Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Iranian drones over Iraq; Obama WH needs more accountability over their own drones; Hagel to meet with leaders; No RIMPAC for Thailand; There's a new Baghdad Bob; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

Drones from Iran have been secretly flying over Iraq. Iraq is bringing together strange bedfellows. Earlier this week, Syria's Assad regime sent jet fighters to strike at Sunni militants wreaking havoc inside Iraq. Now, Iranian drones are flying overhead in Iraq alongside American drones, providing reconnaissance to counter the threat from the Sunni group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, everybody's new common enemy in what signals a clear widening of the conflict in Iraq. But it doesn't yet mean anyone is standing closer together. The NYT's Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: " Iran is directing surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is supplying Iraqi forces with tons of military equipment and other supplies, according to American officials.

"The secret Iranian programs are a rare instance in which Iran and the United States share a near-term goal: countering the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Sunni militants who have seized towns and cities in a blitzkrieg across western and northern Iraq. But even as the two nations provide military support to the embattled government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, they are watching each other's actions warily as they jostle for influence in the region. Senior American officials emphasized that the parallel efforts were not coordinated, and in an appearance at NATO headquarters here on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted some of the potential risks.

Meanwhile, who knew Iran even really had drones? FP's Elias Groll: Iran's first drone, the Mohajer, was developed by the country's armed forces during the Iran-Iraq war to provide surveillance and intelligence. With Iranian forces sustaining heavy losses against their Iraqi opponents, the drone was developed to reduce casualties and prevent Iranian troops from walking into ambushes. The drone was at one point reportedly equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, which would make it one of the first weaponized drones. A variation of the early model reportedly is still in use. This 2012 video shows what is believed to be a Mohajer-variant operating in the skies over Syria. More on that here.

It feels like 2007. The tide of the Iraq war turned between 2006 and 2007 starting in western Iraq's Anbar province when moderate Sunnis rose up against their militant brothers in al-Qaida. Now there's talk of how to make that magic happen again and for a White House that likes diplomacy over kinetics, this is likely to set a tone over the next days and weeks. AP's Lara Jakes and Sameer Yacoub, from Baghdad: "They were known as the Sahwa, or the Awakening Councils - Sunni militiamen who took extraordinary risks to side with U.S. troops in the fight against al-Qaida during the Iraq War...Now, the Obama administration is looking at the Sahwa, which still exist in smaller form, as a model for how to unite Sunni fighters against the rampant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that has swept across most of the nation's north. Also known as the Sons of Iraq - "sahwa" is Arabic for "awakening" - U.S. officials say they hope Sunnis will be similarly stirred to fight back against the new insurgency." More here.

There's more on this theme from a new report for New America from Derek Harvey and Michael Pregent: "As the United States considers its options against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we should start by reviewing our earlier war against ISIS's previous incarnation, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and remember what worked and what did not. The air power and special operations that many in Washington are now discussing can be an important component of a counterinsurgency or counterterrorism campaign, but our history with AQI/ISIS shows that by themselves they are not sufficient to put an end to the threat." More here.

Shiite violence traps Sunnis in Baghdad. The NYT's Alissa Rubin and Rod Nordland on Page One, here.

Tara Sonenshine, State's former undersec for public diplomacy and public affairs, argues it's time that Obama lowered the bar for success in Iraq. Sonenshine in Defense One, here.

The Iraqi ex-mayor who is trying to keep the peace in Iraq - from Virginia. The WaPo's Greg Jaffe, here.

An industry insider tells the international Arabic paper Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraq's oil infrastructure was subjected to repeated sabotage and theft in the months before the fall of Mosul. Read it here.

ISIS tries to grab its own Air Force. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Josh Rogin: "The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is threatening to take control of Balad Airbase, Iraq's largest airfield and one of America's most important military outposts during its occupation of the country." More here.

Who's rooting for Iran in Tel Aviv? The WSJ's Joshua Mitnick, here.

