Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Obama: "horrific acts … stiffen our resolve"; 350 more troops to Baghdad; A ceasefire in Ukraine?; Was Shabaab leader killed?; Ash Carter establishes a DC beachhead; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Overnight: the U.S. intelligence community authenticated the Sotloff video and Obama now says in Europe: "we will not forget." Intelligence officials confirmed overnight what most officials suspected: that the video purporting to show the beheading of American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff was real, another provocation from the Islamic State that forces President Barack Obama to confront the way forward in Syria, where the IS is based, but also Iraq, where the U.S. has mounted a limited airstrike campaign that even the U.S. military acknowledges has only had a "tactical" effect. Now Obama, who just last week said he still didn't have a strategy for dealing with the Islamic militants - and Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said just this morning on CNN that strategy recommendations had yet to be given to the White House - must decide what to do. But his rhetoric in Europe overnight suggested sitting on his hands was no longer an option.

President Obama, from Estonia: "...Whatever these murderers think they'll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed.  They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism.  We will not be intimidated.  Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.  And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served."

For the record, the Islamic State never intended to negotiate anything. FP's Shane Harris and Kate Brannen: "In releasing a video showing the murder of a second American journalist, the militants of the Islamic State made clear that they have no interest in negotiating with Barack Obama's administration or its allies over the fate of other missing Westerners despite implying that they'd release those prisoners if Washington stopped its intensifying air campaign against the group.

"...In that message, the group said that Sotloff would die unless the United States halted airstrikes. But some U.S. defense and intelligence officials believe that Sotloff may have been killed at the same time as Foley, meaning the group never intended to release the Florida native or negotiate for his freedom.

"Before the Sotloff video was released, a U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it wouldn't be difficult for the Islamic State to make it appear as if the video had been recorded after the one showing Foley's murder. In the video released Tuesday, Sotloff's murderer gives no definitive indication of when he killed Sotloff." Read the rest here.

Sotloff had freelanced for a number of publications, including Foreign Policy. His three dispatches for FP, here.

For Arab comedians, gallows humor is one way to cope with ISIS atrocities. FP's Siobhán O'Grady: "...With radical Islamist militants seizing territory in Iraq and Syria, the Middle East has turned toward a black brand of humor to satirize and cope with a band of fighters advocating a medieval interpretation of Islam and a sadistic system of justice." More here.

Iraqi forces waged a desperate campaign and held off militants in Amerli. The NYT's Azam Ahmed, here.

The Pentagon announced another 350 troops to Baghdad. Acting on a request a couple weeks ago from the State Department to beef up its security around the massive embassy complex in Baghdad, the Pentagon said it was deploying another 350 uniforms. That makes for an official, public count of about 820 personnel in Iraq, but the real number is more than 1,100 authorized for deployment there. Pentagon officials had said only last week that the reason the Defense Department was assessing State's request for additional forces was to determine if the embassy really needed them - and to make sure that any additional deployment of troops was part of a broader strategy. But the announcement late yesterday means the request had to be filled sooner, even if the broader mission in Iraq and in Syria has yet to be defined.

FWIW: Here's Tom Friedman's BLUF on the Islamic State in today's column in the NYT: "I'm all-in on destroying ISIS. It is a sick, destabilizing movement. I support using U.S. air power and special forces to root it out, but only as part of a coalition, where everybody who has a stake in stability there pays their share and where mainstream Sunnis and Shiites take the lead by demonstrating that they hate ISIS more than they hate each other. Otherwise, we'll end up in the middle of a God-awful mess of duplicitous allies and sectarian passions, and nothing good we do will last." Read the whole thing here.  

Iraq Business News' security update, 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, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Ukraine says there is a ceasefire, but Russia isn't too sure. AP: "The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are in agreement on a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, but the statement was ambiguous and a top rebel figure said no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces. The brief statement said 'mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace' but gave no details. There have been previous statements of agreements on steps for peace, but the conflict has only intensified. Wednesday's statement came as U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia in a show of solidarity with NATO allies who fear they could be the next target of Russia's aggression." More here.

