The Cable

Situation Report: Who called the shots in Kunduz?; Russia endangering Turkey business deals; Moscow missile mishap; lots of foreign military sales in 2015; Taliban take more ground; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Chain of command. There are three different investigations looking at what happened during the air strike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz last weekend, when an American AC-130 gunship gutted the facility after Afghan forces called for air support. The strike killed 22 civilians and injured another ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Chain of command. There are three different investigations looking at what happened during the air strike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz last weekend, when an American AC-130 gunship gutted the facility after Afghan forces called for air support. The strike killed 22 civilians and injured another 37.

Gen. John Campbell — who runs the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan — doesn’t expect a report back from any of the investigators for another 30 days, but who, exactly, is being put under the microscope? FP’s Dan De Luce reports on the handful of U.S. Army and Air Force officers who sit atop the decision chain, and what they knew, or didn’t know, on the night of the attack will have huge consequences for how the whole thing turns out.

Let the dominoes fall. In other Afghan news, the Long War Journal is reporting the Taliban have taken over two more districts in northern Afghanistan in Faryab province, according to several statements released on Voice of Jihad, the group’s official propaganda mouthpiece.

The pipes of war. The Russian push into Syria, and the incursions by Russian fighter planes into Turkish — and by that we mean NATO — airspace, have further contaminated an already toxic relationship between Moscow and the west. But there’s another rub, explains FP’s Keith Johnson. Turkey is now threatening to scuttle some key energy deals with Russian companies, including “a huge new natural gas pipeline that would cross the Black Sea, enter Turkey, and fuel both the local market and southern Europe. The accord was greased with billions of dollars in Russian financing for a long-planned nuclear plant in Turkey,” Johnson writes.

For the visual learners. The Institute for the Study of War has a new map (and who doesn’t love a map?) pinpointing Russian military activity in Syria and Eastern Europe that is pretty helpful in trying to keep off of this action straight.

So much for the afterglow….It didn’t take long for some of the triumphal glow to wear off Russia’s 1,000-mile launch of 26 cruise missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea into Syria. While Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that every missile hit its target, U.S. defense officials say it ain’t so. Four of those missiles fell short and landed in Iran, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Foreign Policy on Thursday. But the attempt itself is what raised so many eyebrows in Washington, as the flight path of the missiles took them across both Iranian and Iraqi airspace, further underscoring the closer coordination between Moscow and Baghdad have forged in recent weeks, including an intelligence sharing center in Baghdad occupied by Russian, Iranian, and Syrian military officials and analysts.

While a few of those missiles didn’t hit their targets in Syria, they did manage to kill a few Iranian sheep, according to local reports.

Inside man. FP goes inside a North Korean missile launch site, posting pics of the Hermit Kingdom’s preparations for a potential missile launch rumored to be planned for later this month.

Good morning from the pre-dawn crew over here at SitRep HQ. It’s been another week full of surprises, and we don’t see things really changing all that much in the weeks ahead, so keep reading! As always, we’re more than happy to hear from you. 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.

Don’t forget to check out FP’s new podcasts — The E.R. and Global Thinkers — on our website or on iTunes! Each week, our podcasts deliver lively and insightful commentary on global affairs. Subscribe today:

Who’s where when

10:00 a.m. The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts “The Role of the U.S. Military in Cyberspace” conference, featuring Lt. Gen. James McLaughlin, deputy commander U.S. Cyber Command; Aaron Hughes, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy; and Maj. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander, Cyber National Mission Force at the U.S. Cyber Command.

More Syria. Always more Syria

This is big. Iranian news outlets are reporting that the Islamic State has killed Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, an officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Guardian rounds up the announcement from the Guards-linked publication Tasnim News, which claims that the Islamic State killed Hamedani near Aleppo.

Russian helicopters fighting in Syria appear to be fighting the same way they battled Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, observes the Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff. Back then, the Soviets learned the hard way to fly close to the earth to make it more difficult for the muj to take down their helicopters with surface-to-air rockets. Watch some of the videos of the low-flying Russian helos, and you’ll see them close enough to the ground for the rebels to practically reach out and touch.


