FP’s Situation Report: Carter makes a splash abroad; Turkey pushes into Syria; Violence continues in Ukraine; and much more from around the world.
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Carter makes a splash on his first overseas trip as Defense secretary. It didn’t take long for new defense chief Ashton Carter to shake things up. During an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, Carter said the United States and the government in Kabul were closing in on an agreement to ...
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat
Carter makes a splash on his first overseas trip as Defense secretary. It didn’t take long for new defense chief Ashton Carter to shake things up. During an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, Carter said the United States and the government in Kabul were closing in on an agreement to keep American troops on the ground longer, reports the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock. Today, Carter is in Kuwait at a meeting he convened with other U.S. officials in an effort to better understand the threat posed by the Islamic State, AFP’s Dan De Luce reports.
Turkey launches its largest operation inside Syria. Hundreds of Turkish ground forces supported by tanks and armored vehicles stormed into Syria this weekend to rescue an Ottoman tomb. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak: “Syrian Kurds have since been advancing outward from the city and battling to push Islamic State from hundreds of small villages surrounding Kobani. Turkish authorities feared the soldiers guarding the tomb were at risk of getting caught up in the fighting or being taken prisoner by Islamic State.”
More on Afghanistan and the Islamic State below.
Violence in Ukraine continues even as rebels promise to back off. Pro-Russian separatists pledged to move heavy artillery from the front lines Sunday. But a set of bombs — one that exploded in Kharkiv and another that was diffused in Odessa, both during pro-Kiev marches — shattered hopes that last week’s cease-fire was taking hold. President Petro Poroshenko called the incidents “terrorist acts,” reports the New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer.
PRESS PACK: Al-Shabab threatens the Mall of America.
The Associated Press’s Andrew Meldrum: “The threat by the al-Qaida affiliate came in the final minutes of a more than hourlong video released Saturday in which the extremists also warned Kenya of more attacks like the September 2013 assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in which 67 people were killed.”
CNN’s Eric Bradner: “Shoppers at the Mall of America need to be ‘particularly careful’ after a terror group singled out the Minnesota super-mall for attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says.”
Reuters’s Anna Yukhananov and Will Dunham: “The U.S. Homeland Security Department said on Sunday it was not aware of any specific plot against U.S. shopping malls, backing away from comments by the department’s chief that he takes seriously a threat by Somali-based Islamist militants against the Mall of America.”
ONLY IN SITREP: The threat against the Mall of America is nothing new. Following the 2013 al-Shabab attack at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, the Minnesota mall’s owner, Triple Five Group, said it had increased security there, FP’s David Francis reports.
“Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions,” Triple Five Group said in a September 2013 statement. A statement released by Triple Five on Sunday repeated this language, word for word. “Some may be noticeable to guests, and others won’t be. We will continue to follow the situation, along with law enforcement, and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situations.”
The Mall of America is a tempting target. Located in Bloomington, Minn., it has more than 520 stores and upward of 40 million visitors each year. Triple Five Group maintains its own private counterterrorism task force in an effort to keep it safe.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we think Michael Keaton got robbed.
Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
WHO’S WHERE WHEN TODAY
Ashton Carter is in Kuwait for a meeting with military commanders and other officials about the Islamic State.
10:00 a.m. U.N. Security Council meets; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are attending. 12:30 p.m. The Council on Foreign Relations hosts a conference on “The Geo-economic Consequences of the Oil Price Plunge.” 2:00 p.m. The Woodrow Wilson Center hosts a panel on “Authorizing Military Action Against ISIL: Geography, Strategy, and Unanswered Questions.”
WHAT’S MOVING MARKETS
FP’s Justine Drennan: “The financial crisis in the eurozone has for years pinched aid budgets, and the euro’s sharp fall in the past few months has worsened the problem.”
Reuters’s George Georgiopoulos: “Greece’s government prepared reform measures on Sunday to secure a financial lifeline from the euro zone, but was attacked for selling ‘illusions’ to voters after failing to keep a promise to extract the country from its international bailout.”
The New York Times’ Andrew Higgins: “Greece’s hoped-for new dawn for Europe ended on a rain-drenched Friday evening in the Justus Lipsius Building, a huge, Soviet-style Brussels office block where finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the euro — known as the Eurogroup — had gathered for their third emergency meeting in two weeks.”
Bloomberg’s James Nash and Alison Vekshin: “Ports are coming back to life along the U.S. West Coast after dockworkers resolved a nine-month labor standoff, though the cargo backlog from ships waiting offshore may take eight weeks to clear.”
UKRAINE: The United States threatens new sanctions as parts of the cease-fire take hold.
The Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Michael Birnbaum: “Kerry said he expected that the United States and its European allies would impose some ‘very serious’ sanctions and other steps to punish Moscow after repeated cease-fire violations by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists.”
The BBC: “Another key element of the Minsk deal moved forward on Saturday when the Ukrainian government and the rebels exchanged 191 prisoners.”
AFGHANISTAN: U.S. officials acknowledge the continuing fight as Carter shifts gears to ensure progress made in more than a decade of war holds.
