The Cable

Situation Report: Anbar is on; U.S. officials arguing with themselves; Chinese naval modernization; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson   Here it comes. In what may be the biggest test yet of the Iraqi armed forces’ strength — and the ability of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to wrangle the various Shiite, Kurd and Sunni factions — Baghdad on Tuesday launched what it says is a major offensive in ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson  

Here it comes. In what may be the biggest test yet of the Iraqi armed forces’ strength — and the ability of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to wrangle the various Shiite, Kurd and Sunni factions — Baghdad on Tuesday launched what it says is a major offensive in Anbar province.

Abadi told the BBC over the weekend that the city of Ramadi would be retaken from the Islamic State “in days,” and Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite militias and a member of Parliament, told reporters in Baghdad that the operation will “not last for a long time.” He claimed Tuesday that Iraqi forces have almost completely encircled Ramadi.

Word of the day. While the Shiite-led Iraqi Army and some Iranian-backed Shiite militias head deeper into majority Sunni Anbar, the war of words the Obama administration has been having with itself over what happened in Ramadi shows no signs of abating. Over the long weekend, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Vice President Joe Biden sang pretty different tunes over the performance of Iraqi troops.

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Carter took a shot at the performance of the Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, saying that they “vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.” The situation was much more complicated than a simple failure to fight — the exhausted Iraqi units had held a portion of the city for months with intermittent government support. But Carter maintained “that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis.”

A White House readout of a Monday call between Biden and Abadi walked Carter’s statement back a bit. Biden said that he recognized “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere.”

Baghdad calling. The heat isn’t only coming from Washington. With anger building in Baghdad over the performance of the Iraqi Army, in particular the highly-touted “Golden Division” of American-trained special operations forces who fled, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN on Monday that “it’s not clear for us why such a unit, which was supposed to be trained by the Americans for years, and supposed to be one of the best units in the army, would withdraw from Ramadi in such a way.” Al-Mutlaq — a Sunni politician — has long been a critic of Baghdad’s Shiite-led governments, and most fiercely of Abadi’s predecessor, former Premier Nouri al-Maliki.

War ensemble. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq lit up dozens of armored vehicles, tanks, and artillery pieces in and around Ramadi over the weekend, destroying what we assume is millions of dollars worth of old American military equipment.

Iraqi forces left hundreds of U.S.-supplied vehicles behind when they “drove” out of Ramadi, but were not “driven out,” in the words of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.

And now most of them are melted hunks of metal. On Friday, U.S. Central Command announced that airstrikes near Ramadi destroyed “five ISIL armored vehicles, two ISIL tanks, two ISIL vehicles, an ISIL armored personnel carrier…five abandoned tanks, two abandoned armored personnel carriers and two abandoned armored vehicles.”

Quite a haul, and note the emphasis on the word “abandoned.”

Sunday was even more intense, with airstrikes hitting an artillery piece and 15 armored vehicles. We’ve seen pictures of rows of U.S. Army surplus M113 infantry carriers that the Iraqis left behind, many of which — Defense officials assured the press last week — were allowed to lapse into such a state of disrepair as to be unusable.

Afghanistan. A dispute is brewing among government officials in Kabul over a recent memorandum of understanding signed between Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services.

The agreement between Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) outlines a plan to begin to work together to share intelligence. As he headed to China this weekend, former President Hamid Karzai met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and criticized the agreement. Meanwhile, while the NDS issued a statement Sunday to temper expectations. The agreement with Pakistan “will only be legalized after passing through five phases,” the organization said in a statement. “The president will specify framework, powers and limits of the agreement.”

About 10,000 American troops are still deployed to Afghanistan.

It’s a new week and a new Situation Report. But it’s still the same old Iraq. Have anything interesting to say, on or off the record? We’re here. Give it a shot at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Spycraft

The secretive National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has started sharing computer source code on public website GitHub to encourage its employees to both share analytical tools and garner feedback from other developers.

Pentagon

In the Washington Post, Missy Ryan discusses how Joint Chiefs’ Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey’s first fight in Iraq in 2003-2004 has shaped his sometimes cautious approach to dealing with Islamic State. As one unnamed administration official said, “During the crucible of those months last summer, all of his Iraq experience came to bear… What we’re trying to do with the Iraqis is what he said we should have done back then.”

Libya

Erik Iskander Goaied may be an agent of the Libyan government who has found billions worth of Muammar Gaddafi’s hidden riches stashed away in South Africa. Or he may be running a massive scam, writes the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris.

Women in the military

The New York Times’ Benedict Carey writes about the experiences of then-platoon leader Army Lt. Courtney Wilson (now a captain) while deployed in Afghanistan, the challenges she and other female service members have faced, some of her struggles after returning home, and how the resources the military has provided “gave her her life back.”

As Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes for The Daily Beast, “we have to see these women as courageous service members, too, and know them equally well for what they have given America and the courage they have shown on the battlefield.” Her book, Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield came out in April.

Asia

The Japan Times reports that North Korea is building shore batteries on a western border island, adding to five bunker-shaped camps already built on the island of Gal.

In nearby China, a “major modernization and expansion plan for its Navy, and its aggressive building program, coupled with the placing in service of more modern submarines, an aircraft carrier, destroyers with ever-sophisticated sensors and a large number of long-range surface-to-surface missiles, is altering politics and strategies throughout the Asian theater,” Chris Cavas writes for Defense News.

Israel

“Israel is seeking a hefty surge in annual security assistance from Washington and has begun preliminary talks with the U.S. administration on a long-term package that would provide up to $45 billion in grant aid through 2028,” writes Barbara Opall-Rome for Defense News.

Russia

Russia has begun a four-day air force exercise, the BBC reports, “involving around 250 aircraft and 12,000 service personnel.”

Boko Haram

In a piece for The Daily Beast, Philip Obaji Jr. writes of Boko Haram’s increased use of young girls as suicide bombers, including some who may have been among those kidnapped from Chibok. In fact, the “alleged bomber in a July 2014 attack at a university in Kano bore a marked resemblance to one of the abducted schoolgirls.”

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