Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: The EU debates sanctions in Brussels; Social media is playing a major role in discovering who shot down Flight MH17; An Israeli soldier is missing; the Senate considers Robert McDonald for VA; and a bit more.

There is some good news out of Ukraine this morning. Pro-Russian separatists have handed over the black boxes for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and a train carrying 282 of the bodies is making its way out of the conflict zone so that the victims can be returned to their families. So some order is being brought to the chaos of the crash site and the human tragedy aspect of this story is beginning to be addressed. But, the geopolitical fallout is far from over as the United States and European powers decide how hard they want to come down on Russia for its suspected role in the downing of the plane.

Today, attention turns to Brussels, where Europe's foreign ministers are meeting to decide whether to enforce tougher sanctions on Russia. The FT's Peter Spiegel, Kiran Stacey and Stefan Wagstyl with the latest on the sanctions debate: "Despite growing momentum behind broad EU economic sanctions, which could initially target the Russian military by barring European exports of weapons parts, EU diplomats said some states still resisted the tougher approach, and there were concerns the debate could split the EU."

France is on the fence, and they're not alone.  The country's "concerned about its €1.2bn contract to sell two Mistral-class helicopter assault ships to Russia and has urged instead an expansion of ‘phase two' sanctions, which target individuals and companies rather than entire economic sectors."

A French official to the FT: "UK sanctions on Russian business interests in London would be ‘much more important financially and economically' against Moscow, citing Chelsea football club, owned by Roman Abramovich. ‘If Mr Cameron wants to sanction Russia, he would do better to sanction Chelsea and support Paris St Germain instead.'" More here.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council voted yesterday to establish an independent investigation into the MH17 shoot-down, setting off a U.S.-Russia squabble. FP's Colum Lynch: "...Russia joined the Security Council's 14 other members in adopting a resolution condemning the July 17 crash in eastern Ukraine and calling for ‘a full, thorough and independent international investigation' of what brought down the plane."

U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to the Security Council yesterday: "We welcome Russia's support for today's resolution... But no resolution would have been necessary had Russia used its leverage with the separatists to provide unfettered access to the crash site in the crucial first days following the air tragedy." Meanwhile, "Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, offered condolences to the families of the dead but accused Barack Obama's administration of using the tragedy to score propaganda points against Moscow." More here.

The bodies of the victims departed Ukraine on a refrigerated train last night. The NYT's Sabrina Tavernise and Noah Sneider: "In the end, they were sent off alone, without ceremony, well-wishers or anyone much beyond a handful of armed rebels on the platform." The train is making its way to an airport in Kharkiv, from there, the bodies will be loaded on a transport plane and flown back to Amsterdam, where Flight MH17 originated. More on the journey here.

Social media and the Case Against Putin: The White House's case for who shot down Flight MH17 relies on secret satellite photos and intercepted phone calls -- but also evidence gathered on Twitter and YouTube. FP's Shane Harris and Elias Groll: "...In laying out the administration's indictment against Moscow, Obama and key members of his national security team have been pulling from a trove of classified intelligence. Among the most incriminating evidence against the separatists are images taken by U.S. spy satellites showing a plume of smoke rising from the separatist-held area where the missile was fired, officials said. The missile also was detected by the Defense Support Program, a constellation of Air Force reconnaissance satellites that sense the infrared signature of ballistic missile launches and nuclear explosions, Reuters reported.

"But officials are also building their case against Putin with a mounting pile of evidence posted on social media, including posts by separatist leaders, tweets about the location of missile launchers, and YouTube videos documenting potentially incriminating conversations between the men who may have shot down the jetliner. Washington's willingness to use Twitter and the Russian equivalent of Facebook to bolster its case against Putin is a signal moment in the history of social media, which is now taking its place alongside classified intelligence as an important source of information for world leaders." More here.

Photographs reveal even more details on what took the plane down. The NYT's C.J. Chivers: "...The wreckage, photographed by two reporters for The New York Times in a field several miles from where the largest concentration of the Boeing's debris settled, suggests that the destruction of the aircraft was caused by a supersonic missile that apparently exploded near the jet as it flew 33,000 feet above the ground, according to an analysis of the photographs by IHS Jane's, the defense consultancy.

