Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: State says Russia is firing on Ukraine; Did U.S. intel share all they knew before the crash?; Kerry is waiting on an answer from Hamas; New president in Iraq; and a bit more.

No longer a civil war? The State Department yesterday accused Russia of firing artillery across its border with Ukraine to target Ukrainian military positions. If true, the conflict in Ukraine is transforming from a civil war, where one side is receiving considerable support from Russia, to an open war between the two countries.

From Reuters: "State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also said there was evidence that the Russians intended to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces." More here.

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told The WSJ: "If true, this represents a serious escalation on Putin's part. Instead of using last week's tragedy as a pretext for ending this war, he seems to be doing the opposite, doubling down." The WSJ's Julian E. Barnes and William Mauldin with more here.

Questions remain over what U.S. spies knew, and when, before the downing of MH17. Why didn't the Federal Aviation Administration issue a warning for the area in eastern Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down? Was the U.S. intelligence community unaware that the Pro-Russian rebels had got their hands on a far more sophisticated weapon? Or did they know, but for whatever reason that intelligence wasn't properly disseminated? A week after the shoot-down, we still don't have a clear picture of who knew what when.

FP's Shane Harris investigates: "In the weeks before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, U.S. intelligence agencies were tracking a steady buildup of heavy weapons in the region, including tanks and rocket launchers flowing across the border from Russia and into the hands of Moscow-backed separatists. But U.S. analysts didn't confirm that a surface-to-air missile capable of striking a commercial airplane had made its way into the fighters' hands until after the jet was destroyed on July 17, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials, who briefed reporters earlier this week.

That assessment was at odds, though, with public statements by the rebels themselves, who claimed in late June that they'd obtained a weapon that might bring down a commercial jet. In addition, Ukrainian officials said that they had spotted an SA-11 missile launcher, known as a Buk, in rebel hands at least three days before the downing of MH17." More here.

Meanwhile, at the crash site, no one is investigating. The NYT's Sabrina Tavernise and Thomas Erdbrink: "At the field in Ukraine where the exploded remnants landed, there are no guards and no recovery workers, no police officers and no investigators. Early Thursday evening, there were almost no people - just two curious 12-year-old girls looking at part of the tail of the Boeing 777." More here.

The few monitors who are there said they found "shrapnel-like" holes on parts of the plane: The WSJ's Alexander Kolyandr, Matina Stevis and Robin van Daalen: "The damage to the jet's exterior is a crucial clue to understanding what brought down Flight 17. Still, the presence of shrapnel damage may not immediately point to the SA-11 surface-to-air missile that U.S. officials have said was likely fired by pro-Russia rebels, as some air-to-air missiles also are designed to destroy an aircraft with a shrapnel-producing warhead. Finding actual shrapnel would yield more certainty over the missile type." More here.

And a week has gone by and the world is still waiting for Europe's response. It remains to be seen whether the European Union can respond to the Ukrainian crisis with a unified voice. A new round of sanctions targeting Russian individuals and companies is expected today, but the Obama administration would like to see sector-wide sanctions against the country. Easier said than done. With different European countries dependent on various parts of the Russian economy, agreement on which sector to target is not going to be easy.

A quote to sum up the problem: "The Germans don't want to jeopardize their energy interests, the French don't want to risk their military sales, and the British don't want to go too hard on Russian financial interests," Mujtaba Rahman, the Eurasia Group's director for Europe told The NYT's James Kanter and Alan Cowell.

They write: "More than any other recent crisis, the Russian incursion into Ukraine and all that has followed, including the downing last week of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists, has highlighted the glacial pace of decision making within the European Union. And it has given impatient critics, in the United States and elsewhere, additional reason to complain that the union is unwilling to take strong stands even when confronted with a clear case for action." More here.

It's time to send Putin a much stronger message, writes Michael Weiss for FP: "Either he can continue subventing and enabling the bloodletting in eastern Ukraine, or we can expose the enormous global network of offshore bank accounts, dummy companies, and real estate holdings that belong to him and his criminal elite. A mafia state should be treated as such." More here.

Meanwhile, The New America Foundation asked "six of the best Kremlinologists we know ‘What is Putin thinking, and what are his next moves?'" FP's Shane Harris says: "After the downing of MH17, Putin seems to be thinking, ‘How can I pin this on the Ukrainians?' Based on the stories we're seeing in the Russian press and Putin's own statements, the Russian president isn't close to accepting any portion of the blame for the shoot-down." See what the other five folks said here.

Ukraine's prime minister resigned yesterday. Needless to say, the timing's not great. The NYT's David M. Herszenhorn: "Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a pro-Western technocrat who has guided the Ukrainian government through the tumultuous months since the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovyvch, resigned abruptly on Thursday, after the governing coalition of Parliament collapsed." More here.

In Israel, a new cease-fire proposal is on the table. Under the new plan, a temporary weeklong cease-fire would begin on Sunday. During this time, Israeli Defense Forces would be allowed to stay in Gaza to continue to locate and destroy Hamas tunnels.  Ha'aretz's Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury with the details: "A senior Israeli official said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has drafted a new cease-fire proposal and presented it to both sides. Kerry, who will leave Cairo Friday afternoon and return to Washington, is awaiting an answer from the Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers as to how Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' political wing, has responded to his proposal. More here.

Will Hamas agree? Meshal has said that he would not agree to a permanent cease-fire until the economic blockade on Gaza is lifted, something that would not be addressed until after the shooting stops under Kerry's new plan. But yesterday, the Hamas leader showed a little more flexibility.

An attack on a U.N. school killed 16 people in Gaza yesterday, but it's unclear who's responsible. FP's Colum Lynch: "The deadly strike came just two days after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly warned about the prospect of Israeli strikes against U.N. installations during the confrontation between Israel and Hamas. Speaking to the U.N. Security Council via videoconference from the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he was pushing for a cease-fire, Ban urged Israel to exercise restraint, recalling that Israeli missiles had struck U.N. facilities during previous conflict.

"...But officials in New York and Jerusalem said they were not prepared to blame Israel because some of Hamas's rockets had fallen in the same area, raising the possibility that the school might have been struck by a militant rocket. Israel has denied targeting the school but conceded that it had fired in the vicinity in response to Hamas's fire." More here.

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Yuval Diskin, former director of Israel's internal security service Shin Bet, speaks of the current clash between Israel and the Palestinians, what must be done to achieve peace and the lack of leadership in the Middle East, here.

Welcome to Friday'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: Another full lineup today at the Aspen Security Forum, including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who will talk about the challenges facing the Navy with The WaPo's David Ignatius at 5:15 p.m. Full schedule here.

Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development & acquisition; Gen. John Paxton, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; and Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems, will testify before the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee as part of a hearing on "Amphibious Fleet Requirements" at 9 a.m.

A big congratulations to the Pentagon public affairs' Carl Woog and his wife Lauren on their new baby! Zev Thomson Woog was born Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. In an email to colleagues and friends, Woog said, " We are so grateful for everyone's support for the past 9 months...Zev is fired up to meet you guys!" #BabyZTW

Some big confirmations come through. Gen. John Campbell, the Army's vice chief of staff, was confirmed by the Senate Wednesday as the next commander for NATO's International Security Assistance Force and US Forces in Afghanistan. He's replacing Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was also confirmed Wednesday as the commandant of the Marine Corps. And Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel was confirmed to succeed Navy Adm. William McRaven as head of US Special Operations Command. Defense News with more.

Norway says a group of terrorists from Syria has plans to attack: The AP has the story: "The head analyst of Norway's intelligence agency says a group of people is en route from Syria ‘to carry out an act of terror in the West," adding that Norway has been ‘concretely named' as the target." More here.

The Islamic State is gaining in Syria. The WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib: "Islamic State militants launched assaults on Syrian forces across three provinces on Thursday that killed key government figures, including two brigadier generals, said activists and residents, in a rare confrontation between the two sides during the war. In one assault, the jihadists besieged two military bases outside Hasakah city in Syria's east, killing a commanding brigadier general, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group in London with a network of contacts across Syria." More here.

The Turks spent $100 million on health care for Syrian refugees from 2011 to 2013. Hurriyet's story here.

