The Cable

SitRep: Iraq Hanging By a Thread; Kunduz Fallout Spreads

FP on the plane; U.S. and India swap sub tech to counter China; Fat Leonard claims another Navy officer; and lots more

Iraqi protesters walk past security forces outside the parliament in Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" on May 1, 2016, a day after supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr broke into the area after lawmakers again failed to approve new ministers.
Protesters were withdrawing from Baghdad's Green Zone after breaking into the fortified area and storming Iraq's parliament in an unprecedented security breach the day before. The move, which lessens the pressure on politicians in Baghdad, came as rare bombings in the south killed 33 people and wounded dozens. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI        (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters walk past security forces outside the parliament in Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" on May 1, 2016, a day after supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr broke into the area after lawmakers again failed to approve new ministers. Protesters were withdrawing from Baghdad's Green Zone after breaking into the fortified area and storming Iraq's parliament in an unprecedented security breach the day before. The move, which lessens the pressure on politicians in Baghdad, came as rare bombings in the south killed 33 people and wounded dozens. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)


Iraq coming apart. “Iraq is becoming increasingly ungovernable…non-state actors are stronger than the state. The government is paralyzed and corrupt.” That grim assessment from Emma Sky, former senior political adviser to the U.S. military in Iraq, fits in pretty well with other commentary on the unrest in Baghdad that resulted in supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storming the Iraqi parliament Saturday. FP’s David Francis collected dramatic footage of the takeover, which has since ended.

The riots call the validity of the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi into question at a time when Baghdad is gearing up for the biggest fight its U.S.-trained army has faced: wresting the Islamic State-held city of Mosul away from the deeply entrenched terrorist group.

Mosul next. Isn’t Mosul always next? As Iraqi forces slowly gather steam to push on the city, “virtually every major armed group in Iraq and their foreign patrons, including local Sunni Arabs backed by Turkey, Shiite militias supported by Iran, and American-equipped Kurdish forces are jockeying for a piece of the action,” FP’s Dan De Luce and Henry Johnson write in a smart new piece. “Despite a campaign more than a year in the making,” they note, “Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to forge a coherent political plan that can bridge the divide between the rival groups, all but certainly pushing back a military operation yet again, U.S. officials and experts said.”

Friends, enemies. Further north, Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting it out with Shiite militias and other Kurdish factions, FP contributor Peter Schwartzstein writes, leaving local Yazidis, Christians, and Sunni Arabs with no place to turn for help.

Kunduz isn’t over yet. American military officials want to put the mistaken U.S. attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz last October in the rear-view mirror. But the bloodiest mistake in America’s longest war — which took the lives of 42 doctors, patients, and medical staff at the hospital — will not go away.

On Friday, head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, announced that despite 16 members of the military receiving “counseling” or letters of reprimand over the errant airstrike, none will be court martialed.

There are indications, however, that the International Criminal Court may have different ideas. The court mentioned the strike in its most recent report, released in November, declaring, “alleged crimes” committed in Kunduz by the Taliban, Afghan forces, and the United States “will be further examined by the Office.” Writing on the Lawfare blog, Ryan Vogel, a former Pentagon official, maintains, “by characterizing the incident as a violation of international law (and choosing not to prosecute), the United States may unwittingly be strengthening” the court’s case to intervene in the case. SitRep reached out to the court to ask if an investigation is in the works, and is waiting for a response.

In the air. Defense Secretary Ash Carter leaves Monday on a trip to Germany to deliver remarks at the change of command ceremony for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart — where Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti will assume command from Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove — followed by a meeting of defense ministers from countries participating in the fight against the Islamic State. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford will also be traveling to the ceremony, and FP’s Dan De Luce is on his plane. Check back for regular updates over the next few days.

After me, the deluge. It doesn’t look like Donald Trump will be able to ask former Defense Secretary Robert Gates for advice. The retired top defense official — who says he hates Washington politics yet can’t seem to stay away — appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, where he ripped into the word salad Trump recently billed as his big foreign policy speech. “Based on the speech,” Gates said, “you’d have somebody [in office] who doesn’t understand the difference between a business negotiation and a negotiation with sovereign powers.”

Gates also called out Trump for contradicting himself at multiple points: “for example, he, on the one hand, says we need to be a more reliable ally to our friends. And then in the next breath, he basically says we’re going to rip up all those burden-sharing agreements that we’ve had over the decades with them and make them go their own way if they don’t pay for everything.” Good times.

Thanks for clicking on through as we kick off another week of SitRep. 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: or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley

Who’s where when

9:00 a.m. The Atlantic Council hosts “America’s Role in a Changing World” featuring DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar and Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work. Agenda here. And Livestream here.


China recently rebuffed an offer by the U.S. to have the Navy aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and its carrier strike group make a port call in Hong Kong. American carriers have made port calls to Hong Kong as recently as August 2014, but Beijing has since had a change of heart. Chinese officials told local media that they make the calls for Hong Kong port visits on a “case by case basis,” and the recent disputes between the U.S. and China over China’s assertions of sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea may have soured the Chinese on the sight of another American vessel by its shores.