Iraq's Lt. Gen. Qassim Atta is the new "Baghdad Bob." We all remember Baghdad Bob from the days of the Iraq invasion of 2003 - the spokesman for the Iraqi government who confidently asserted facts that were counter to reality. Now, apparently, Iraq has a new spinner. The WaPo's Loveday Morris: "Each afternoon, the meticulously groomed Lt. Gen. Qassim Atta stands in front of a cluster of microphones in a palatial meeting room in Baghdad's Green Zone to update the nation on the latest military developments... However, it is a spin on the day's developments that often starkly conflicts with reports from the field... A few days earlier, the loss of three border towns to militants, strengthening their run from Syria into Iraq, was framed as a 'tactical' withdrawal, in order to reinforce troops elsewhere. 'Everything is going very well, and the leadership has full command and control,' he declared." More here.

Welcome to Thursday'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.

Diving into the debate over security and privacy, the Supreme Court shields cell phone data. FP's Shane Harris: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that police officers need to obtain warrants before searching through the cellphones of people that they arrest, a potentially far-reaching decision that comes at a moment when courts across the United States are considering how to adapt laws on privacy to an age where staggering amounts of personal information reside on ever-growing numbers of electronic devices. The Supreme Court's ruling pertains to criminal law and doesn't affect the laws governing warrantless surveillance and data collection that have been at the heart of the controversy over intelligence-gathering by the National Security Agency.

"That may change, however, with the high court recently signaling that it may be prepared to reconsider the rules around that kind of data-gathering as well. More specifically, the court would likely examine whether so-called metadata, such as the phone records that the NSA has been routinely collecting for years, should be afforded greater legal protection against government search and seizure." More here.

Who's Where When today ­- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is meeting with all his combatant commanders, like Gen. Lloyd Austin from Central Command, Phil Breedlove from European Command and Gen. David Rodriguez from Africa Command and others, as well as his service secretaries and chiefs for what was described as a "previously scheduled" Senior Leadership Council meeting. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday that the agenda will, "of course, be current events around the world, but they are also expected to discuss our global force posture going forward, budget issues, innovation concepts, and better business practices."

Also today, the White House will ask Congress for $60 billion to fund military operations in Afghanistan and other global contingencies. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "...The Pentagon would receive about $58.5 billion through the 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request. A separate $1.5 billion budget amendment is being requested for State Department contingency funding, according to a source with knowledge of the spending plan... The Defense Department and the State Department will also request $5 billion, part of a new counterterrorism fund, which President Barack Obama said he would include in the OCO budget during his commencement address at West Point in May. Of that, $4 billion would go toward DoD and $1 billion toward State. The spending plan that will go to Capitol Hill Thursday will include very few details about how DoD and State would spend that money, the source said." More here.

Former national security folks take a stern look at U.S. drone policy and issue a new major report from Stimson that calls for more accountability. A major Stimson Center report provided early to Situation Report looks at the concerning future of U.S. drone policy and war. A task force co-chaired by General John P. Abizaid (US Army, Ret.), former Commander of US Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, former Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, offers a response to Obama's 2103 NDU speech, in which he pledged to "review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress."

Unlike other reports on drone warfare from human rights groups and others, this report comes from a number of heavy-hitters from the nat-sec community and may mean the Obama administration takes it all the more seriously.

While the report acknowledges the advantages drones offer the military, it explores the strategic and legal risks they create.  Of the seven recommendations, #1 is: "Conduct a rigorous strategic review and cost-benefit analysis of the role of lethal UAVs in targeted counterterrorism strikes to evaluate the impact of past UAV strikes on terrorist organizations, affected communities, public opinion, litigation, defense policy and government cooperation with allies and partner nations."

Rosa Brooks, on the report: "The rapid evolution of UAV technologies has enabled the US to engage in what amounts to a thirteen-year-long covert war, fought far away from traditional territorial battlefields and largely in secret. The Stimson Task Force found that the current US policy of using drones for such targeted killings is both strategically questionable and hard to square with our national commitment to the rule of law.

