama chooses his words with particular care when he addresses the volatile connections between religion and terrorism. He and his aides have avoided labeling acts of brutal violence by al Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State and their allies as ‘Muslim’ terrorism or describing their ideology as ‘Islamic’ or ‘jihadist.’”

FP’s David Francis: “Obama’s sentiments were welcomed by the audience, which politely applauded throughout his speech. But they did little to overshadow the controversy surrounding the buildup to the summit or the fact that not much is expected from the three-day event.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau: “The White House has been under increasing pressure from critics to acknowledge the role that Islam plays in driving terrorism and violence around the world.”

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin: “A group of community leaders, law enforcement officials, philanthropists and representatives from the private sector gathered at the White House on Wednesday to discuss whether three pilot programs in Boston, Los Angeles, and the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul could serve as national models for averting radicalism among Muslim youths.”

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we wonder if Jeb Bush’s efforts to distance himself from his brother will pay off.

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.


2:30 p.m. The Stimson Center hosts a panel on trade and national security.

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and British Home Secretary Theresa May speak at the summit on Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department.

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello: “The head of Russia’s domestic security agency is in Washington to attend the White House’s summit on countering violent extremism, officials said Wednesday, a rare visit by a senior official from Moscow at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine.”


Reuters’s Lefteris Papadimas and Jan Strupczewski: “Greece is expected to ask on Thursday for an extension to its ‘loan agreement’ with the euro zone as it faces running out of cash within weeks, but it must overcome resistance from skeptical partners led by Germany.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Hilsenrath on the Fed’s debate over raising interest rates: “The Fed now enters a challenging stretch. Chairwoman Janet Yellen will testify before Congress next week on the outlook for the economy and monetary policy.”

The New York Times’ James Kanter and Jenny Anderson on a proposal for a capital market union in the EU: “The European Union authorities on Wednesday recommended streamlining rules for financial markets to inject dynamism into sluggish areas of the economy and to encourage Britain to see the bloc as an economic opportunity rather than a source of red tape.”

UKRAINE: The chaotic and bloody withdrawal from Debaltseve puts the cease-fire in doubt as Britain scrambles planes to intercept Russian bombers.

The New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and David M. Herszenhorn: “By midday on Wednesday, as limping and exhausted soldiers began showing up in Ukraine-held territory, it became clear that the Ukrainian forces had suffered major losses, both in equipment and human life.”

Reuters: “Britain summoned the Russian ambassador in January to explain a similar episode, when Russian bombers flew over the English Channel.”

LIBYA: The Islamic State eyes Italy as Washington refuses to back Egypt’s strikes. Meanwhile, Libya asks the U.N. Security Council to lift its arms embargo.

The Wall Street Journal’s Giada Zampano: “Italy has strong historic ties to Libya, its former colony, and substantial economic interests there, so it risks being one of the European countries hardest hit by the escalating violence.”

The Daily Beast’s Nancy A. Youssef: Obama’s refusal to back Egypt is “another sign of the growing strain between the United States and Egypt, once one of its closest friends in the Middle East.”

The BBC: Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi said easing the arms embargo “would help the government build its army and deal with ‘rampant terrorism.’”

ISLAMIC STATE: One militant’s journey from an Egyptian private school to the battlefield in Syria as hopes for a cease-fire disappear.

The New York Times’ Mona El-Naggar: “The West is struggling to confront the rise of Islamic extremism and the brutality committed in the name of religion. But it is not alone in trying to understand how this has happened — why young men raised in homes that would never condone violence, let alone cold blooded murder, are joining the Islamic State and al Qaeda.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim: “Syrian rebels on Wednesday dismissed a United Nations cease-fire proposal for the city of Aleppo agreed to by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

EUROPE: Poland pays for its black site; backlash builds against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls for European Jews to return to Israel.

The New York Times’ Rick Lyman: “Poland will abide by a European court ruling that ordered it to pay a total of $262,000 in reparations to two former inmates of a ‘black site’ prison run by the CIA.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid: Netanyahu’s calls “are prompting a backlash from not only European leaders but Jews themselves, reopening a long-standing debate about the role of Israel in the Jewish world.”

IRAN: The Supreme Leader doubts nuclear talks will end sanctions. The dustup between Washington and Jerusalem continues as a Washington Post reporter languishes in prison.

The Los Angeles Times’ Ramin Mostaghim and Carol J. Williams: “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei … threatened to play his own sanctions card if the restraints on the Iranian economy aren’t lifted.”

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello: “The Obama administration on Wednesday accused the Israeli government of misleading the public over the Iran nuclear negotiations.”

The New York Times’ Rick Gladstone: “The Iranian judge overseeing the case of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven months, has frustrated his family’s effort to hire a lawyer for him.”

AFGHANISTAN: 2014 was the worst year for Afghan civilians; Pakistan pushes for peace.

TIME’s Sam Frizell: “More civilians died in Afghanistan in 2014 than in any year since the year the United Nations began keeping records in 2009.”

The New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein and Azam Ahmed: “In meetings in Kabul this week, the Pakistani delegation, led by the nation’s army chief of staff, told Afghan leaders that the Taliban appeared willing to meet for negotiations in the coming month.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Saeed Shah: “Afghan government officials will meet representatives of the Taliban in the coming weeks for an initial round of peace talks.”

NIGERIA: Boko Haram is on the ropes.

The New York Times’ Adam Nossiter: “Chadian soldiers fought their way on Tuesday into the town of Dikwa, which had been in militant hands for at least the last five months.”

GUANTÁNAMO: A Chicago cop brings Guantánamo tactics home as a U.S. lawmaker promises to torpedo plans to close the prison.

The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman: “A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.”

The Huffington Post’s Ali Watkins and Akbar Shahid Ahmed: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) “appears that he’s so dedicated to keeping the remaining detainees there — regardless of whether they actually pose a threat to U.S. interests — that he’s willing to torpedo the complex web of U.S. foreign relations to do it.”

The Guardian’s Daniel Hurst and Michael Safi report on the dismissal of charges against David Hicks, the Australian former detainee at Guantánamo Bay.

CYBER: Google pushes back on U.S. government requests.

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington: The tech giant is “warning that the changes would open the door to US ‘government hacking of any facility’ in the world.

CHINA: Artificial islands show Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page and Julian E. Barnes: “The images provide the first visual evidence that China has built an artificial island covering 75,000 square yards—about 14 football fields.”

NAVY: The Navy maps out its Asia pivot.

The Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady: “By 2018 at the latest, the United States Navy plans to rotationally station four — one at a time — Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in Singapore as part of Washington’s pivot to Asia.”


The National Security Network releases a new report on Confronting the Islamic State: An Assessment of U.S. Strategic Options.”


FP’s David Francis on Obama’s pick of Joseph P. Clancy to head the Secret Service: “Clancy is likely to be a controversial pick with lawmakers, who want an outsider to overhaul the Secret Service.”

AND FINALLY, FP’s Elias Groll on an incident between the Indian Coast Guard and a Pakistani fishing boat over … biryani.

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