Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Claims of a mass execution in Iraq; Sending in the Marines; Throwing money at the VA; Whistleblowers tried to alert VA: Security ain't the problem in Afg; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

Militants claim that they've conducted a mass execution of Iraqi forces. The news out of Iraq didn't get any better over the weekend, as the White House scrambles for a viable response to the unraveling security situation there, sending the carrier George H.W. Bush as well as just this morning, an "amphib" ship full of Marines into the Arabian Gulf to give the administration more options. Over the weekend, the White House announced that it had sent another unit of Marines, to the embassy, to protect a potent target. But there's news that the Iraqi security forces' Sunni members died at the hands of a brutal militant group intent on bringing the crisis to the next level. The NYT's Rob Nordland and Alissa Rubin in Baghdad on Page One: "Wielding the threat of sectarian slaughter, Sunni Islamist militants claimed on Sunday that they had massacred hundreds of captive Shiite members of Iraq's security forces, posting grisly pictures of a mass execution in Tikrit as evidence and warning of more killing to come. Even as anecdotal reports of extrajudicial killings around the country seemed to bear out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's intent to kill Shiites wherever it could, Iraqi officials and some human rights groups cautioned that the militants' claim to have killed 1,700 soldiers in Tikrit could not be immediately verified.

"But with their claim, the Sunni militants were reveling in an atrocity that if confirmed would be the worst yet in the conflicts that roil the region, outstripping even the poison gas attack near Damascus last year.

In an atmosphere where there were already fears that the militants' sudden advance near the capital would prompt Shiite reprisal attacks against Sunni Arab civilians, the claims by ISIS were potentially explosive. And that is exactly the group's stated intent: to stoke a return to all-out sectarian warfare that would bolster its attempts to carve out a Sunni Islamist caliphate that crosses borders through the region."

Col. Suhail al-Samaraie, head of the Awakening Council in Samarra, a pro-government Sunni grouping: "They are targeting anyone working with the government side, any place, anywhere."  More here.

Hagel sends an amphib into the Gulf. The Pentagon announced just a few minutes ago that it had sent the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde into the Arabian Gulf. Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby: "It's presence in the Gulf adds to that of other U.S. naval ships already there -- including the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush -- and provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them. USS Mesa Verde is capable of conducting a variety of quick reaction and crisis response operations.  The ship carries a complement of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft."

Meantime, the U.S. is considering talks with Iran amid the worsening security situation in Iraq. Reuters' Ziad al-Sanjary and Lesley Wroughton this hour: "The United States is contemplating talks with its arch-enemy Iran to support the Iraqi government in its battle with Sunni Islamist insurgents who routed Baghdad's army and seized the north of the country in the past week. The stunning onslaught by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant threatens to dismember Iraq and unleash all-out sectarian warfare across a crescent of the Middle East, with no regard for national borders that the fighters reject.

"Joint action between the United States and Iran to help prop up the government of their mutual ally Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister, would be a major turn of events after hostility dating to Iran's 1979 revolution, and demonstrates the urgency of the alarm raised by the lightning insurgent advance. More here.

Security is boosted at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and some personnel are relocated. Send in the Marines - that was basically the call as security falls apart and the massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad becomes a potential target. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "The Defense Department has sent a contingent of about 50 Marines to provide security for the massive U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and the State Department on Sunday ordered some embassy personnel to relocate to safer parts of Iraq or to leave the country.

"‘As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq,' State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, ‘some' of the more than 5,000 embassy personnel are being sent to consulates in Basra, in the far south, and Irbil, in the northern Kurdish region. Others are being relocated to the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Jordan. ‘Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission,' Psaki said in a statement.

"The announcements came as Secretary of State John F. Kerry made calls to his counterparts in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to discuss the crises in Iraq and Syria. Both the State and Defense departments emphasized in statements that there has been no request for the military to help evacuate personnel and that the relocations are being done by commercial, charter and government aircraft. The State Department maintains its own aircraft in Iraq, in addition to ground vehicles, to travel between the embassy and consulates." More here.