China is expanding its fishermen’s militia, the paramilitary fleet of sailors who are increasingly at the center of maritime conflicts in the South China Sea. Reuters reports that the militia members have been receiving military training from local chapters of the People’s Armed Forces Department and supplies — including GPS equipment, fuel, and ice — from the Chinese government. In return, China tasks militiamen with collecting intelligence on foreign ships and leverages their presence around disputed waters in order to buttress Chinese territorial claims. But of course, you would already know all that from reading FP back in October on this very issue…


The U.S. and Indian navies are being driven together by their shared concern over Chinese submarines. According to Reuters, the two countries have agreed to swap anti-submarine warfare technology in order to counter the threat. Sources tell the wire service that a forthcoming joint exercise on anti-submarine warfare will take place in the Philippine Sea and include Japan. India is getting anxious over the more frequent presence of Chinese submarines near its outlying islands and both countries are looking to hedge against patrols by Chinese nuclear-armed submarines.

Spy games

The family of Lt. Cmdr. Edward Linn, the U.S. naval officer accused of spying on behalf of China and Taiwan, has set up a website to plead his innocence, the Daily Beast reports. The site,, accuses the government of selling reporters on “sensationalized tale of espionage, misdirection, and sexual perversion” about Lt. Cmdr. Linn and of ignoring the Linn’s defense team’s request to release all the evidence against him.

Fat Leonard

The never-ending U.S. Navy scandal has claimed another one. On Friday, a federal judge in San Diego stunned virtually everyone when sentencing Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz to six-and-a-half years in prison for his role in an epic bribery scandal that has rocked the Navy. The sentencing follows the convictions of five other high-ranking Navy officers in the bribery scandal that saw officers trade secrets and award sweetheart deals to a company owned by Leonard Glenn Francis — “Fat Leonard” — in return for prostitutes, expensive dinners, and Lady Gaga tickets.

North Korea

The United Nations has cleared American troops in South Korea of making “disgusting faces” at their North Korean counterparts across the DMZ. The North made the charge late last week, promising with typical flourish that any yankee pulling faces would meet a “dog’s death any time and any place.” The Daily Telegraph reports that a U.N. spokesman says the organization has investigated the charges of egregious facial contortions and found them to be false.


The U.S. is still weighing whether or not to send man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to Syrian rebels in the event the cessation of hostilities completely falls apart and the conflict resumes its pre-agreement heights. At the moment, Syrian rebels already have a number of the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, many of them looted from Syrian government stocks. If the U.S. does overcome its hesitance to provide the weapons, there’s still no guarantee they’d make a huge impact against Russian aircraft. Russia claims that its equipping aircraft with a new “President-1” jammer and many Russian bombers operate at altitudes well out of reach of MANPADS.

The Islamic State

Less land, more attacks — that’s the latest assessment of the Islamic State from IHS Janes. The analysis group estimates that the group has carried out 891 attacks killing 2,160 in the first quarter of the year. That makes for its most active quarter yet in terms of attacks and its bloodiest one in a year. Jane’s analyst Matthew Henman tells Reuters that the uptick in attacks and casualties is likely an attempt by the Islamic State to compensate for its shrinking territory in Iraq and Syria to shift and present an image of operational strength and success.


The head of U.S. European Command and NATO forces, Gen. Gen. Philip Breedlove, is stepping aside this week, but on he’s warning that the U.S. needs to pay closer attention to Russia on his way out the door. Breedlove tells the Wall Street Journal that the intelligence community should direct more of its satellites towards collection against Russian targets as the country will likely prove a challenge to his incoming successor, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. Breedlove warns against the dangers of overestimating Russia but says that “may not be 10 feet tall but they’re pretty close to 7 feet tall.”


The Army’s Black Hawk helicopter is getting a little long in the tooth and Defense One rounds up the futuristic new competitors lining up to take its place. There are two big entrants for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator. In one corner is Bell with its  V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft, similar to the Marines’ V-22 Osprey. In the other is Sikorsky-Boeing, which is working on the SB-1 Defiant, a coaxial rotor helicopter with two sets of rotors running parallel on top of each other. It’ll be a while before either one starts showing up in Army inventories, though, as the service doesn’t plan to start purchasing a replacement for the chopper until 2030.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley got UFO conspiracy theorists all spun up  last week when he mentioned “little green men” to the ROTC class of Norwich University. Speaking with future Army officers, Milley told them, “you’ll be dealing with terrorists, you’ll be dealing with hybrid armies, you’ll be dealing with little green men, you’ll be dealing with tribes, you’re going to be dealing with it all, and you’re going to be dealing with it simultaneously.”

“Little green men” has become a favorite phrase among Pentagon brass to refer to foreign troops who infiltrate another country, but don’t wear the uniform of their home country. Think Russia in Ukraine. As a result, the UFO community put their phasers on stun, and the Army Times’ Michelle Tan collects some of their greatest hits:

“I think this guy probably vanished shortly after this speech. It seems like he’s let way too much info out”

“Wow, he said a lot. It wasn’t a very long speech. Enough said. Truth is coming out slowly but surely.”

“Joseph Stalin was also experimenting with the idea of super monkey soldiers.”


Photo Credit: HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola