Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Flynn says eradicating Hamas could lead to something worse; Brokering a cease-fire is proving difficult; What does DoD know about SAMs in Ukraine?; The Taliban is gaining ground; and a bit more.

Last night, the U.N. Security Council called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. In a rare showing of agreement, "the Palestinians and the Israelis both criticized the statement adopted by the council," reports The AP's Edith M. Lederer. Neither side thought it went far enough in condemning the other side.

After the fighting in Gaza stopped for 12 hours on Saturday, it resumed on Sunday. So far, the war has killed 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and Israel has lost 43 soldiers and three civilians. Meanwhile, the fight to achieve a temporary ceasefire shows just how difficult it will be to reach any lasting truce. And with each person killed or injured, new seeds of anger and distrust are planted on each side. This is leading to a growing sense of pessimism ... on the ground and at the highest levels of power.

Peace in the Middle East? Not in my lifetime, a top Pentagon intel official says. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who will be stepping down from his post as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency later this year, told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum that Israel needed to carefully calibrate its current military offensive in Gaza so that it punished Hamas without fully eradicating it. If it did, Flynn warned that Gaza could fall under the sway of the extremist group that now control broad swaths of Syria and Iraq." More here.

David Remnick's not feeling optimistic either: The New Yorker editor writing for the Aug. 4 issue of the magazine: "... the most malign and extremist elements within this conflict--Israeli and Palestinian-grow in strength and deepen their conviction that there is no chance of accommodation. Childhood memories of terror and death accumulate, and cripple the moral and political imagination." You can read more of his essay here.

Why is getting even a short-term deal proving so difficult for Secretary of State John Kerry? The NYT's Michael R. Gordon: Part of the reason the diplomatic effort has faced such an uphill struggle is far-reaching changes on both sides since the last Gaza cease-fire in 2012. Israel and Hamas seem to be dug in this time, with Israeli officials appearing dismissive of Mr. Kerry's push for a weeklong cease-fire in a way that few American secretaries of state have faced."

And finding a good peace broker isn't easy. "The challenge of reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable is all the more difficult because there is no party that is in a position to mediate directly between Hamas and Israel. The United States does not deal directly with Hamas. And the countries with the closest ties, Qatar and Turkey, have fraught relations with Egypt, whose cease-fire plan has provided the broad framework for Mr. Kerry's efforts." More here.

Obama calls Netanyahu Sunday and pushes for an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire." From the White House's readout: "The President underscored the United States' strong condemnation of Hamas' rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself.  The President also reiterated the United States' serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza."

In Gaza, the 12-hour ceasefire on Saturday allowed residents to survey the damage. Sharif Abdel Kouddous reporting from Gaza for FP: "The devastation is so complete that some residents who returned during the temporary cease-fire on Saturday could not locate where their homes once stood." More here.

Israelis don't want a ceasefire, a new poll shows. The Jerusalem Post's Gil Hoffman: "When asking about a potential cease-fire, the poll gave two choices. The first endorsed a cease-fire because ‘Israel had enough achievements, soldiers have died, and it is time to stop.' The second said Israel cannot accept a cease-fire because ‘Hamas continues firing missiles on Israel, not all the tunnels have been found, and Hamas has not surrendered.'... Only 9.7 percent chose option one, 86.5% option two, and 3.8% said they did not know. Men were more likely to want the operation to continue than women." More here.

Thew New York Times broke a story over the weekend about a Pentagon plan to share targeting information with the Ukrainians. The NYT's David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported that "The Pentagon and American intelligence agencies are developing plans that would enable the Obama administration to provide specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine so the Ukrainian government could target them for destruction."

The story renews questions about what intelligence the United States had on the location of surface-to-air missiles prior to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. As recently as Friday, the Pentagon told reporters that it had no specific information on the transfer of surface-to-air missiles to the Pro-Russian rebels, even though it's tracking the movement of other weapons systems, like tanks and rocket launchers. But if The NYT story is right, the Pentagon may have more intelligence on these systems than it's admitting to publicly, which raises the question: Did it have this information before July 17 too?