This week, NATO will agree on a rapid response force, but the Baltic states won't be satisfied. FP's John Hudson: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has masterfully played off the regional divisions within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his slow-rolled invasion of eastern Ukraine. But this week, the 28-member security alliance will finally settle on a unified response to Russia's blatant incursions: a rapid response military unit capable of deploying quickly to Eastern Europe.

"The plan, announced by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday, does not go as far as some Baltic states wanted but does represent the strongest response yet from the alliance since Moscow annexed Crimea in March. According to Western diplomats, the plan is the result of an internal push led by Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada, with the blessing of the United States.

Ryszard Schnept, Polish ambassador to the U.S. to FP: "The necessity of having units capable of reacting almost immediately in case of a crisis should let us make NATO more responsive and ready... Although the discussion existed already earlier, the recent events in Europe have shown how much justified this idea is." More here.

Even on the financial front, Ukraine and Russia are on opposing sides. FP's Jamila Trindle: "As Ukraine's battle against separatists along the border with Russia intensifies, the conflict threatens to bleed the government's coffers dry. The IMF warned the government could be short $19 billion next year if fighting doesn't stop soon. Kiev could really use the money frozen in Swiss bank accounts that allegedly originated from its treasury but was allegedly stolen by the former Ukrainian president and his cronies. The only problem is that it could take years -- if ever -- to get the money back." More here.

USC's Philip Seib in an interview about America's image problem and how U.S. diplomats can use public diplomacy more effectively. Read it on CFR, here.

David Ignatius: the Senate Republicans' foolish fight over diplomats. The WaPo's Ignatius: "... Even by Washington standards, the Senate Republicans have hit a new low for hypocrisy. They denounce President Obama's inaction on foreign policy - and simultaneously refuse to confirm his nominees for U.S. ambassadors to such hot spots as Turkey, on the front lines against the Islamic State, and Sierra Leone, epicenter of the Ebola outbreak." More here.

The Pentagon says it hit its target in Somalia, but did it kill al-Shabab's leader? FP's Lubold and Brannen: "U.S. officials are assessing whether an airstrike in Somalia killed the leader of the al-Shabab terrorist group, a potentially significant blow to the al Qaeda affiliate responsible for a wave of bloody attacks across Africa. The officials confirmed Tuesday, Sept. 2, that the target of Monday's attack was Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabab's leader, but said the Pentagon is still assessing whether Godane had actually been killed. The United States and close allies like Israel have previously touted the killings of other top militants, only to later discover that the targets had escaped unscathed.

Hussein Mahmoud Sheikh-Ali, the senior counterterrorism advisor to Somalia's president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in remarks at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday: "I think [Godane] put the organization in a very vulnerable position... If he's killed, it's going to be a game-changer." Read the rest here.

Chuck Hagel is wheels up for Rhode Island - then Europe. He leaves today on a six-day, three-country trip with a stop at the Naval War College in Rhode Island before setting out for Wales, where he'll join President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for the NATO summit. There will be talk about Afghanistan, but Ukraine and Syria and Iraq. Hagel will also then travel to Georgia and Turkey.

Staffers on a plane - Chief of Staff Rexon Ryu (first big trip with the new boss), Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, Special Assistant Kathryn Harris, Junior Special Assistant Capt. H.B. Le, Senior Adviser to the Chief of Staff Lt. Col. David Morris, Director of Travel Operations, J.P. Eby, Trip Coordinator Cmdr. Bill Cox, Director of Personal Security Dave Plell, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet, ASD for Legislative Affairs Liz King, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe NATO Jim Townsend, DASD Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Evelyn Farkas, Director NATO Policy Joe Collins, Deputy Director NATO Policy, Jesse Kelso, NATO Policy Mark Jones, Military Assistant for ISA Lt. Col. Ryan Suttlemyre, Country and Regional directors: Rachel Ellenhuus, Alton Buland, Shannon Culbertson, Jacqueline Ramos, Erica Brefka, Special Assistant for Public Affairs Brent Colburn, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, Speech Writer Jacob Freedman, Flag Aide to the Press Secretary Lt. Megan Isaac, Official Photographer Glenn Fawcett, Public Affairs Desk Officer Eileen Lainez.