"On several occasions, President Obama has expressed a commitment to making America's use of such targeted strikes more transparent and accountable, and to making sure US targeted strikes don't end up inadvertently undermining our longterm national security goals. This report outlines a number of concrete, detailed recommendations designed to do just that -- and there's no time like the present!" The report launches with a 9:30 a.m. event today at the National Press Club. Deets here. 

The Arms Control Association releases a report on the Iran nuclear negotiations at a 10 a.m. briefing. Deets here.

Meantime, the Enough Project and Satellite Sentinel Project issue a report this morning on Sudan's new army of war criminals: "One decade after Darfur's Janjaweed militiamen earned global infamy as "devils on horseback," Sudan is experiencing a wave of atrocities at the hands of their new incarnation as an official military entity, the "Rapid Support Forces" (RSF). " The report, here.

Two VA officials step down as the White House struggles to right the ship and fix veteran care. The NYT's Richard Oppel, here.

ICYMI: By a voice vote, the Pentagon's Jamie Morin and Jess Wright were confirmed, Morin as director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office and Wright as head of the Pentagon's personnel shop.

Also, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jim Dobbins is in Afghanistan to meet with Afghan and "international stakeholders" in support of the troubled electoral process. From State: "Ambassador Dobbins will reiterate our position that the future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to determine. He will also note that we look forward to a productive relationship with President Karzai's successor. Ambassador Dobbins will hold meetings with Afghan election authorities, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and a variety of Afghan officials and political leaders.

But in addition to the issues around the election, there is also a concerning security issue in southern Afghanistan. As we reported yesterday with the help of American University in Afghanistan's Matt Trevithick and Dan Seckman, the Taliban is making some noise.

From today's WSJ by Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil: "...Much of the fighting, Afghan and coalition officials said, was concentrated in Sangin district, on the eastern edge of the province. Last summer, the Taliban pushed to take control of Sangin, taking over several police checkpoints before Afghan security forces recaptured them. 'Based on the intelligence information we have, there are more than 1,000 fighters,' said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior. 'Taking over Sangin has become a matter of honor for them, and that's why they keep launching large-scale attacks there.' More here.

Meantime, wanna crack open a book at the beach this summer? Check the War on the Rock fiction list here. 

There's also news from Asia, where the big military exercise RIMPAC begins today. But Thailand's coup means that Evite to the exercise was recalled. William Cole for the Honolulu Star Advertiser: "Thailand is being refused participation in the big U.S. Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise following a May 22 military coup, the suspension of more than $4.7 million in U.S. security-related assistance, and cancellation of a military exercise and visits with the Southeast Asian nation, U.S. defense officials said. 'Thailand will not be here for RIMPAC, and that was a decision that was made by (the State Department),' U.S. Pacific Command said Wednesday. On Tuesday, Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the coup and "post-coup repression" have "made it impossible for our relationship with Thailand to go on with 'business as usual.'" More here.

22 nations, including China, are set to begin RIMPAC.  The Navy Times' Lance Bacon: "The world's largest multination naval exercise kicks off Thursday, and this year includes an unusual player: for the first time, the Chinese navy. China is dispatching four ships to the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise held around Hawaii, joining 22 other nations in maritime training slated to involve 47 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 sailors, 3rd Fleet said in a news release in the run-up to the event. The Chinese inclusion recognizes their growing naval might and comes amid territorial disputes with neighbors and some recent run-ins between warships, including those of the U.S. Navy.

"China is sending 1,100 officers and sailors aboard the destroyer Haikou, frigate Yueyang, supply ship Qiandaohu and hospital ship Peace Ark, along with two helicopters, a commando unit and a diving squad, according to the nation's official Xinhua news service." More here.

The Wall Street Journal has selected 100 legacies from World War I that continue to shape our lives today, here.

Bergdahl hasn't admitted to any wrongdoing, but he hasn't been questioned about his disappearance, Army officials said Wednesday. The Army put two officials out yesterday to update the press on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's situation. He continues to recover from his five years of captivity, and an investigation is underway. Stripes' Chris Carroll: "...[But] Because the priority is recovery, he has not been questioned about the circumstances of his 2009 disappearance from a remote outpost in Afghanistan's Paktika province, officials said." More here. But an unanswered question is what will happen to Bergdahl. Regardless of whether he is found to have deserted his unit and gets into hot water with the Army or not, what becomes of him after? Will he need security once he is free to begin living apart from the Army? Who would provide it? 

In Nigeria, villagers frustrated with the lack of protection from militants are forming their own militias. The WSJ's Drew Hinshaw in Nigeria: "Many people in northern Nigeria, frustrated by a five-year insurgency and what they call a lack of military protection, are ordering what passes for bulletproof clothing, buying homemade muskets and organizing ragtag militias. The move toward self protection-born of years of suicide attacks, shooting rampages and mass abductions of girls and boys-underscores what limited headway the military has made against Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist insurgency whose war against the government has left more than 14,000 people dead in the past three years, according to New York's Council on Foreign Relations." More here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Did Maliki get the memo?; U.S. troops begin their mission in Iraq; Thomas to JSOC, Votel to SOCOM, Campbell to Kabul; The gunshot wound at Arlington was self-inflicted; Fantasy, pills and sex in al Qaeda country; and a bit more.

 

Did Maliki get the memo? In a speech in Iraq today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for political unity just days after Secretary of State John Kerry told him Iraq needed a multisectarian government - one way or another. The WaPo's Loveday Morris, this morning: "Striking a conciliatory but desperate tone in a televised address to the nation, Maliki urged political parties to lay aside their differences before the first session of Iraq's newly elected parliament, expected to take place next week. 'We desperately need a united national stance to defy terrorism,' said Maliki, who is under pressure from the United States to reach out to those who oppose him.

"His speech, delivered two days after he met with Secretary of State John F. Kerry, contrasted sharply with his public declarations earlier in the crisis, which have appealed to religious motivations and called for citizens to protect the country's Shiite Muslim shrines. It comes amid a period of intense political maneuvering in Baghdad that could result in Maliki's loss of the premiership as the conflict convulsing his country intensifies." More here.

In the meantime, Syria's Assad regime sent warplanes to strike Sunni militants inside Iraq - the very ones the U.S. will begin helping Iraq to hunt down - and underscoring the increasing blur of the border between Syria and Iraq. It's also forcing the U.S. to confront more head on, not only the bloodshed in Iraq but, potentially, in Syria. But for now, the focus for the Pentagon is the troops heading into the new but uncertain mission in Iraq. FP's Gordon Lubold: "American military advisors have started their ‘assessment' mission in Iraq, Pentagon officials said Tuesday, the first step in what could be a sustained U.S. effort to help the battered Iraqi military beat back an onslaught by Islamist fighters. About 130 U.S. military personnel, including approximately 40 special operations troops already in Iraq, will work with Iraqi forces to establish a ‘Joint Operations Center' in Baghdad. Together, they will assess Iraq's current security capabilities and the situation on the ground now that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham fighters have taken over large swaths of the country. Another four teams, for a total of 50 more troops, will soon arrive in Iraq. The White House has authorized as many as 300 troops for the Iraq mission but Pentagon officials said it's not yet clear if that many will be needed there.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby yesterday: "These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces, higher headquarters in Baghdad, and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisors."

"...Although the troops will be armed, the White House stresses that they will not serve in a combat role. Airstrikes against ISIS have also not been ruled out. Eager to avoid stepping into the conflict inside Iraq that is fed by violence across the border in Syria, though, the troops' assessment will at least partially determine whether airstrikes would be effective enough to justify the risk of a broader armed intervention into the region." More here.

Former commandos call Iraq a mission impossible for the American troops. The Daily Beast's Jacob Siegel, here.