"It is impossible from these photographs of the damaged plane to determine what specific model of missile was used. But the SA-11 is a member of a class of weapon that carries a fragmenting warhead with a proximity fuze. If a missile like that functioned as designed, it would cause damage like that evident in the debris of Flight 17." More here.

In the meantime, questions are being raised about who knew what when? For example, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) wants to know whether the U.S. intelligence community shared what it knew about the presence of SA-11 anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine with the Federal Aviation Administration. The WSJ's Julian E. Barnes has more on the congressman's letter to the White House here.

Quote of the day? Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird at a press conference in London: "The Kremlin may not have pulled the trigger but it certainly loaded the gun and put it in the murderers' hands." The Globe and Mail's Steven Chase has more here about Canada's promise to step up sanctions against Russia.

Could the restart of Israel-Palestinian peace talks be a part of the ceasefire with Gaza? The AP's story from Cairo: "...At the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, [Egyptian] Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said he planned to work with U.S. and other world leaders ‘to not only resolve this issue but also to set in motion once again the peace process that Secretary Kerry has been so actively involved in so as to end this ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.'

"...Kerry is in Cairo trying to help broker a truce after two weeks of fighting that have killed more than 500 Palestinians and two dozen Israelis. Before Kerry began his meetings with top Egyptian and Arab League officials Tuesday, Israeli aircraft hit more than 70 targets in the Gaza Strip, including the home of the late leader of Hamas' military wing, five mosques and a football stadium, according to a Gaza police official." More here.

But neither side is giving any indication that it's ready to compromise. The WaPo's William Booth, Sudarsan Raghavan and Ruth Eglash: "The Islamist militant organization Hamas said Monday that it would not agree to a cease-fire with Israel until its demands were met, as Israel warned that its incursion into the Gaza Strip could continue for days or even weeks. The stark assessments offered little hope for quick progress toward ending a 14-day-old conflict that has inflicted heavy costs on each side."

The NYT's Jodi Rudoren on Israel's difficult choice in Gaza: "If it stops now, it faces the prospect of a newly embittered enemy retaining the capacity to attack. But if it stays the course, it is liable to kill many more civilians and face international condemnation." More here.

An Israeli soldier is missing in Gaza, and its unknown if he dead or alive. If Hamas has him, it could be a game-changer. The Jerusalem Post's Yaakov Lappin: "An IDF soldier who was involved in a Hamas attack on Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border on Sunday is missing, the army said Tuesday. The IDF on Tuesday said that it had identified six of seven bodies of IDF soldiers killed in Sunday's attack on an armored personnel carrier (APC) on the Gaza border. The announcement came after Hamas claimed to have kidnapped an Israeli soldier on Sunday, not clarifying if he was alive or dead." More here.

Retired IDF brigadier general Michael Herzog writes for FP that the current operation in Gaza is a fight born of necessity: "...So why did Israel go in after all? Because airstrikes were proving insufficient to pressure Hamas to agree and abide by a lasting ceasefire. Motivating Hamas to do so requires a significant degradation of its military capabilities -- more than can be achieved from the air. Israel estimates that Palestinian armed factions have so far lost about half of their rockets, yet still possess several thousand more. No less deadly is the threat of Hamas's tunnel network, dug from Gaza into Israeli territory with the aim of detonating explosives under Israeli towns or infiltrating to kidnap or kill citizens." More here.

An American-Israeli soldier's funeral drew 20,000 people in Haifa last night. Ha'aretz's Eetta Prince-Gibson, with the story.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @k8brannen, @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who's Where When today - Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, Army Secretary John McHugh, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno deliver remarks at 10 a.m. at the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts ... And Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, participates in a media roundtable at the Pentagon at 12:30 p.m.

On the Hill: The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee holds its confirmation hearing for Robert McDonald to be VA secretary at 3 p.m. ...McDonald, a former CEO at Procter & Gamble, was tapped by President Barack Obama in June to take over the VA during a time of deep crisis. Its previous secretary, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, was asked to resign in May after it was revealed that all over the country VA centers were covering up the fact that veterans were being forced to wait months before getting in to see a doctor.

If confirmed, McDonald will have one of the most unenviable jobs in Washington, but he already has lots of supporters on Capitol Hill. And while he may face some tough questions tomorrow, his nomination will most likely be confirmed quickly, as everyone is in agreement that the VA needs new leadership and fast.

