The Cable

Situation Report: Hill reacts to Chalabi’s death; U.S and Russian warbirds talk; new Gitmo plan on its way; Iranian losses in Syria; Kabul boom goes bust; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Who, me? It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but after FP’s John Hudson stalked the halls of Congress on Tuesday to see what lawmakers thought of the death Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, he found that few there profess to remember much about the guy. After news broke ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Who, me? It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but after FP’s John Hudson stalked the halls of Congress on Tuesday to see what lawmakers thought of the death Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, he found that few there profess to remember much about the guy.

After news broke Tuesday morning that the influential Iraqi exile, whose false claims about Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction were used to justify the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, “lawmakers from both parties used interviews to either distance themselves from the Shiite secularist, profess to not know who he was, or say he had little influence on their decision to authorize the use of military force against Iraq in 2002,” Hudson writes. The ease with which the lawmakers dropped their old companion might be the most Washington thing you’ll read this week.

Talking, but not exercising. For the first time, American and Russian warplanes were able to talk to one another in the skies over Syria on Tuesday, but the Pentagon is adamant that it was not a “joint exercise,” as some outlets have reported. The “planned communications test” with the Russian fighter aircraft, Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Elissa Smith said, was in keeping with the flight safety memorandum the two nations agreed to last month. The test lasted about three minutes, and “assured that the first time this mode of communication was used would not be during an unplanned encounter.” One defense official was sure to let SitRep know that the test “was not an exercise,” however. “As you know, we put on hold all military to military cooperation following the onset of Russian aggression in Crimea, and that remains in effect. Today’s communications test was solely to validate” the ability of the two sides to talk to one another, the official said.

On and on… Yet another plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should be coming from the White House in the next few days. The effort, like previous failed attempts, will call for the release of about 52 prisoners deemed eligible for transfer to a third country, while shutting down the controversial prison in Cuba and sending the remaining detainees to prisons in the United States — a transfer currently barred by U.S. law. There are still 112 prisoners being held at Guantanamo, despite President Barack Obama’s pledge in 2008 to shut it down. The new plan is being spearheaded by Obama’s counterterrorism chief, Lisa Monaco, and will face a stiff fight in Congress once it finally becomes public. “I can’t say with certainty that we’re 100 percent going to get there, but I can tell you we’re going to die trying,” Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, told Reuters in an interview.

Mind the gap. Is Washington really facing a “carrier gap” that is putting U.S. national security at risk? Congress and the U.S. Navy sure think so. At a House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers and Navy brass chewed over the fact that there is no American flattop in the Arabian Gulf for the first time since 2007, and the U.S. is currently unable to float two carrier strike groups, with a third able to surge and deploy should the need arise.

The absence from the Gulf is largely due to high level of activity the ships have undertaken over the past decade, at one point even having two carriers in the Gulf from 2010 -2013. The Navy was forced to end that practice after ships and crews began to wear out, and money grew tight. Navy Rear Adm. John Aquilino, vice chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, told the panel that while there’s another carrier headed to the Gulf in the fall, he expects another gap next year, while the Navy is planning for a “similar gap” in the Pacific at one point in 2016.

Waiting. It has been a month now since an American AC-130 gunship ripped through a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and the Defense Department, despite promises of a quick investigation, hasn’t said a word about how the investigation is going. The aid group says the strike killed 13 of its staffers and 10 other patients. There are still 10 bodies discovered at the facility that have yet to be identified, the group says, and 27 staffers were injured. The Daily Beast reports that the investigation is focusing on a series of intelligence failures that defense officials believe led to the air crew being unable to identify the building they were firing at as a civilian hospital.

