The Cable

Situation Report: Ramadi fight continues, but fight for Iraq’s Sunnis looms; White House blames Pentagon for slow rolling Gitmo releases; U.S. flattop back in Arabian Gulf; peek at a Putin beefcake calendar; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Ramadi teeters, but fighting continues. Iraqi forces continue to make their way through Ramadi, street by booby-trapped street. While Baghdad was quick to declare victory on Monday over Islamic State fighters in the city after its forces took a key government building, there’s been no word on the status ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Ramadi teeters, but fighting continues. Iraqi forces continue to make their way through Ramadi, street by booby-trapped street. While Baghdad was quick to declare victory on Monday over Islamic State fighters in the city after its forces took a key government building, there’s been no word on the status of other important landmarks including the Justice Palace and the Grand Mosque, while some neighborhoods in northern Ramadi have yet to be cleared.

The end of the beginning. But once the clearing operations wrap up, the real fight for Ramadi begins. The city is the first prize in what leaders in Baghdad promise will be a continuing campaign to retake the cities of Fallujah and Mosul, which fell to ISIS in January and June, 2014, respectively. But FP’s Paul McLeary writes that the fighting — which promises to be hard, and long — is only the first step in trying to bring the country’s Sunni population into the fold. Ramadi offers some lessons for the way forward, which could be crucial to both winning the war and forging a brokered peace between the Shiite government and the powerful Iranian-backed militias that support it, and millions of disaffected Sunnis who want no part of a country so closely aligned with Iran.

Keeping on. Before that struggle can begin, the current fight grinds on. Late Monday, Iraqi officials estimated the government controls about 75 percent of the city, while ISIS fighters still held many villages to the north, south and east of Ramadi. On Monday, U.S and coalition aircraft pounded multiple ISIS positions around Ramadi in seven different strikes, each containing multiple targets. They included five ISIS “tactical units,” eight “fighting positions,” two oil tanker trucks, a suicide car bomber, and others.

Finger pointing. A group of current and former White House officials are throwing the Pentagon under the bus for the failure of President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, a core 2008 campaign promise that appears to be in little danger of being fulfilled. The officials, speaking anonymously, outlined for a Reuters team all the ways in which Pentagon officials have slow rolled the process by refusing to release medical records to third countries who expressed interest in taking on some prisoners upon their release, and curtailing visits by foreign officials.

The staffers charge Pentagon officials with being hostile to White House policy on Gitmo, and clue us in on a great line uttered by an unnamed Pentagon official, who after being told the White House wanted to prioritize the release of one prisoner, shot back, “we will prioritize him — right at the back of the line where he belongs.” Good times in the interagency process.

We’re baaaaack. The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier has returned to the Arabian Gulf after several months where the United States had no carriers in critical waterway. She transited the Strait of Hormuz earlier this week, and is preparing to conduct airstrikes in Iraq.

Reckoning. The Pakistani Taliban is using the coming new year holiday to recap some of the bloodiest highlights of the year past, reports FP’s Siobhan O’Grady. The group’s spokesman Muhammad Khorasani tweeted Monday that the list includes 43 “targeted killing attacks” and 19 bombings, as well as 17 missile strikes, 12 ambushes, and five “self-sacrificial” attacks.

We’re well into the short new week, one that happens to be the last of the year. As always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ! Best way is to send them to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Syria

The Syrian towns of Zabadani, Fouaa, and Kfarya were the subject of managed evacuations of besieged rebel and regime fighters on Monday, the New York Times reports, raising hopes that political settlements in the bloody conflict are possible. Rebels in Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, and pro-Assad fighters in the predominately Shiite towns Fouaa and Kfarya evacuated under Red Cross and Red Crescent auspices and were flown to Turkey and Lebanon to receive medical treatment. But there are doubts about the fate of the rebel and pro-regime civilians left behind in those areas.

Afghanistan

Afghan cops are holed up inside their base in Sangin, surrounded by Taliban fighters who have cut them off from resupply, Afghan officials in Helmand province say. The police refuse to leave the base, complaining that promised reinforcements have failed to arrive. A provincial official claims that the police have had enough after losing hundreds of comrades over the past several months of hard fighting with a resurgent Taliban.