The rags-to-riches story of the man behind the ISIS, Al-Baghdadi. The WSJ's Matt Bradley: "As a master's-degree student at a university in Baghdad in 1997, Ibrahim Awwad al-Badri al-Samarrai was so poor he took cash handouts every month from a kindly professor, said a former classmate. Now flush with cash, armed to the teeth and backed by an army known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, he is within striking distance of attacking the city where spent his humble youth. The rise of the militant Islamist leader, who changed his name to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in 2010, is a rags-to-riches story that mirrors the rise of the ISIS militia he now leads. By emphasizing practical gains over ideology and placing a premium on battlefield victories rather than lofty principals, Mr. Baghdadi's ISIS has become one of the most powerful militant Islamist groups, said experts on militant Islamism." Read the rest of this here.

Dexter Filkins in the forthcoming New Yorker on the Syria-Iraq connection: "...The border between Iraq and Syria may have effectively disappeared, but the dynamics driving the civil wars in those nations are not identical. In Syria, an oppressed majority is rising up; in Iraq, an oppressed minority. (The opposition fighters in both wars are mostly members of the Sunni sect.) Both countries just held elections: in Syria, the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, won in a display of empty theatre; in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expected to form a government for a third term, the elections were for the most part free. In Iraq, the dynamics driving the strife are largely Iraqi, and in Syria they are largely Syrian.

"Even so, the events unfolding in Iraq point toward a much wider war, reaching from the Iranian frontier to the Mediterranean coast. The long open border between Iraq and Syria, and the big stretches of ungoverned space, has allowed extremists on each side to grow and to support one another. ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, two of the strongest groups fighting in Syria, were created by militant leaders from Iraq, many of whom had fought with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia against the United States. The vast swath of territory between the Euphrates and the Tigris-from Aleppo, in Syria, to Mosul, in Iraq-threatens to become a sanctuary for the most virulent Islamist pathologies, not unlike what flourished in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11.

"Among those fighting with ISIS and Al Nusra are hundreds of Westerners, from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. At some point, the survivors will want to go home; they will be well trained and battle-hardened." Read the rest, here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

In defense of Obama: a former Pentagon official offers the real story behind the failure to sign a Status of Forces Agreement. Georgetown's Colin Kahl, the senior Pentagon official who was responsible for Iraq policy when the U.S. and Iraq failed to come up with a security agreement - that some would argue could have prevented the current situation - tells the story of what happened behind the scenes at the time. Kahl, for Politico Magazine: "...Ultimately, at great political risk, President Obama approved negotiations with the Iraqi government to allow a force of around 5,000 American troops to stay in Iraq to provide counterterrorism support and air cover and to train the Iraqi army. But, as commander in chief, he was unwilling to strand U.S. forces in a hostile, anti-American environment without the legal protections and immunities required to ensure soldiers didn't end up in Iraqi jails. These protections, which are common in nearly every country where U.S. forces operate, were guaranteed under the 2008 status of forces agreement negotiated by the Bush administration; Obama simply demanded that they continue under any follow-on accord.

"Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told U.S. negotiators that he was willing to sign an executive memorandum of understanding that included these legal protections. But for any agreement to be binding under the Iraqi constitution, it had to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. This was the judgment of every senior administration lawyer and Maliki's own legal adviser, and no senior U.S. military commander made the case that we should leave forces behind without these protections. Even Sen. John McCain, perhaps the administration's harshest Iraq critic, admitted in a December 2011 speech discussing the withdrawal that the president's demand for binding legal immunities ‘was a matter of vital importance.'

"...Unfortunately, Iraqi domestic politics made it impossible to reach a deal. Iraqi public opinion surveys consistently showed that the U.S. military presence was deeply unpopular (only in Iraqi Kurdistan did a majority of people want American G.I.s to stay). Maliki was willing to consider going to parliament to approve a follow-on agreement, but he was not willing to stick his neck out. Other political factions would have to support the move, and the support wasn't there." More here.

Criticizing Obama: The President pulled the United States out of Iraq without actually ending the war - and now we're paying for it. Obama critic Kori Schake for FP: "Is this is what a ‘responsible withdrawal' from Iraq looks like? ... Soon, either Iraq will be the caliphate Osama bin Laden yearned for, or the Iraqi government will be beholden to Iran for preserving it. Iran will have achieved a stunning victory: dramatically expanding and consolidating its regional influence while getting us to ignore its domestic repression and lethal influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq in hopes of a nuclear weapons deal. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must be thrilled: so little invested, so much achieved." More here.

Nick Kristof puts the blame for the situation in Iraq on Maliki, here.
The United States tried to build a stable state in Iraq - we should've known better. American University's Gordon Adams for FP: "What is happening in Iraq right now is both a cautionary tale and an unfolding tragedy. The lesson is not about leaving Iraq too early, nor is it about having a Status of Force Agreement that would have kept us there. It's not about firing the current national security team and appointing another one. It's not about the effectiveness of air power in halting the advance of an insurgency.

