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The Cable

Situation Report: Exclusive: Hillary’s think tankers; Pentagon’s ISIS war plan on the table; spy planes for Iceland; Russia stands up new tank units; Iran goes shopping; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Pushing paper. Somewhere, right now, a policy analyst is probably hard at work thinking through a difficult or obscure foreign policy issue for Hillary Clinton. Whether Clinton knows this person is working for her — and if anyone close to the top of her campaign will ever see the ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Pushing paper. Somewhere, right now, a policy analyst is probably hard at work thinking through a difficult or obscure foreign policy issue for Hillary Clinton. Whether Clinton knows this person is working for her — and if anyone close to the top of her campaign will ever see the policy paper — is another story. In a great new piece, FP’s John Hudson looks inside Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy brain trust, and finds it contains multitudes. Really. There are hundreds of people involved.

Led by a senior group of outside advisors that includes former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Center for a New American Security CEO Michèle Flournoy, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the campaign has cast a wide net. The Clinton team “also draws on about a dozen advisory working groups for regional and functional issues on everything from Asia to Europe to human rights to defense to counterterrorism to cyber. Those working groups also contain subgroups of specific countries or issue areas, and remain on call to answer spur-of-the-moment policy questions for the campaign,” Hudson says.

Plans to have plans. Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he expects a meeting of the alliance later in the day to get behind a plan to ramp up the war against the Islamic State. The meeting will spell out a way forward “which is a concrete military campaign plan and an opportunity to do what the United States has been doing for some months now, which is accelerating its own contributions” to the fight.

He added that he’ll ask allied nations to provide more help, in the form of more airstrikes, or more trainers and advisors for Iraqi and Kurdish forces. In recent days, the Netherlands has expanded its airstrikes against ISIS from Iraq into Syria, and while Canada is pulling its fighter planes out of the fight, it is tripling the number of advisors on the ground in Iraq. Carter is also slated to meet with Saudi officials Thursday to discuss their offer to send ground troops into Syria.

Heading East. Already at the meeting, defense ministers from all 28 NATO allies have approved a plan to beef up NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe in order to assure member nations there in the face of Russian moves. NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO troops will rotate through Eastern European countries for a variety of exercises, as well as building up NATO infrastructure in the region. “This will be multinational, to make clear that an attack against one ally is an attack against all allies, and that the alliance as a whole will respond,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

Fire and ice. It’s not something the Pentagon usually publicizes, but under the terms of a 1951 treaty with Iceland, it is responsible for the protection of the tiny island nation. Honoring that deal, throughout the Cold War the Pentagon ran something called the Iceland Defense Force (it closed up shop in 2006), which was based out of Naval Air Station Keflavík. FP’s Paul McLeary writes that thanks to increased Russian air and sea activity in the North Atlantic, it looks like the U.S. Navy wants to get the band back together. As part of this week’s 2017 budget rollout, the service requested $19 million to reopen at least part of the base in order to start landing P-8A Poseidon spy planes there. The Poseidon specializes in submarine tracking, and with Russian sub activity in the Baltic and North Atlantic surpassing Cold War levels, everything old is new again.

Sorry, but we’re not sorry. FP’s man at the United Nations, Colum Lynch, sends along this from Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin following a Wednesday meeting on humanitarian situation in Syria. Speaking outside the Security Council, he told reporters that Moscow is “not about to be apologetic,” for its actions in Syria. “We are acting in a very transparent manner. Daily briefings are being conducted by our ministry of defense. We are present there legally, at the invitation of the Syrian government, in contrast to what the so-called U.S. led coalition is doing in Syria. They are acting outside of international law, and incidentally never telling anybody what exactly  they are doing in Syria or Iraq.”

