Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: A failed rescue operation for Foley, U.S. refused ransom request; Iraqis offer up airbases; John McLaughlin on why IS is scarier than AQ before 9/11; Bob Work works it in Guam; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The U.S. military endeavored to rescue Jim Foley and other hostages, and may have missed him and other American hostages by mere days. As some media outlets sniffed out news of a failed rescue attempt of Foley and others, the Obama administration confirmed that indeed it had launched a commando operation in Syria but had come up empty handed. FP's Kate Brannen and Elias Groll: "Nearly two years into James Foley's captivity at the hands of Islamist militants and shortly before his execution, U.S. Special Forces troops attempted to free the American journalist and a group of other American hostages. That operation failed when the captives were not to be found where U.S. intelligence assessments had indicated they would be. On Tuesday, Islamic State militants released a video depicting Foley's beheading.

"Details on the nature of the unsuccessful operation remained sparse late Wednesday. When American forces landed in eastern Syria -- most likely in Raqqa province, where Foley is thought to have been held and killed -- they came under heavy fire. The elite troops killed a number of militants, and one of the pilots involved in the operation sustained a minor injury when his aircraft came under fire, a senior administration official told Foreign Policy." More here.

The White House put out an unusual statement defending the "timing" of its announcement/confirmation of the rescue effort, saying it never intended to disclose the operation. NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden: "...An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible. We only went public today when it was clear a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and that we would have no choice but to acknowledge it."

A U.S. official told SitRep that the WaPo was first: "a number of outlets were gathering details right around the same time but I'd say in a photo finish the [Washington Post] has it.... Can't stress enough how much we did not want to talk about this operation. We did so because of unauthorized disclosures of classified information."

Jeff Stein for Newsweek on why most rescue attempts fail, here.

ISIS pressed for a ransom before killing Foley. The NYT's Rukmini Callimachi: "[ISIS] pressed the United States to provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, according to a representative of his family and a former hostage held alongside him. The United States - unlike several European countries that have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens - refused to pay." More here.

Some European governments pay ransoms - should the White House pay for Steven Sotloff, whom IS has threatened to kill? James Traub unpacks the ethical and operational dilemmas for FP, here. 

British officials are scrambling to find out more about who the man was who killed Foley. And if the answer is that he was a British citizen, that will underscore the threat the Islamic State poses to the West - and to the U.S. There are as many as 400 British Muslims who are suspected of fighting with militant groups; there are as many as 100 American citizens with U.S. passports who are also thought to be fighting. That's been known for some time. But the situation in Iraq, coupled with the execution of Foley could motivate the U.S. and its allies to widen the mission in Iraq - and even Syria. The WSJ's Margaret Coker and Nicholas Winning: " The possibility of involvement by a British national in Mr. Foley's death underscores what for many U.K. officials has become their top national security threat: that some of the estimated 400 British Muslims suspected of fighting with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq could come home radicalized and threaten their homeland with terror attacks." More in the WSJ here.

Obama, using stronger rhetoric even if U.S. officials insist the scope of the military mission in Iraq has not widened: "...From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies... Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday. And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility." The rest of Obama's statement yesterday about the murder of Jim Foley, here.

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 gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Baghdad is open to letting U.S. warplanes fly from Iraqi bases. FP's Dreazen and Lubold: "Iraqi officials have given their American counterparts clear signals that Baghdad is willing to let U.S. fighter jets operate out of Iraqi air bases, a move that would allow planes to stay airborne longer and deliver more strikes. But the Obama administration, at least for now, doesn't seem all that interested.

"The back-channel discussions over the bases, which have not previously been reported, highlight the White House's uncertainty about escalating its low-level air war against the Islamic State. President Barack Obama proudly pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq in late 2011. He has repeatedly stressed that the military campaign there that began Aug. 8 will be limited in both scope and duration. With broad swaths of Syria and Iraq under Islamic State control, key U.S. allies are pressing the administration to step up the fight. Taking off from Iraqi bases would make it much easier to do so because it would put the American aircraft closer to their targets.

A senior military official: "Everything is harder when you're doing it from the outside." Read our full story here.

As Iraqis ask for more assistance from the U.S., they also say insurgents are retreating - and slipping back into Syria. The WSJ's Nour Malas in Erbil: "Iraqi officials say U.S. airstrikes have driven some ground commanders of the Sunni radical group Islamic State from northern Iraq across the border into Syria. Buoyed by a victory over the insurgents at Mosul Dam this week, the Iraqi military renewed efforts to retake Tikrit, a key Sunni city. But the operation appeared to stall on its second day Wednesday." Read the rest here.

John McLaughlin writes on why the Islamic State is a greater threat than Al-Qaida before 9/11. Former acting CIA director McLaughlin, writing for Ozy, his BLUF: "The bottom line is that none of these things marks the beginning of the end for the IS. In fact, the more appropriate characterization may be Winston Churchill's famous quote about the vastly different battle in 1942, when he said that the fight against the Nazis had only reached 'the end of the beginning.'" Read the rest here.

Kurds are discussing senior posts in the new Iraqi government. Rudaw's Sangar Abdulrahman: "Iraq's outgoing foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said Kurdish delegates are heading to Bagdad to negotiate ministerial posts in the new Iraqi government, and called for Kurdistan rights and demands to be respected.?

Zebrai, a Kurd, in an interview: "The decision of the Kurdish leadership and all the Kurdish parties is that we should participate in the next government, but it must be based on our rights. We won't take part without a clear plan."

On Iraq's new prime minister Haider al-Abadi's position toward the Kurds, Zebrai said: "It's too early to judge him.?We know him and the role he plays now will be different from (his) role in Parliament. Now he has a responsibility and needs to form the government within a month. Otherwise, someone else might be named (prime minister)." More here.

As extremism spreads in the Middle East, there are some pockets of stability.  FP's David Rothkopf interviews Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh: "When asked to point out some areas in which [Judeh] sees signs [of progress], he says, ‘The new government in Iraq is a step in the right direction. Of course it is too early to assume any final outcomes, but they are at least trying to address the vital issue of inclusiveness in the government. And the international community is trying to support them. You will see more signs of support in the near future too, I believe.'" More here.

ICYMI - For George W. Bush it was "Mission Accomplished." For Barack Obama, it may be "mission creep." TIME's Michael Crowley on the U.S. operation in Iraq, here.

Vocativ's Adi Kochavi and Matan Gilat go inside the data ISIS keeps on the attacks it launches. Kochavi and Gilat to Situation Report: "One thing is abundantly clear: ISIS is a more potent force than ever before. Of particular note, given Tuesday's gruesome beheading video, will be the gradual increase in assassinations (the red line in the graph below). ISIS has been tracking them since late 2011. We broke down the data into quarters, and in Q1 of 2011, they counted 94 executions. Two years later, in Q1 of 2014, that number had more than quadrupled, to 399 assassinations over a three-month period." More here.

Iran speaks more softly but keeps building bigger sticks. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "While Iran's military has toned down its rhetoric about military capabilities and exercises, it continues a low-profile buildup of weapons in and near the Strait of Hormuz, according to a classified Pentagon assessment.
"‘Iran's military strategy is defensive' and designed to ‘deter an attack, survive an initial strike, retaliate against an aggressor and force a diplomatic solution' while avoiding major concessions, says the unclassified executive summary of a congressionally mandated Pentagon report submitted to lawmakers on July 7." More here.

NYT reporter Matt Rosenberg is ordered to leave Afghanistan for refusing to name his sources for a story about unnamed officials seizing power. The WaPo's Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul: "...Rosenberg, 40, who has covered Afghanistan for three years, was summoned Tuesday by the attorney general's office and asked to name his sources for the article published in that day's Times..." More here.

The article that got Rosenberg in hot water with Karzai, here.

SitRep corrects the record - we noted in a story the other day that SitRep had exclusively reported the news Aug. 11 that Wendy Anderson, deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, was headed to Commerce. Must have been too much beach sun. In fact, Politico's Mike Allen had reported it in Playbook, unbeknownst to us, the Friday before, on Aug. 8. Apologies for the false claim.

A laden Who's Where When today - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon and meeting with Greek Minister of Defense Dimitrios Avramopoulos at the Pentagon at 1:45 p.m... Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is in South Korea.  He visits Camp Humphreys, medical campus and family housing, CP Tango, recognizes service members and government civilians, visits Osan AB, speaks with troops at a Troop Event, conducts a media engagement with local press and departs for Japan in the evening... Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey conducts a Town Hall on Facebook and answer questions from the force and the public about issues of importance to the military family at 1:45 p.m... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus meets with Chilean Minister of Defense Jorge Burgos in Santiago, Chile.  He also speaks to Marines in Valparaiso, Chile, as they continue their participation in the ongoing exercise Partnership of the Americas... Chief Information Officer Defense Information Systems Agency David Bennett delivers remarks on Information Technology Consolidation at the 2014 FedScoop Lowering the Cost of Government with IT Summit at the Newseum at 8:35 a.m...

