The Cable

Situation Report: Gitmo plan coming, headaches remain; Sinjar assault eyes Mosul; Syrian opposition nervous about peace talks; White House says no Chinese troops in Syria; turnover at Pentagon; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Gitmo plans coming. Defense officials have indicated that President Barack Obama’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay would be released this week, so we eagerly await the delivery to Capitol HIll — where it is sure to be rejected. The package is expected to include options ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Gitmo plans coming. Defense officials have indicated that President Barack Obama’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay would be released this week, so we eagerly await the delivery to Capitol HIll — where it is sure to be rejected. The package is expected to include options for transferring the remaining detainees to high-security prisons in Colorado, Kansas, or South Carolina and an assessment of the related costs and logistics.

But FP’s Dan De Luce takes a deeper dive, and finds that even if president Obama used executive action to shutter the facility, it would likely be months before any detainees were physically moved out of Cuba. And with little support on Capitol Hill for shipping dozens of detainees to the United States to be housed in prisons here, “the administration would have to be ready for the potential political fallout from a showdown with Congress, which could include cutting funding for White House priorities or even forcing a government shutdown,” De Luce writes.

It’s on. The long-awaited push to retake Mosul may have kicked off this week over on Sinjar mountain, where thousands of Kurdish forces launched an all-out assault on the Islamic State in the area between the Sinjar and the Syrian border. The idea is to shut down the militant’s use of Highway 47, a main route for shipping supplies between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which ISIS overran in June 2014.

U.S. Special Operations forces are on the mountain helping to coordinate the dozens of airstrikes that have pounded ISIS positions over the last two days, but FP’s Paul McLeary reports that pushing the group out of Sinjar probably won’t make the eventual fight for Mosul any easier. The militants in the city have had plenty of time to build what U.S. officials have described as vast fields of landmines and deeply entrenched defensive positions scattered throughout the densely populated city of 1.5 million.

In it together. We promise. Just two days before diplomats gather yet again in Vienna in an effort to end the civil war in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to reassure skeptical members of the Syrian opposition on Thursday that they would play an influential role in determining their country’s future, reports FP’s John Hudson.

“Kerry’s vow came despite the fact that neither the Syrian opposition nor the regime of President Bashar al-Assad were invited to attend the Saturday meeting,” Hudson writes.  The Syrians were also excluded from the previous round of talks in the Austrian capital two weeks ago. Leaders of the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad are worried that the negotiators will bargain the revolution away, since opposition groups don’t have a seat at the table. “My concern is that this is going to be heavily in favor of the regime and you’re going to have a war criminal and an absolute monster come out on top,” Muna Jondy, president of United for a Free Syria, told Foreign Policy.

The wheel turns. There has been some real turnover among some of the top staffers advising Defense Secretary Ash Carter since he took office in February. The latest came Thursday night when Carter abruptly fired his top military advisor, Army Lt. Gen. Ron Lewis, amid allegations of misconduct. A statement from the secretary said the issue has been handed over to the Defense Department’s Inspector General for investigation. “I expect the highest possible standards of conduct from the men and women in this department particularly from those serving in the most senior positions,” Carter said. “There is no exception.” There have been reports that Lewis was involved in an “improper personal relationship.”

The Lewis sacking comes just three days after Carter’s public affairs chief, Maura Sullivan, announced she was leaving after only four months on the job. In a letter to the Pentagon’s public affairs staff forwarded to SitRep, Sullivan would only say that she was “transitioning” to a “leadership role in the Department of the Navy.” Current Pentagon spokesman, Peter Cook, will take on her job as well as holding down his duties at the podium. Carter’s nine-month tenure got off to a bit of a rocky start after he took three months to appoint Cook as his spokesman after telling then-spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby that he was naming his own guy to take the podium. More significantly, Carter swapped out his chief of staff in July, when he named Eric Fanning, who led his transition team, to be acting under secretary of the Army, and bringing on Eric Rosenbach to take his place as chief of staff.

No troops. The White House was forced to shoot down assertions made by Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson and his staff that Chinese troops are on the ground in Syria. FP’s David Francis is following the story, and reports that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was forced to tell reporters Thursday that “it’s worth stepping back and noting China makes it a practice to not get extended into military conflicts in the Middle East. Their policy over many years and decades has been to not be overextended in military exercises.” Interesting concept.

Thanks again for clicking on through for another day with SitRep as we wrap up another eventful week. 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 or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.


