The Cable

Situation Report: New plans for Syrian rebels; intel problems; Chairman Dempsey wrapping it up; Air Force says it needs more; and lots more below

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Back to basics. The Pentagon is close to approving a plan that would totally revamp the U.S. train and equip program for Syrian rebels, FP’s Dan De Luce writes in a big scoop. The original plan to train thousands of fighters to push back against the Islamic State in ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Back to basics. The Pentagon is close to approving a plan that would totally revamp the U.S. train and equip program for Syrian rebels, FP’s Dan De Luce writes in a big scoop. The original plan to train thousands of fighters to push back against the Islamic State in Syria would be radically scaled back under the new plan, focusing on training small teams that would embed with more established rebel groups and call in airstrikes against Islamic State targets. There’s lots more here, so please do click on through to read the rest.

Cooking the books. When Centcom chief Gen. Lloyd Austin sits in the hotseat at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday morning to talk about the air war in Iraq and Syria, he’s going to have his work cut out for him. Not only is the 13-month air campaign dragging on with no end in sight, but the Syrian training program is in shambles, and lawmakers are growing increasingly restless about the drip of reports alleging Centcom officials have been manipulating intel reports about the Islamic State.

The New York Times, Daily Beast, and FP have all chronicled the complaints — now being investigated by the Defense Department’s Inspector General — that senior officials at Centcom have been altering intel reports to paint a rosier picture of the campaign there. The Times pushed the story forward Tuesday night, reporting that a group of analysts at Centcom has handed over to investigators actual documents that show how “senior military officers manipulated the conclusions of reports on the war against the Islamic State.”

The lonesome, crowded west. Did the U.S., France, and the U.K. really throw away a Russian-backed chance for peace in Syria in 2012? That was the story Finland’s former president, Martti Ahtisaari, gave to the Guardian on Tuesday. And it’s also one that FP’s Colum Lynch and Dan De Luce followed up on, finding little evidence that Russia’s envoy to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, ever really had Moscow’s blessing on a slew of proposals to get Bashar al-Assad to step down from power.

Reza Afshar, a former British diplomat, told FP that he did not believe Churkin was serious about making a deal. “Churkin was continually flying kites to keep everyone thinking that there was a discussion to be had with the Russians. But there never was,” he said. But “once you got into the detail of any of Churkin’s ‘ideas,’ he was never able to deliver Moscow.”

Don’t call it a comeback. North Korea is at it again, trying to shake things up in the neighborhood by firing up nuclear facilities that produce weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium, threatening attacks on the U.S. homeland, and promising a new round of ballistic missile launches. But why now? FP’s Paul McLeary asked around if this is something to worry about, or if it’s just the North bring the North.

Wrapping it up. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey held the final official overseas troop event of his tenure on Tuesday, visiting soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade who are on a six-month deployment to Estonia. The soldiers are in the Baltic nation to train with Estonian forces as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Dempsey is set to retire at the end of this month, handing off responsibility to U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford.

Good morning! Thanks for joining us yet again. As always, please pass along any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information that you may have at your disposal. Best way is to send them to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.   

New Global Thinkers podcast released today! At a recent event co-hosted by Foreign Policy, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai shared her remarkable story about her determination to bring education equality for girls everywhere. Listen and download the podcast here.

Air Force

What have we learned over the past two days at the Air Force Association’s annual conference in Washington? In a nutshell, the F-35 is going to be great, the A-10 is old, and the Air Force wants more planes to answer Russian and Chinese advances in air power. In other words, budget caps or no, the song remains the same: more stuff.

Consider Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle: “We don’t have enough F-22s, that’s a fact of life. We didn’t buy enough; we don’t have enough.” But! “We’re going to [fulfill global commitments] with the 180 or so F-22s we have.” Or Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh, who ran down a laundry list of platforms that the service wants to buy, or needs to upgrade, in the coming years, even as it spends billions on trying to get the F-35 program up and running. “For years we have enjoyed a capability advantage over every other air force on the planet. That capability gap is closing and it’s closing fast. I’m not crying wolf. I’m just telling you the truth,” Welsh said.

Islamic State

Fox News takes a look at the weaponry used by the Islamic State and finds that the bevvy of Cold War-era arms they have looted from the battlefield has allowed them to function like a conventional army. The Islamic State has obviously benefited greatly from vintage (and brand-new) tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery that it has captured from Syrian and Iraqi forces, allowing it to hold opposing forces back at greater distances and drive right up to government forces protected by thick slabs of American armor.