Losses to ISIS in Iraq spur the U.S. to rethink its Syria policy. After years of appearing to ignore Syria, and reluctant to enter into that conflict in any substantive way, the administration is now being forced to confront it. But the situation there is now far worse than it was and whatever the White House does it's likely to draw more I-told-you-sos from critics of the administration's non-intervention. The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum and Julian Barnes: "The Sunni militant advance in Iraq has reignited a debate in the Obama administration over its policy toward Syria, increasing pressure on the president to act more aggressively against a growing regional threat, according to current and former government officials. Some argue that any U.S. military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, in Iraq will fall short if it doesn't hit the group's major strongholds in neighboring Syria. ISIS now occupies territory on both sides of the border. Several compared the ability of militants to easily cross from their Syrian sanctuaries into Iraq to that of extremists based in Pakistan who stage attacks on U.S. interests in neighboring Afghanistan.

A senior defense official: "Syria and Iraq are largely a single problem... If we really get into this, you will have to look in to Syria to solve some of these problems."

Julie Smith, a former Biden national security advisor: "There's no question that developments in Iraq are changing the nature of the debate... We're in essence dealing with significant destabilization and the rise of a terrorist group that seems intent not only on taking on the leadership in Baghdad, but also playing a pretty terrifying terrorism role world-wide."

Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria: "I don't see how you confront the Islamic State in Iraq and then stop at the border, especially when the border, de facto doesn't really exist." More here.

Here's some intel: ISIS is amassing weapons and cash. The WaPo's Greg Miller: "The al-Qaeda-inspired insurgent group that has seized a string of cities in Iraq is rapidly gaining strength as it accumulates new weapons, fighters and cash, according to U.S. intelligence assessments disclosed Tuesday by a senior U.S. official. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria 'is the strongest it has been in several years' because of recent gains in both those countries, the senior U.S. intelligence official said, an assessment that suggests the former al-Qaeda affiliate has rebuilt much of the capability it had at the height of the war in Iraq... The U.S. official said that American intelligence agencies had for months provided "strategic warning" that ISIS was growing in strength while the government in Baghdad appeared to be losing its grip on key cities but declined to provide further details." More here.

The Pentagon is sending a message to Iraq by dragging its boots. TIME's Mark Thompson with that interesting angle, here.

The questions rebels use to tell the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. Alissa Rubin for the NYT, here.

Emma Sky in Foreign Affairs on who lost Iraq - and how to get it back: "Republicans and Democrats each share some of the blame for the situation in Iraq -- the former for the way in which the United States entered the country and the latter for the way in which it left. It was only between 2007 and 2009 that the United States had a coherent strategy in Iraq, matched with the right leadership and the necessary resources. The current turmoil dates back to just after that period, to 2010, after Iraq's second post-Saddam national election."

"... The United States has a key role to play in helping broker a new deal among the elites that creates a better balance among Iraq's communities. A new broad-based Iraqi government will need to win back the support of Sunnis against ISIS -- and the Obama administration should be prepared to respond positively to requests for assistance to do so." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

Whycome is no one celebrating the fact that Syria's declared nerve agent is gone? FP's Colum Lynch this morning: "The world's chemical weapons watchdog this week announced a landmark in the fight against weapons of mass destruction: Syria became the first country to voluntarily surrender its entire stockpile of declared chemical weapons agents in the midst of a civil war. So why, then, is the world so reluctant to call it a victory and move on? Even as they applauded the chemical weapons milestone, U.S. and European officials made it clear they would continue to closely monitor Syria's chemical weapons program. 'It should not be lost on anyone that our work is not finished,' Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday." More here.

At long last, the Pentagon's chemical weapons-eating ship jumps into action. The WaPo's Dan Lamothe, here.

Who's Where When today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is back from Afghanistan... Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet delivers remarks at the Atlantic Council Conference on "The U.S. Role in European Security" at 11:30 a.m... then Chollet testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee on "Libya at a Crossroads: A Faltering Transition" at 2 p.m... Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III hosts the Twilight Tattoo, "Salute to the Non-Commissioned Officer: Backbone of the Army" at 7 p.m., Summerall Field, Fort Myer, Va.

