The Cable

Situation Report: Russia reaches out while economy struggles; questions over who Moscow is bombing; more F35 issues; Kunduz fight rages on; Pentagon funding bill in trouble; Air Force sends search and rescue teams to Turkey; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Same war, but new. Russian bombs are falling in Syria, and U.S. officials aren’t sure what to do about it. At the United Nations on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry stood next to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just as Russian sorties were wrapping up, arriving for their ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Same war, but new. Russian bombs are falling in Syria, and U.S. officials aren’t sure what to do about it. At the United Nations on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry stood next to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just as Russian sorties were wrapping up, arriving for their meeting just seconds after Lavrov told reporters “don’t listen to the Pentagon about Russian strikes.”

The strikes should really come as no surprise. U.S. officials have been saying for days they expect the bombing to begin at any time, and Moscow can hardly afford to abandon its Mediterranean client state. FP’s Colum Lynch and Paul McLeary noted Wednesday that Russia’s only overseas military base is located at Tartus in Syria, which houses 1,700 Russian troops “and gives Russian ships a home base in the Mediterranean, allowing Moscow a much greater forward presence than it would have otherwise.”

Strategery. Not only is Syria important for Russia as a foothold in the region, but by opening up an intel sharing shop in Baghdad staffed by Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi military personnel, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made Moscow impossible to ignore in the fractious debate over what to do next in the fight against the Islamic State.

Pay to play. But Russia’s recent military forays into Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria don’t come cheap. Moscow has 25,000 hungry troops stationed in Crimea, is supporting rebels (and its own troops) in Ukraine, and now has stretched supply lines into Syria to support troops and dozens of high-tech fighter planes. Given the fall of oil prices and western sanctions, however, Moscow’s economy has been hurting. And FP’s David Francis arrives just in time to break down Putin’s economic situation, complete with charts for those of us who are…visual learners.

Good rebels, bad rebels. So, who are the Russians bombing? FP’s David Kenner reports that those Russian bombs aren’t hitting who Moscow said they’d hit, namely the Islamic State. Rather, Russian planes look to be putting ordnance on a rebel group “that likely was vetted by the CIA, uses U.S.-made weapons, and has publicly backed the international coalition fighting the Islamic State.” The group also is part of a loose alliance of militias focused on battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “which means that the early phase of Moscow’s military intervention will strengthen Assad at least as much as it will weaken the Islamic State.”

Kunduz calling. With the help of Afghan, U.S., and NATO Special Forces, the Afghan army is on the verge of doing something in a day that that the Iraqi army has been unable to do for almost two years: push a rebel group out of a major city. Days after the Taliban stormed the city of Kunduz, sending Afghan forces wheeling out of town, the army and special forces returned to kick in the door, and have now retaken parts of the city.

The situation is pretty fluid and there is still plenty of fighting locals report, and the two sides are going house to house in some parts of town. The Taliban capture of the city comes as the result of a sophisticated game the group has been playing in the north for the past two years, patiently inching closer to the city while winning over locals fed up with government corruption.

Hey, we’re still here! We should note that today is Oct. 1 — the first day of the U.S. federal government’s fiscal year — and Washington has somehow avoided another shutdown. But the struggle is real. President Barack Obama has promised to veto the defense spending bill Congress is working on over a dispute concerning how to fund the Department of Defense. At issue is whether Congress should crash through spending caps imposed on the defense bill by padding a supplemental wartime account with an extra $38 billion. The House will vote on the bill Thursday.

Another good morning to you. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is eating up all the headlines, but it’s a big world out there. 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 or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

If you haven’t yet heard, FP is now producing podcasts! Check out our two programs, The Editor’s Roundtable (The E.R.) and Global Thinkers for more foreign policy insight, commentary and analysis. You can subscribe and listen to them today on iTunes or Stitcher:

Top Tweet

RT ‏@LizSly Russia’s map of where ISIS is is completely different to the @ISW‘s. Kurds should be careful. So should Aleppo.

Speaking of maps, the Institute for the Study of War has just come out with a fresh set, showing where Russian warplanes have struck in Syria’s far west, hundreds of kilometers away from any known Islamic State held territory.


What does deconfliction between forces in Syria look like to Russia? According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, it involves a Russian general strolling into the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and saying curtly “we launch Syria air strikes in one hour. Stay out of the way.”


The U.S. has found new markets for its ScanEagle drones. Instu got the green light to sell the smallish drones along with launchers to Cameroon, Kenya, and Pakistan for a grand total of $35 million worth of equipment, according to FlightGlobal.

Search and rescue

More U.S. troops are on their way to Turkey. About 300 Air Force personnel are headed to Diyarbakir Air Base is in southern Turkey, which sits about 100 miles from the border with Syria. Among those airmen are pararescue teams, combat rescue officers and specialists who specialize in retrieving downed pilots or isolated troops. In other words, the Pentagon is preparing for downed pilots.

The teams are deploying with their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and HC-130s to carry out rescue operations, if needed, Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol reports. Diyarbakir sits over 300 miles to the east of Incirlik Air Base, where U.S. F-16s have been flying missions against the Islamic State since August.


The U.S. Navy captured a host of Russian and Iranian weapons aboard a small, unregistered dhow it stopped off the coast of Yemen last week, according to the Associated Press. The USS Forrest Sherman, a guided missile destroyer, stopped the ship and found anti-tank weapons aboard which the Iranian crew claimed were bound for Somalia. U.S. officials said it’s possible that the weapons were ultimately bound for the conflict in Yemen, with Somalia as a stopping off point. The Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen believes that Iran has been secretly supplying the Houthi movement, which it’s trying to displace from power in the country.

Golden Hour

A new study in JAMA Surgery, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association says the Defense Department’s policy of prioritizing the evacuation of wounded troops within 60 minutes, known as the “golden hour,” cut the mortality rate for wounded troops in Afghanistan by 6 percent, according to Military Times. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put the policy into place in 2009 and the study found that the average evacuation times dropped from an hour and a half to 43 minutes, saving lives as troops received medical care faster and at a crucial period for influencing their chances of living.

Air Force

When will we know who will build the Air Force’s next generation bomber? Sometime in the next couple of months, according to the service. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch told Congressional officials that the Air Force plans to take its time selecting from the bids offered by Raytheon and the joint the team of Lockheed and Boeing. Sources in the flying branch tell Reuters that the companies will submit their final proposals to the Defense Department this week.

More F-35 trouble

Well, this is…hardly unexpected. Adding yet another grim data point to the years of headaches that the wildly expensive, and constantly troubled, F-35 program has caused the U.S. Air Force, Defense News’ Lara Seligman and Aaron Mehta report that skinny pilots need not apply. Pilots weighing less than 136 lbs. have been found to be at increased risk of injury during low-speed ejections, and as a result, any flier not meeting that weight has been grounded until the problem can be fixed.


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