The Cable

Situation Report: Ramadi falls; CIA still running the show in the Mideast; billions more for drone maker; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Things fall apart. Iraqi forces broke and fled the city of Ramadi in the face of a renewed assault by the Islamic State on Sunday, recalling the full-fledged retreat from Mosul last summer that gave the extremist group access to whole divisions’ worth of American-supplied Iraqi military equipment. Despite ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Things fall apart. Iraqi forces broke and fled the city of Ramadi in the face of a renewed assault by the Islamic State on Sunday, recalling the full-fledged retreat from Mosul last summer that gave the extremist group access to whole divisions’ worth of American-supplied Iraqi military equipment.

Despite a top U.S. military official’s contention late last week that most of Ramadi was still solidly in government hands and that the Islamic State was “on the defensive,” the latest defeat heaps fresh doubt on Iraqi forces’ ability  to hold ground, and the speed with which the 3,000 U.S. trainers there can churn out effective troops.

And in another echo of last summer, there have also been reports that the Iraqi Army has lost Camp Ar Ramadi just west of the city, home to the 8th brigade, leaving behind heavy weapons and scores of military vehicles.

Airstrikes and Iranian fighters. American air power – to the tune of over 165 airstrikes around Ramadi over the past month – has proven unable to prevent the Anbar provincial capital from falling. The loss has caused the local Sunni tribes to petition Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to again call for the assistance of Shiite militias (including some backed by Iran) to stem the losses.

The Shiite fighters were a key player in this spring’s battle for the city of Tikrit, but have raised fears among some Sunnis of increased Iranian influence over the country’s security forces. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan arrived in Baghdad for talks on Sunday.

Remember, the U.S. suspended airstrikes around Tikrit last month when the Iranian-backed militias were in the thick of the fight. Only when Abadi convinced them to back off did American bombs begin falling again.

Let the dominoes fall. The next major prize for the Islamic State is the massive oil refinery at Baiji. The refinery remains mostly in government hands, despite weeks of ferocious assaults. Reflecting Washington’s scattershot policy in Iraq, there has been a real back and forth among American defense officials over Baiji’s importance.

In April, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey claimed that Baiji was critical to Iraq’s security, followed just weeks later by Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren claiming that the refinery wasn’t actually all that crucial.

With Fallujah and Ramadi in the hands of the Islamic State, and the Baiji assault still very much underway, it’s safe to assume that the refinery is next. Watch this space to see how important it really is to U.S. and Iraqi planners moving forward.

Read FP’s Colum Lynch and Sean Naylor on how the intelligence gathered during the weekend raid by Delta Force operators on the Syrian compound of the Islamic State’s “oil emir” Abu Sayyaf may lead to more strikes in the future.

Still on top. From drone strikes to secret prisons to torture, the CIA has been pulling the strings on American foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11. In a new story in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Yochi Dreazen and Sean Naylor report that despite complaints from Congress and others in government, the arrangement likely won’t change anytime soon.

Fair winds. In a grim week for Marine Corps aviation, just days after six Marines were lost in a helicopter crash in Nepal, one Marine was killed and 22 others wounded when their MV-22 Osprey was forced to make a hard landing during a training mission in Hawaii on Sunday, the Corps has announced.

Hello all, to another week and and another shot at the Situation Report. As usual, there’s lots going on out there and we’d love to hear from you what’s happening. Send all missives and tips, etc. along to or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

The business of defense

Just two years ago, the Global Hawk RQ-4 spy drone was slated to be retired by the U.S. Air Force in favor of the venerable U2 spy plane. Now, Global Hawk maker Northrop Grumman is slated to receive about $4 billion in modernization contracts over the next five years the keep the program flying for the foreseeable future. Funny what a little congressional lobbying can do to a defense program, ain’t it?

Various outlets in the German press reported over the weekend that Berlin has decided to purchase the long-suffering Medium Extended Air Defense System (Meads) missile defense system developed by American defense behemoth Lockheed Martin along with German and Italian companies. The United States has all but pulled out of the program, despite investing $2 billion into its development over the past decade. The potential $4.5 billion deal would replace the Patriot ground-to-air defense the German Bundeswehr currently fields.

Middle East

Despite repeated assaults over the past week, the Islamic State has still not been able to take the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Approximately 300 people died in the fighting over the last few days, the Lebanon Daily Star reports.

The Islamic State pulled in an estimated $323 million last year from its human smuggling operation, a new European Union report says.


Defense News had two articles over the weekend about new breakthroughs in miniature technology. The first focused on the U.S. military’s recent advancements in developing swarms of mini drones. The other covered Turkey’s plans to outfit drones with a new laser-guided rocket.


Ukraine says it has captured two members of Russia’s elite forces who were fighting with rebels in town of Shchastya, the BBC reports. While the Kremlin continues to deny claims that it is sending troops to the region, it has long maintained there are Russian “volunteers,” fighting with the separatists.


China is making significant changes to many of its long range ballistic missiles that will allow them to carry multiple warheads, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write for the New York Times. What’s interesting, they say, is that China has had the technology for years, but that previous leaders “let it sit unused.”

The Japan Times featured a number of stories this weekend about the increasingly negative attitudes of local Okinawans toward U.S. military installations on their island. Thousands of people demonstrated Sunday against its relocation to another part of the prefecture. Many believe that the military bases have become an impediment to economic growth.


The U.K. has quietly passed a law permitting police and intelligence services to hack computers and cell phones. The “Computer Misuse Act” was “snuck in under the radar as secondary legislation,” writes Sebastian Anthony for Arstechnica UK.


In his first public appearance since a failed coup while he was out of the country last week, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza made a surprise appearance in the capital city of Bujumbura on Sunday, warning of the threat of Al-Shabab. A spokesman for the terrorist organization called Nkurunziza’s alert “dumbfounding,” since local opposition to his rule has been based around his decisions to run for another term in office, not any external issues.

Revolving Door

Victoria Nuland, America’s top diplomat for Europe, has tapped an experienced Capitol Hill staffer as her new senior adviser, FP’s John Hudson reports. Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.)’s legislative director Naz Durakoglu has put in her last day on the Hill and is on her way to replace Nuland aide Tyson Barker, who is said to have left the job for personal reasons.

Think Tanked

And just in time for the fall of Ramadi, the Institute for the Study of War’s Jessica Lewis McFate has released a penetrating study of the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign in Iraq. McFate argues that while the Islamic State is indeed on the defensive in Iraq and Syria, that should not be taken as a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign that Islamic State leaders are setting in for the long haul in the territories it has already conquered.

Tag: CIA

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