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.S. expanding combat role in Afghanistan and Iraq; new arms export chief at State; Iraqi death toll; Pentagon’s climate worries; ISIS cuts pay; Chinese army hackers exposed; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley On and on. The wars were supposed to be over. Yet, a year after the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended, and four years after the last American soldiers drove out of Iraq, the U.S. combat role is expanding in both countries. On Tuesday, word leaked that the ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

On and on. The wars were supposed to be over. Yet, a year after the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended, and four years after the last American soldiers drove out of Iraq, the U.S. combat role is expanding in both countries.

On Tuesday, word leaked that the White House will allow U.S. troops to expand their offensive operations against Islamic State elements in Afghanistan, just two weeks after an American Green Beret soldier was killed in combat with the Taliban in Helmand province. Pentagon officials have refused to call the widening American Special Forces role in Helmand “combat,” insisting that it is a train and advise mission in which the Americans have the right to defend themselves. But with U.S. troops now very much in the fight against the Taliban, the new action against ISIS will add another stress to the roughly 3,000 U.S. special operations and counterterrorism forces on the ground there. There are another 6,800 American troops training Afghan troops currently in country.

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

On and on. The wars were supposed to be over. Yet, a year after the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended, and four years after the last American soldiers drove out of Iraq, the U.S. combat role is expanding in both countries.

On Tuesday, word leaked that the White House will allow U.S. troops to expand their offensive operations against Islamic State elements in Afghanistan, just two weeks after an American Green Beret soldier was killed in combat with the Taliban in Helmand province. Pentagon officials have refused to call the widening American Special Forces role in Helmand “combat,” insisting that it is a train and advise mission in which the Americans have the right to defend themselves. But with U.S. troops now very much in the fight against the Taliban, the new action against ISIS will add another stress to the roughly 3,000 U.S. special operations and counterterrorism forces on the ground there. There are another 6,800 American troops training Afghan troops currently in country.

Iraq mission grows, again. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday said he also expects to send more U.S. troops to help train and advise Iraqi forces. “I expect the number of trainers to increase, and also the variety of the training they’re giving,” he told reporters en route to Paris for meetings with NATO allies about the fight against the Islamic State.

On top of the 3,500 American troops currently training Iraqi forces, roughly 200 U.S. Special Operations forces recently hit the ground in Iraq to begin carrying out kill or capture missions against ISIS leadership in both Iraq and Syria. Carter’s remarks hint at the potential for an expanding role for them, as well. “The more we use it, the more we’ll learn about additional uses for it,” Carter said of the new commando deployment, dubbed the Expeditionary Targeting Force. “The more we do, the more we learn what more we can do.”

Gatekeeper. Listen up, defense contractors hoping to bend iron for foreign clients, the State Department has someone they’d like you to meet. FP’s John Hudson gets the scoop on the appointment of  Bill Monahan as State’s new gatekeeper of arms sales to foreign countries.

The hiring pulls Monahan from his job at the Senate Armed Services Committee scrutinizing the Pentagon’s conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new position at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs puts Monahan in charge of managing the sale and transfer of U.S. arms to foreign governments and about $6 billion in U.S. military grants to American allies. Money quote from Hudson’s story: ““All of the conventional U.S. arms sales around the world go through that person,” said a Republican congressional aide familiar with the position. “If you are a Boeing or a Lockheed Martin or a Raytheon … you don’t want that person on your bad side.””

Iraq toll. Almost 19,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, and more than 36,000 wounded, between Jan. 2014 and Oct. 2015, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday. “The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering,” the report says, adding that the Islamic State “continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law,” according to a writeup by FP’s Siobhan O’Grady. The 46-page report lays out other grim statistics, including the 3,500 Yezidi women and children forced into slavery, and the 800 and 900 children abducted from Mosul for religious and military training.

Adding to the accounts of suffering, Amnesty International released a report Tuesday alleging that Iraq’s Kurdish peshmerga forces destroyed homes belonging to Arabs in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The report, Banished and Dispossessed: Forced Displacement and Deliberate Destruction in Northern Iraq, uses satellite imagery analysis to paint a picture of deliberate forced displacement of Arabs in Kurdish-held territory in order to exact revenge for perceived sympathy to the Islamic State and secure Kurdish demographic superiority.

A rising tide sinks all bases. For years, the Defense Department has taken the threat of climate change pretty seriously, and is now putting actual plans in place to address it, according to a new directive from Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

Work’s Jan. 14 memo requires the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Marcel Lettre, and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to combine forces to assess the “risks, potential impacts, considerations, vulnerabilities, and effects [on defense intelligence programs] of altered operating environments related to climate change.”

The concern isn’t anything new. In a report submitted to Congress last July, Pentagon planners reported that the “DoD recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally,” and “sees climate change as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk.” If this all appears overhyped, ask the U.S. Navy about its plans to save the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk, Va. from sinking.

It’s short week for us stateside, but there’s plenty to keep us busy. As you know, we can never get enough information, so 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.

Who’s where when

9:30 a.m. The Senate Armed Services Committee gavels in a hearing Wednesday morning featuring a few of Sen. John McCain’s favorite people, including retired U.S. Army Gen. John Keane, Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. They’ll be discussing American policy in the Middle East. And there will be plenty of “Surge” talk. Watch here.