The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt: “[T]he United States forces were playing combat roles in many joint special operations raids and were not simply going along as advisers. That is at odds with policy declarations by the administration, which has deemed the American role in the war essentially over, but reflects the reality in Afghanistan.”
Reuters’s Phil Stewart: “The United States is considering slowing a planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to ensure that ‘progress sticks.’”
Deutsche Welle: “Carter also said the main reason for the Obama administration’s new thinking was Afghanistan’s new unity government under President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, something he said promised to lead to more effective cooperation between Washington and Kabul.”
LIBYA: Oil flows once again as militants connected to the Islamic State attack the Iranian ambassador’s home.
The Wall Street Journal’s Benoît Faucon: “The resumption of oil flows from the Sarir oil field, which pumps about two-thirds of the country’s remaining output, was a rare piece of good news following renewed fighting in Libya’s civil war and a string of attacks by Islamic State militants.”
Reuters: “Militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State said they were behind Sunday’s twin bomb attacks on the residence of the Iranian ambassador in the Libyan capital and a rocket strike on the eastern Labraq airport.”
ISLAMIC STATE: Congress debates Obama’s request for the use of force. Meanwhile, Iraq criticizes a leak of details on the planned Mosul assault as Carter reviews U.S. strategy. Australia cracks down on citizens involved in terrorism.
The Washington Post’s Paul Kane: “Critics on the right have stepped up their campaign to refashion President Obama’s AUMF request to allow for a more expansive attack, even if it includes U.S. troops fighting on the ground.”
Reuters: Iraqi Defense Minister “Khaled al-Obeidi said the timing of the Mosul assault on Isis was for Iraq to decide, and that a US Central Command official who predicted the attack was likely to take place in April or May had no knowledge of the issue.”
Bloomberg’s David Lerman on Carter’s review of U.S. Islamic State strategy: “Among the issues Carter wants to explore at the strategy session are the strength of the Iraqi army, plans for political reconciliation with Sunni tribes in Iraq, the status of the air campaign, and the program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, the official said.”
The New York Times’ Michelle Innis: “Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said Monday that the government would seek to revoke the citizenship or curb the rights of Australians involved in terrorism and tighten immigration, visa and hate speech laws in a crackdown on terrorism.”
EUROPE: Europe can’t control its borders.
The Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Joe Parkinson: “Along the southern frontier of the European Union, a small but growing number of aspiring jihadists are blazing trails by road and ferry to Syria’s battlefields, sidestepping heightened airport security and slipping through the holes in Europe’s intelligence dragnet.”
The BBC on three teenage girls who are believed to be en route to Syria: “The family of a Glasgow woman who may have encouraged three London girls to join Islamic State say officials ‘failed’ to stop them leaving the UK.”
IRAN: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif hold more nuclear talks as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starts another round of talk-bashing.
Reuters’s Lesley Wroughton: “The meeting included for the first time U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who spent most of the day separately negotiating technical details of curbing Iran’s nuclear program.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman: “As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iran’s foreign minister for fresh nuclear talks, Israel’s leader stepped up criticism of the diplomacy, saying it was ‘astonishing’ that negotiations were continuing over what he warned would be a dangerous deal.”
CYBER: November’s Sony hack reveals cyber shortcomings. Can the Republican Congress pass NSA reform? Cyberwar between Iran and the United States heats up.
The Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett and Danny Yadron: “A review of the Sony hack, based on interviews with executives, U.S. officials and people briefed on their conversations, shows that the companies and agencies fighting the hackers hewed so closely to their own interests that some decisions were made based on little information or consultation.”
The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Sorcher: “Congress failed to pass a reform bill last year, despite President Obama’s urging and recommendations from government-appointed privacy and civil liberties boards to end the domestic call record bulk collection program.”
The New York Times’ David E. Sanger: “A newly disclosed National Security Agency document illustrates the striking acceleration of the use of cyberweapons by the United States and Iran against each other, both for spying and sabotage.”
AFRICA: Yemen’s ousted president clings to power; Somalia and Nigeria are shaken by Islamist attacks.
VOA News: “Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued the statement under the title of president, in an apparent retraction of his resignation last month after the Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace.”
Al Jazeera’s Hamza Mohamed: “Al Jazeera has learned that the deputy mayor of Mogadishu, as well as two members of parliament were killed.”
Reuters reports on a little girl in Nigeria killing herself and five others in a suicide attack.
JAPAN: Tensions between Japan and United States over a U.S. base in Okinawa lead to arrests.
The New York Times’ Martin Fackler: “Three protesters were detained at the gate of a United States Marine base on Okinawa on Sunday during the largest demonstration yet against the start of construction of a new airfield there.”
The Washington Business Journal’s Jill R. Aitoro: “McLean-based Bart & Associates Inc. warned 73 employees that they will likely be out of a job by April, thanks to a contract loss, the company confirmed.”
AND FINALLY, FP’s David Rothkopf ranks the best TV shows that depict life in Washington, D.C.