The Cable

Situation Report: Marines fighting in Fallujah?; Gitmo plan coming; think tank infighting; more bombs for Middle East allies; Ukraine cyber troubles; and lots more

By Paul McLeary What we talk about when we talk about Anbar. Are U.S. Marine special operations forces in Iraq doing more than just training? “There’re a lot of bad guys in Fallujah getting shot in the head from pretty far away, outside the capability of the mentored troops,” one western official working with the ...

By Paul McLeary

What we talk about when we talk about Anbar. Are U.S. Marine special operations forces in Iraq doing more than just training? “There’re a lot of bad guys in Fallujah getting shot in the head from pretty far away, outside the capability of the mentored troops,” one western official working with the Iraq government told McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero. While Islamic State militants may be getting picked off in Fallujah, all eyes in the Iraqi capital remain fixed on Ramadi, which the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has set up as the first prize to be taken in pushing the Islamic State out of the country. Problem is, the militants have ringed Ramadi with deadly rings of IEDs and have spent the past five months digging defensive positions at key points around the city. The Iraqi army has been making very slow progress on the outskirts of town for weeks, but any big push to retake the city still looks to be a long way away.

Prison bound. The Obama administration is set to unveil its long-awaited plan for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility this week, which will include recommendations for what to do with the 53 inmates — out of 112 being held — not eligible for release. The report will come after Tuesday’s vote in the Senate on the defense policy bill for 2016, which currently contains language barring Guantanamo detainees from being housed in the U.S.

“Clearly the Congress’s help is needed in doing this,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said on Monday. Defense officials are “working very closely” with the Hill he added, and members of Congress “understand that they need to be partners in this, but the president’s goal remains to close the detention facility there.” Officials from the White House have indicated that President Barack Obama may invoke executive action to close the facility if congress won’t agree to terms. A team from the Defense Department has already toured prisons in South Carolina, Kansas, and several sites in Colorado as possible landing spots for the Gitmo 53. But so far, senators from those states have been adamantly opposed to allowing the detainees to come to their states.

Jordan attack. There’s still no word as to why a 29 year old Jordanian police officer — and 11 year veteran of the force — with no known militant ties shot and killed two U.S. government security contractors, a South African trainer and two Jordanians yesterday at a U.S.-funded training facility near the capital of Amman. So far, no group has taken responsibility for the attack, which came on a grim anniversary in Jordanian history — 10 years to the day after a team of suicide bombers hit three hotels in Amman on Nov. 9, 2005, in a killing spree that left about 60 dead and more than 100 wounded. The attacks had been masterminded by al Qaeda in Iraq’s then-leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was later killed by U.S. special operations forces in Iraq. FP’s Paul McLeary writes that the base was set up in 2003 as a facility to help train the Iraqi security forces, and has since churned out more than 50,000 Iraqi cops.

FP’s own John Hudson has a great scoop on an internal disagreement at the Center for American Progress over the think tank’s decision to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week for a Q&A session. A staff meeting last week “escalated into open dissent and infighting during an intense but civil all-staff meeting on Friday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the exchange,” Hudson writes. The progressive group has also come under fire from peace activists who argue that hosting the Israeli leader inadvertently gives his right-wing policies a bipartisan stamp of approval. But leaders of the institution — which promises to be a holding pen for White House staffers in a possible Hillary Clinton presidency — say that the internal dispute was civil, and all’s well.

Thanks again for clicking on through for another day with SitRep. 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.

Check out this week’s new Editor’s Roundtable (The E.R.) podcast. In this episode, David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Ed Luce discuss the inevitable shift in the global affair’s infrastructure from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and why old alliances and “special” relationships are going to have to change accordingly. Listen and subscribe to The E.R. on iTunes and Stitcher: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI

Bomb news

American allies in the Middle East have been tearing through their stocks of precision munitions over the past year during their bombing campaigns in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. And the U.S. Air Force is eager to help them refill their stocks. Speaking at the Dubai Air Show, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said “that’s one we are working pretty hard on.” One would think that U.S. defense contractors have already pulled their chairs up to that negotiating table.

Cyber

Is Ukraine the latest front in the global cyber war? If so, there’s a pretty good reason. Even today, “more than half of Ukrainian government computers operate pirated software, lacking proper security updates, and many also use Russian antivirus software,” making the Kiev government low-hanging fruit for Russian hackers, the Wall Street Journal reports. Thanks to this sloppy cyber presence, over the past two years cyberattacks have ripped through Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and the presidential administration. And help may or may not be on the way. NATO has promised to help, but the alliance’s efforts have been hampered by bureaucratic red tape.

Privacy advocates scored a real victory on Monday when a federal judge ruled that he NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records was unconstitutional, reports FP’s Elias Groll. “The actual impact, though, will be extremely limited: The program in question is set to shut down in less than three weeks,” Groll notes. The case was originally brought by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman and led to the December 2013 opinion from Richard Leon, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that called the NSA’s phone record collection program “almost Orwellian.”

Syria

U.S. spies are hoping that the recent downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt may convince Russia to shift the focus of its Syrian bombing campaign toward the Islamic State and away from other rebel groups. Russia claims to have hit a number of targets over the past three days, including those from the Nusra Front. But the vast majority of strikes are still being aimed at rebel positions challenging the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, as opposed to the Islamic State. The Institute for the Study of War reports that over the past week, “Russian airstrikes continued to support regime ground operations with limited effect.”

Officials in Moscow have been issuing daily air strike updates for its air war in Syria, and Monday claimed that Russia’s air force hit a staggering 448 targets in Syria over the last three days. At the same time, U.S. officials point out that U.S. and coalition airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, which have averaged about eight per day during the first week of November, marks a doubling of the coalition’s efforts from the average number of daily strikes in October, which averaged about four per day.

 

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