"The caution is about the blithe American assumption that the United States is omnipotent, that with enough money, good will, expertise, equipment, and training Americans can build foreign forces and bring security to troubled areas around the world. The tragedy is that what the U.S. does and has done leads down the road to failure. And more often than not, America bears the costs of its mistakes." More here.

Thomas Friedman offers five principles for thinking about Iraq, here.

Ross Douthat looks at the map of the Middle East, after Iraq, here.

Irony alert: For the WSJ, in what some might believe is a little rich, Paul Bremer, George W. Bush's envoy to Iraq in 2003-04, and the man to whom much blame goes for early American missteps, argues that only America can prevent a disaster in Iraq, here.

Just sayin' - with Iraq falling apart, suddenly everyone wants to have a "Situation Report." Obviously there are others out there - and some news organizations had "Situation Reports" before us. But now the think tanks are into it - Brookings' Ken Pollack wrote a blog - "Iraq Military Situation Report" - and the Institute for the Study of War has begun a  series of "Situation Reports" on what's happening there. We don't have a monopoly on the term, natch. But in our minds? There's just one Situation Report - FP's.

Meantime, the VA didn't want to hear about the problems its own people were saying was a problem. In the sad story of how a government bureaucracy that was trying to reform itself really didn't want to reform itself, the NYT today has a piece about the whistleblowers who couldn't be whistleblowers - because somewhere inside the VA, no one wanted to hear it. The NYT's Eric Lichtblau: "Staff members at dozens of Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country have objected for years to falsified patient appointment schedules and other improper practices, only to be rebuffed, disciplined or even fired after speaking up, according to interviews with current and former staff members and internal documents.

"The growing V.A. scandal over long patient wait times and fake scheduling books is emboldening hundreds of employees to go to federal watchdogs, unions, lawmakers and outside whistle-blower groups to report continuing problems, officials for those various groups said. In interviews with The New York Times, a half-dozen current and former staff members - four doctors, a nurse and an office manager in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Alaska - said they faced retaliation for reporting systemic problems." Read the rest of this story here.

So is the VA situation an "emergency" or not? Many people who know say the problems at the VA aren't necessarily about money - more about government ineptitude and bureaucratic backlash against those who speak up about problems. But Congress - perhaps in its guilt over the treatment of veterans - wants to throw money at the problem - a lot of it. AP: Spending on veterans' health care could double in three years under the Senate's solution to the long waits experienced by thousands seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics, according to congressional budget experts. Analyzing a bill the Senate passed overwhelmingly last Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure would add $35 billion over the next three years to the $44 billion the government now spends annually on medical care for veterans.

"Both the Senate bill and a House version also passed this past week would dramatically expand government-paid health care. They would require the Veterans Affairs Department to pay private providers to treat qualifying veterans who can't get prompt appointments at the VA's nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics or who live at least 40 miles from one of them." More here.

Speaking of veterans, Bergdahl faces a long recovery. The LA Times' Molly Hennessy-Fiske in San Antonio: "Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who returned to the U.S. on Friday in good physical condition, probably faces a lengthy recovery adjusting to life after five years of captivity in Afghanistan, Army medical specialists said. Bergdahl, 28, arrived at a near-empty hangar at Ft. Sam Houston from Germany, where he received initial medical treatment and counseling. No family or friends had come to meet him." More here.

Meet the sixth man the Taliban wanted in the Bergdahl swap. Oddly, in the wide coverage of Hagel's hearing last week on Bergdahl before a House panel, it went largely unnoticed that there was to be another detainee as part of the Bergdahl deal - before the detainee died. FP's John Hudson: "In an offhand remark during congressional testimony this week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed a morbid detail about the controversial swap the United States made for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: The Taliban originally wanted six Guantánamo detainees but didn't get their way. Not because the United States rejected the terms of the trade, but because the sixth man died in U.S. custody. Hagel to the HASC on Wednesday: "It actually started with six... One of them died."

"Although the revelation inspired no follow-up questions or explanations (lawmakers were more concerned about the administration leaving them in the dark about the Bergdahl deal), the White House revealed on Friday the sixth detainee's identity and the circumstances of his death, in a statement to Foreign Policy. ‘In initial talks, the Taliban also sought the transfer of Awal Gul, who later died in Guantánamo of a heart attack in February 2011,' White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson said. ‘If you have further questions, please contact DOD.' The Pentagon declined to elaborate." More here.

