The Cable

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

Situation Report: U.K. looking to get back into anti-ISIS fight; the banality of occupation; war on ISIS oil has gone quiet; serious warning in Kabul; Pentagon money guru to speak; ISIS execution tally; U.S. trying to keep up with global weapons demand; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley A new ‘special relationship.’ U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping to avoid the embarrassment suffered back in 2013 when Parliament rejected his request to join in on potential airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons. And he’s using the attacks in Paris as ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

A new ‘special relationship.’ U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping to avoid the embarrassment suffered back in 2013 when Parliament rejected his request to join in on potential airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons. And he’s using the attacks in Paris as a way to get the U.K. into the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, FP’s Colum Lynch writes.

Addressing the British House of Commons on Nov. 26, Cameron “outlined Britain’s case for a broader and deeper role in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, including by asking Parliament for a green light to join the U.S.-led air war in Syria,” Lynch writes. Britain cannot “outsource our security,” Cameron insisted as part of his push not to lose influence in Washington during a period of closer U.S./French ties in the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East and Africa.

Taxman. While Cameron looks to expand his nation’s role in the fight, the Islamic State continues to embed itself in every aspect of life in the areas it has conquered. The group has been wringing about $1 billion a year out of the Syrian and Iraqi people in areas under its control through a mob-like extortion racket that charges businessmen for delivering their goods to market, fining people for wearing the wrong clothes, and collecting utility payments.

In many ways, ISIS has taken over the mundane activities of local government, collecting electric and water bills, car registration fees, charging rent from shop owners and imposing taxes on citizens. Of course, the militants don’t necessarily consider it a tax — they much prefer to think of it as “zakat,” which is a required payment under traditional Islam. But even here, ISIS rewrites the rules to fit its purposes. Zakat is usually about 2.5 percent of a person’s income, but ISIS fighters are instead shaking people down for 10 percent, according to the New York Times.

War on oil. The shakedowns may not pull in as much money as the black market oil trade, as FP’s Dan De Luce and David Francis recently explored, but the day-to-day collection of cash from small businesses and ordinary citizens is keeping the Islamic State’s bloody war machine rolling.

The war on the Islamic State’s oil smuggling operations looks to have slowed down a bit after a series of recent high-profile strikes, however, with only one airstrike having been conducted against the group’s oil operations since Nov. 22, according to figures provided by the U.S.-led coalition. Back on the 22nd, a raid on a convoy of oil trucks in eastern Syria demolished 283 oil trucks, following on a similar raid days before that tore through another 116 oil trucks.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials began talking about “Operation Tidal Wave II,” their name for a new push to bomb Syrian oil infrastructure points controlled by the militant group, along with the hundreds of tanker trucks moving that oil around Syria and Iraq. FP’s Paul McLeary recently reported that even if U.S. officials refuse to say if their rules of engagement have changed, the bombing of the trucks signals a new effort to squeeze ISIS where it hurts.

Follow the money. Wondering what’s next for the Defense Department now that President Barack Obama has signed the defense authorization bill? The Center for Strategic and International Studies is hosting DoD Comptroller Mike McCord for a discussion Monday morning at 8:30 a.m., hosted by defense budget guru Todd Harrison, who serves as the think tank’s director of defense budget analysis. Shake out the cobwebs from the long weekend and watch it here.

While you’re at it, start preparing now for Tuesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing, where Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford assume the position to talk about the administration’s policy in Syria and the Middle East.

Kabul, watch out. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens in the capital city early Monday after receiving “credible reports of an imminent attack” within the next 48 hours in the city. Heads up.

Good morning, all. Hope our friends in the States had a restful Thanksgiving break, but wherever you may be this morning, we appreciate you checking in. 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 Islamic State has executed over 3,500 people in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including 103 women and 77 children. Hardest hit has been the massive Shaitat tribe in eastern Syria, which has lost over 900 men to beheadings and other executions over the past year and a half. The well-armed tribe rose up against ISIS late last year but was soon cut down by the better equipped, better funded terrorist group, whose members went on spasm of violence, beheading, crucifying, and murdering over 700 men in just three days in August 2014.

