Situation Report: Obama and Putin grip and grin; Taliban surges; Iranian mixed messages; Ukraine protest at U.N.; foreign fighters hail from 100 countries; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Grip and grin. Flashing a pair of tight, frozen grins, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama met Monday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in a private conference to air their grievances. Earlier, the two made pitches for their divergent worldviews to the ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Grip and grin. Flashing a pair of tight, frozen grins, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama met Monday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in a private conference to air their grievances. Earlier, the two made pitches for their divergent worldviews to the assembly, with Obama defending diplomacy and the orderly system of rules ordained by the international community, while Putin used his time to call for support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, insisting it was the best way to keep the Islamic State barbarians outside of the gate.
“Beyond the verbal jousting and steely looks over lunch after the morning speeches, however, the two leaders were still playing a subtle game of diplomatic poker, each trying to maneuver the other into shifting his position,” the New York Times Michael Gordon noted.
Together, apart. Despite their differences, the two leaders “grudgingly conceded they may have no choice but to work together to end more than four years of massacres, migrations, and depredations that have already claimed more than 240,000 deaths” in Syria, FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson write from New York. With dozens of Russian fighter planes now stationed in Syria and hundreds of Russian troops on the ground, Moscow is now very much in the fight. They join a year-long U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State that has shown few signs of progress, and a faltering American program to train and equip “moderate” Syrian fighters.
The surge. On Tuesday, hundreds of Afghan commandos and other army units began fighting their way through ambushes and roadside bombs on their way back into the northern city of Kunduz, a day after the city fell to the Taliban. The fight was the first time since 2001 that the Afghan Taliban has managed to take control of a major city.
The fall of Kunduz is a major blow for the government in Kabul, but it may end up turning the tide in one crucial respect, if it causes U.S. President Barack Obama to drop his vow to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. FP’s Dan De Luce has more on this front, and the ongoing push to keep more American troops in Afghanistan. The fall also calls into question comments that Gen. John Campbell — head of the NATO force in Afghanistan — made at the Brookings Institution in Washington in August where he maintained, “there’s no way that the Taliban, even despite this very tough fighting season, even despite the casualties … can overthrow the Afghan government — that’s not going to happen.”
Mixed messages. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Monday for a “new era” of rapprochement with the international community, his comments at the U.N. General Assembly stand in sharp contrast with the vehemently anti-American rhetoric of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The religious leader said the Islamic Republic would not begin cooperative talks with Washington on any new issues outside of Iran’s nuclear program, FP’s John Hudson writes.
Rouhani said Monday that the nuclear deal forged earlier this year should “herald a new era and lead to positive outcomes regarding the establishment of sustainable peace and stability in the region,” but Khamenei doesn’t quite see things the same way. “Some people insist on disguising this Great Satan as the savior angel,” Khamenei said, according to Iran’s Press TV. “The Iranian nation expelled this Satan [from the country]; we must not allow that when we expelled it through the door, it could return and gain influence [again] through the window.”
President Obama’s response? “Chanting death to America does not create jobs.”
Good morning! The news out of the United Nations is coming in waves so far this week, but it’s a big world out there. So as always, your voices are welcome. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
You won’t want to miss this week’s new Editor’s Roundtable (The E.R.) episode, just posted this morning. David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake and Robert Kagan debate who has been the world’s most successful leader since President Barack Obama took office. Turns out, as the old baseball sage once said, “Nice guys finish last.” Listen and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI
When Vladimir Putin spoke at the U.N. on Monday, members of the Ukrainian delegation held up a bullet-ridden Ukrainian flag from the Battle of Ilovaysk, the August 2014 clash that Kiev insists featured Russian troops, and where Russian-backed rebels killed Ukrainian troops who had negotiated a humanitarian truce. Now, the investigative website Bellingcat has translated and published another post by the pseudonymous blogger “Askai707,” which uses open source information to tie damaged T-72B3 tanks and soldiers’ to Russia’s 6th Tank Brigade to that battle.
