Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: An American journalist beheaded, the conflict comes home; U.S. efforts in Iraq widen; Articulating a U.S. strategy; Obama is firm on Afghanistan; The life of a Saudi prince; and a bit more.

The violence in Iraq took a grisly, dark turn yesterday after the Islamic State beheaded American journalist Jim Foley and threatened to kill another, bringing the conflict all the way home. The Islamic State is already responsible for carrying out horrendous acts upon Iraqis and others. But the news late yesterday that a video of a militant, speaking, perhaps more horrifyingly, in a British accent before beheading Foley, a freelance journalist missing from Syria for more than a year, made all the more real the threat the IS poses to the West. Naturally, it reminded many journalists and Americans of the beheading of WSJ reporter Danny Pearl, in Pakistan in 2002. But it suggested that there were worse things to come and punctuated gloomily the beginning of what may be a new chapter in Washington's now long fight with unfathomable extremism overseas.

AP's Lara Jakes: "...The White House must now weigh the risks of adopting an aggressive policy to destroy the Islamic State against resisting any action that could result in the death of another American. It will also confront the potentially necessary step of pursuing the Islamic State in Syria, where President Barack Obama has resisted launching airstrikes or deploying significant American firepower.

"Obama was expected to make a statement Wednesday about Foley's killing. U.S. officials confirmed a grisly video released Tuesday showing Islamic State militants beheading Foley. Separately, Foley's family confirmed his death in a statement posted on a Facebook page that was created to rally support for his release, saying they 'have never been prouder of him.'

"The video released on websites Tuesday appears to show the increasing sophistication of the Islamic State group's media unit and begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes. It then cuts to a balding man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, next to a black-clad militant with a knife to his throat. Foley's name appears in both English and Arabic graphics on screen. After the captive speaks, the masked man is shown apparently beginning to cut at his neck; the video fades to black before the beheading is completed.

"The next shot appears to show the captive lying dead on the ground, his head on his body. The video appears to have been shot in an arid area; there is no vegetation to be seen and the horizon is in the distance where the sand meets the gray-blue sky.

"At the end of the video, a militant shows a second man, who was identified as another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, and warns that he could be the next captive killed. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013; he had freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine [and Foreign Policy]." More here.

Foley's mother, Diane, in a statement, honoring her son and begging militants to release other captives: "He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people... "Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."

"Foley, 40, from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria in November 2012 while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. The car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a contested battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control. He had not been heard from since.

YouTube removed the video of Foley's murder within an hour, but social media companies are unable to keep the footage from getting out. FP's Shane Harris: "Twitter and YouTube moved quickly on Tuesday -- but with decidedly mixed results -- to suspend accounts that linked to a jihadi propaganda video purporting to show the murder of American journalist James Foley at the hands of Islamist terrorists. The crackdown provided a vivid example of the pressure on social media companies to police violent terrorist propaganda, but at the same time it showed the difficulty they have in stopping individuals intent on spreading violent images and rhetoric." More here.

Vox's Max Fisher on Foley, whom he first knew when Foley was kidnapped in Libya, and a tape of Foley talking at Medill in 2011 about journalists embedding with the military and other things, here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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: @glubold and @njsobe4.

After 70 airstrikes in Iraq, the Obama administration is fumbling as it tries to define where the mission begins and ends. FP's Lubold and Brannen: "...As the mission wears on, the public articulation of what the United States is doing in Iraq seems to be more and more elusive -- and evolving. The administration entered the conflict with an aggressive airstrike and airdrop campaign in northern Iraq based, it said, on the need to protect the U.S. personnel in the country and to prevent militants from slaughtering members of the Yazidi religious minority sect stranded atop Mount Sinjar.

"Then last week, U.S. officials announced that a reconnaissance team that had visited Sinjar discovered that the humanitarian crisis wasn't as bad as first feared, thus removing one of the main justifications for the air campaign. In recent days, the United States has launched a barrage of airstrikes in and around Mosul that appear to be directly targeting the Islamic State, leading many to conclude that the mission is expanding beyond the administration's stated goals and objectives.

Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University: "The administration can call it whatever they want, but semantics aside, they're now waging war."

"...As the Pentagon's operations continue in Iraq, there are other indications that the administration is reluctant to ‘brand' its operations there. That's true in the fact that the operation still has no name. From Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada in 1983, to Desert Storm in Iraq, the military almost always brands its operations, big or small. For a military that names almost any operation, the bombing campaign in Iraq that began Aug. 8 still lacks an operational name." More here.

Washington's limited but still ill-defined campaign in Iraq has had some success - which is prompting a wider campaign. The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum and Matt Bradley: "The U.S. military's recent success in weakening Islamic State extremists and pushing them away from a key dam in Iraq is creating momentum for a broader campaign that could take American air power to the militant group's heartland northwest of Baghdad. "Military planners are considering new airstrikes to prevent militants with the Islamic State from taking control of another strategic site, the Haditha Dam, which lies in Iraq's Sunni stronghold of Anbar Province, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Earlier this week, U.S. air power helped Kurdish forces reclaim the country's largest dam, in Mosul, from the Sunni extremist group."

The Iraqi army advances towards rebel-held Tikrit. From Al Jazeera: "Iraqi forces have launched an operation to retake Tikrit, the hometown of toppled president Saddam Hussein, from Islamic State fighters. Al Jazeera sources reported that the troops were advancing from the south and southwest and heavy clashes with the armed group were taking place 10km from the city, the capital of Salaheddin province and about 200km north of Baghdad." More here.

Saudi grand mufti denounces the Islamic State. Reuters via the Daily Star: Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the country, said Tuesday that the militant groups Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda were 'enemy number one of Islam' and not in any way part of the faith. Although the mufti and other senior Saudi preachers have condemned ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other groups before, the timing of Sheikh's statement is significant given the gains by militants in Iraq.

"'Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilization, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims," he said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency." More here.

IS has become a common enemy among mutually distrustful players-just the kind of multilateralism that the President favors," The New Yorker's George Packer, here.

What ISIS's gains mean for terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. Jacob Zenn for War on the Rocks, here.

ICYMI - A USA Today poll shows that Americans are "increasingly inclined to say the United States has a responsibility to respond to rising violence in Iraq." USA Today's Susan Page, here.

Maliki's political alliances fell like a house of cards - Iraq's new PM must chart a different course.  Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor, here.

Against the backdrop of Iraq, Obama plans to hold the line on drawing down in Afghanistan. The NYT's Mark Landler: "...Mr. Obama told advisers this week that delaying the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan would make no difference there as long as the country did not overcome its political rifts. The president, a senior administration official said, was rejecting a growing chorus of arguments in Washington that the chaos in Iraq should prompt him to reconsider his timetable for withdrawing the last soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

An administration official: "People have said, ‘Doesn't this show that you should never take the troops out of Afghanistan?'... He said, ‘No, it actually points to the imperative of having political accommodation. There's a limit to what we can achieve absent a political process.'" More here.

The Afghan audit still has a ways to go. Afghanistan Analysts Network's Martine van Bijlert: "Afghanistan's drawn-out election continues to keep a very large number of people very busy. And although there has been progress - both on the political and the technical side - this has mainly been achieved by delaying or isolating key discussion points and contentious decisions.

"The audit has finally started speeding up, but only after a new, ‘special' audit of the most problematic ballot boxes was set up, which has so far been excruciatingly slow. The political teams, in the meantime, have managed to agree on ‘80 percent of all outstanding issues,' with the remaining 20 percent revolving around the actual structure of the agreed national unity government - a subject the two candidates and their teams continue to have diverging views on." More here.

The Afghan attorney general brought in the NYT's Matthew Rosenberg for questioning yesterday and now he's not allowed to leave the country.  The NYT's Rob Nordland in Kabul: "The Afghan attorney general's office called in a New York Times correspondent for questioning Tuesday, and later barred him from leaving the country, after The Times published an article about discussions among some officials of imposing an interim government.