Also happening today on the Hill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Daniel Chiu; Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment at USAID Eric Postel; and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy at State Amos Hochstein testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the "U.S. Security Implications of International Energy and Climate Policies and Issues" at 3 p.m.

Michael Breen, executive director of the Truman National Security Project & Center for National Policy, will be testifying as part of a second panel at the energy and climate hearing. Situation report got a sneak peek at his prepared remarks: "The lack of diversified energy sources around the world continues to create undue risk to American national security, the security of our key allies, and global stability and prosperity. In geopolitical terms, this lack of diversification creates vulnerabilities for the U.S. and our allies, and opportunities for many of our rivals and adversaries."

FP's David Rothkopf interviews Zbigniew Brzezinski on today's worldwide turmoil, Iran's near-term nuclear threat, and why a return to global order may rest on the relationship between the United States and China. Brzezinski on today's global instability: "I would even say that this is historically unprecedented, in the sense that simultaneously huge swaths of global territory are dominated by populist unrest, anger, and effective loss of state control. One of my feelings about the United States is not that we're declining and are faced with imminent crisis of survival, but that we are losing control of our ability at the highest levels of dealing with challenges that, increasingly, many of us recognize are fundamental to our well-being. And yet we cannot muster the forces or generate the leadership to deal with them. So that makes us, the preeminent power, increasingly devoid of strategic will and a sense of direction." Full interview, here.

While the world is looking elsewhere, Libya is unraveling. Reuters' Ayman al-Warfalli and Feras Bosalum in Benghazi: "Islamist militants attacked an army base in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Monday, triggering fierce clashes involving helicopters and jets that killed at least seven people and wounded 40 others after days of escalating violence. Benghazi's clashes followed a week of fighting between rival militias for control of Tripoli International Airport in the capital that has prompted the North Africa country to appeal for international help to stop Libya becoming a failed state.Tripoli was calmer on Monday, but in Benghazi, militants linked to Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia attacked an army camp and were repelled by troops and forces loyal to renegade retired general Khalifa Haftar, who has been carrying out a self-declared war on Islamist fighters, security sources said." More here.

The same could be said of Iraq, where, "Using its own version of ‘soft' and ‘hard' power, the Islamic State is crushing resistance across northern Iraq so successfully that its promise to march on Baghdad may no longer be unrealistic bravado," report Reuters' Maggie Fick and Isra'al Al-Rubei'i in Baghdad.

An example of the group's hard power was seen in its capture of al-Alam, a town which managed to resist takeover for 13 days. The Islamic State "kidnapped 30 local families and rang up the town's most influential citizens with a simple message about the hostages: ‘You know their destiny if you don't let us take over the town.'

"Within hours, tribesmen and local leaders caved in to save the families. The black flag of the Sunni militants, who are bent on overthrowing the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government, was soon flying over government buildings and police stations in al-Alam. Weeks later, only a few masked gunmen guard checkpoints surrounding al-Alam at night, so comfortable is the Islamic State in its control through fear." More on this story here.

But some find hope in Iraq among Sunni Muslims who are pushing back against the Islamic extremists. McClatchy's Hannah Allam and Mohammed al Dulaimy describe a celebration in the town of Haditha, where local tribesmen captured "a handful of militants belonging to the al Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State ... For now, such scenes are an anomaly in the vast swaths of territory that are included in the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate. But the Haditha example and other nascent resistance campaigns in northern and western lands signal growing divisions among Sunnis over how much trust should be placed in a group whose harsh brand of Islamism represents only a minority of Iraq's Sunnis." More here.

The Iraqi ambassador called for U.S. airstrikes at an Atlantic Council event in Washington yesterday. Defense News' Paul McLeary: "The Iraqi ambassador to the United States explicitly called for ramped up American military involvement in his country on Monday, asking the United States to launch air strikes against positions being held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Sunni extremist group that has gained control over swaths of northern and western Iraq... The Iraqi ambassador made his plea at a time when his country is still waiting for the first shipment of American Apache attack helicopters and F-16 fighter planes, long promised by Washington but delayed by the massive bureaucracy that controls such foreign military sales." More here.