The Assad regime has managed to take back more territory in the course of its Aleppo offensive, this time seizing the town al-Hader along the highway linking Aleppo to Hama, according to Agence France Presse. Troops from Iran and Hezbollah took control of al-Hader, wresting it from al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters from the Nusra Front. It’s the second objective seized by the coalition backing Assad in recent days, after the Assad regime broke the Islamic State’s siege of Kweres airbase on Tuesday.

Islamic State

The U.S. may have killed ‘Jihadi John,’ a.k.a. Mohammed Emwazi, the British Islamic State fighter who savagely beheaded aid workers and reporters from the U.S., Britain and Japan. A Nov. 12 U.S. drone strike in Raqqa targeted the notorious Islamic State terrorist, and while officials are still assessing whether or not the strike killed Emwazi, some have been making confident-sounding noises, calling the strike a “flawless” and “clean hit” that “evaporated” Emwazi with no collateral damage.

The Islamic State is threatening Russia with retaliation for its air campaign in Syria in a new video circulating on social media, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. In the video, members of the jihadist group chant “soon, very soon, the blood will spill like an ocean” and promise attacks on Russia. A number of Russian citizens have already traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State, particularly from the Caucasus.


The New York Times reports that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Beirut that is home to Syrian and Palestinian refugees and supporters of Hezbollah. The bombers detonated their explosives at rush hour in order to maximize casualties and the death toll so far has reached at least 43.


Israel’s defense industry has taken a huge hit, with exports down 40 percent this year and in steady decline since 2012, according to Defense News. Defense executives are reportedly in a state of near panic, writing a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding more spending and a new defense industrial strategy to cope with the declining sales in an increasingly competitive global arms market.

Israeli intelligence officials have notched up their estimate of Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal from 100,000 to 150,000, Avi Issacharoff writes in a new piece for the Times of Israel. Hezbollah has reportedly been trying to augment its weapons arsenal with shipments from Syria, and the terrorist group is reportedly looking to get its hands on SA-17, SA-22, and P-800 Oniks missiles.


The Islamic State’s insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai province is taking a toll on the longstanding presence of multinational peacekeepers there, causing some doubt about the Multinational Force and Observers’ (MFO) mission in Sinai as the violence escalates. MFO troops originally came to Sinai to monitor the terms of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, but as one diplomat told Reuters, the MFO presence reflects a different and more permissive threat environment than now exists in the age of Islamist violence, which has recently escalated in Sinai.


The Pentagon revealed on Thursday that two U.S. B-52 bombers flew near disputed islands claimed by China. The Pentagon described the flights as “a routine mission in international airspace” and said that the Guam-based bombers never came closer than 15 nautical miles of islands in the Spratly Archipelago, though it did receive verbal warnings from China. The flight comes after the USS Lassen conducted a sail-through near the islands there claimed by China.

Ars Technica spots a new article in the Journal of Applied Physics by Chinese researchers from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology highlighting their work in developing stealth technology. The article recounts the researchers’ development of “active frequency selective surface” which can cover the surface of an object and absorb certain frequencies of radar. China has been investing big in stealth research and developing a number of stealth fighter jets.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAPRA) will be testing a new sub-hunting undersea drone next year, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel. Vice reports that the sub drones would spend long durations at sea, quietly shadowing adversary submarines.

Accidentally on purpose — that’s the New York Times’s suggestion for the provenance of footage showing blueprints for a new Russian dirty bomb torpedo recently aired on Russian television. Russian officials have claimed that the designs showed up accidentally, leaking sensitive information about an apparent bid to build a new environmental weapon that would irradiate enemy coastlines. But even some Russian talking heads are doubting the official storyline, saying the broadcast was likely intended as a not-so-subtle threat to the West.

There’s a $200 million authorization tucked into the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act which directs the Defense Department to audit its weapons systems for software flaws which could be exploited by an adversary. The move comes on the heels of a Defense Department investigation which found “significant vulnerabilities” in the software of major weapons programs.

Defense Department emails will no longer render HTML, Federal Computer Week reports. The move to blocking HTML from Pentagon email, coordinated by deputy chief information officer for Cyber Security Richard Hale and Cyber Command, will deactivate hyperlinks in emails sent to .mil addresses and is intended to mitigate phishing attacks and the careless clicks that enable them.

And then…

We now have positive confirmation that Russia has deployed T-90 tanks to Syria, thanks to several pictures of a military band playing — and doing some serious mugging — in front of one of the tanks at a Russian outpost in the country. We’re sure the band is fine and all, but for our money, “Tops in Blue” is still, pound for sequined pound, the best military band out there.

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