"The correspondent, Matthew Rosenberg, 40, a three-year veteran of The Times's Kabul bureau, was summoned to the attorney general's office for what was billed as an ‘informal chat' on Tuesday about an article published in that day's newspaper. The article said that powerful figures in the Afghan government were discussing the formation of a temporary governing committee as a way to break the deadlock that followed national elections." More here.

Who's Where When - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work departs Guam en route South Korea.  He meets with U.S. Amb. Kim and USFK leadership, National Security Advisor Kwan Jin Kim and Minister of National Defense Min Koo Han... Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos attends USMC Night at Nationals Park...

Is sequester back after a summer hiatus? Marcus Weisgerber in Huntsville, Ala.: "For the past three years, US military officials have frequently voiced opposition to defense budget caps that went into effect in 2013. But for the past eight months, US defense officials have spoken less about sequestration and more about immediate plans for this year and next. After all, Congress agreed on a budget plan for 2014 and 2015 that boosted Defense Department spending by more than $30 billion above the levels mandated under the Budget Control Act.

"But now as crunch time begins inside the Pentagon as the services' craft their 2016 budget plans, sequestration fears have returned. And at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here last week, numerous officials used speeches to warn of the looming defense budget caps." More here.

A hearing is set for a Marine who is accused of desertion. The AP's story from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina: "U.S. military officials have scheduled a hearing this week for a Marine accused of faking his own kidnapping in Iraq as well as failing to return to his base after visiting relatives in Utah. A statement from the military base Camp Lejeune on Tuesday said the hearing for Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun is scheduled for Thursday. A Marine Corps spokesman says the results of the hearing will determine what action will be taken. Hassoun disappeared twice from the military - first in June 2004 in a purported kidnapping by Islamic extremists, and in January 2005 when he failed to return to Camp Lejeune. Hassoun turned himself in to military authorities in June and is in custody pending an investigation and decisions on the charges against him." More here.

Ukrainian and Russian leaders will meet next week, leaving Kiev with tough choices. The WSJ's James Marson and Anton Troianovski: "Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart will meet next week for the first time in two months, officials in both countries said, intensifying a diplomatic push that could force Kiev to choose between continuing its military campaign against pro-Russia separatists or making concessions to Moscow to stop the bloodshed. Calls for a cease-fire from both Russia and Europe are growing louder amid a deepening humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine.

"But Ukrainian politicians and voters are skeptical of agreeing to a truce now, since doing so could give the rebels the chance to consolidate control over some territory and give Russia long-term influence over their country." More here.

Call it a dark, cruel joke - Egypt has some advice for America on how to handle events in Ferguson. FP's Elias Groll: "Egypt's generals appear to have an awfully short memory. A year after they massacred supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets of Cairo, they have some advice for American authorities on how to handle the spiraling unrest in Ferguson, Mo. In a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian government urges the United States to show ‘respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.'

"...A year ago, during the hot months of July and August, the military government in Egypt attempted to clear the streets of Cairo in a bloody crackdown. More than 1,000 people died during the ensuing crackdown, which came to embody the extreme, violent lengths to which the Egyptian military would go to hold on to power and keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of office." More here.

Talks in Cairo break down after Palestinian militants fire rockets into Israel. AP: "Palestinian militants launched dozens of rockets and Israel responded with airstrikes on Wednesday after Egyptian efforts to mediate a lasting truce in the monthlong Gaza war collapsed in a hail of fire a day earlier. One of the Israeli airstrikes appeared to have targeted the home of Mohammed Deif, the Islamic militant group's elusive military chief, who has escaped numerous Israeli assassination attempts in the past. It was not immediately clear whether he was there at the time of the attack.

"The fighting resumed Tuesday when Gaza militants fired rockets at Israeli cities just hours before a temporary cease-fire was set to expire, prompting Israel to withdraw its delegation from Cairo and launch retaliatory airstrikes. Since then at least 16 Palestinians have been killed and 68 wounded, Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said." More here. 