Syrian rebels press a bid to expel ISIS from the Damascus area. The Daily Star's story from Damascus: "Syrian rebels have expelled ISIS militants from several parts of the suburbs of Damascus after sustaining losses of territory to the Al-Qaeda splinter group in the north and east of the country. ISIS, meanwhile, has started selling Syrian oil to Iraqi businessmen, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain based anti-regime group. Despite being besieged by government troops, Islamist rebels have managed to eject ISIS from four areas in the Damascus region in a drive launched three weeks ago, the Observatory and rebel sources said. ISIS was initially welcomed as a potential ally in the revolt, but the group's fanaticism and treatment of civilian populations and all other insurgent groups sparked a sustained counteroffensive." More here.

Can Afghan troops fill the void left by their American mentors? The NYT's Azem Ahmed: "Whether the Afghan forces can sustain themselves in the critical districts the Green Berets will be ceding to them is an urgent question all over the country. The answer will help define America's legacy in Afghanistan, much as it has in Iraq, where the Iraqi forces have fallen apart in combat." More here from the Koh-e-Safi District.

What's been the most dangerous country for journalists this year? It's not Iraq or Syria, but Ukraine that's been the most dangerous place for journos over the last six month, Reuters reports: "A total of seven reporters and their assistants were killed in the country, where pro-Russian separatists in eastern regions are fighting government forces, between Jan. 1 and June 30. That was one more than in Iraq and two more than in Syria and Pakistan, according to the London-based INSI's biannual survey. Journalist deaths worldwide jumped from 40 in the first half of 2013 to 61 this year, the report showed."

Cutler tapped as the first female CHINFO. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced yesterday that he was nominating Navy Capt. Dawn Cutler for the rank of rear admiral. A friend of Situation Report tells us that she's set to be the next chief of information for the Navy. Cutler, who is currently serving as deputy chief of information, will be the first woman to hold the job. Congrats!

Quick hits:

An Afghan guard on Tuesday carried out a suicide attack at a compound of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Kabul, killing four foreigners, reports the WSJ's Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri.

Army officials have withdrawn the Distributed Common Ground System from a major testing exercise this fall because of software glitches, reports AP's Ken Dilanian.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is calling on the West to provide precision strike weapons to his country following the shoot-down of Flight MH17, reports Defense News's Jaroslaw Adamowski.

Boko Haram has taken over a major town in Nigeria's northeast, with local officials calling it "perhaps the Islamist militant sect's most significant victory yet in a five-year campaign of violence and terror," reports The NYT's Adam Nossiter.

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: John Kerry is headed to Egypt for cease-fire talks; MH17 crash site in chaos; Dutch experts finally gain access; Wendy Anderson is headed to Africa; Slow going for Afghanistan’s election audit; and a bit more.

 How much worse do things have to get in Israel before they get better? More then 500 Palestinians have now died in the two-week conflict and Israel says 18 of its soldiers have been killed along with two civilians. The question is how long is this going to go on before the two sides strike a cease-fire? Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.N.'s Ban Ki-Moon are in Cairo today to try to bring the two sides to the table after a weekend of terrible violence.

 Sunday was the deadliest day in Gaza, reports The NYT's Anne Barnard and Isabel Kershner: "The mayhem began in the early hours of Sunday morning in Shejaiya, an eastern neighborhood of Gaza City, where Israeli forces battled with Hamas militants ... At least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and officers were killed in Shejaiya alone, and the shattered neighborhood was quickly becoming a new symbol of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, underlining the rising cost of this latest Gaza war." More here.

 U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon calls the attack on Shejaiya ‘an atrocious action': During a press conference alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya, Ban said, "While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaiyah neighborhood in Gaza. I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians."

Still, the shelling continued through Sunday night and into this morning. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi and Crispian Balmer: "Israeli forces killed at least 10 Palestinian militants on Monday after they crossed the border from Gaza through two tunnels, the military said, as the death toll from the two-week conflict passed 500.With the U.N. Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire, Israeli jets and tanks continued to pound the Gaza Strip through the night." More here.

And Ya'alon says more reservists could be called up. The Jerusalem Post's Lahav Harkov: "The IDF will call up reservists and continue fighting until quiet is returned, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday." Ya'alon: "We are prepared to continue the operation as long as necessary, and, if necessary, to enlist more combat forces from the reserves until we bring quiet to the Gaza Strip." More here.