While things may be relatively quiet in Ukraine at the moment, new Russian weapons are still showing up in the country. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported on Monday that it saw a TOS-1 multiple rocket launcher in eastern Ukraine — a weapon made by Russia which Ukraine has never produced or imported.
If it’s not happening at the United Nations this week, it’s hard for a story to break though. But we wanted to flag some remarks on foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria made by Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin at the International Institute for Justice in New York on Monday. Carlin estimated the Islamic State currently boasts about 28,000 fighters, who hail from 100 countries around the globe. The number of fighters is constantly in flux, but Carlin estimated “at about this time last year, foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq numbered about 15,000,” but the current number “dwarfs the foreign fighter numbers at the height of the Afghan conflict in the 1980s and 90s.”
Business of defense
The Project on Middle East Democracy has a great little chart on the size of arms deals in the Middle East since the negotiations over the nuclear arms deal with Iran began last November.
Since 2013, the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command have been secretly identifying, locating and killing leaders from the Islamic State, the Associated Press reports. The two organizations are using a mixture of signals intelligence provided by the National Security Agency, local informants, and intelligence provided by U.S. allies neighboring Syria to pinpoint senior Islamic State members for U.S. drone strike.
The Islamic State
The Daily Beast‘s Nancy Youssef reports the strange tale of Sally Ann Jones, the British former punk rocker turned convert to the Islamic State, who’s now looking to lead the group’s hackers. Jones is the now widow of Junaid Hussein, the Islamic State’s former top hacker and British citizen whom the British government killed in a recent drone strike. While Jones has been active in propaganda campaigns promoting attacks against U.S. websites and networks, such as the #AmericaUnderHacks hashtag, few believe she has the technical skills to carry out any significant hacks.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Iraq has hinted that it might give Russia overflight rights to carry out reconnaissance missions in Iraqi skies to help locate targets from the Islamic State. Iraq has recently joined a Baghdad-based coordination cell for intelligence against the group, alongside Syria and Iran, much to Washington’s annoyance. A Defense Department spokesman said Russian reconnaissance flights would “add a degree of complexity to our operations” in Iraq but would not would significantly disrupt U.S. operations in the country.
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove warned about Russia’s creation of an “A2AD bubble” over eastern Mediterranean, using the acronym for anti-access and area denial systems. In a speech to the German Marshall Fund, Gen. Breedlove noted that Russia’s recent export of air defense systems would have little effect on the Islamic State, which has no air force, but would be useful in protecting the Assad regime from U.S.-allied warplanes looking to put pressure on the Syrian government.
Who’s where when
8:30 a.m. Air Force Gen. Darren McDew, commander U.S. Transportation Command, addresses the National Defense Transportation Association conference at the Gaylord Hotel, National Harbor, Maryland.
9:30 a.m. The Senate Armed Services Committee has called Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, and U.S. Cyber Command chief/ Director, National Security Agency Adm. Michael Rogers to testify about cyber threats.
12:30 p.m. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander, U.S. European Command, and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, speaks at the 34th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington, D.C.
1:00 p.m. Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook briefs the press.
3:30 p.m. Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, and Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch of the Air Force acquisition office, provide testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on U.S. Air Force bomber force structure.
The Institute for the Study of War has a new analysis of the Russian deployment of fighter planes and troops to Syria, arguing the move may usher in “a new era in global geopolitics and security.” For the first time, Russian forces have “an outpost on land for projecting force beyond the confines of the Black Sea. The U.S. and NATO must consider and respond to this development recognizing its true stakes.”
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace takes a look at the problem of Japan producing more plutonium than it can use. “The resulting buildup would set a damaging precedent, exacerbate regional tensions, and increase the likelihood of nuclear terrorism,” the report states. “However, if Japan and its key international partners—the United States most importantly—act now, it is still possible to avert these dangers. Most importantly, this will require Japan to commit to produce only as much plutonium as it can burn in reactors.”
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