There's a new president in Iraq. The NYT's Tim Arango and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad: "Iraq's leaders selected Fouad Massoum, a longtime Kurdish politician and former guerrilla fighter who took up arms against Saddam Hussein's regime, on Thursday as the country's new president, an important step in forming a new government that the international community and Iraq's religious authorities have called for and described as crucial to confronting a growing Sunni insurgency.

"...The next political step, the selection of a new prime minister, will be more difficult and fraught, especially as violent attacks are killing civilians on a daily basis and Sunni militants led by the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, are consolidating their control of large parts of the north and west of Iraq."  More here.

The lede on that same story from Asharq Al-Awsat's Hamza Mustafa: "It was one step forward and two steps back for Iraq on Thursday as parliament successfully elected a new president, but appeared no closer to choosing a prime minister or forming a new government." Full article here.

State's Brett McGurk says that airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq are still on the table. Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "In May, the Iraqi government asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State, but at the time, the U.S. did not have enough intelligence to do so, said Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. ‘It was very difficult for us to know specifically what was happening,' McGurk told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday... The U.S. now has much better intelligence on the Islamic State, which will help inform President Obama as he decides whether to take military action against the militants, McGurk said." More here.

Setting the record straight: What is and isn't going on in Iraq, from FP's David Kenner. "Since the Islamic State captured Mosul last month, it has burned shops selling alcohol, ordered veils placed over the faces of mannequins in store windows, and implemented discriminatory policies that forced the majority of the city's Christians to flee. You'd think that was dramatic enough -- but a number of apparently false stories about the jihadist group's behavior in Iraq's second-largest city are spreading like wildfire through the Western media."

For example, the Islamic State has not issued a fatwa ordering women to undergo female genital mutilation, as reported yesterday by some outlets. More here.

Two years after bombing a Bulgarian airport, Hezbollah remains as strong as ever in Europe. Matthew Levitt for the Atlantic: "...Hezbollah's European networks are so strong, in fact, that just this month it was revealed that Hezbollah procurement agents bought parts and technologies in Europe for the surveillance drones the group deploys in Syria and Israel. And U.S. lawmakers are worried. On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed a bill that, if enacted into law, would allow the U.S. to take the unprecedented step of sanctioning European banks found to be doing business with the group." More here.

No survivors in the Air Algérie plane crash ... Surface-to-air missile did not bring it down: The WSJ's Stacy Meichtry and Inti Landauro: "French President François Hollande said there were no survivors found at the site of the Air Algérie crash in Northern Mali, adding that French troops dispatched to the scene had recovered one of the jetliner's black boxes." More here.

Sen. John Walsh's cheating renews questions about the military's problems with ethics. The U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is reeling from the news that one of its masters students -- the Democratic senator from Montana -- plagiarized a 14-page paper he wrote while at the school in 2007. It's bad news for Walsh's political career, but it's also terrible news for the military, which is trying to distance itself from a series of ethical scandals, including the Air Force's nuclear test cheating to the Navy's problems with bribery.

Kurt Schlichter, a conservative author and class of 2011 War College graduate: "It's heartbreaking because the military is in moral crisis. As army leaders, we presume to lead young Americans. We have to have the highest integrity. We don't own our rank. We borrow it from the American people to do our job." More from The NYT's Nick Corasiniti and Jonathan Martin here.

Quadruple Threat: Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine, All Rolled Into One. Time's Mark Thompson has the story of Staff Sergeant Jesus Yanez, who since 1993, he has served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. His experience provides him important insights like: "The food in the Air Force is much better than in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps." Read more here.

What are Iraq and Afghanistan combat vets thinking? Check out IAVA's 2014 survey here.

Quick Hits:

China and India agree to work together on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, The Times of India reports.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is threatening to block U.S. arms sales to Iraq if Congress doesn't get an assessment of Iraqi forces and assurances the weapons won't fall into the hands of extremist militants, AP reports.

The return of two unmanned cargo helicopters from Afghanistan raises questions about whether the technology has a role in future wars, writes Breaking Defense's Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

House Republicans are preparing legislation that would accuse the White House of violating the law when it exchanged five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, The National Journal's Billy House reports.