The military appointed a general to investigate Bergdahl's situation. But the Pentagon isn't saying just who it is yet - that announcement will come from the Army shortly. He/she has a difficult job though, as the general officer has to lead an unbiased investigation that gets to the bottom of the case when there is so much rancor over it. USA Today's John Bacon: "A two-star general has been appointed to investigate Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and reports that he walked away from his post in Afghanistan prior to his capture by Taliban-aligned insurgents, multiple media outlets were reporting Sunday. CNN and NBC news were among outlets reporting the appointment, citing senior defense officials. Sources for both outlets, however, declined to name the general until the Pentagon formally announces the information. CNN said the general could begin his work as soon as this week." More here.

On Sunday's NYT op-ed page, Chelsea Manning says the U.S. military was complicit in suppressing press freedoms in Iraq. For the Sunday Review: "...If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq. Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.

"Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed. Early that year, I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing ‘anti-Iraqi literature.' I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki's administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn't need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more ‘anti-Iraqi' print shops." More here.

Pakistan said it launched a major ground offensive Sunday to clear out the Pakistani Taliban and other local and foreign militants from the North Waziristan tribal area by the WSJ's Saeed Shah, here.

 

The Taliban's existential threat to Afghanistan wanes, but the next president faces big problems. It's maybe a good sign that, for now, security won't be the new Afghan government's biggest concern. Instead, it will be the bigger lifts, the ones that Afghanistan has always had to confront: corruption, governance and building an economy. The WaPo's Kevin Sieff: "As Afghans wait for the results from this weekend's presidential election, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Taliban - which failed to undermine the vote - no longer represents an existential threat to the country's government. But that is of little solace to the millions of Afghans who may face a graver enemy in the government itself - a bundle of inept and corruption-plagued institutions whose actions could threaten the gains of the past decade.

"About 7 million voters turned out Saturday, a showing some Afghans read as a repudiation of the Taliban and others saw as a sign of the electorate's desperation to reform a host of public institutions. The next president, who will be either former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah or former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, will inherit those institutions. On Sunday, both campaigns frantically tried to assess the election outcome, reporting dozens of cases of voting fraud to the country's election commission. The official results won't be released until early July. Neither candidate campaigned primarily on his ability to suppress the insurgency. Both found that the electorate had more pressing worries."

Yama Torabi, head of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an Afghan watchdog organization: "I'm not concerned about the insurgency. The security forces are capable of dealing with it... But I am concerned about corruption and its impact on the economy."

One U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly: "The biggest concern is not the security situation - the Afghans have that mostly under control - but the political institutions." More here.

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Bergdahl in Texas; ISIS makes more progress; Few good choices for Obama; John Allen: act now; Two drone strikes in Pakistan; A former soldier reflects on Bergdahl's apparent choices; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is in Texas. Bergdahl arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center from a U.S. military medical facility in Germany overnight. So begins the next phase of his "reintegration" process and, presumably, he will be reunited with his family for the first time following his release from his Taliban captors May 31. The DoD statement from Rear Adm. John Kirby at around 3:30am: " Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has arrived at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.  While there, he will continue the next phase of his reintegration process.  There is no timeline for this process.  Our focus remains on his health and well-being.  Secretary Hagel is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl receives the care, time and space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration.?

From the U.S. Army, noting that Bergdahl's care is its primary focus but that it is also continuing its investigations into his disappearance five years ago: The Army "...will ensure Sgt. Bergdahl receives the necessary care, time and space to complete the process. Among other components of this phase, Sgt. Bergdahl will continue to receive medical treatment and debriefings. Following Sgt. Bergdahl's reintegration, the Army will continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity," the Army said in a statement.

Also, read one of the most helpful pieces about Bergdahl from a former American soldier, Stephen Carlson, on why soldiers feel betrayed, below.

Meantime, Islamic militants are making more progress and have taken over more territory. The ISIS (and sometimes called the ISIL)'s fight across Iraq continued overnight and showed no signs of abating as the White House considers the politics, the realities and the efficacy of taking military action in Iraq after taking much pride in ending the war and bringing the troops home. Reuters' Raheem Salman this hour: "Islamist rebel fighters captured two more Iraqi towns overnight in a relentless sweep south towards the capital Baghdad in a campaign to recreate a mediaeval caliphate carved out of fragmenting Iraq and Syria... Thrusting further to the southeast after their lightning seizure of the major Iraqi city of Mosul in the far north and the late dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, ISIL entered two towns in Diyala province bordering Iran.

"Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni Muslim insurgents after government troops fled their positions, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains that have long been a hideout for militants, security sources said. The Iraqi army fired artillery shells at Saadiyah and Jalawla from the nearby town of Muqdadiya, sending dozens of families fleeing towards Khaniqin near the Iranian border." More here.

Iraq is in peril and there's not a lot Washington can do about it. FP's Gordon Lubold and John Hudson: "President Obama said Thursday that the United States was open to using airstrikes to batter the Islamist forces that have conquered broad swaths of Iraq, but the grim reality is that the White House has few good options for preventing a vicious al Qaeda-linked militant group from advancing toward Baghdad three years after the U.S. effectively washed its hands of Iraq's security problems.

"...Still, despite the crisis, there is little likelihood that the American government would consider putting any troops on the ground. That means that airstrikes are the only real option for a potential U.S. military intervention into Iraq as the crisis there continues to grow. That's not a simple endeavor, however. While such a forceful approach might address the political crisis in Washington, it could have very little strategic or even tactical effect -- and it would almost certainly pose enormous risks. For such strikes to be effective, the United States would need ground personnel to provide intelligence and ‘situational awareness' to call in attacks.

"The Iraqi security forces don't have troops capable of relaying detailed targeting information, which would likely require the Pentagon or the CIA to send small numbers of American personnel into Iraq to handle that difficult mission. Without adequate ground intelligence, the United States could run the risk of accidentally killing Iraqi security forces or, even worse, civilians." More here.

The WSJ's Carol Lee, Jay Solomon and Adam Entous: "...Administration and military officials say they are drawing up short- and long-term options to combat the Islamist threat in Iraq. Short-term possibilities include U.S. airstrikes, intelligence-sharing and accelerated delivery of military equipment already in the pipeline. Long-term options include expanded training of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, officials said." More here.

And, the WSJ's Entous and Julian Barnes: U.S. secretly flying drones over Iraq, here.

John Allen thinks the U.S. needs to do something about ISIS and fast. John Allen, the retired Marine four-star who cut his teeth as a warfighter in Anbar province in western Iraq as a one-star and helped lead the "Anbar Awakening" which turned the tide of war in Iraq by the time he left in 2008, spoke to Defense One's Stephanie Gaskell about the situation there. We're guessing it pains him to see what Iraq has become. He thinks it's time for the U.S. to act. Allen, to Gaskell: "I vote for sooner and we must strike them with a hard blow... The U.S. will have to act to stop this onslaught. After all we've invested in Iraq's stability, including nearly 4,500 American lives, we have an obligation, and indeed we have the capability, to help now... We did not ask for this emergency, but it is upon us, and this is a moment for U.S. strategic leadership. The Iraqis badly need our help, and our friends and partners in the region are, once again, turning to the U.S. for leadership and decisive action." Read her whole story here.

Meantime, U.S. spies were caught flat-footed in Iraq as jihadists seized two cities. FP's own Shane Harris: "United States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized two major Iraqi cities this week and sent Iraqi defense forces fleeing, current and former U.S. officials said Thursday. With U.S. troops long gone from the country, Washington didn't have the spies on the ground or the surveillance gear in the skies necessary to predict when and where the jihadist group would strike.
"The speed and ease with which well-armed and highly trained ISIS fighters took over Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, have raised significant doubts about the ability of American intelligence agencies to know when ISIS might strike next, a troubling sign as the Islamist group advances steadily closer to Baghdad. And it harkened back to another recent intelligence miscue, in February, when U.S. spy agencies failed to predict the Russian invasion of Crimea.

"...The CIA maintains a presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but the agency has largely stopped running networks of spies inside the country since U.S. forces left Iraq in December 2011, current and former U.S. officials said. That's in part because the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command had actually taken the lead on hunting down Iraq's militants. With the JSOC commandos gone, the intelligence agencies have been forced to try to track groups like ISIS through satellite imagery and communications intercepts -- methods that have proven practically useless because the militants relay messages using human couriers, rather than phone and email conversations, and move around in such small groups that they easily blend into the civilian population." More here.