Reporters on a plane - Politico's Phil Ewing, AP's Lita Baldor, Omaha World Herald's Joseph Morton, WaPo's Craig Whitlock, NYT's Helene Cooper, Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber, Reuters' Phil Stewart, CBS' Cami McCormick, WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum, Defense Media Activity's Jackie McGinnis.

The three-day Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance's ‘Defense Innovation Days' kicks off tomorrow in Rhode Island. Speakers include: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; Governor Lincoln Chafee; Senator Jack Reed; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics (AT&L); Vice Admiral Jan Tighe, U.S. Navy, Commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command; and Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Research, among many others.

The WH announced yesterday that National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice will travel to Beijing, China next week for meetings with senior Chinese officials, including State Councilor Yang Jiechi, to consult on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.

Ash Carter to the Markle Foundation. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense and technology czar Ash Carter is headed to the Markle Foundation, the New York-based "information technology/new economy" think tank to help lead a project called the Economic Future Initiative designed to help improve the U.S. economy and provide better access to opportunity for all Americans. The project is his first big gig since leaving the Pentagon earlier this year. He was recruited by Markle CEO Zoe Baird for the project, which has the backing from Starbucks coffee honcho Howard Shultz. Carter has been a member since 2002 of the Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age. We're told Carter is expected to set up Markle's "DC beachhead," and will operate out of the offices of SBD Advisors, the consulting firm begun by Sally Donnelly with which he affiliated some months ago.

The Russia-China axis... want to know more? Doug Schoen, a prominent Clinton insider and leading Democratic strategist, and Melik Kaylan, a journalist and international affairs analyst, are out with a new book, THE RUSSIA-CHINA AXIS. They dive deep into the strengthening relationship between the two countries aimed at subverting American power and the Obama Administration's woefully inadequate response to it. It hits the shelves next week, but find it on Amazon, here.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) urges the world to use an alternative to "ISIS" when describing the Islamic State. Read their report titled "Needless Collateral Damage," here.

This is out there, even if yet there's no real evidence it's legit and the mainstream press hasn't yet picked up on it: U.S. officials worry about 11 missing planes stolen in Tripoli that could be used to carry out another 9/11-like attack. The U.K.'s Mail, citing The Washington Free-Beacon: "U.S. officials fear Islamic militants have stolen nearly a dozen commercial planes in Libya which could be used to carry out 9/11-style terrorist attacks in the region. Eleven commercial jets operated by two state-owned airlines went missing last month, after militant group Libyan Dawn overtook the international airport in the capital city of Tripoli. 

"In the past two weeks, the U.S. government has been issuing warnings about the deteriorating state in Libya, drawing attention to the fact that the planes could be used in attacks to mark the anniversary of 9/11 later this month, sources who read the briefs told the Washington Free-Beacon. 'There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing,' one official told the Free-Beacon. 'We found out on September 11 what can happen with hijacked planes.'" More here.

In a light-hearted symbol of Libyan anarchy, Islamists are having a pool party at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. FP's Elias Groll: "Muammar al-Qaddafi is dead, and in his absence rival militias have turned Libya into a violent playground for heavily-armed men jockeying for control of the country. That conflict now breaks down, roughly, as a stand-off between more anti-Islamist, tribal-oriented militias and their Islamist opponents. In recent days, the Islamist militias have been ascendant, seizing control of Tripoli, the capital, and while the anarchy gripping Libya is nothing to make light of, a sure indication of its lawlessness comes to us in the form of this rather amazing footage: a jihadi pool party at a residential compound of the U.S. embassy." More here.

ICYMI - FP's South Asia Channel Editor Emily Schneider on protests in Pakistan. Read it on New America's Weekly Wonk, here.



Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: U.S. conducts strike in Somalia; A Marine helicopter crashes; Three Americans plead for help in North Korea; Humanitarian drops in Amerli, Iraq; Kristin Lord leaves USIP; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Pentagon says it conducted a C-T mission in Somalia yesterday against the Shabaab. Ever since Shabaab's stunning attack inside an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi almost a year ago, signaling a comeback of sorts after U.S. officials thought the Somali-based group linked to al-Qaida had been vanquished, the U.S. has ramped up its assistance to Somali intelligence and military units and to support the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. The Pentagon was mum on the details of its operation Monday, and the wording of the announcement left it vague if the U.S. had only conducted an airstrike or if ground forces had been involved.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby: "U.S. military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the al-Shabaab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate."

"The U.S. has been providing financial, logistical and material backing to AMISOM and Somali forces doing battle with the Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida. American drones from nearby Camp Lemonnier, a sprawling base the U.S. maintains in Djibouti, have also been providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to the effort.

Roger Carstens, a former Green Beret who has spent more than a year on the ground in Somalia in the last few years, to Foreign Policy last night: "The result has been a rather successful, if slow and grinding, campaign prosecuted by AMISOM and the Somalis against al Shabaab."

Carstens said that if the U.S. were to have conducted an airstrike mission in Somalia, as it appeared to have done in Barawe, that would be an indication that it had in its sights a high value target. "As can shown by the rather small number of U.S. military operations in Somalia over the past few years, the standard for an attack in Somalia has been pretty high," Carstens wrote. "The target must be worthy of the U.S. stepping out from its preferred position (behind the scenes) to conduct a unilateral strike."

Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said the U.S. has seemed to increase its role in Somalia, albeit quietly, as it strengthens its capabilities with AMISOM and local forces. "I would put the apparent increase in U.S. operational tempo in Somalia as a function of both better intelligence and a change in al-Shabaab itself," Pham wrote FP in an email late Monday. "The first is the result of an increased presence, both public and clandestine, that has resulted in information that can operationalized. The second is the shift of al-Shabaab since it abandoned Mogadishu in mid-2011 from an insurgence into a terrorist group which has carried out regional attacks and thus raised its profile as a threat to the U.S. and its allies in the region." Click here soon for Lubold's full story, which will also be updated later today.

Meantime, the Pentagon is expanding its footprint in Africa. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock on Page One this morning as if to underscore the point of what it's doing in Somalia: "The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara. After months of negotiations, the government of Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

"The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub - its second in Niger and third in the region -  to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent." More here.

Want to sound smart on the Shabaab today? CFR's backgrounder on the group, here.

This week, a new book by Tony Zinni, the warrior-diplomat and former Central Command commander, will be released that looks at American foreign policy, why it's failed and how it can be reversed. It's called "Before the First Shots are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield," and there's a review of the book with a Q&A with Zinni by Andrew Lubin at the Marine Corps Association and Foundation, here.

Speaking of which: a Marine CH-53 assigned to Centcom crashes near Djibouti - and all 25 personnel are rescued. Military Times, here.

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, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

New in SitRep this morning: The U.S. Institute of Peace's Kristin Lord, formerly of CNAS, is leaving USIP for IREX. From a press release USIP will release later this morning: "Dr. Kristin Lord, acting president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, announced that she will leave USIP on October 3, 2014 to become president and CEO of IREX, a global non-governmental organization that focuses on education, civil society and media development. Dr. Lord previously held the position of executive vice president at USIP, and took over as acting president when former Congressman Jim Marshall left USIP in January of this year. USIP is in the final stages of a search for a new president. Bill Taylor, USIP vice president for Middle East and Africa, will temporarily assume the role of executive vice president at the Institute to provide continuity through the upcoming transition."