 Two Americans are among the Israeli soldiers reported dead: USA Today's William M. Welch: "Jewish websites in the United States identified them as Max Steinberg, 24, of Los Angeles and Sean Carmeli, 21, of South Padre Island, Texas. Both reportedly held U.S. and Israeli dual citizenship." More here.

 And both were members of the Golani Brigade, an elite unit that lost 13 soldiers on Sunday. The WSJ's Joshua Mitnick: "Golani occupies a legendary place in Israeli history. The unit retook Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights from Syrian forces that had seized the area during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. In 2006, the last time Israel suffered such high toll, it also came at the expense of the Golani unit. Eight soldiers were killed while fighting in the southern Lebanon war at Bint Jbeil." More here.

It's still unclear whether Hamas captured an Israeli soldier. The AP's Karin Laub and Tia Goldenberg: "Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri in Gaza claimed Sunday evening his group had captured an Israeli soldier. An announcement on Gaza TV of the soldier's capture set off celebration in the streets of Gaza City. But the claim could not immediately be verified and the Israeli military said it was investigating the report." More here.

With the death toll rising, Arab governments finally speak out. FP's Jamila Trindle: "The intensity of the combat in Gaza -- and the growing civilian death toll -- brought the first significant criticism of Israel by Arab governments, who had surprised and angered many Palestinians because of their relative silence on the combat. On Sunday, though, the head of the Arab League blasted the Israeli offensive as a ‘war crime' and a ‘dangerous escalation.'

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is caught on a hot mic. As he did the rounds on the Sunday shows yesterday, Kerry indicated that Hamas "deserved the bulk of the blame for its barrages of rockets into Israel and for rejecting an Egyptian cease-fire offer to the two sides," FP's Trindle reports.

"But in a phone conversation, caught on tape by Fox News before an interview, Kerry seemed to criticize Israel's operation for hitting civilians in what was supposed to be a targeted strike to close down tunnels that Hamas fighters burrowed into Israel... ‘It's a hell of a pinpoint operation,' Kerry said, on a cell phone call, apparently unaware that his microphone was already on. When confronted by Fox host Chris Wallace, Kerry didn't back away from his comments."

 Neither Israel nor Hamas can win in Gaza, but the biggest loser is the Palestinian Authority. Hussein Ibish for FP, here.

 Gaza's residents, under a constant barrage of Israeli bombs, are being told to evacuate to stay safe. If they could escape, they would. Sharif Abdel Kouddous from Gaza City for FP, here.

 For TNR, Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon with a behind-the-scenes profile of Kerry's peace process, here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing further isolation this week. With the evidence mounting against Pro-Russian separatists for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, Putin will have to decide how to respond to the growing international pressure. Adding to the world's anger are scenes of mayhem from the crash-site.

 Earlier today, experts finally gained access after a weekend of being blocked. The NYT's David M. Herszenhorn, Sabrina Tavernise and Neil MacFarquhar: A pair of Dutch forensics experts finally gained access on Monday to the remains of the victims from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine after days of standoffs over access to the site and growing pressure on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to clear the way for a full international investigation." More here.

 Still, chaos at the crash site is fueling anger at Russia. FP's Jamila Trindle: "World leaders expressed disgust at the treatment of the Malaysia Airlines crash site by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine and increased their demands that Russian President Vladimir Putin do more to rein them in.

"Anger grew over the weekend as reports surfaced that separatists had barred international inspectors from taking bodies from the site, and even looted some of the luggage strewn across a broad swath of land near the site where the plane went down. Secretary of State John Kerry summed up the frustration Sunday morning."

Kerry sums it up CBS's "Face the Nation": "Here's what's currently bothering everybody, drunken separatists have been piling bodies into trucks and removing them from the site." More here.

 All eyes turn to the U.N. Security Council today. Reuters' Anton Zverev and Matt Spetalnick report it "is scheduled to vote on Monday on a resolution that would condemn the downing of the plane and demands that those responsible be held accountable and that armed groups not compromise the integrity of the crash site.