Good morning, all, and thanks again for clicking on through. We hope you find this little thing we have going on here useful. As always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along! Best way is to send them to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

In this week’s Global Thinkers podcast, 2014 Global Thinker Arye Kohavi and writer Charles Fishman explain why the world’s water problems are solvable – if it weren’t for the clunky policies standing in the way. Download and listen to FP’s Global Thinkers podcasts and others on iTunes and Stitcher: http://atfp.co/1N5rv3Z

Syria

The Iranian body count in Syria continues to grow. Iran’s Fars News reports that Col. Ezzatollah Soleimani, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been killed in Aleppo. Fars also announced the deaths of two other Iranian officers in Aleppo, Sayyed Ali Hosseini Alemi from the Fatemiyoun Division and Major Sayyed Sajjad Hosseini from the 15th Artillery Division, both of whom died “while serving as military advisers to the Syrian army in the battle against the Takfiri terrorists,” according to Fars. In the past month, at least 20 Iranian officers and soldiers have been killed in Syria.

Russia says the new friends it has made within the Syrian opposition are providing targeting data on the Islamic State. In October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued an invitation to Syrian rebel groups to join it in the fight against the Islamic State, and Russian government sources subsequently claimed that some Free Syrian Army units had taken it up on the offer. Now Gen. Andrei Kartapolov says his forces have carried out 24 strikes based in Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor based on unnamed Syrian rebel groups’ assistance.

The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari is raising eyebrows with recent comments that throw an ever-so-slight bit of shade on Russia, its ally in the defense of the Assad regime. The Daily Telegraph reports that Jafari made a vague hint that Russia and Iran might ultimately have differing interests, saying “The northern friend who came to Syria to provide military support recently [did so to serve] its interests” and “may not care if Assad stays as we do.”

Afghanistan

Just a few short years ago, flush with western development money and swelling with the large staffs of aid organizations working in the country during the U.S. surge of troops to Afghanistan, Kabul was looking like a boom town. Restaurants, bars, and movie screenings popped up around town to cater to a young ex-pat community. But looking around Kabul now, writes the New York Times’ Alyssa Rubin, you see the detritus of end of the NATO combat mission, and the subsequent pullout of many aid organizations who wrapped up their work once the security situation began to worsen.

Pakistan

Pakistan is taking a hard line against media outlets that report on groups affiliated with a terrorist group linked the country’s intelligence services. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued a decree forbidding reporters to cover two charities, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, linked to Lashkar-e Taiba. Lashkar-e Taiba reportedly receives safe haven and assistance from Pakistani military intelligence and was responsible for the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India.

Russia

The Daily Telegraph reports on a weird story out of Poland where soldiers there say they’ve received thousands of calls on their mobile phones from Russian phone numbers, ringing briefly and then ending. Polish military intelligence is investigating the calls, but the incidents are drawing uncomfortable parallels to Ukraine in 2014, when Euromaidan protesters against the Russian-supported  President Viktor Yanukovych suddenly began receiving text messages on their phones warning they’d been identified as participating in a “mass disturbance.”

Asia

Defense ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) couldn’t manage to put together a joint statement at the end of Tuesday’s gathering of ASEAN defense officials as tensions over China’s disputed territorial claims and a recent U.S. Navy passage contesting them appear to have boiled over, Reuters reports. U.S. officials blamed China for scuttling a joint statement over objections to mentioning the South China Sea disputes in a statement. For their part, China obliquely blamed the U.S. and Japan for trying to “forcefully stuff in content to the joint declaration.”

The AP reports that Abu Sayyaf, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group based in the Philippines, says it’s holding three hostages, two Canadian and a Norwegian, and is demanding $60 million in ransom for their safe return. The claims and ransom demands appeared in a video released by the group and published on the Internet. Philippines authorities say their policy forbids paying ransom for the release of the hostages.

Budget

Congressional Republicans are looking to take a knife to 98 different Defense Department programs in a bid to trim nearly $5 billion from the defense budget as part of the larger budget deal with the White House. DoDBuzz has the complete list of targeted programs released by Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Tx.), which includes over a billion dollars from fuel savings. The Hill zooms in on some of the cuts, including a plan to winnow the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund by $250 million, down to $750 million, and cut $125 million the Defense Department’s troubled effort to arm Syrian rebels, which was originally budgeted at $531 million.

 

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