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: FAA lifts flight ban to Israel; Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down yesterday near Russian border; Pressure builds on France to rethink Mistral deal; ISIS in action; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

The week is winding down and not much has changed since everything seemed to change a week ago, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine and Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza on the same day. Neither Russia nor the rebels they back in Ukraine have faced any serious consequences for their possible involvement in the killing of the 298 passengers on board the plane. And in Israel, a ceasefire remains elusive while the violence continues.

Secretary of State John Kerry remains on the ground there, working tirelessly to bring the two sides together, but as The WaPo's Anne Gearan, Sudarsan Raghavan and William Booth report this morning, Israel and Hamas are showing no signs today that they're willing to compromise. "Hamas militants stood by their demand that Israel and Egypt lift the economic blockade of the seaside strip that borders both nations before they will drop their arms. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded resolute that the fighting will go on until Israel accomplishes more of its military goal to destroy Hamas missile caches and border tunnels used to infiltrate Israel." More here.

Some good news for Israel: The FAA has lifted its ban on flights to Israel. TIME's Zeke Miller, here.

What are the details behind Washington's plan for a truce? The WSJ's Jay Solomon in Cairo, Nicholas Casey in Gaza City and Tamer el-Ghobashy in Khan Younis: "The Obama administration, Israel and other Middle East allies are refashioning an Egyptian cease-fire proposal to assure Hamas that Gaza's economic interests would be addressed if the Islamist group stops rocket attacks, senior U.S. and Arab officials said. These diplomats outlined a two-stage plan as the 16th day of Israel's military offensive brought intense fighting to southern Gaza, raising the Palestinian death toll to nearly 700 and the Israeli toll to 35 in a conflict in which Hamas's military wing has shown surprising strength.

"Under the plan, Israel and Hamas would agree to stop military operations in the coming days. And the U.S. and the international community would then move quickly to begin talks on a longer-term recovery program for the impoverished coastal enclave. Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the emerging proposal during more than two hours of discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and a separate hourlong meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. U.S. officials said they expect Mr. Kerry to remain in the region until the weekend." More here.

But can the U.S. be an honest broker for peace or does its ties to Israel create a perception of bias? The WaPo's Sudarsan Raghavan and William Booth address the question: "To the Israeli government, the United States is such a close ally that there is a sense of betrayal here if Washington tries to pressure Israel to accept Palestinian demands or takes actions perceived as damaging to the country. Case in point: Flight bans to and from Israel that were initiated by the United States have been viewed by many Israelis as harming domestic interests while handing Hamas a victory." More here.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council launched an inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes.  Ha'aretz's Barak Ravid: "...Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office fiercely condemned the UN council's decision as a ‘travesty and should be rejected by decent people everywhere.' Meeting in Geneva, the 46-member council backed a Palestinian-drafted resolution by 29 votes, with supports from Arab and Muslim countries, China, Russia, Latin American and African nations. The United States was the only member to vote against the resolution, while European countries abstained." More here.

Hezbollah to Hamas: You're on your own. Jamie Dettmer for the Daily Beast, here.

And going underground in Gaza: Al Jazeera's Ben Piven takes a look at the vast tunnel network that empowers Hamas.

Welcome to Thursday'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: Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work will provide brief remarks at the Defense Business Board at the Pentagon.

Elissa Slotkin, performing the duties of the principal deputy under secretary of Defense for policy, and Brett McGurk, the State Department's deputy assistant for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "Iraq at a Crossroads: Options for U.S. Policy" at 10 a.m... Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management Stephanie Barna participates in a HASC Readiness Subcommittee roundtable briefing on civilian personnel and total workforce at 2 p.m.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Treasury's David Cohen are all on stage at the Aspen Security Forum. You can find the full schedule, here.

Chollet is in Egypt: Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet is in Egypt yesterday and today for bilateral consultations with his Egyptian counterparts, a DoD official told Situation Report. "The consultations focused on shared strategic objectives and the strong long-standing partnership between the United States and Egypt."

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, intense fighting continued overnight. Reuters' Lina Kushch and Natalia Zinets with the story: "Artillery fire echoed in the south and northwest of rebel-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine overnight and one district near the city was without electricity as Ukrainian forces pressed a military campaign against pro-Russian separatists ... Ukraine's army has forced the rebels back to their two main strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, taking villages and suburbs around them, and officials said they were continuing to abandon positions outside the cities." More here.