 The EU is divided over severity of sanctions. The FT's Alex Barker in Brussels, Hugh Carnegy in Paris, Jim Pickard in London and Chris Bryant in Frankfurt: "Britain, France and Germany put Vladmir Putin on notice over possible fresh EU sanctions as soon as Tuesday, but the common front belies longstanding divisions over how to penalise Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis. During a flurry of calls on Sunday, the leaders of the EU's three biggest economies warned Moscow over further sanctions if it did not help establish a safe environment to recover bodies and investigate the MH17 crash." More here.

 German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says that 'further escalation is not out of the question' in Ukraine. Read his interview with Spiegel, here.

 Meanwhile, Russian billionaires are ‘in horror' as Putin risks further isolation. Bloomberg' s Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik, here.

 The New Republic's Julia Ioffe on some of the conspiracy theories being spread in Russia about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: "As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it's worth noting that they're not really getting through to Putin's subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the importance of this discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off."

Some of the crackpot theories: the plane was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam; it veered off its standard flight plan; and it had recently been re-insured.

What's the message behind these messages? "The pro-Russian separatists we've been supporting all these months couldn't have done this," writes Ioffe. 

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @k8brannen, @glubold and @njsobe4.

 Who's Where When today - Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos are participating in the Medal of Honor ceremony for Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts at the White House. Stars and Stripes' Chris Carroll has more on Pitts' actions during an attack on an isolated outpost in Afghanistan's Kunar province in 2008.

What influence does Vice President Joe Biden have on the White House's foreign policy? The New Yorker's Evan Osnos addresses that question and many more in a new piece in the July 28 issue of the magazine.

In an interview President Barack Obama tells Osnos, "On the foreign-policy front, I think Joe's biggest in?uence was in the Afghanistan debate." Obama continues, "You had Bob Gates, who proved to be an outstanding Secretary of Defense, but obviously was somewhat invested in continuity from the previous Administration, when it came to Afghanistan policy." He goes on, "What Joe helped me to do was to consistently ask the question why, exactly, are we there? And what resources, exactly, can we bring to bear to achieve speci?c goals?-rather than get caught up in broader ideological debates that all too often end up leading to overreach or a lack of precision in our mission."

And then there were two: Wendy Anderson is leaving the building and headed to Africa. Anderson, now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's deputy chief of staff, was one of the three individuals widely known to be under Hagel's consideration to become the Secretary's right-hand man or woman. But she announced late Friday that she is leaving the Pentagon for another job inside the administration. That means there are now only two candidates left: Elissa Slotkin and Rex Ryu. Hagel's current chief of staff, Mark Lippert, has been nominated to go to Seoul's Habib House as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, and is preparing to leave the building in the next couple months if the Senate gives his confirmation the nod, as it's expected to do. The next chief of staff will be Hagel's third in less than 18 months if you count Marcel Lettre, who served in an acting role before becoming the principal deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence last year.

In an email to friends obtained by Situation Report, Anderson said she was approached to take on "an exciting leadership and management position" inside the administration but outside the Pentagon. Anderson, in the email: "...As I move ahead, I want to take a moment to thank everyone - for your unequivocal commitment to national defense, our troops, and their families; for your tireless work ethic and discipline; for your many notable examples of how to lead inspiringly and manage effectively; for your laser focus on mission; for your decency and humility; and most importantly, for your friendship."

Anderson thanked the principals under whom she has served, including Hagel, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, Ashton Carter, Christine Fox, Marty Dempsey, and Sandy Winnefeld. "...Additionally, I want to recognize Mark Lippert, Jeremy Bash, Robert Rangel, Jonathan Lachman, John Kelly, Ron Lewis, Eric Smith, and Sam Said, talented pals for whom I have great respect and affection. As they have had the nation's back, they've also had mine.

"But there is no group to whom I owe more profound thanks than our men and women in uniform and their families."

Anderson said she is headed to Africa for vacation and then will return in coming weeks to share the news of where exactly she is going. 

First look: A new report from CNAS on cybersecurity. Richard Danzig, who served as Navy secretary under former President Clinton and now advises the Obama administration, is out with a new report today titled, "Surviving on a Diet of Poisoned Fruit: Reducing the National Security Risks of America's Cyber Dependencies."

