The Cable

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

Situation Report: Big Pentagon Changes Coming in 2018

Trump transgender ban blocked by courts again, Pence in Afghanistan

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on Dec. 21, (Mandel Ngain/AFP/Getty Images)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on Dec. 21, (Mandel Ngain/AFP/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

North Korea vote. The United Nations is set to vote on a new round of North Korea sanctions Friday, after U.S. diplomats circulated tough new measures that analysts said would hit the North Korean state hard.


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

North Korea vote. The United Nations is set to vote on a new round of North Korea sanctions Friday, after U.S. diplomats circulated tough new measures that analysts said would hit the North Korean state hard.

The draft U.N. resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum product exports to the North and demand the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 12 months. It would also put the brakes on crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year, and ban North Korean exports such as machinery and lumber.

Welcome to New York. In a snub aimed squarely at Washington, the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9 on Thursday — with 35 abstentions — to approve a resolution demanding that the United States rescind its Dec. 6 declaration declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

New paper. The new National Defense Strategy will be revealed to the public in January, with a pair of major reviews of America’s nuclear and missile defense capabilities to follow in February, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Thursday. The defense strategy is updated every ten years, with the last one coming in 2008 under the presidency of George W. Bush.

Reforms coming. Shanahan also quickly outlined the reform initiatives his team is pursuing, predicting that there will be “great fodder for stories next year because you’ll probably hear screaming and yelling” among critics of the changes on the way. Reforms include a transformation of how the military buys weapons, and new information technology systems.

“The emphasis on the word ‘restructuring’ is that we want to make sure that with the stroke of a pen or a few clicks of a keyboard, we can’t undo progress,” Shanahan said. “When you think about enduring change, you have to wire or alter the work so that you don’t regress. That’s the hard part about big bureaucracy, is making enduring change.”

11 months later…VP Mike Pence made a surprise, 7 hour visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, beating out his boss, who has yet to visit troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan. In 2009, it took Obama three months after his inauguration to head to Kabul.

There are about 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including the 3,000 additional forces Trump sent this fall. Those forces are expected to embed with small Afghan army units and head out into the fight, raising the risk of more U.S. casualties. The trip was a secret due to security concerns, 16 years after U.S. troops first began battling Taliban militants.

Trans ban slammed. A three-judge panel on a federal appeals court again ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to halt accepting transgender recruits into the military.

A short, two-paragraph order written by Judges Diana Gribbon Motz, Albert Diaz and Pamela Harris on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Virginia slapped down the administration’s request to delay the Jan. 1 deadline, setting up the case for a potential appeal to the Supreme Court.

Saudi oil company hacked. Malicious software attacked a safety system in August at Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, in what is the first-ever example of malware targeting the computer systems designed to prevent a disaster at an industrial facility, FP’s Elias Groll reports. More here:

“The attack was first described by the computer security firm FireEye in a blog post last week, which did not name the victim of the attack. But a confidential report obtained by Foreign Policy and authored by Area 1 Security, a computer security firm founded by veterans of the U.S. National Security Agency, identifies Aramco as the victim of the attack.”

Team Trump. The Senate has confirmed four new Pentagon assistant secretaries, including the head of Asian and Pacific affairs. The officials moving into the five-sided puzzle palace include Randall Schriver for assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific affairs; Bruce Jette for assistant secretary for the Army for acquisition, technology and logistics; John Roth for assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management; and Thomas Harker for assistant secretary of the Navy for financial management.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Inside the wire. Authorities at the Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base in Seoul, South Korea, found North Korean propaganda leaflets and CDs strewn about the facility, raising questions about how they got there and leading to a warning about potential insider threats. U.S. Forces Korea issued a warning in response to the covert distribution, reminding personnel to report suspicious individuals and that any digital propaganda media may contain malware.

Tinker, tailor, translator, spy. Ukrainian intelligence says Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman’s translator has secretly been spying for the Russians, passing along information to Moscow via “special equipment.” The accused spy, Stanislav Yezhov, had accompanied Prime Minister Groysman abroad on high level trips to Washington and London.

INF accusations and counter-accusations. In the face of accusations from Washington that a Russian cruise missile is violating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin says the U.S. is planning to abandon the treaty, following a visit to the Military Academy of the Strategic Missile Forces.

Fancy Bear crosshair. The Russian hackers who broke into the DNC during the 2016 election also targeted the email accounts of some 200 journalists around the world, according to a database of Fancy Bear hacking targets obtained by the AP. Among the targets were Russian and Ukrainian journalists as well as prominent American reporters such as Shane Harris, Josh Rogin, Masha Gessen, and Michael Weiss.

Wind down. Australia is ending its airstrikes in support of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition, marking another sign of how the war against the terrorist group is winding down. Australia plans to take its half dozen fighter jets back home but leave its support aircraft in place.  

Please leave. Now that the caliphate has collapsed, Russia’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev says it’s time for the U.S. to leave Syria, telling reporters “we think their presence must end.”

Gitmo getaway. Secretary of Defense James Mattis became the first defense secretary to visit Guantanamo Bay since it became home to prisoners captured in the war on terror. According to a spokesperson, Mattis made the trip to thank troops at the detention facility for their service before the holidays

Sanctions in Myanmar. The U.S. has sanctioned Myanmar military general Maung Maung Soe for his role in human rights abuses carried out against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. In a statement, the Treasury Department said the general “oversaw the military operation in Burma’s Rakhine State responsible for widespread human rights abuse against Rohingya civilians”.

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