 The US expands it humanitarian and airstrike campaign in Iraq to the town of Amerli. FP's Kate Brannen: "The United States on Saturday air dropped humanitarian aid and conducted airstrikes against Islamic State targets in and around Amerli, a town 100 miles north of Baghdad that's been under siege for over two months. The U.S. Air Force delivered aid alongside aircraft from Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. dropped 109 bundles, according to U.S. Central Command. Carrying out the drop were two C-17s and two C-130s, delivering approximately 10,500 gallons of fresh drinking water and approximately 7,000 meals ready to eat. To support the humanitarian assistance mission, the U.S. military also conducted three airstrikes in coordination with the Iraqi security forces responsible for protecting Amerli, Centcom said in a statement." More here.

A video of Peshmerga forces fighting IS militants inside Zumar - watch Rudaw's report, here.

Videos of U.S. military humanitarian assistance airdrops operations conducted Aug. 30-31 over northern Iraq.  Watch the clips on U.S. AFCENT's YouTube channel, here.

Syrian rebels issue demands for the release of captive UN troops. AP: "Syrian rebels have issued three demands for the release of 45 Fijian peacekeepers they've held captive for five days, Fiji's military commander said Tuesday. Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front wanted to be taken off the UN terrorist list, wanted humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wanted compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers.  Tikoitoga said the UN has sent hostage negotiators to Syria.

"The al-Nusra Front abducted the Fijian soldiers Thursday morning and was holding them at an unknown location. The rebels also surrounded two Filipino units serving in the UN mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel and Syria, but the Filipino troops escaped over the weekend." More here.

Germany agrees to arm Kurdish forces battling ISIS, the NYT's Alison Smale in Berlin, here.

FP's Elias Groll on how the Washington press corps became convinced that Obama was about to launch airstrikes in Syria last week, here.

Documents from Edward Snowden's archive reveal that Turkey is both NSA's target and partner. Der Spiegel's Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Michael Sontheimer and Holger Stark: "...Documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL and The Intercept have seen show just how deeply involved America has become in Turkey's fight against the Kurds. For a time, the NSA even delivered its Turkish partners with the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders on an hourly basis. The US government also provided the Turks with information about PKK money flows and the whereabouts of some of its leaders living in exile abroad.

"At the same time, the Snowden documents also show that Turkey is one of the United States' leading targets for spying. Documents show that the political leadership in Washington, DC, has tasked the NSA with divining Turkey's ‘leadership intention,' as well as monitoring its operations in 18 other key areas. This means that Germany's foreign intelligence service, which drew criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed it had been spying on Turkey, isn't the only secret service interested in keeping tabs on the government in Ankara." More here.

Three Americans in North Korea ask for help. AP's Eric Talmadge Pyongyang: "North Korea gave foreign media access on Monday to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and - watched by officials as they spoke - called for Washington to send a high-ranking representative to negotiate for their freedom. Jeffrey Fowle and Mathew Miller said they expect to face trial within a month. But they said they do not know what punishment they could face or what the specific charges against them are. Kenneth Bae, who already is serving a 15-year term, said his health has deteriorated at the labor camp where he works eight hours a day." More here.

Ukraine accuses Russia of "undisguised aggression" as rebel forces advance. Reuters last night: "...In the latest in a string of setbacks in the past week, Ukraine's military said it had pulled back from defending a vital airport in the east of the country, near the city of Luhansk, where troops had been battling a Russian tank battalion.

"Poroshenko said in a speech there would be high-level personnel changes in the Ukrainian armed forces, whose troops fled a new rebel advance in the south which Kiev and its Western allies say has been backed up by Russian armored columns. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on Sunday for immediate negotiations on the "statehood" of southern and eastern Ukraine, blamed Kiev's leadership for refusing to enter into direct political talks with the separatists." More here.

On the frontlines of the new offensive in eastern Ukraine, the hardcore Azov Battalion is ready for battle with Russia. But they're not fighting for Europe, either. Alec Luhn in Ukraine for FP, here.

Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with a F-35 scoop: "United Technologies Corp. (UTX)'s Pratt & Whitney unit said it suspended delivery of engines for the F-35 jet, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program, over concern that a supplier may have provided ‘suspect' titanium." Full story here.

Smaller military hospitals are said to put patients at risk. The trickle of cases in smaller U.S. military hospitals put patients at risk and the Pentagon may curtail the system. The NYT's Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren on Page One, here.