From the Sanger and Schmitt story:... "It is unclear whether President Obama, who has already approved limited intelligence sharing with Ukraine, will agree to give more precise information about potential military targets, a step that would involve the United States more deeply in the conflict."

Kerry's on board: "And a senior State Department official said Saturday that Secretary of State John Kerry supported sharing intelligence on the locations of surface-to-air missiles that Russia has supplied the separatists." More here.

So is Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio): Defense News's John T. Bennett reports on a letter Turner sent the president. It reads, "The United States should immediately seek to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with the military capabilities required to eliminate all anti-aircraft systems currently being used in the Russian-backed separatist territory in eastern Ukraine." Read more here.

Ukrainians say the black boxes confirm that a missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The WSJ's Lukas I. Alpert with the story here.

And the Obama administration released photos yesterday to prove Russia is firing into Ukraine. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung with the story here.

What would Obama do if Russia invades Ukraine? What should he do? War on the Rocks is asking its readers these two questions. Find out the results and vote yourself here.

The Taliban is quietly making some gains this summer. The NYT's Azam Ahmed reporting from Mahmud Raqi, Afghanistan: "The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

"Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year." More here.

Weapons falling into the wrongs hands seems to be a theme these days. Now you can extend that fear to Afghanistan, if you haven't already. U.S. News and World Report's Tom Risen: "The Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF, have a glut of supplied weapons far above their agreed-upon needs, according to a new report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

"‘Without confidence in the Afghan government's ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, SIGAR is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to Afghan civilians and the ANSF,' says the report, released Monday." More here.

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.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey surveys today's worrying security landscape for FP: "In each region of the world, we face serious -- but very different -- security challenges, from rising state-to-state tensions in Asia and Europe to escalating sub-state violence in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, technologies and capabilities once confined to states are moving beyond their control. The result is an international order under duress with as many things working to pull the world apart as to pull it together."

How should we confront these problems? "First, wherever possible, we should view problems through a regional lens -- not one country, one group, and one crisis at a time. Second, we should carefully integrate all our instruments of power, making sure that our policies leverage each instrument to its best use."

But what do we really need? Strategy, Dempsey argues. "Despite cynics' arguments that grand strategy is a thing of the past, it is critical today -- when calls for U.S. leadership and military power shift from crisis to crisis."

The bottom-line: "Most problems around the world today do not have quick military fixes." You can Dempsey's full essay here.

Now for the countries "struggling for their souls" ...

Is Iraq on a path to separation? Sunni fighters have seized large swaths of territory in the northern part of Iraq. Kurdish forces have taken Kirkuk and nearby oil fields. Reuters' Dominic Evans: "The government is trying to reverse this de facto, three-way split of the country, but its reliance on Shi'ite militia and volunteers rather than the ineffectual national army has deepened sectarian mistrust without pushing the rebels back."

A Sunni living in a Shi'ite area of Baghdad to Evans: "The Sunnis all want separation now ... Facts on the ground tell you this will be the final result. On both sides now you have extremists who don't want to get along." More here.

What's next for Iraq's Kurds. Slobodan Lekic for Stars and Stripes: "Despite strong support for independence among most Kurds, significant obstacles remain to a final break with Iraq. For that reason, many analysts argue the most realistic scenario would be greater autonomy for the Kurds, who already enjoy significant self-rule. This would mean transforming Iraq into a confederation with three constituent regions - a Kurdish state in the north, a Sunni entity in the west and center, and a Shiite region in the center and oil-rich south of the country." More here.

Iraqi tribes are preparing to take on ISIS in northern Iraq. Asharq Al-Awsat: "Tribal leaders in northern Iraq said they were forming militias to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Sunday, as reports emerged of the jihadist group seizing more territory southwest of Baghdad.

The Al-Obeidi tribe, which spans the two provinces of Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, will put together an armed group to "repel the terrorists," Wasfi Al-Asi, the leader of the tribe, said in a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday." More here.