2:30 p.m. The committee comes back after lunch to hear from Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and watchdog John Sopko, head of the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction office, about the Pentagon’s controversial Task Force for Business and Stability Operations.

The office was set up to help U.S, officials find capable partners to rebuild postwar Iraq, and was later dispatched to Afghanistan. But five years after showing up, the initiative pulled out of Afghanistan, “with nearly all of its extractive projects incomplete,” Sopko’s sleuths found. Things got so bad that a $43 million gas station ended up being counted as one of the office’s relative success stories. And let’s not forget the other recent report from Sopko’s shop about the Task Force spending $150 million on villas for its staffers in Afghanistan. Watch here.

Syria

There are growing calls for Western countries to air drop food aid to the town of Madaya, Syria, where residents surrounded by Assad regime forces are starving to death, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports. United Nations under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien has endorsed the idea, which some view as a tacit admission on the international body’s part that it is incapable of resolving the humanitarian crisis in Madaya on its own. British officials have hesitated to embrace humanitarian air drops, citing fears over Russian air defense systems in Syria.

The Islamic State

Tighten your suicide belts, Islamic State, austerity is coming to the caliphate. A memo from the Islamic State’s bureaucratic powers that be has warned fighters that they’re going to get a 50 percent pay cut across all positions “on account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing.” What, specifically, “exceptional circumstances” refers to remains unclear but the U.S. recently bombed a cash distribution facility owned by the group, blowing up millions of dollars of the Islamic State’s cash.

The Islamic State released its English language magazine, Dabiq, on Tuesday, including a eulogy confirming the death of notorious executioner Mohammed “Jihadi John” Emwazi in a November 2015 U.S. drone strike. Emwazi gained infamy for murdering reporters and aid workers in a series of savage beheading videos released by the group on the Internet.

Must read

The New York Times runs down the story of Navy SEAL Cmdr. Job W. Price, who became another casualty of the war in Afghanistan back in December, 2012 when he took his own life while leading SEAL Team 4 through a messy tour.

Iran

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing after visiting Iran’s Kish Island, may not be in Iran, as many have thought. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the administration believes that Levison is “no longer in Iran.” Levinson disappeared after a 2007 trip to Kish Island, a trip later revealed to be taken at the behest of the CIA. His apparent kidnappers later sent proof of life imagery of Levinson, which investigators have since determined were sent from Pakistani and Afghan IP addresses.

Canada

The Canadian government dropped a mammoth press release Tuesday running down dozens of appointments throughout its armed services. Some of those that caught our eye — other than Canada’s insistence on only including an officer’s first initials — were:

Brigadier-General M.N. Rouleau’s promotion to Major-General while remaining commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

Brigadier-General G.R. Smith’s appointment to Chief of Staff for the Combined Forces Land Component Command Iraq.

Brigadier-General S.A. Brennan will assume command of Operation IMPACT, Canada’s contribution to the air war in Iraq. Overall, Canadian CF-18 Hornet fighters have flown 1,302 sorties, while its CC-150T Polaris aerial refuellers have flown 354 missions, pumping over 20 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft; and its CP-140 Aurora spy plane has conducted 382 reconnaissance missions, according to the latest numbers available from Ottawa.

Germany

German engineering. Normally, it’s a selling point, but not in the case of Germany’s Tornado jets which were deployed to conduct reconnaissance missions over Syria. Turns out, the six planes can’t fly at night because the “pilots are blinded by the cockpit light which is far too bright.”

North Korea

The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency says that, despite the fireworks, the North Koreans probably didn’t learn all that much from their recent nuclear test. Vice Admiral James Syring told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the North’s “technical capability has not increased” in his estimation.

Hacked!

Canada’s Globe and Mail uncovered documents from a Vancouver Court revealing two Chinese soldiers as co-conspirators in the case of Su Bin, a Canadian citizen arrested in 2014 on charges of breaching the networks of defense contractors in search of sensitive data related to American warplanes. The names of the People’s Liberation Army officers aren’t listed in the documents, but they do note that officials managed to intercept photographs of the two officers as well as their names, ranks, units, and other biographical data.

The government of Washington, D.C. shows no signs of implementation two years after the D.C. Homeland Security Commission made recommendations on securing the networks of city agencies and critical infrastructure systems, according to Inside Cybersecurity. The commission recommended, among other things, the creation of a DC  chief information security officer (CISO), articulating cybersecurity responsibilities within city government, and conducting risk assessments. Though every U.S. state government has created a CISO position, D.C. has still yet to act on the recommendation.

SEAL trouble

A criminal investigation targeting Matthew Bissonnette, the former Navy SEAL who participated in the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and wrote a controversial book about it, has widened. The Intercept reports when investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service searched Bissonnette’s hard drive, they found a photograph of bin Laden’s dead body taken without government authorization and emails indicating that Bissonnette had been consulting for contractors supplying equipment while on active duty.

Think tanked

The new issue of the Combating Terrorism Center’s “CTC Sentinel” is out.

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