Iraq War vets are distraught over what's happening 'over there.' The news of how deeply and somehow suddenly Iraq has found itself in peril naturally strikes a chord with the men and women who fought there and paid so much for it. Unbelievably and probably not typically, some would go back if they could. Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "Veterans of the Iraq War and their families are watching with dismay and alarm as Sunni insurgents overrun large swaths of Iraq, including cities like Mosul, where hundreds of U.S. troops died.

Former Army Sgt. Kenneth Mancanares to Schogol: "I completely disagreed with the decision to walk away from Iraq... Now, to be honest, I'm trying to think if there's even a way I could get back out there. I'm sure there are a lot of guys feeling that way. I really wish that I could sign up on something tomorrow and join a volunteer group that's going there to stand up for these people." More here.

Who is the ISIS really? The WaPo's Terrence McCoy: "... in terms of impact, the acts of terror have been wildly successful. From beheadings to summary executions to amputations to crucifixions, the terrorist group has become the most feared organization in the Middle East. That fear, evidenced in fleeing Iraqi soldiers and 500,000 Mosul residents, has played a vital role in the group's march toward Baghdad. In many cases, police and soldiers literally ran, shedding their uniforms as they went, abandoning large caches of weapons." More here.

As ISIS rolls toward Baghdad, the Kurds are gaining oil, ground, and power. FP's Keith Johnson: "Amid the rubble left in Iraq by the rampage of Islamist insurgents, one group seems poised to benefit: the Kurds. Baghdad's flailing response to the offensive launched by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham opens the door to greater geographical reach for the Kurdish region, greater leverage over the central government, and a stronger possibility of becoming a big energy exporter in its own right." More here.

BTW, Iraq isn't about to fall.  Douglas Ollivant for FP, his BLUF "...The news from Iraq is bad. There is no candy-coating that stubborn fact. But before lapsing into talk about Iraq's imminent collapse, it might be prudent to let the situation develop for a week or so." More here.
U.S. companies are pulling contractors from Iraqi bases as the security situation crumbles, and the WaPo's Dan Lamothe has a few extra details on them, here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we're on the road, literally, (but not actually driving) and are thankful in the extreme for our little Internet-in-a-box. Still, sorry for the lateness this morning. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

An American drone hits Pakistan for the second time in 12 hours. After a lull of several months, the U.S. is using drones to hit targets inside Pakistan and these two are targeting the Haqqani network, which had been holding Bergdahl. The NYT's Declan Walsh and Ismail Khan: "An American drone struck a militant compound in Pakistan's tribal belt for the second time in 12 hours on Thursday, killing at least 10 suspected members of the Haqqani network in a suddenly intense resurgence of the C.I.A. offensive in Pakistan.

"The American drone strikes, after an almost six-month lull in the operations while Pakistani officials tried and failed to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, come as Pakistan is mulling a new offensive of its own against militants in the northwestern tribal belt. But early news reports on Thursday offered conflicting comments about whether the Pakistani authorities might have approved the drone strikes or worked in tandem with the Americans - a politically caustic idea in a country where the C.I.A. program is widely hated.

"The strikes, both of which were reported to have killed Haqqani operatives, also came two weeks after the release of the American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a hostage of the Haqqanis for five years. A former American military commander has suggested that Sergeant Bergdahl's safety will give the United States more freedom to strike at the Haqqanis, who are fighting to overthrow the American-backed civilian government in Afghanistan." More here.

Who's Where When today - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel welcomes Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Pentagon at 10 a.m... Assistant Secretary of the Air Force William A. LaPlante delivers remarks on "The Role of Industry in Air Force Acquisition" at the Atlantic Council at 10:30 a.m... Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall III and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley will conduct a press briefing at 11:30 a.m. in the Pentagon Press briefing room to talk about the Performance of the Defense Acquisition System Report, a Better Buying Power update and the Superior Supplier Incentive Program... Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is traveling domestically... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in New York celebrating the Army's 239th birthday.

Also today, from 10-10:30am, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosts a Twitter conversation on the fast-moving situation in Iraq with members of their Syria and Iraq programs. You can join the discussion and tweet your questions @USIP with #USIPIraq. Deets here.

Afghans are still pretty pumped about tomorrow's vote. The U.S. Institute of Peace's Shahmahmood Miakhel for FP, here.

And at 9 a.m. this morning, presidential contender Dr. Ashraf Ghani will address the Center for National Policy on the eve of the Afghan elections. Last minute RSVP here.