McClatchy‘s Mitchell Prothero has a lengthy piece out profiling Abu Omar al-Shishani (née Tarkhan Batirashvili), the Islamic State’s Chechen military commander who fought the Russians there in 2008 and then slipped off to Syria. Shishani reportedly received U.S. training as a member of Georgia’s special forces. Since joining the Islamic State, his battlefield successes and rags-to-riches backstory has made him a popular figure and an inspiration to many aspiring and committed jihadists throughout the Caucasus, prompting many to follow in his footsteps.

Al-Qaeda

Britain’s Sky News reports that Iran is in the midst of a prisoner swap with al-Qaeda, preparing to trade five senior al-Qaeda figures detained since 9/11 in exchange for the release of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by the terrorist group in Yemen. Among the most prominent of the al-Qaeda figures is Saif al Adel, a former Egyptian military officer who rose through the ranks of the terror group and played a role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings and the 2002 kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Japan

Tokyo is pledging to help the Vietnamese government bulk up its maritime capabilities by providing used boats and other equipment in a new deal struck between the two governments. The number of boats Japan will provide has yet to be announced, but Japan earlier pledged to provide six used ships, two of which have already been delivered, with the remaining four due to arrive by the end of the year.

Cybersecurity

The seemingly perpetually-troubled Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is struggling to perform another one of its jobs. The DHS Inspector General recently released a report saying that the Department is having trouble coordinating own cybersecurity efforts, displaying a “duplication of effort and lack of effective policies and controls,” according to Federal Times. While the report looked at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and the Secret Service, the Department’s difficulties managing its internal cybersecurity efforts is notable as DHS is supposed to play a leading role in coordinating the federal government’s cybersecurity defenses.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s ambassador to NATO is saying the country will press the U.S. and its allies to provide lethal weapons should the latest attempt at a diplomatic solution to the crisis fall through once again. Ukraine signed a ceasefire with Russian-backed rebels in February that called for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front lines and the departure of foreign military forces. But the agreement unraveled, with the fighting reaching a peak in August until a new ceasefire agreement, currently in place, took hold. Ukraine’s acting NATO ambassador Yehor Bozhok has asked that the country’s western allies provide lethal arms in the event that this latest agreement fails to hold. The Obama administration has provided training and some non-lethal equipment to the Ukrainian military but has so far refused to provide lethal arms to the country.

France / Nigeria / Boko Haram

After a series of closed-door meetings with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari this week, French President François Hollande announced that Boko Haram’s declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State is a major threat to all of West Africa. FP’s Siobhan O’Grady reports that it is not clear if France will actually take action against the group — Paris recently announced it will begin launching airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria — and Hollande did not explicitly imply that France was considering bombing Boko Haram.

Who’s where when

9:55 a.m. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter provides the keynote address at 9:55 a.m. at the Air Force Association conference, at National Harbor, Md. Live stream here.

10:00 a.m. Christine Wormuth, under secretary of defense for policy, and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, commander, U.S. Central Command testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. military operations to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

2:00 p.m. The U.S. State Department’s Tina Kaidanow, Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism speaks at The Brookings Institution’s “Al-Qaida, the Islamic State, and the future of the global jihadi movement” event.

Finally…

A reporter who ran to the Twin Towers as they fell, and kept running to the sound of the guns for the ensuing 14 years, is moving on. Now pursuing long-form investigative work instead of hunkering down in the dirt, the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers is one of the lucky ones, walking away while his health, his mind — and his family — are still intact. Chivers has often been the calm, evocative voice readers have relied on for exceedingly personal snapshots of the fighting in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Israel, South Ossetia, and anywhere else rounds were snapping. Esquire’s Mark Warren has an eloquent profile of the man as he walks away from a decade of conflict.

Think tanked

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies has released a new report by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula entitled “Beyond the Bomber: The New Long-Range Sensor-Shooter Aircraft and United States National Security.” The report takes a look at the next generation of stealth bombers which the Air Force is looking to purchase, concluding, “the era of specialized aircraft is over.” In other words, changes in technology now allow warplanes to function as long range “sensor-shooter aircraft,” which can operate as part of a network and perform a variety of important functions.

 

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