A Hamas military commander's family is killed in an Israeli strike. The WSJ: "The wife and child of Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif were killed in an Israeli airstrike, the Islamist group said Wednesday, after the collapse of a week-long cease-fire sparked a sharp escalation in Gaza attacks. The military wing of Hamas confirmed the deaths of Mr. Deif's family members, but didn't say whether the long-time military chief himself was alive or dead. An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on reports of the attack. Mr. Deif has been left severely handicapped from several Israeli assassination attempts."

David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes on why Hamas isn't easily deterred: "...[Netanyahu's] problem - and Israel's - is that Hamas is still far too strong, and that Hamas will always be far too cynical, to be deterred by Israel's ongoing response to the attacks from Gaza, the counter-strikes that follow its rocket fire. Hamas lost dozens of its tunnels, and perhaps 1,000 of its gunmen, and pleaded for a ceasefire, apparently believing it could negotiate a diplomatic resolution more satisfactory than the military face-off had yielded.

"But most of its elite fighters are still alive. It still has thousands of rockets, and is capable of manufacturing more in mid-conflict. Its local political leadership is safe and sound in the Gaza underground. Its overseas leadership is in still better shape, cosseted in Qatari luxury. And it cares not a whit about the suffering that its violent Islamist extremism is bringing down upon Gazans (a very substantial proportion of whom voted for Hamas in the relatively democratic parliamentary elections of 2006). Thus Israel's firm negotiating posture has sent Hamas back into conflict." More here.

There's more backstory on that Saudi prince whose motorcade in Paris was attacked and a suitcase with $355,000 in it stolen, in the NYT today, here.

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Rexon Ryu is Hagel's new chief of staff; AQAP endorses IS in Yemen; How the IS governs like a state; a Saudi is robbed of his suitcase with $355,000 in it; @oopsy at CSIS; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Exclusive in SitRep: Chuck Hagel has selected Rexon Ryu to be his new Chief of Staff. Ryu, who up until now has served as the deputy to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Samantha Power, was a Hagel aide from Hagel's days in the Senate. He will begin working in Hagel's front office at the Pentagon later this week, Situation Report has learned, and take over for real by Labor Day.

"The Bash Model." In picking Ryu, Hagel is selecting someone with whom he has a close bond, even if Ryu, who doesn't have Pentagon experience, will take some time to figure out where the coffee pot is. Ryu was one of three known candidates to replace Mark Lippert, Hagel's current chief of staff, who has been nominated to serve as the U.S. ambassador in South Korea. When Leon Panetta was Defense Secretary, he brought Jeremy Bash with him from the CIA to be his chief of staff. Bash didn't necessarily know the Pentagon well but knew his boss and his boss knew him. Bob Gates, on the other hand, chose Robert Rangel, someone he didn't necessarily know well but who knew the building. Hagel, who is on his third chief of staff in 18 months if you count Marcel Lettre, who served in an acting capacity early on, is clearly settling on someone he knows and trusts.

Who is Ryu? He's little known in Pentagon circles because he doesn't have any specific experience in the building even if he's considered to be very familiar with a lot of the abiding issues. Between 2009 and 2001, he served as director for Nonproliferation on the NSC at the White House, where he covered U.S. nonproliferation policy in Asia and the Middle East, with a particular focus on North Korea and Iran, according to his bio. He led the confirmation team for Susan Rice to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the 2008-2009 transition for Obama; and between 2005 and 2009, Ryu served as the deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy advisor for Hagel.  Before that, he held various positions at State, including overseas experience in Cairo and Jerusalem, and also worked for then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Hagel, in an emailed statement to SitRep: "I am greatly looking forward to having Rexon Ryu back on my senior leadership team.  He is a proven talent when it comes to working with the interagency, Congress, and outside groups and he will be a tremendous asset to the Defense Department... [I] have long relied on his counsel and wise perspective on national security matters... Rexon is someone I've been interested in recruiting to the Pentagon and I am delighted to welcome him as my new Chief of Staff."

