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

Situation Report: Lots on the Iran deal, some more on U.S. boats seized by Iran; U.S. military readying punishments for troops after deadly Afghan strike; Petraeus might lose one star; missing Americans in Baghdad; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Deals and wheels up. It was a big, complicated weekend in the continuing saga between the United States and Iran, marking the potential start of a “new normal” between the two countries who are lurching toward building a new working relationship. First off, the deal. Saturday was “implementation day,” ...

By , a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Deals and wheels up. It was a big, complicated weekend in the continuing saga between the United States and Iran, marking the potential start of a “new normal” between the two countries who are lurching toward building a new working relationship.

First off, the deal. Saturday was “implementation day,” marking the official start of the lifting of crushing western sanctions on the Iranian economy in return for major concessions on the country’s nuclear program. The sanctions relief hastens Tehran’s return to the global economy and gives the Islamic Republic “access to more than $50 billion in assets frozen in accounts around the world,” FP’s John Hudson writes.

On the same day came the surprise announcement that several Americans being held in Iran would be freed, sending Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini home after years of imprisonment. A fourth American, Nosratollah Khosravi, appears to have decided to stay in Iran. In a separate agreement, Iran released a fifth American, a recently detained student named Matthew Trevithick.

This looks familiar. Just hours later, Washington slapped a new round of sanctions on 11 Iranian individuals and companies accused of violating United Nations resolutions that prohibit ballistic missile tests. FP’s Paul McLeary and John Hudson rounded up those developments.

Can it last? The deals over Tehran’s nukes and the prisoner swap came in large measure to a new diplomatic channel between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. But that relationship’s biggest test is still to come, notes FP’s Dan De Luce. With the Obama administration’s time in Washington running out, the relationship can’t last, and “it’s too soon to know whether the budding diplomacy between the United States and Iran represents a new era of détente that will outlast the current presidents in both countries — or if Kerry and Zarif are succeeded by officials who lack their personal rapport.”

The reckoning. The deadly U.S. airstrike on a charity hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October that killed as many as 42 civilians may soon result in some punishments for U.S. military personnel. Exactly what those might be are still up in the air, but they’ll likely be handed out within the next few weeks, FP’s Paul McLeary has learned. Gen. John Campbell, who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has forwarded a 3,000-page investigation to the U.S. Central Command along with his recommendations for disciplinary action against some of the troops involved in the airstrike. Officials there and at the U.S. Special Operations Command are now weighing who to punish — and how,.

High seas drama. On Monday, the Pentagon offered up a bit of an explanation of what it knows about how and why 10 U.S. sailors and their two patrol craft ended up in Iranian custody last week. There wasn’t a lot of new information in the release, but the U.S. Central Command said that the boats were en route to a planned refueling point when they crossed into Iranian waters, when they were forced “at gunpoint” to Farsi Island. All of their equipment, save two SIM cards “that appear to have been removed from two handheld satellite phones” was returned when they were released 15 hours later.

It’s short week for us stateside, but there’s plenty of news shaking to keep us busy. But since we can never get enough information, 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.

Top brass

A new report from the Daily Beast says that Defense Secretary Ash Carter is considering demoting retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus one star for handing over classified information to his biographer and mistress. The move — knocking him down from four stars to three — could eventually cost Petraeus millions in pension payments.

Syria

The Islamic State has expanded its footprint in the northeastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, but reports of large scale massacres and kidnappings by the group, carried on Syrian state media, aren’t supported by accounts from local activists, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports. State news reported 300 dead and 400 people kidnapped in the fighting but locals reached by the Telegraph placed the tally lower at 18 dead and “several” families kidnapped. The Islamic State has been laying siege to the government-held areas of Deir Ezzor for roughly a year.

Syria’s civil war has become a war of sieges and belligerents are using their strangleholds on enemy towns and cities to wring out residents’ money in a lucrative siege economy. The Financial Times reports that some are getting rich off the practice, with soldiers and businessmen selling food, smuggling out residents or allowing concerned family members to transfer money in — all for a hefty markup. The practice may undermine attempts at ceasefires and prolong sieges as those making money off residents’ isolation and deprivation seek to extend the status quo.

Iraq

The three American citizens who vanished in Baghdad over the weekend after leaving their secure compound may have been taken by the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shiite militia, according to Iraqi authorities. It’s not totally clear exactly what happened, but the three apparently visited the apartment of their interpreter, and may have been grabbed in a well-known brothel.

Libya

As the U.S. grows more concerned about the rise of the Islamic State in Libya, it has been forced to rely on a handful of local militias and factions whose loyalties and reliability are questionable, The New York Times reports that U.S. special operations have been active in Libya trying to size up which factions are most amenable to working with the U.S. and what training and equipment needs they might have. The U.S. has been active in supporting one militia in Misrata, in particular, but American special operators were almost arrested when a rival militia noticed their arrival at a base in the city.

Afghanistan

The U.S. has shipped four Brazilian Super Tucano attack planes to Afghanistan, according to Tolo News. Afghanistan’s military has been struggling to piece together an air force which can provide air support without resorting to call for American help. Afghan acting defense minister Masoom Stanekza said the four Super Tucanos will be dedicated for use in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, where the Taliban and the Islamic State have been making major gains.

The Taliban are trying to shake down Afghan telecom companies by demanding a protection tax for firms offering mobile services in Afghanistan. The group is demanding the companies cough up the same amount of money taken by the Afghan government in tax revenues, which has recently amounted to little over a million dollars. The Taliban’s Shura Council reportedly held a meeting with representatives of Afghanistan’s four telecom companies in Quetta, Pakistan and made the demand in person.

Europe

Ukrainian authorities tell Reuters they’ve found malware on the networks of Boryspil International Airport in Kiev similar to malware found on electrical substations in the country that some researchers believe lead to a series of blackouts in what would have been a first-of-its kind cyber attack. Ukrainian officials have since ordered a cybersecurity review at other airports and railways in an abundance of caution.

Among the many military investments made since Russia annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, Eastern Europe is undergoing something of a special operations boom as countries try to develop their own commando forces as a hedge against Russian aggression. Defense News reports that the Czech Republic’s will establish a 200-strong special forces unit in parallel to the existing 601st Special Forces Group to deal with Russian “hybrid warfare.” Ukraine is also looking to create a special operations training center and Lithuania is increasing its assistance to the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, which is training Ukrainian SOF.

North Korea

North Korea has been trying to turn the tables on South Korea, dropping propaganda leaflets across the demilitarized zone (DMZ). When the North allegedly tested a nuclear weapon this month, South Korea responded by blaring Korean pop music and anti-North Korean propaganda across the DMZ. The North has responded by attaching propaganda leaflets to balloons, which activist groups in South Korea have long used to reach residents in the Hermit Kingdom. The North Korean leaflets depict a bikini-clad South Korean President Park Geun-hye taking a prat fall and call her “human filth.”

Technology

Double the explosions, double the fun. Popular Mechanics reports that scientists Los Alamos National Laboratory and Energetic Materials Research and Engineering are trying to double the lethality of Tomahawk cruise missiles. The research would use the missiles’ remaining fuel on board to trigger a more powerful fuel-air explosion, giving the weapons a greater destructive capability.

Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.

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