The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Situation Report: An exclusive look inside the MSF hospital in Kunduz; Syrian training program burned through $300 million; Washington and Moscow talking about not talking; Ramadi next; Iranian leaders head to Damascus; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Foreign Policy has published a gripping photographic first look at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that was ripped apart by a U.S. AC-130 gunship earlier this month. Twenty-two Afghan staffers were killed, and 37 other wounded in the strike. But on Oct. 10, Andrew Quilty, a photojournalist ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Foreign Policy has published a gripping photographic first look at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that was ripped apart by a U.S. AC-130 gunship earlier this month. Twenty-two Afghan staffers were killed, and 37 other wounded in the strike. But on Oct. 10, Andrew Quilty, a photojournalist based in Kabul, took a taxi from the forward lines of the Afghan army unit he was embedding with to visit the charred remains of the hospital. And he sent back a series of sobering, and disturbing, images.

While Quilty describes the ongoing fighting during his harrowing trip into the city, the Taliban has now said it has pulled back. The group issued a statement using the American attack as an opportunity to squeeze a little public relations juice from the disaster, saying “withdrawal from Kunduz city bazaar and government buildings is done purely for the higher interests of Jihad, the main goal of which was to secure the population from air raids and protect the human and material cost of Mujahideen from waste in a protracted defensive battle.”

Eyes on, talks continue. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday that officials from the Department of Defense will hold a third video conference on Wednesday with the Russian Ministry of Defense, focusing on “specific safety protocols for aircrews flying over Syria. Those discussions are progressing, but nothing has been finalized,” he said.

The announcement of the new call came just hours after U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad Col. Steve Warren told reporters that Russian and U.S. aircraft flying over Syria have come within “visual recognition distance” of one another over the last several days. “All pilots conducted themselves appropriately and everyone went about their business,” he said.

No talks over talks. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also complained Tuesday that Washington has refused to send a military delegation to Moscow to discuss more coordination between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria. He said that Russian officials have floated the idea of sending a Russian delegation led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Washington, though American officials said they wouldn’t receive the group.

Heavy and hard. Much of the focus on Moscow’s push into Syria has focused on Russian fighter planes, but videos coming out of Syria are featuring plenty of Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters, a hybrid transport aircraft and gunship unique to the Russian military, swooping low over the treetops and hitting rebel positions. FP’s Henry Johnson takes a look at the bird, which can be used for ferrying troops, lighting up rebel strongholds, and carrying supplies to troops in the thick of the fight. Christopher Harmer, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War said a video of a pair of Mi-24s flying low to the ground and firing rockets showed a “top shelf, highly trained, very courageous, and highly aggressive Russian helicopter crew.”

Cost benefit? We’ve also got some updated numbers on the Syrian train and equip program the Pentagon recently walked away from. Last year, Congress allocated $500 million for the effort, which was billed as a way to train 5,000 moderate Syrian fighters by the end of this year. And the number we have been working with when looking at the cost of the program has been in the mid-$40 million range. But Col. Warren told reporters that the number is actually more like $300 million when taking into account the spending on equipment for the Syrians, which now includes the 50 tons of ammunition U.S. aircraft dropped to Syrian fighters earlier this week. Congress has already signed off on another $600 million for the program in 2016.

Matter of debate. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton fought off attacks on her foreign policy credentials on Tuesday night in the first presidential debate to win her party’s nomination for president, FP’s David Francis and John Hudson write. There wasn’t as much talk of Russia as during the Republican contest, and when asked to name the single greatest security threat facing the United States, Clinton mentioned the proliferation of loose nuclear materials, while former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pegged Iran, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia chose China and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee pointed to the “chaos in the Middle East.” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont chose global warming.

Answers, no solutions. Almost 15 months after Malaysian Airlines passenger jet MH17 crashed in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, the Dutch Safety Board has concluded what many say they already knew: a Russian-made Buk missile was responsible for the disaster.

The report, which goes into painstaking detail, offers evidence that that a missile launched from Russian-backed, rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine slammed into the left-hand side of the cockpit, severing the cockpit from the rest of the plane as it began its 90 second descent to earth. FP’s Siobhan O’Grady reports that investigators concluded the damage to the front part of the plane — which was partially reconstructed during the effort — matched that of a 9M38M1 missile launched by the Buk system. Russia, unsurprisingly, is pulling out all the stops to deny the report.

Good morning from the pre-dawn crew over here at SitRep HQ. We’re keeping our eyes peeled, but 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.