Dozens are killed as Libyan forces battle militias. The AP's story: "Heavy clashes between Libyan soldiers loyal to a renegade general and Islamist-led militias killed 38 people-including civilians-in the country's restive east, health officials said Sunday, as fighting between rival militias around the capital's international airport raged on." More here.

Over the weekend, Marines evacuated U.S. embassy staff out of Libya. Military Times' Jeff Andrew deGrandpre and Jeff Schogol with the details: "Embassy staff members were driven in vehicles from their compound in Tripoli to Tunisia, according to the Pentagon's top spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby. They were escorted by the embassy's Marine security guard detachment, which for the last several months has been reinforced by conventional infantry Marines assigned to Task Force Tripoli.

"Military officials have not disclosed the precise number of Marines assigned to the embassy in Libya, but NBC News reported Saturday that 80 ‘heavily armed' Marines were among the 158 Americans who vacated the compound." And at least seven military aircraft were involved in the operation, including three F-16 fighters and two MV-22 Ospreys . More here.

And the British Foreign Office says: leave now. The BBC with the story here.

Boko Haram's attacks grow even more bold. Reuters: "Nigerian Boko Haram militants kidnapped the wife of Cameroon's vice prime minister and killed at least three people on Sunday in a cross-border attack involving more than 200 assailants in the northern town of Kolofata, Cameroon officials said." More here.

What's happened in Nigeria since the girls were kidnapped? Andrew Walker reporting for FP: In the more than 100 days since the girls of Chibok were kidnapped, the world's attention has moved on to other stories -- but Nigeria's situation has deteriorated at a dizzying pace. This year has been the most violent period in the five-year insurgency of the militant Islamist group known as Boko Haram."

The population is losing faith in the government's ability to respond. "The perception among a growing number of Nigerians is that the government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, is unable to handle Boko Haram." More on Nigeria here.

Famine looms in South Sudan. Al Jazeera reports: "Nearly a million children aged under five face acute malnutrition, the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN children's agency UNICEF said in a joint statement released late on Friday, after their top directors visited the nation ... Without swift action, 50,000 children could die from malnutrition this year, they added." More here.

... And in Somalia. AFP reports: "More than 350,000 people here in Somalia's capital are in acute need of food aid as the government and charities struggle to cope with the situation, the United Nations warned Saturday, and other Somali cities are also facing a similar crisis." More here.

A bright spot in an otherwise gloomy Situation Report ... Norwegian Police say that the terror threat has declined. The WSJ's Kjetil Malkenes Hovland in Oslo: "The risk of a terror attack in Norway has fallen slightly, the Police Security Service said Sunday, but authorities will maintain a high level of national security for another day, following a July 24 warning that an extreme Syrian Islamist group could be planning an attack. More here.

On the F-35, the NYT editorial page wrote yesterday: "common sense evaporates when it comes to big-ticket weapons," here.

Germany's first female defense minister has launched a "charm offensive" to revamp the military. The NYT's Alison Smale, here.

George Tenet is trying to keep the Senate Intelligence Committee's report of the CIA's detention and interrogation program under wraps.  The NYT's Mark Mazzetti: "Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee's voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs." More here.

DoD's industrial policy chief Elana Broitman is stepping down next month after only five months on the job. Defense News's Marcus Weisgerber with the story here.

House and Senate negotiators reach a deal on a VA bill. The AP's Matthew Daly: "The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans' health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scheduled a news conference Monday to talk about a compromise plan to improve veterans' care." More here.

2 USAF missileers will work with the Navy in a morale-improvement effort. Military Times' Brian Everstine: "They're Air Force missileers, but their next assignments are with the Navy. Capt. Patrick McAfee, from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, is headed to Submarine Force Pacific at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Capt. John Mayer, from 20th Air Force headquarters at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, is headed to Submarine Force Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia.

"They are the first to be selected for the new Striker Trident program - one of the Air Force's efforts to improve morale in the nuclear force. More here.

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.