Two Ukrainian warplanes were shot down Wednesday by pro-Russian rebels, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. The WaPo's Michael Birnbaum and Carol Morello: "Separatists fighting the Kiev government claimed credit for shooting down two warplanes Wednesday over eastern Ukraine near where a passenger airliner crashed last week after being struck by a missile.

"The attack on the warplanes came just six days after the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which has drawn international outrage and showcased the advanced firepower that apparently is available on the ground in the region. The Ukrainian military said Wednesday that the two planes were flying at nearly 17,000 feet - an altitude that is out of the reach of the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels said they had used to down the jets. Neither the government's nor the rebels' claims could be verified." More here.

The Dutch push for an international protection force to secure the Flight MH17 crash scene. FP's Colum Lynch with an exclusive: "The Dutch and Australian governments are exploring a plan to send an armed multinational protection force to a pro-separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine to secure the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed after being shot down by a missile, killing all 298 people on board, according to U.N.-based diplomats and officials." More here.

Will France rethink its Mistral sale to Russia? FP's Brannen: "France is under increasing international pressure to cancel or, at the very least, scale back its $1.6 billion sale of two Mistral warships to Russia ...

"Although European and U.S. officials have been quick to suggest that France may have lost its moral compass in pursuit of the deal, the country is far from alone when it comes to balancing foreign policy and security goals with the other economic and domestic pressures that accompany selling weapons to foreign customers." More here.

The Cold War returns to Capitol Hill. Defense News' John Bennett: "...Suddenly, Moscow once again is American Enemy No. 1. Members of both political parties are flatly accusing Moscow of having a hand in the takedown of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich: "I think Putin has really thrown down the gauntlet here."

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga: "I am confident the investigation will conclude that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile shot from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists brought down the plan ... Vladimir Putin should be held accountable regardless of whether it was a Russian soldier or a Russian-sponsored separatist who launched this missile." More here.

Nearly three out of four Americans oppose U.S. military intervention in Ukraine if Russia were to invade the rest of the country, despite overall U.S. sentiment toward Russia at the lowest levels seen since the Cold War era. Full results from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' new poll, here.

Developing ... Air Algerie Flight is reported missing. The WSJ's Christopher Bjork: "An Air Algerie airplane traveling from Burkina Faso to Algiers with 110 passengers and six crew members on board was reported missing Thursday by the Spanish company that operated the plane." More here.

On that note ... Michael Chertoff takes a look at today's security situation and warns that the proliferation of technology means threats to aviation are spreading. "There is the risk of attack on airport infrastructure or aircraft on the ground ... More familiar is the threat of harm to aircraft in flight from a source inside the aircraft itself ... Less often discussed, but equally serious due to the increasing lack of control over portable surface to air missiles in weakly governed territories around the world, is the threat of downing a plane in flight at low altitude," the  former secretary of Homeland Security writes for POLITICO.

Too many crises, too little time: There is a growing sense this week that the crises in Ukraine and Israel are forcing Washington to put other global problems on the backburner. The same can be said of Situation Report, and so it's only now, that we turn our attention to Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and elsewhere ...

A must-read from yesterday: In a Syrian city, ISIS puts its vision into practice, reported by an employee of The New York Times and Ben Hubbard: "How ISIS rules in Raqqa offers insight into what it is trying to do as it moves to consolidate its grip in territories spanning the Syrian-Iraqi border. An employee of The New York Times recently spent six days in Raqqa and interviewed a dozen residents. The employee and those interviewed are not being identified to protect them from retaliation by the extremists who have hunted down and killed those perceived as opposing their project." Read the story here.

The Obama administration trashes Baghdad for ignoring warnings about ISIS. FP's John Hudson: "...Iraqi leaders repeatedly failed to heed U.S. warnings about ISIS's threat to the country in early June even as hundreds of ISIS gun trucks carrying fighters and heavy weapons raced over the Iraq-Syria border en route to Mosul, said officials. By that time, ISIS had already captured the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi, but efforts to reinforce other key cities could have halted ISIS's advance, [U.S.] officials suggested.