Making waves. The U.K.’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed Wednesday that for the first time since 2010, British warships will contribute to the NATO maritime mission in the Baltic Sea. The deployment of HMS Iron Duke and another ship will give the U.K. a presence there through November. Speaking at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Fallon said that “increasing our NATO deployments sends a strong message to our enemies that we are ready to respond to any threat, and defend our allies.” The U.K. will also deploy three Mine Sweepers to NATO’s Standing Naval Mine Counter Measure Group in the Baltic Sea, North Atlantic, North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Two more frigates will also take part in a major anti-submarine warfare exercise called — wait for it — Dynamic Mongoose later this year.

Morning, all. We’re into another week here full of Pentagon budget briefings and intelligence hearings on the Hill. 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 or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.


The toll of the Syrian civil war on its population has been absolutely brutal, with more than one in ten Syrians killed or injured in the war, according to a new report from the Syrian Centre for Policy Research. The Guardian reports that the center estimates over 470,000 dead, 1.9 million wounded, and 45 percent of the population displaced since the war began. The 450,000 estimate of the dead is larger than the 250,000 figure offered by the U.N. — which stopped counting in 2014 — a discrepancy the center attributes to their better access to local data on casualties.

The U.S. and its allies are at loggerheads with Russia over the date of a proposed ceasefire in Syria. The BBC reports that Russia has been receptive in principle to the idea of a ceasefire but only one which begins March 1 at the earliest, allowing for three more weeks of bombing rebel targets. Secretary of State John Kerry has pushed back against the notion of a delayed ceasefire, aiming for an immediate cessation of hostilities.


It’s weapons shopping season for Iran now that it is free of some international sanctions, and defense officials are looking to Russia to buy a whole slew of goodies. Iranian defense minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan said Wednesday that Iran plans to buy an unspecified number of Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighter jets to upgrade its aging fleet of F-4, F-5, and F-14 leftover from the Shah’s reign. Dehghan also said that Russia will deliver S-300 air defense missiles some time over the next two months and that a new, upgraded version of the homemade Emad medium range ballistic missile will debut this year.

The U.S. Navy is steaming mad at Iran for broadcasting footage of a U.S. sailor apparently crying while being detained last month. Navy Times reports that a spokesman for Naval Forces Central Command called the broadcast showing sailors captured by Iran after their boat drifted into Iranian waters “outrageous and unacceptable.” The Navy rebuked Iranian officials for even detaining the sailors in the first place, saying they should have instead offered assistance in leaving Iranian waters — a criticism consistent with what international maritime law experts say was the sailors right of innocent passage.


U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State Brett McGurk testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, warning that a long-promised assault on the Islamic State stronghold in Mosul “will not be a D-Day-like assault” but rather a gradual siege. McGurk also noted that Iraq’s budget includes plans to double the number of Sunni militia members to a total of 30,000 in 2016. Iraq’s mostly Shia militia force has been criticized for sectarian abuses against Iraqi Sunnis.


Russia is making headway in the development of its quick reaction force, reactivating the 1st Guards Tank Army, Jane’s reports. The unit is based in Russia’s Western Military District, which borders central Europe and Ukraine, and will have Russian T-72B3 and T-80 tanks in its arsenal. Russia’s defense ministry also announced that the Russian army will get two new armored divisions based in Voronezh and Chelyabinsk, with the latter a likely candidate to receive Russia’s most advanced tank, the T-14 Armata.

Russia and Belarus have agreed on sale of a dozen Sukhoi Su-30SM multirole fighters, with shipments to begin after 2020. The deal was announced by Belarus Deputy Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Igor Lotenkov, who said buy will eventually replace the country’s old fleet of MiG-29 aircraft, most of which have been flying for 30 years.

Who’s where when

10:30 a.m. The Atlantic Council hosts Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, interviewed by none other than Dan De Luce, FP’s chief national security correspondent. Watch live here.

12:30 p.m. The Stimson Center hosts a discussion on the state of the Comprehensive Test Ban and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties with Amb. Susan Burk, U.S. Ambassador to the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference; Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association; and David Koplow, Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

1:00 p.m. The Center for a New American Security hosts Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor to talk about the importance of the upcoming summit between the U.S. and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. Watch live here.


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