"Successful strategies must proceed from the premise that cyberspace is continuously contested territory in which we can control memory and operating capabilities some of the time  but cannot be assured of complete control all of the time or even of any control at any particular time. Policymakers must make a judgment about when to intervene and when to allow market forces to determine exposure to this risk," Danzig writes.

The report will be released today at a 4 p.m. event hosted by the Center for a New American Security. More here.

It's going to be slow going for Afghanistan's election audit, reports AFP: "Four days after Afghanistan began a massive audit of millions of votes cast in the run-off presidential election, disagreements and a shortage of observers have slowed progress ... The audit began last Thursday and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said last week it planned to take around three weeks, with teams working in two shifts auditing around 1,000 ballot boxes a day. But with only 435 ballot boxes checked since Thursday, the exercise is expected to take longer than planned." More here.

And any deal on Iran's nuclear program is also going to take longer than planned. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The United States, Iran, and five other major powers said late Friday that they would extend the high-stakes talks over Iran's nuclear program for four months while negotiators try to close what both sides acknowledge to be major divides over several issues ... Obama administration officials insist that the talks have made major progress that justified giving negotiators until November to pursue a final deal. In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said "the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time." More here.

The U.S. continues to stay the course on Iran by threatening pain and offering relief. The NYT's David Sanger: "Behind President Obama's decision on Friday to extend the Iran nuclear negotiations for four more months is a calculation that the administration has the mix of pressure and incentives just about right: That by keeping the most damaging sanctions, but giving Tehran a taste of what access to its overseas cash reserves might mean, a deal is possible.

"Congress, and some nuclear experts pushing for a harder line, strongly disagree. It was overwhelming sanctions, and the pressure of covert action against Iran's nuclear program, that brought the country to the table, they argue. To get a final deal, they contend, the formula is simple: More sanctions, more pressure, and behind it all the lurking threat of military action. More here.

 Former Obama advisor Robert Einhorn, in a post for Brookings' blog, says that the extension is better for the P5+1 than for Iran, but warns that enrichment remains the primary outstanding issue in the nuclear talks, here.

You know there's a lot going on in the world when news from Iraq is far from the top news story. Iraqi officials said special forces secured full control of a former U.S. military base on the outskirts of Tikrit on Sunday. The WSJ's Nour Malas and Ali Nabhan: "...Camp Speicher, the headquarters for U.S. forces in northern Iraq during the 2003 invasion and subsequent war, has become a focal point in the fight between Iraqi forces and Islamist militants in the country's north. The battle for the former American base holds significance both because of its strategic location and in the propaganda war between the two sides. Militants from the extremist group that calls itself Islamic State seized Camp Speicher-now an Iraqi air force and military base-shortly after taking control of Tikrit on June 11. Fighting flared on and off around it until government forces pushed militants out earlier this month in a major ground and air campaign. Failing to keep full control of the camp, some 37 miles northwest of Tikrit, would deprive Iraqi forces and allied militias of a strategic staging ground, local officials and military analysts say." More here.

More than 700 people were killed in Syria over the course of Thursday and Friday, in what activists say were the bloodiest 48 hours of fighting in the conflict to date. Al-Awsat's Paula Astih: "...The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Rami Abdul Rahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that this was the first time casualties had topped 700 in the space of two days since the conflict began in 2011. He contrasted the violence to the gas attack in the Ghouta region close to Damascus last year, which he said killed around 500 people." More here.

 Meanwhile, a deadly battle is raging over Libya's international airport. AP's Maamoun Youssef: "Clashes between rival Libyan militias fighting for control of the international airport in the capital, Tripoli, have killed 47 people over the past 24 hours, Libya's Health Ministry said ... The weeklong battle over the airport is being waged by a powerful militia from the western city of Zintan, which controls the facility, and Islamist-led militias, including fighters from Misrata, east of Tripoli. The clashes resumed Sunday after cease-fire efforts failed." More here.

The Air Force is scrutinizing SpaceX's civilian space flights. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with the scoop:  "The Air Force is examining several anomalies that occurred during Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s three civilian space flights as part of its review of billionaire Elon Musk's quest to launch military satellites. While none of the irregularities caused the missions to fail, the Air Force is reviewing corrective actions as it weighs certification of SpaceX. Musk's company wants a piece of a $67.6 billion Pentagon program for satellite launches, a market held by a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., the government's top two contractors." More here.