"The assessment came in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee by senior Pentagon official, Elissa Slotkin, and the State Department's point man on Iraq, Brett McGurk, who just returned from a seven-week trip to the country. McGurk's trip was designed, in part, to press the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to mount a serious outreach effort to the country's embittered Sunni and Kurdish minorities or step aside so that a new unity government could take over and lead the fight against ISIS." More here.

The AP reports this morning on an attack on a prisoner convoy north of Baghdad that killed 52 prisoners and eight soldiers, here.

And Norway says it has evidence of a "concrete threat" against the country from people with links to Islamic fighters in Syria. More from AP here.

Writing for FP, Madeleine Albright and David Miliband argue that the international community could be on the cusp of a humanitarian breakthrough in the Syrian conflict. The key to this opportunity? The creation of "humanitarian envoys," senior diplomats charged with bringing attention "to the human consequences of inaction," they write. "In place of episodic attention by foreign ministers and senior officials, who are overstretched by multiple crises, this would be a chance to bring political muscle and humanitarian concern together." Read more here.

Why ongoing and close ties between Pyongyang's and Tehran's nuclear programs are cause for concern. For FP, Olli Heinonen and Simon Henderson here.

Check the GDELT project's new world map that shows global conflict and protests worldwide, here.

42 are killed in bombings aimed at Nigerian figures. The NYT's Adam Nossiter in Dakar: "Bombs targeting two prominent Nigerians, a cleric and a leading politician, exploded in the northern city of Kaduna on Wednesday, killing at least 42 people but missing the intended victims, officials said. Both Sheik Dahiru Bauchi and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria, have recently been critical of the violent Islamist sect Boko Haram and suspicion immediately fell on that group. Boko Haram's bloody five-year insurgency has been gathering in intensity - significant portions of the country's far northeast are now effectively under its control - but Wednesday's bombings represented something of a departure in the sect's campaign to undermine the Nigerian state." More here.

Perhaps it's no surprise, but the vote audit in Afghanistan is a mess. The NYT's Matthew Rosenberg with more.

And Matthieu Aikins in Kabul with an exclusive on Afghan militias for Al Jazeera:  "Since the beginning of the war, the U.S. military has worked with local militias and other informal armed groups in Afghanistan, and in recent years it has made them a cornerstone of its exit strategy ... But the militias have also accumulated a lengthy record of human rights abuses, including murders and rapes." More here.

The Air Force refocuses on training as wars wind down. USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook: "After more than a dozen years fighting wars against unsophisticated opponents and technology in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force is refocusing its training on tests ripped from the headlines - surface-to-air missiles, chemical weapons and cyber warfare. The training, according to military analysts and the service's top boss, a former fighter pilot himself, is vital to the service as it faces increasingly sophisticated threats from Eastern Europe to the Pacific." More here.

Facepalm: Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) plagiarized his thesis paper for the U.S. Army War College. The NYT's Jonathan Martin broke the story yesterday: "On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues. But one of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh's 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained ..."

So where did he crib from? A bunch of places, but "Most strikingly, the six recommendations Mr. Walsh laid out at the conclusion of his 14-page paper, titled ‘The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,' are taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document on the same topic," Martin reports.

Neal Urwitz joins CNAS: The Center for a New American Security has hired Urwitz as its new director of external relations, responsible for expanding CNAS's media profile, digital footprint, and online presence. Urwitz is currently a director at the public relations firm Levick. He's also worked as a media relations coordinator at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Quick Hits

The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that the CIA ran a secret jail on Polish soil, Reuters reports.

The president plans to issue an executive order to develop privacy guidelines for commercial drones operating in U.S. airspace, POLITICO's Erin Mershon and Kevin Robillard report.

Thanks to cost-cutting measures, General Dynamics Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp raised their 2014 profit forecasts even as U.S. defense spending remained relatively low, Reuters' Sagarika Jaisinghani reports.

Of the more than 1,100 Army captains notified last month their military careers would soon end, 48 were serving in Afghanistan at the time, Stars and Stripes' Chris Carroll reports.