State Department's Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, to SitRep in an email: "Rexon is one of the smartest and most promising public servants of his generation. Rexon is remarkably versatile - with experience on the Hill, and at State, on the NSC staff and at USUN.  He has excellent policy judgment, and is universally respected for both his professional skill and personal decency."

The other candidates under consideration included Wendy Anderson and Elissa Slotkin. Anderson has become the chief of staff to Penny Pritzker at Commerce, as SitRep reported exclusively a couple weeks ago. And we're told that Slotkin is a leading candidate to replace Derek Chollet, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs, a key policy job in the building. SitRep reported July 31 that Chollet will be leaving the Pentagon in January.

Right seat, left seat - Lippert and Ryu will begin to transition as early as this week, with Lippert, who is expected to be moving to Habib House in Seoul to serve as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. He has yet to be confirmed, but that confirmation is expected sometime this fall. Ryu has a previous set of relationships with a number of people in the building, however, including people like CAPE's Jamie Morin, Policy's Brian McKeon and the Pentagon Comptroller, Mike McCord.

What's going to be in Ryu's inbox? A senior defense official tells Situation Report that he'll be focused on a lot of the obvious "buckets" of issues - operational issues like the Islamic State, Ukraine, Syria and the South China Sea - as well as the budget and issues pertaining to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the electronic health records issue on which the Defense Department has been focused. But at the Pentagon and for Hagel, the Asia pivot is still key. "He wants to continue to play a leadership role in the pivot," a senior defense official told SitRep.

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: @glubold and @njsobe4.

AQAP just announced its support for ISIL. Al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, based heavily in Yemen, issued a statement yesterday indicating its support for ISIL, now known as the Islamic State, or IS. The statement, in part: "We announce solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade. Their blood and injuries are ours and we will surely support them," the statement read, according to a post in the Yemen Times. "We assert to the Islamic Nation [all Muslims worldwide] that we stand by the side of our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American and Iranian conspiracy and their agents of the apostate Gulf rulers.

"...Based on our experience with drones, we advise our brothers in Iraq to be cautious about spies among them because they are a key factor in setting goals; be cautious about dealing with cell phones and internet networks; do not gather in large numbers or move in large convoys; spread in farms or hide under trees in the case of loud humming of warplanes; and dig sophisticated trenches because they reduce the impact of shelling." The Yemen Times' Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki: "Many observers note that AQAP and ISIL are using similar tactics and are exchanging strategy and advice. More here.

From taxes to electricity to post offices, the Islamic State is quickly learning how to govern like a state. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The Obama administration's escalating air war against the Islamic State is running up against a dispiriting new reality: The militants are becoming as good at governing territory as they are at conquering it, making it considerably harder to dislodge them from the broad swaths of Syria and Iraq that they now control.

"U.S. intelligence officials say the leaders of the Islamic State are adopting methods first pioneered by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, and are devoting considerable human and financial resources toward keeping essential services like electricity, water, and sewage functioning in their territory. In some areas, they even operate post offices.

David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who spent several years working as a top aide to Gen. David Petraeus: "ISIS is the most dangerous terrorist group in the world because they combine the fighting capabilities of al Qaeda with the administrative capabilities of Hezbollah... It's clear that they have a state-building agenda and an understanding of the importance of effective governance." More here.

A 24-hour Gaza ceasefire is extended as talks continue in Cairo. The WSJ's Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv, Asa Fitch in Gaza City and Mohammed Najib in Ramallah: "Israel and the Palestinian factions, including the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas movement, agreed Monday to prolong their crease-fire an extra 24 hours to pursue talks on a long-term truce and a broader deal for the conflict-ridden territory.

"...In announcing the extension, there were no indications from the negotiators whether the wide gaps between the two sides in the talks had narrowed and what, if anything, an additional 24 hours would accomplish. During the indirect negotiations, Israel and the Palestinians have sought publicly to portray the other as intransigent, and Mr. Risheq expressed pessimism that more talk would produce a durable accord." More here.