A new program to help an estimated 26,000 veterans access employment opportunities and free benefits services will kick off with the first of 65 upcoming events at the DAV RecruitMilitary All Veteran Career Fair at the Redskins' FedEx Field June 26 at 11 a.m. Deets here.

Army Vice Chief of Staff J.C. Campbell is headed to Afghanistan and JSOC's Votel to SOCOM and Tony Thomas is headed to JSOC. Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday three nominations of senior officers in moves that were widely anticipated but nonetheless now official. Campbell has been nom'ed to succeed Gen. Joe Dunford in Kabul, which means that despite the Afghanistan war winding down by the end of the year, the Pentagon will replace one four-star with another four-star. Although that move was expected, some star-watchers are surprised to see that the ISAF command needs a four star, but the ISAF billet likely requires it for now.  Campbell, widely respected and who has reasonably recent Afghanistan command experience, in the dangerous Regional Command-East, would probably get the nod from Congress.
Meantime, Lt. Gen. Joe Votel, now the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, has been nom'ed to become the new commander of Special Operations Command, replacing Adm. Bill McRaven, who himself had been commander of JSOC and has the Bin Laden raid under his belt. We've been told that McRaven was asked not to submit his retirement papers just yet, which means the White House might have further plans for one of the most famous Navy SEALs.

Hagel also announced that Adm. Bill Gortney, now the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, had been nominated to become head of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, replacing Gen. Charles Jacoby.

Also, Situation Report is told that Lt. Gen. Tony Thomas, who last year was the top special operations bubba in Afghanistan, will head to Joint Special Operations Command to replace Votel. We're told it's expected but also not a done deal - as things that have yet to be officially announced tend to be. Stay tuned.

This sad thing has apparently never happened before at Arlington. Army Times' Jeff Schogol and Stephen Losey: "A man found dead of a gunshot wound Friday at Arlington National Cemetery has been identified as retired Air Force Col. Robert Stanton Terrill, 92, of Falls Church, Va. ... Terrill's neighbors confirmed that his late wife, Helen, who died in 2009, is buried at Arlington. The cemetery's online grave finder lists Helen Terrill as being buried in Section 64, where Terrill was found dead." More here.

The Pentagon's war budget to be submitted tomorrow, Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio and Holly Rosenkrantz report. "The White House will submit on Thursday its war-funding request for 2015, according to two officials." More here. 

Gee-Whiz: FP's new Fragile States Index (it's interactive!) Iran is up, America is down and North Korea ain't as bad as you might think. A look at what the number of a country's stability rating really means, here.

Lockheed wins a $1.9 billion deal for U.S. missile-warning satellites. Reuters with the scoop, here.

The bizarre tale of a former Green Beret known as "Lawrence of Afghanistan," a former Pentagon reporter for the WaPo, and pills, sex and the Taliban. An ABC news bit out yesterday tells the story of how Green Beret Jim Gant was relieved of command two years ago. ABC's James Gordon Meek, Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross: "A legendary Special Forces commander was quietly forced to leave the U.S. Army after he admitted to a love affair with a Washington Post war correspondent, who quit her job to secretly live with him for almost a year in one of the most dangerous combat outposts in Afghanistan. U.S. Army Special Operations Command never publicly disclosed that highly-decorated Green Beret Major Jim Gant was relieved of command at the end of a harrowing 22 months in combat in March 2012.

"His commanders charged in confidential files that he had "indulged in a self-created fantasy world" of booze, pain pills and sex in a tribal village deep in Taliban and al Qaeda country with his "wife," journalist Ann Scott Tyson."

"...But it was a long, hard fall for a visionary still called "Lawrence of Afghanistan" by two of the war's now retired top commanders, Army Gen. David Petraeus and Navy SEAL Adm. Eric Olson, in honor of the British officer T.E. Lawrence who led the Arab Revolt a century ago. Gant, who idolizes Lawrence, said he's honored by the comparison. Ann Scott Tyson and Jim Gant, who married last year, have come forward to tell their tale in her new book, 'American Spartan: The Promise, The Mission And The Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant.' Read the rest here.