Germany plans to seek a mandate to contribute troops to the war against the Islamic State, Defense News reports. Germany’s army chief of staff Gen. Volker Wieker said Germany could contribute 1,200 troops and carry out reconnaissance missions over Syria. The German government has already signaled its willingness to contribute Tornado reconnaissance jets to support French airstrikes in the wake of the Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Turkey has returned the remains of Oleg Peshkov, a Russian pilot killed after Turkey shot down his Su-24 after allegedly straying into Turkish airspace, to Russian diplomats. The jet crashed in Syria and video and images circulated online purported to show Peshkov’s body surrounded by Syrian rebels. Reuters reports that Turkey recovered the body from northern Syria.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told NBC’s Meet the Press the Obama administration’s fight against the Islamic State “need[s] to be sped up and intensified” and worried that the downturn in Turkey and Russia’s relationship following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet would poison attempts to build a regional coalition against the jihadist group. Gates also dismissed calls for a large U.S. ground troop presence to carry out the fight, saying it would take too long to prepare and potentially “aggravate the problem.”


Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed that a Russian warplane recently strayed into Israeli airspace, according to the AP. Yaalon said that incident was quickly resolved without conflict through the use of communications channels set up between the Russian and Israeli militaries to deconflict air operations over neighboring Syria. Signaling a less tense relationship with Russia than Turkey, Yaalon said Russian planes “don’t intend to attack us,” allowing for a more lax response to airspace violations.


Amid reports that Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani had been seriously injured by shrapnel near Aleppo, he has apparently given an interview to an Iranian newspaper saying he’s fine. Soleimani reportedly denied that he had been injured, but added that he has been seeking martyrdom “in all plains and mountains.” While some photos of Soleimani near the front lines in Syria have been floated in recent days to prove he’s still up and running around the battlefield, tongues started wagging in Tehran Friday after he failed to show up in pictures of the public funeral for Roken Abadi, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon who died in the Sept. 24 stampede in Mecca that left at least 2,000 people dead.


McClatchy reports that Iraqi Security Forces have finally succeeded in cutting off the Islamic State’s supply line into Ramadi, surrounding the city in preparation to retake Anbar province’s capital. U.S. advisors had reportedly encouraged Iraqi troops to focus on Fallujah before taking on Ramadi, explaining that coalition airstrikes would be easier to carry out due to relatively fewer civilians still living in Fallujah.

Some in Washington believe that Kurdish forces are likely torturing half a dozen Islamic State prisoners captured in a joint operation by Kurdish and U.S. special ops troops that killed one American Delta Force operator in October. The U.S. reportedly isn’t in contact with the prisoners, and Defense Department sources tell the Daily Beast that the U.S. isn’t keen to press the issue with its Kurdish allies either.


As the U.S.-led coalition continues to pound the Islamic State from the air in Iraq and Syria, the group has established a strong foothold in Libya, unmolested by government security forces. The coastal city of Surt is now a wholly-owned affiliate of the terrorist group, the New York Times says in a comprehensive new report. While ISIS has established outposts in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, “Libya is the affiliate that we’re most worried about,” Patrick Prior, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top counterterrorism analyst, said recently. “It’s the hub from which they project across all of North Africa.”


The U.S., China, and Pakistan are working together to try and revive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, according to the Wall Street Journal. The effort includes a planned meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a United Nations conference in Paris. Peace talks have been set back by the revelation that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar died in 2013, plunging the group into a fractious leadership struggle following the announcement of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as Omar’s successor.


Kenyan authorities arrested two Kenyan nationals whom they accuse of being part of an Iranian spy ring aimed at preparing terrorist attacks against western targets in Kenya. Officials claim the two men said they worked for the Quds Force, the external covert operations arm of Iran’s military.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly got a front row seat to the country’s failed test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), according to Yonhap News Agency. South Korean intelligence officials told the country’s National Assembly that Kim was in attendance for the SLBM test carried out on Saturday, but North Korean officials were reportedly unable to track the missile’s trajectory. Saturday’s launch follows a May, 2015 test for North Korea’s SLBM program.


Eleven Chinese jets reportedly flew by Okinawa, Japan on Saturday in what China called an exercise to test its long-range capabilities. Though the aircraft reportedly did not stray into Japanese airspace, the presence of the bomber-heavy air armada caused Japan to scramble fighter jets to the area. Relations between Japan and China have been especially tense lately following China’s displeasure at Japan’s participation in joint naval exercises with the U.S. and Australia, and Japanese apprehension about China’s growing military and expansive maritime territorial claims.

The biz

The Defense Department is trying to speed up its processing of foreign military sales as the market for U.S. arms heats up. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency head Vice Admiral Joe Rixey says the agency’s fourth quarter was stronger than expected, in part because American allies are churning through munitions in the war against the Islamic State. Allies have reportedly complained about the sluggish bureaucracy surrounding U.S. weapons sales and outgoing Air Force acquisition chief William LaPlante recently said that the U.S. needs to approve weapons sales faster or else risk losing business to foreign competitors like China.

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