As Israel and the Palestinians struggle to reach yet another cease-fire, the mediators in Cairo are making the conflict worse -- and empowering radicals in the process.  Carnegie's Michele Dunne and Nathan Brown, here.

Iraq forces do battle to keep jihadists out of Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Reuters' Ahmed Rasheed and Michael Georgy: "...Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam from the jihadists after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units backed by Shi'ite militias fought their way towards the center of Tikrit, a city 130 km (80 miles) north of Baghdad which is a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority. 'Our forces are advancing from two directions with cover from army helicopters, mortar and artillery shelling the positions of the Islamic State fighters in and around the city,' an army major in the operations room told Reuters." More here.

Troops in Iraq rout Sunni militants from a key dam. The NYT's Helene Cooper, Mark Lander and Azam Ahmed: "Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops overran Sunni militants and reclaimed Iraq's largest dam on Monday, President Obama said, as American warplanes unleashed a barrage of bombs in an expansion of the limited goals laid out by the president in authorizing the military campaign in Iraq.

"Mr. Obama, who interrupted a family vacation on Martha's Vineyard to meet Monday with his national security team in Washington, maintained that the airstrikes around the Mosul Dam were within the constraints of what he initially characterized as a limited campaign meant to break the siege of stranded Yazidis on Mount Sinjar and protect American personnel, citizens and facilities in Iraq." More here.

A billionaire has been named in a suit against an anti-Iran group. The NYT's Matt Apuzzo: "A billionaire Wall Street commodities investor has been drawn into a court fight against one of the nation's most influential anti-Iran advocacy groups, a case in which the Obama administration has introduced a sense of intrigue by its recent claim that, somehow, the group possesses important government secrets." More here.

AP this morning: A new report warns of anti-aircraft weapons in Syria. AP's Stephen Braun: " Armed groups in Syria have an estimated several hundred portable anti-aircraft missiles that could easily be diverted to extremists and used to destroy low-flying commercial planes, according to a new report by a respected international research group. It cites the risk that the missiles could be smuggled out of Syria by terrorists. The report was released just hours after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice Monday to U.S. airlines banning all flights in Syrian airspace." More here.

Syria's most lethal chemical weapons are destroyed with little fanfare. FP's Kate Brannen: "Almost a year after a sarin gas attack killed more than 1,400 people outside Damascus, the U.S. Defense Department quietly announced Monday that Syria's most dangerous chemicals have been neutralized.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement: "While the international community's work to completely eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program is not yet finished, the secretary believes this is a clear demonstration of what can be achieved when diplomacy is backed by a willingness to use military force." More here.

And the WH's statement, here.

And believe it or not, Germany spies on its allies, too. David Francis for FP: "The revelation that Germany spies on Turkey, a NATO member, should dispel any notion that spying on allies violates the unwritten rules of international espionage, despite Berlin's numerous suggestions otherwise." More here.

How Germany spies on its friends. SPIEGEL's story: "...On Friday, the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the BND -- even if apparently unintentionally -- had eavesdropped on a telephone conversation by then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The revelation made Merkel's dictum, ‘Spying among friends? That's unacceptable,' ring a bit hollow. Information obtained by SPIEGEL indicates that the affair goes beyond Clinton. Last year, it also drew in Clinton's successor, John Kerry, when he was mediating in the Middle East between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arab states. At the time, the recording of at least one Kerry conversation was apparently immediately deleted by the BND under orders." More here.

Julian Assange said yesterday that he's leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London "soon," raising suspicious that he might roll the dice in Sweden.  But it's highly doubtful that Sweden would extradite him.  FP's Elias Groll: "...Sweden's extradition agreement with the United States, signed in 1961 and updated in 1983, prohibits extradition on the basis of ‘a political offense' or ‘an offense connected with a political offense.' The agreement does not specify what constitutes a ‘political offense.' Whether the Swedish supreme court would rule to extradite Assange largely depends on what charges the secret U.S. grand jury brings against him." More here.