The UAE's airstrikes in Libya represent a new and dangerous phase in its struggle with Qatar.  ECFR's Andrew Hammond for FP: "...The UAE-Egyptian intervention in Libya is yet another example of the Gulf states' newfound assertiveness, which now displays only secondary regard for American concerns. This represents a sea change in Middle Eastern politics: Ever since the Gulf states achieved their independence from the British, they have sought to project an image of their countries as trouble-free, depoliticized utopias, underwritten by the wealth accruing from energy resources. Iranian expansionism following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 began to disturb the calm waters, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia made huge military expenditures to deter potential Iranian attacks in the event of American or Israeli military action. 

"In the era of the uprisings, however, the fancy accouterments acquired by Gulf states have apparently found other purposes. They are now being used to put down internal dissent, as in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, or to advance the states' regional interests. As the acrimony with its Gulf neighbors worsened, Qatar announced in March a massive $23 billion arms purchase including massive orders of attack helicopters from Boeing and Airbus. The psychology of the Tripoli raid almost suggests it's Doha that Egypt and the UAE would really like to bomb." More here.

Peter Beinart for Ha'aretz on how Obama's Mideast strategy is about what Americans want - targeting terrorists. Read it here.

Meantime, NATO leaders face an expanding agenda at this week's NATO summit. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "This spring, US officials and policy experts were preparing for a typical NATO summit in Wales. The main focus of the summit was to be troop levels in Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama had set a timetable for the US military's withdrawal from Afghanistan. The focus of the summit in September was supposed to be about how to keep alliance members engaged, and more importantly, increasing defense spending.

"But since then, an explosion of global events has altered the security landscape and thus the agenda for the summit. Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. Now NATO officials say Russia has sent troops into eastern Ukraine and is assisting anti-Kiev fighters in that region.

"Meanwhile, Islamic State fighters have moved from Syria into northern Iraq where they have captured numerous cities. Islamist militants have been fighting for control of Libya." More here.

Afghanistan is expected to send its defense minister - but not president - to the NATO summit. Reuters' Adrian Croft, here.

Afghan Army killings threaten U.S. aid - The Daily Beast's Kim Dozier this morning, here.

Former deputy director of the CIA John McLaughlin writes on the NATO summit about how NATO may not be up to looking Putin in the eyes and seeing his soul. Read it on Ozy, ("smarter,fresher, different") here.

CNAS releases a report today on what incoming Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who begins Oct. 1, must do. The Center for a New American Security's Jacob Stokes, Julianne Smith, Nora Bensahel and Dave Barno provide new policy recommendations for the new SecGen, including how he should address NATO's response to Russian aggression, military capabilities, crisis management in the Middle East and Arctic security. Read it all here.

NATO weighs a rapid response force for Eastern Europe. The NYT's Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Steven Erlanger on Page One: "As Ukrainian leaders warned on Monday of "a great war" with Russia, NATO leaders meeting in Wales this week were expected to endorse their most concrete response yet to increased Russian military intervention in Ukraine: establishing a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying quickly to Eastern Europe, officials of the alliance said.

"The new force of some 4,000 troops, capable of moving on 48 hours' notice, will be supported with logistics and equipment pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia, with an upgraded schedule of military exercises and deployments that are intended to make NATO's commitment of collective defense more credible and enhance its deterrence." More here.

POTUS visits Estonia before attending the NATO summit. The WSJ's Colleen McCain Nelson: "President Barack Obama will travel to Estonia this week intending to reassure the region, rattled by Russia's incursion into Ukraine, that NATO remains committed to defending its Baltic members.

Charles Kupchan, the White House's senior director for European affairs: "Russia, don't even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way that you have been messing around in Ukraine."

"Mr. Obama's travels to Estonia and the NATO summit are a two-pronged approach to convey to the Russians that their behavior is unacceptable, Mr. Kupchan said Friday. So far, though, Mr. Putin appears to be undaunted by Washington's warnings and not dissuaded by a series of sanctions." More here.