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty‘s Anna Shamanska takes a fascinating look at the recruitment of Russian volunteers on social media to join the country’s fight in Syria.  Shamanska found one website, which has helped to recruit Russian fighters for the war in Ukraine, has been asking for volunteers to head to Syria since September. The site has a dedicated group on VKontakte, a Russian Facebook-like social media platform, for potential recruits for Syria….with just 18 members thus far.

The business of defense

U.S. defense giant Raytheon inked a new $18.6 million contract with the government of Jordan to help slam the door shut on the Hashemite Kingdom’s border with Syria. The award is the next phase in the Jordan Border Security Project funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Raytheon will install fencing, sensors, cameras and a command and control system for the Jordanians, and follows on a Raytheon-built $79 million border security ops center opened in Jordan in July. That project was also funded by DTRA. Jordan has paid a heavy price for the unrest in its neighborhood, hosting a staggering 1.4 million Syrian refugees.

The U.S. government racked up potential Foreign Military Sales of $43.3 billion for fiscal year 2015 — which ended on Sept. 30 — compared to the $31.2 billion total in 2014, analyst Roman Schweizer of Guggenheim Partners says in a note to investors. And with conflict popping off everywhere from Syria to Ukraine to the South China Sea, analysts don’t see why that total won’t keep growing.


In response to Russia — and what, these days, isn’t a response to Russia — NATO members in Brussels on Thursday began to move cautiously in shoring up their eastern and southern flanks. Members promised to step up military exercises and announced the deployment of a small number of logistics personnel in Eastern and Central Europe. The U.K. also said that it would begin sending troops to the Baltics for exercises.

In related news, Turkey is asking NATO allies to keep their Patriot missile batteries in place in southern Turkey, in the wake of the U.S. and Germany announcing they were pulling their Patriots out.

Germany’s Ministry of Defense is setting up a $112 million fund to provide security assistance to countries across the Middle East and North Africa in order to help stem the tide of migrants arriving at Europe’s shores. Defense News reports that Germany will earmark the money for assistance in border security and controlling small arms proliferation in countries such as Tunisia, Mali, Nigeria, Jordan and Iraq.


Iraq’s peshmerga have announced that about 35 of their fighters have tested positive for the presence of mustard agent, adding to a body of evidence that the Islamic State has used chemical weapons. The Associated Press reports that the tests trace back to an August 11 incident in which the Islamic State fired mortar rounds containing white smoke and a black liquid at Kurdish position in Iraq.

For the second time in today’s SitRep, we point you in the direction of a map produced by the Institute for the Study of War, which has produced a great little graphic showing the front lines in the new push by Baghdad to retake the city of Ramadi.

Vocativ reports that Abu Azrael, an Iraqi Shia militia fighter and minor social media celebrity, is now threatening Saudi Arabia over its war with the Houthis in Yemen. In a recent video, Abu Azrael tells Saudis “we’re coming to you from Yemen or wherever. It doesn’t matter,” and promises to grind them “into flour.” Azrael is known on social media for his martial strutting in several videos alongside Iraqi Shia militias fighting the Islamic State. In one of his more notorious recent posts, he dismembers the charred corpse of an alleged Islamic State fighter by carving it up with a sword.


The Wall Street Journal reports on the growing U.S. and Philippine military ties as the country grow increasingly anxious over China’s disputed territorial claims in the waters off its coast. On Friday, Marines from both countries will conduct amphibious landing drills, part of a growing list of joint exercises planned between the two.


Have we found the new Dennis Rodman? Just as The Worm went to North Korea and posted up with Kim Jong Un, now it looks like Fred Durst from 1990s-era mistake Limp Bizkit is looking to Russia as a potential second home, FP’s Siobhan O’Grady tells us. And the Russians, for some reason, are really excited about the whole thing. If only this had happened back around 1994, the West might’ve been spared such classics as “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.” Go on, tell us how your high school-era self didn’t add to the group’s 50 million records sold.

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