The Islamic State

The Iraq Oil Report has a fascinating look inside the Islamic State’s oil industry based on recently declassified documents and interviews with U.S. officials and Iraqis who have lived under the jihadist group’s rule. The report shows how Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State’s man in charge of energy and natural resources under the group’s control, assembled a 2,000-strong workforce, including roughly 1,600 experts recruited from abroad, to manage oil wells the group owns and to repair them after U.S. airstrikes. While oil has accounted for almost half the group’s budget, U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State oil infrastructure have put a crimp in profits and hurt the group’s ability to govern, according to residents of the self-styled caliphate.

Vietnam

Vietnam has built a long range drone, and it’s about to start testing with an eye toward eventual use over the South China Sea. IHS Jane’s reports that the HS-6L, as it’s called, made an appearance on Vietnamese television this month. The drone likely comes courtesy of Belarus — Jane’s notes that a professor from Belarus’s Presidium of the Belarus Academy of Science was on hand for the TV rollout and Vietnam had already purchased a similar-looking UAV from Belarus in 2014. The HS-6L will reportedly undergo flight trials in the second quarter of next year.

China

China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet is out of the prototypes and into (limited) production, according to runway snaps eyed by PopSci’s Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer. Pictures of a J-20 show a serial number consistent with a low rate of initial production, rather than the serial numbers used for prototypes that China military watchers have spotted in the past. The development brings the People’s Liberation Army’s quest for a stealth fighter jet one step closer to reality. The J-20 is expected to reach initial operational capability sometime between 2018 and 2019.

Japan

Japan has reached a historic accord with South Korea atoning for the abuse of Korean “comfort women” kept as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has issued a statement apologizing for the abuse and the Japanese government will contribute $8.3 million to a fund set up to support the remaining victims of the wartime enslavement. Japan’s failure to sufficiently atone for the episode in the eyes of South Koreans has made it a stumbling block for better relations between the two countries, particularly at a time when the U.S. has been urging closer cooperation against threats from China and North Korea.

North Korea

North Korea has its own operating system, but like a lot of things in the Hermit Kingdom, it’s not a great choice for the privacy conscious. German researchers Florian Grunow and Niklaus Schiess presented a technical analysis of North Korea’s Red Star operating system, a custom distribution based on the open-source Linux operating system. Red Star is designed with a nod to the aesthetics of Apple’s OS X desktop operating system. But under the hood, Red Star attaches digital watermarks to files, allowing subsequent forensic analysis to link individual users to specific files — a feature the researchers say was likely added to help monitor the spread of illicit foreign TV, movies and music.

Future war

The growth of “megacities,” sprawling metropolitan areas with populations of greater than 10 million, will demand changes to how the U.S. trains troops how to fight, according to Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory chief Brig. Gen. Julian Alford. Defense News reports on Gen. Alford’s speech at a recent training conference in which he noted that megacities are difficult to simulate in training environments. Alford pointed to migration trends pushing people to live in megacities and the expected social and economic problems they’ll experience as factors driving the likelihood of conflict.

Business of defense

Politico examines the financial challenges of the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the organization which former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara hoped would help the Department run more like a business. The Pentagon has spent years preparing DLA as a kind of guinea pig for the entire Defense Department’s ability to conduct a financial audit of itself, per recent Congressional demands. But it hasn’t been easy. Investigators have said that DLA has wasted half its $14 billion budget on unnecessary items and it’s remained stubbornly immune to basic accounting principles for years.

Tweet of the day

Watch that trigger discipline. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry, who reportedly had a little accident at the range last week.

RT @shaunwalker7 Hawkish dep PM @DRogozin has apparently “accidentally shot himself in the foot” at shooting range, says Interfax (!) interfax.ru/russia/487729

Finally…

As 2015 draws to a close and we turn, with a hopeful gaze and full hearts, to the promise of 2016, what better way to celebrate than with the official Vladimir Putin 2016 calendar? It’s a thing. And it’s everything you would hope it would be. Each month comes with a photograph of the Russian leader — yes, some shirtless — and features inspirational quotes from everyone’s favorite former Cold War Soviet spy. Consider November 2016, showing Putin cuddling a fuzzy puppy: “Dogs and I have very warm feelings for one another.” Indeed. Or April, which shows a softer side of Vlad as he sniffs a flower while looking coquettishly off to the side: “I like all Russian women.” He’s single, ladies!

 

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