Yesterday, at Marine Corps Day at Nats stadium, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos threw out the first pitch at the Nats-Diamondbacks game. Amos and other senior leaders participated in pre-game activities, a retired Marine officer sang God Bless America, the Quantico Marine Band played the National Anthem, children of Marines were "the starting eight" on the field when the Nats players took the field at the beginning of the game, and the Silent Drill Platoon and Marine Color Guard performed.  Then, the Nats pulled out a 3-2 win in the bottom of the ninth.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work plugged the "rebalance to Asia" at a Q&A with troops in Guam yesterday. Citing the redeployment of troops in the Pacific, strengthening alliances and partners in the region, and economic measures like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Work said, "Now we have a good plan."

Work told a story about a Marine patrol in Afghanistan that finds an IED attached to a donkey cart.  The sergeant decides to unhook the donkey, which, in turn, leads the Marines directly to the terrorists who planted the bomb.  After they apprehend the culprits, the lieutenant asks the sergeant how he knew to follow the donkey.  The sergeant, in Work's words, replies: "Sir, I was born on a farm. I was raised on a farm... I've been following jackasses my whole life."

Work was making the point that the U.S. military will never become a "hollow force" because of the high quality of its people.  "It's not the generals; it's the enlisted force. You have always been the backbone of the American military," he told the troops.  Read the full transcript, here.

About those sailors who cheated on their nuke tests - there are more of them than initially reported.  FP's Kate Brannen: "It turns out that a Navy cheating scandal at a nuclear power training site in Charleston, South Carolina, is much bigger than originally feared. Senior Navy officials said in February that roughly 20 sailors had cheated on their qualification exams. Now, 78 enlisted sailors are implicated and the Navy is kicking out at least 34 of them, according to the military. Meanwhile, 10 of the sailors remain under criminal investigation. So far, the cheating appears to be limited to this unit in Charleston, but it dates back to at least 2007, according to an internal Navy investigation." More here.

Palestinians say an Israeli airstrike missed a top Hamas commander in the Gaza Strip. The WaPo's William Booth and Orly Halpern: "Palestinians on Wednesday accused Israel of attempting to assassinate the top Hamas military commander in the Gaza Strip as the hopes for a cease-fire were dashed by a day-long exchange of taunts and threats, alongside escalating rocket fire and airstrikes that left 22 Palestinians dead. In a brief news conference outside the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that all combatants in the Palestinian militant factions were legitimate targets.
"Hamas, though, was not backing down. In a televised statement Wednesday, a masked representative for the Hamas military wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, warned that Hamas rockets would begin to strike Israel's strategic interests, including Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, on Thursday morning." More here.

It's not too late for Israel to pursue a UN Security Council resolution that would, in the long run, change the reality in Gaza. Ha'aretz's diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid: "The collapse of the Cairo talks over a long-term truce in Gaza was a failure foretold. One needed to be extremely optimistic or totally clueless about the diplomatic realities to think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's most generous positions would meet the minimum demands of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal.

"...It's not too late for Israel to initiate a resolution in the UN Security Council that resembles Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War. Such a resolution would not just bring an end to the war in Gaza, but also would establish international mechanisms and launch a long-term process to change the reality in Gaza in a way that would serve Israel and its allies and isolate the Hamas and its patrons." More here.

A profile of the Palestinian General Intelligence Services chief who could be Abbas' successor. FDD's Grant Rumley for the National Interest, here.

Ukrainian troops press rebels in their eastern strongholds. The NYT's Andrew Kramer: "With street fights and artillery barrages, the Ukrainian military pressed its advance on Wednesday on the two eastern provincial capitals held by pro-Russian separatists in a day of violence that killed 52 civilians and Ukrainian soldiers and an unknown number of rebels.
"In one of the heaviest artillery attacks yet on the center of Donetsk, the larger of the capitals, shells struck street kiosks and residential apartment buildings near the stadium of the Shatyorsk soccer club, in the city's heart. Fighting on the outskirts, particularly around the strategic town of Ilovaysk, a transportation hub, has also flared in recent days." More here.

Have cuts in defense spending hurt U.S. national security interests? Dov Zakheim for FP: "The National Defense Panel originally was established by the Congress to provide a non-partisan evaluation of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The members of the 2014 panel, chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and retired General John Abizaid pulled no punches in its assessment of the 2014 QDR. Its language bordered on the harsh, and its critique of the Obama administration's policies lacked all subtlety.

"The bipartisan panel, which included Michèle Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy in the first Obama administration, and retired General James Cartwright, once regarded as President Obama's ‘favorite general' took the administration to task for emphasizing notions such as the primacy of ‘nation building at home' and the utility of ‘leading from behind.' To the contrary, the panel pointed out early in its report that the current international order ‘is not self-sustaining; it requires active, robust American engagement.' Acknowledging that there is a cost to American global leadership, the panel nevertheless pointed out that such a cost was ‘nowhere near what America paid in the first half of the 20th century when conflict was allowed to fester and grow until it rose to the level of general war.'" More here.

 

 

 

 

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 gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, 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.