We're told the Taliban carried out a big attack against government forces in Sangin province in Helmand, Afghanistan last night. From "SitRep reporters" Dan Seckman and Matt Trevithick, on the ground in Afghanistan, who wrote us this morning: "Hundreds of Taliban fighters swarmed government posts in the district capital, overrunning checkpoints, killing 24 Afghan Army soldiers and Afghan police officers, and causing more than 3,000 residents to flee, according to a statement from Abdul Qader Chopan, the provincial police spokesman. Government forces responded quickly, retaking all lost territory and killing just over 100 Taliban fighters within 24 hours.  Quick to allay fears, Chopan indicated this was local politics at work, not the return of the Taliban... Familiar territory to US Marines stationed in Helmand, the last of whom left the district just last month, Sangin was one of the bloodiest areas in the struggle to clear terrain from the Taliban in the south. More than 50 Marines were killed after taking over from the British in 2010.

Provincial police spokesman Chopan on the Taliban's interest in overrunning checkpoints for weapons and equipment to Seckman: "This was about drugs and also their need for weapons." We'll keep our eye out for more on this.

What the ISIS takeover in Iraq says about American policy in Afghanistan. Ryan Evans for War on the Rocks: "...As Obama and his national security team watch Iraq crumble, they would do well to reconsider their unconditional 2016 deadline. It would not be unreasonable for the United States to leave behind a small footprint of less than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future to focus on counter-terrorism, security force assistance, and the continued provision of air support to the Afghan National Security Forces. Even after 2016, Washington needs to ensure that the Taliban does not give shelter and aid to terrorists with transnational ambitions. Indeed, this gets more urgent by the day as the group reclaims parts of Afghanistan's rural south and east. For a number of reasons, a small but capable troop presence is the best means of doing this. It provides political leverage, deterrence, and a hammer. And as my friend Tom Lynch explains, there might be other benefits to having troops in the region." More here.

Hamid Karzai "hobbled the warlords, protected personal freedom and helped heal a shattered country," writes Mujib Masahal in a profile of Karzai for the Atlantic: "...He also winked at corruption and ruled like a tribal chief. His successor will inherit a country that's in better shape than you might think-and a government with little power to keep it that way." More here.

"Literally bad English" - We got an email from a SitRep reader who took issue with a modifier we should never have used yesterday in our story about Iraqi security forces: "Iraqi troops have literally melted away rather than fight..." The reader wrote: "I really like your writing, and your synopses of the issues, but no one actually ("literally") melted away, a la the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Overused/misused/abused word." We couldn't agree more - not sure what we were thinking. Thanks for the smack.

National Journal's Sara Sorcher is headed to the Christian Science Monitor.  Sorcher is going to the Christian Science Monitor (one of our former stomping grounds) to be the deputy editor of a new cybersecurity and technology section launching this fall. Sorcher: "I'll be covering cyber from Washington and helping to shape this exciting new feature, which intersects with national security, business, economic and privacy issues...It's been great working with you these past four years covering national security at National Journal. Thanks for all the news tips and feedback. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me in August when I start my new beat." Congrats to Sara.

A federal judge rules that the no-fly list doesn't fly. Reuters' Dan Whitcomb: "The U.S. government's no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights violates their constitutional rights because it gives them no meaningful way to contest that decision, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, ruling on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Oregon by 13 Muslim Americans who were branded with the no-fly status, ordered the government to come up with new procedures that allow people on the no-fly list to challenge that designation. ‘The court concludes international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society,' Brown wrote in her 65-page ruling." More here.

Check out the Texas air base where NATO fighter pilots are made. From Popular Mechanics: "With tensions rising in the Middle East and Russia, a global cadre of NATO pilots is once again poised on the edge of geopolitical hotspots. So, where do these fighter pilots come from? One answer: an internationally run training center in North Texas." Popular Mechanics' Joe Pappalardo, here.