Who's Where When today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is in Guam.  His schedule includes "windshield tours" of the flightline and Northramp Project there; THAAD tour; meetings with Gov. Calvo and Congresswoman Bordallo; Windshield tours of Port Authority of Guam; Apra Harbor Tour; a Troop Event; and a media engagement with local press... Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Marty Dempsey, will serve as the guest of honor today at an event recognizing 40 expectant military mothers with none other than Buddy the Cake Boss, at the Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J... Denny Blair, the retired admiral and now the chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation/US gives a speech today at Heritage on Asia at 2pm, event deets here.

@Ooopsy. Somebody in the tweet department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington tweeted their mind yesterday in response to an Amnesty International tweet earlier yesterday but is now in the doghouse.

@AI: "US can't tell other countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it won't clean up its own human rights record."

@CSIS: @AI your work has saved far fewer lives than American intervention. So suck it."

The inevitable apology came just a bit later: "@CSIS Our sincerest apologies to @amnesty & our followers. Our last tweet was sent in error. We're reviewing internal policies for social media." See it here (on abumuquama/Andrew Exum's feed).

Rep. Duncan Hunter, in Defense News on sequester and the budget and the Army's need for Black Hawk and Apache engine upgrades. The California Republican's BLUF: "Even if sequestration is alleviated over the long term - and let's hope it is - the sound judgments on display within the Army and the other services must continue. Whether the budget is considered too large or too small, that should not take away from the military's duty to be smart as it prepares for the future." More here.

There's still a political impasse in Afghanistan. The NYT's Matthew Rosenberg: " A coterie of powerful Afghan government ministers and officials with strong ties to the security forces are threatening to seize power if an election impasse that has paralyzed the country is not resolved soon. Though it is unusual to telegraph plans for what could amount to a coup - though no one is calling it that - the officials all stressed that they hoped the mere threat of forming an interim government would persuade the country's rival presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, to make the compromises needed to end the crisis." Read the rest here.

Next door, in Pakistan, the military says it carried out fresh airstrikes near the Afghan border, killing 18 suspected terrorists. VOA: "...Tuesday's action focused on Khyber and North Waziristan tribal agencies where Pakistani Taliban and fugitive Afghan insurgents are entrenched." More here.

On the fifth day of protests, the Pakistan Army is putting troops in Islamabad on high alert. Reuters, in Dawn, here.

India cancels talks with Pakistan over tea invitation to Kashmiri separatists, in the WaPo's World View blog, here. 

The Economic Times in India: "Pakistan has made little genuine effort to improve relations with India," an analysis, here.

Despite being indicted last week, Rick Perry will headline an event titled "The Border Crisis and the New Politics of Immigration" at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday morning. Deets here.

Is Rick Perry's Bad Judgment Really a Crime? On the NYTs editorial page today, here.

It would appear that Vietnam clearly has a superior claim to the South China Sea islands, finds a new CNA Corporation report authored by Captain Raul "Pete" Pedrozo, USN, Judge Advocate Corps (ret.). The report is one of three released yesterday on U.S. policy options in the South China Sea. But the report concludes "The reality on the ground is that China has occupied the entire Paracel group for 40 years, and short of military action by Vietnam to recapture the archipelago, will never leave... Resolution of the dispute is likely in only four ways: judicial arbitration that all parties agree to undertake; all parties agree to freeze in place while tabling the issue of ultimate sovereignty in favor of a cooperative regime for resource exploitation and management; individual claimants reach an understanding with China ceding sovereignty claims in return for economic preference; or the use of force by the most powerful to expel rival claimants." More here.  Find CNA Corporation's analysis on Malaysia and Brunei here and Philippine claims in the South China Sea here.

Next time, leave home without it. NBC: "Armed robbers attacked a Saudi Arabian prince's convoy in Paris on Sunday night, allegedly seizing around 250,000 euros ($335,000) in cash and sensitive documents." More here.