For CFR, Stimson's Mona Yacoubian describes conceivable contingencies stemming from the civil war in Syria that pose serious threats to Lebanon's stability. Given the United States' strategic interests in precluding the further spread of regional instability, protecting the security of Israel, and denying jihadists ungoverned territory from which they could threaten the U.S. homeland, she argues that the United States should take steps to lessen the likelihood of renewed conflict in Lebanon. Among other measures, Yacoubian recommends that the United States deepen intelligence sharing so as to have better insight into Lebanon's internal politics, intensify diplomacy to tamp down sectarian tensions and promote reconciliation in Lebanon, address Lebanon's mounting socioeconomic ills with greater resources and strong coordination with regional allies, and bolster support for the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, with special focus on the needs of children. Read the report here.

Lockheed Martin's F-35 aircraft has not yet demonstrated sufficient reliability improvements, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, tells reporters after an F-35 management conf. by Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio and Laura Curtis, here.

If you missed this last week in the WaPo, you should read it. If you didn't miss it, maybe read it again. A former Army officer is reading the writing on the wall on military benefits and makes a courageous point. Tom Slear for the WaPo in "I'm an Army Veteran and my Benefits are Too Generous:"  "... Though I spent more than five years on active duty during the 1970s as an Army infantry officer and an additional 23 years in the Reserves, I never fired a weapon other than in training, and I spent no time in a combat zone. I returned to active duty for five months in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, but I was assigned to the Pentagon. My hazardous duty consisted of a daily drive on New York Avenue before its upgrade.

"Despite the extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly half of the 4.5 million active-duty service members and reservists over the past decade were never deployed overseas. Among those who were, many never experienced combat. It's a fact of warfare called the logistical tail.

"...These jobs are important. Battles are won based on logistics just as much as tactics. But these support jobs aren't particularly hazardous. Police officers, firefighters and construction workers face more danger than Army public affairs specialists, Air Force mechanics, Marine Corps legal assistants, Navy finance clerks or headquarters staff officers. And yet, the benefits flow lavishly. While on active duty, I received medical care without any premiums or co-pays, a substantial housing allowance, a small stipend for food, and a base salary that by today's pay scale would be $5,168 a month."

He concludes: "...budget deficits are tilting America toward financial malaise. Our elected representatives will have to summon the courage to confront the costs of benefits and entitlements and make hard choices. Some "no" votes when it comes to our service members and, in particular, military retirees will be necessary. We can afford it." More here.

A former soldier who's not being coaxed by Republican strategists writes genuinely about what it feels like when another soldier wonders off. Stephen Carlson on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for Task & Purpose: "...From titanic battles that shaped world events for generations, to patrolling a dusty, mountainous border in central Asia, every soldier is going to ask themselves, ‘What the hell am I doing here?' This was as true at Gettysburg and Normandy as it was in Paktika province, when Bergdahl took a stroll off his outpost in 2009.

"...It is hard to keep any ideals or hope in the face of appalling waste, wanton brutality, and bureaucratic and political idiocy, even if at heart I really did want to help the Afghans, just as Bergdahl apparently did. My unit in 2006-2007 was more concerned with racking up a high Taliban body count on the border than any development or reconstruction, but even our half-hearted efforts at helping the locals were usually for naught. A freshly built school, little more than a couple of retrofitted shipping containers, was blown up overnight. Solar-powered street lights in the local bazaar were shot out one by one. Roads, the eternal lack in Afghanistan, were turned into IED crater-riddled death traps. The list goes on.

"...Bergdahl was fed up, pissed off, and ready to leave, which made him about as exclusive as Walmart. If he was done, so be it. He could have refused to patrol, and they would have sent him to the rear on make-work until they could discharge him. He could have walked into the command post smoking a joint, and ditto. He could have shot himself in the foot and been at Walter Reed in a matter of days. He could have gone on leave and pulled his disappearing act at home.

"Bergdahl could have done all these things, and that would have been the end of the matter. Instead, he took the most asinine, selfish, and borderline treasonous course of action possible. He simply sent his personal effects home and wandered off, leaving his unit to hold the bag.

"What the Golden Rule is to Christianity, ‘Don't be a Buddy Fucker' is to the military. If you can't be motivated to make things better for the people stuck in the same dirt pile you are in, then at the very least, don't make things worse. This is the glue that binds a platoon of disparate individuals from all walks of life together, and it is the only thing that makes life in the infantry bearable. Don't Fuck Your Buddy. A simple rule." More here.