This week’s Global Thinkers podcast, posted today, dives into culture and identity, specifically In East Africa where both 2014 Global Thinker and visual artist Sam Hopkins and FP contributor Michela Wrong regularly spend time. Hopkins looks at social and political situations and responds through art. Wrong recently published her first novel, Borderlines. Listen and subscribe to this podcast and more on iTunes or Stitcher:


Reuters lands a scoop pointing to an forthcoming ground offensive by the Assad regime and its international allies. The attack will reportedly involve “thousands” of Iranian and Hezbollah troops and take place around the rebel stronghold of Aleppo. “Senior regional officials,” say they’re coming clean about the participation of Iranian troops because it’s clear their presence is no longer deniable.

Word also comes down Wednesday morning that Iran’s Tasnim News has reported the death of more senior officials from Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Major General Farshad Hasounizadeh and Brigadier Hamid Mokhtarband. Hasounizadeh is the former commander of the IRGC’s elite Saberin special operations unit. Iran announced the losses Monday, but gave no further information about the incidents.

U.S.-backed Kurdish troops say they’ll attack Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State in Syria, in a matter of weeks, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) chief Span Hamo says the militia is coordinating with the United States for the start of the offensive. The U.S. recently dropped tons of ammunition to allies in northern Syria, including ammo earmarked for the YPG.

The Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, is now calling on jihadists to carry out attacks in Russia and has put a multi-million dollar bounty on the head of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to Vocativ. Nusra chief Abu Mohamed al-Jolani called on jihadis in the Caucasus to kill Russians in revenge for the country’s fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, pleading “The war in Syria will make the Russians forget the horrors that they found in Afghanistan.” Al-Jolani also put a $3.4 million bounty out for whomever kills Assad and a $2 million contract out for the death of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.


There was a time when the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State followed an “Iraq First” philosophy, something that has been lost over the dramatic, fast-moving events in Syria. But there’s the possibility of a breakthrough in Ramadi, where thousands of Iraqi forces have been able to push into the city’s outer suburbs in recent days, helped along by brand-new Iraqi F-16 fighter jets which have been supporting the ground operation. And the vanguard that has held them off for the past five months? About 600 to 1,000 Islamic State fighters, according to Pentagon estimates.


Despite a 60-nation coalition led by the United States participating in, or supporting, the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, there’s one country who says they don’t plan on getting involved: China. A spokeswoman for the Beijing government said Wednesday there are “no such plans” to send troops and the aircraft carrier Liaoning to the region as has been rumored.

A Chinese newspaper claims that the forthcoming launch of the Gaofen-4 geostationary spy satellite is aimed at helping to hunt down U.S. aircraft carriers in the event of a military confrontation between China and the United States. The China Youth Daily carried the claims but experts say the Gaofen would have a harder time pinpointing the location of U.S. aircraft carriers than the paper lets on.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the U.S. will sail around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea anytime it pleases, Stars and Stripes reports. “We will fly, sail, and operate wherever the international law permits, and we will do that at the times and places of our choosing, and there’s no exception to that,” Carter said in Boston on Tuesday. His comments come as the Obama administration has signaled a willingness to challenge China’s disputed assertions of sovereignty surrounding a handful of islands in the waters off its coast.

Business of defense

Weapons deals sometimes make for strange geopolitical bedfellows, and the possible bid by some Gulf states to buy the Israeli-developed Iron Dome anti-missile shield would be no exception. Bahrain’s foreign minister recently suggested that Bahrain and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council could purchase the Iron Dome system in order to defend against Iranian rockets and missiles, according to Britain’s Sky News. If the deal ever comes about, it could total billions of dollars, depending on the scale of the purchase. Behind the scenes, the United States is reportedly helping to broker the deal and helping to facilitate negotiations.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls inked a $10 billion weapons deal between France and Saudi Arabia during his recent trip to Riyadh. The deal includes French support to provide Saudi Arabia with communications and observation satellites, according to the Associated Press.


Gizmag reports on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) latest quest to develop self-destructing drones. DARPA’s ICARUS program envisions small drones that can deploy from aircraft to drop payloads of three pounds and then disintegrate. The self-destruction would be made possible by vanishing polymers, substances that can turn from solids into gases.


The United States plans on taking Iran’s latest ballistic missile test to the United Nations Security Council as a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which prohibits Iran from testing ballistic missiles.

The White House is trying to play it straight, however. On Tuesday, spokesman Josh Earnest said the test “is altogether separate from the nuclear agreement that Iran reached with the rest of the world.” In other words, nothing to see here, other than a new ballistic missile capability. “In contrast to the repeated violations of the U.N. Security Council resolution that pertains to their ballistic missile activities,” he added, “we’ve seen that Iran over the last couple of years has demonstrated a track record of abiding by the commitments that they made in the context of the nuclear talks.”

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