This morning, Canada will announce an extension for one year to its military mission against the Islamic State – and expand it to include airstrikes. The AP: “…Canada has 69 special forces soldiers training Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. They were sent last September on a mission that was billed as noncombat with the troops supposed to be working far behind the front lines.
“But the Canadian soldiers have been helping the Kurdish forces by directing coalition airstrikes against Islamic State fighters, a role generally considered risky because it means they are close to the battle against the militants.” More here.
New revenue for ISIS: Militants in Iraq are siphoning state pay from Iraqi government workers. The WSJ’s Damien Paletta and Adam Entous: “Islamic State militants are skimming tens of millions of dollars a month from salaries paid to Iraqi government employees in occupied areas such as Mosul, and Baghdad continues to send the cash to maintain local support.
“The group is using the money to fund operations, U.S. officials say, underlining the delicate balancing act U.S. and Iraqi governments face in what they know is a hearts-and-minds campaign against Islamic State ahead of a military operation to retake Mosul, for which U.S. officials are training Iraqi troops.
“U.S. defense officials say U.S.-led strikes have put pressure on Islamic State, hurting its command-and-control operations, but they remain cautious about the near-term prospects of retaking Mosul and other territory under the group’s firm control.
No good choices: “…In debating how to proceed, U.S. officials have weighed a choice with two bad options. If they intervene and try to direct the Iraqi government to stop paying certain employees so as to prevent Islamic State from stealing a portion of the money, they could prevent hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis in Mosul from receiving any pay and potentially trigger a humanitarian crisis.
“But if they don’t intervene, Islamic State could use the revenue to buy weapons and fortify the city against the expected siege by the U.S. and Iraqi militaries this spring...” Read the rest here.
Iraqi security forces have elected to “seal off” the remaining ISIS fighters in Tikrit in preparation for bigger battles expected to the west and the north. NYT’s Anne Barnard and Kareem Fahim in Baghdad: “‘We will secure Anbar first, and then move on to Nineveh,’ Iraq’s defense minister, Khaled al-Obeidi, told reporters recently. He added that new army troops were still training for Mosul, where Islamic State militants were constructing berms and trenches, preparing to ‘destroy the city to defend it.’” Read the rest here.
Why the ISIS “data dump” allegedly relating to 100 U.S. soldiers is no indication the military has been hacked. That from our own Patrick Tucker, who lays out the battlefield implications of “doxxing,” here.
Shortly after nuclear talks began with Iran last year, the White House learned Israel had been spying on the discussions with help from contacts in Europe. WSJ’s Adam Entous: “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.
“Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer early this year saw a rapidly closing window to increase pressure on Mr. Obama before a key deadline at the end of March, Israeli officials said. Using levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal. They knew the intervention would damage relations with the White House, Israeli officials said, but decided that was an acceptable cost.” More here.
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Afghanistan’s Ghani meets with President Obama in the cabinet room at 10:45 a.m.—with a joint press conference scheduled for 2:20 p.m. More below on what to expect from that highly-anticipated bilat.
Meantime: this may be the one time when troops want to be thanked for their service – when the Afghan president says it. Defense One’s Lubold: “As Ashraf Ghani pushes Barack Obama to keep more American troops in Afghanistan longer, the Afghan president is going out of his way to do something his predecessor could never do: thank the troops.
As soon as Ghani arrived in office late last year, he embarked on a campaign to ensure that top U.S. officials, including Obama, knew just how grateful his country was for the sacrifices of the 850,000-plus American troops who have served there since 2001. He continued his efforts on Monday, when he stopped by the Pentagon on his first official visit to Washington.
Here’s what Ghani said at the Pentagon yesterday morning: “I want to first pay tribute to more than 2,000, the exact number is 2,215, I believe, 2,215 Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice. To more than 20,000 American soldiers who have been wounded in action, but also to more than hundreds of thousand (ph) with double duties, close to a million American service men and women have gotten to know my country.
“You have been in the most remotest valleys, and the highest peaks, and the parched deserts, and beautiful valleys, but also in most demanding situations. Each one of you has left a legacy, but I also understand that Afghanistan has marked you.
“When you wake up at night, sometimes you're not sure whether you're back there or here, but what gratifies me as the president of Afghanistan is what I've had the honor to hear repeatedly from American veterans, I have left a piece of my heart in Afghanistan. Thank you.”
The U.S. is seeking billions in additional aid to Ghani’s Kabul government as it looks to keep up the hard-fought gains made rebuilding their security forces. WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: “Along with the pledge to ask Congress to extend financial support for Afghan forces—which could cost U.S. taxpayers $4 billion in 2017—Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the resumption of Afghanistan-U.S. military and political dialogues, as well as new spending restrictions for $800 million in American development funding that are meant to tamp down on corruption.
“A bigger decision is expected after White House meetings with Mr. Ghani on Tuesday, when President Barack Obama is expected to back a revised U.S. troop withdrawal plan that would keep more American forces in the country for a longer period than initially planned.” More here.
Reset! Obama and Ghani start anew with U.S.-Afghan relations. For War on the Rocks, Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel: “…Ghani is in many ways the anti-Karzai. As someone who was educated in the West, worked on development issues at the World Bank, and served as the minister of finance in the Afghan transitional government from 2002-2004, he represents everything Karzai is not – a practical Western technocrat with deep ties to the United States and international institutions.” More here.
Meantime, after that horrific beating death of a woman in Afghanistan, justice is sought. AP: “Hundreds marched Monday in Kabul, the Afghan capital, demanding justice for a woman beaten to death on Thursday by a mob over false allegations she had burned a Quran. The mob of men beat the woman, a religious scholar named Farkhunda, 27, threw her body off a roof, ran over it with a car, set it on fire and threw it into the Kabul River near one of Kabul’s most renowned mosques.
“She was buried amid a huge public outcry on Sunday, her coffin carried by women’s activists who defied the tradition of men-only pallbearers and funerals. Protesters who gathered Monday demanded that the government prosecute all those responsible for her death.
“The attack was captured by cellphone cameras and has been widely distributed on social media. Kabul’s police chief, Abdul Rahman Rahimi, said that 18 people had been arrested and that all had acknowledged their role in the killing.” The link to this item here.
And, CNN is claiming an exclusive on an alleged new ISIS recruiting video believed to have been filmed in Afghanistan. That, here.
Also, earlier today a U.S. drone strike killed 9 Pakistani militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, Reuters reports, here.
Sen. Ted Cruz kicked off of his 2016 presidential campaign at Liberty U., a place billed as the largest Christian university in the world. Defense One’s politics editor Molly O’Toole: “The timing of the Texas senator’s announcement was intended to preempt the upcoming April entrance of several of his key competitors, but it was leveled squarely at fellow freshman Sen. Rand Paul, Ky., his most direct Republican rival. Cruz’s long shot for the Republican nomination in what is already (if not officially) a crowded field hinges on his ability to best Paul as the grassroots conservative candidate.
“Cruz’s decision to be the first official candidate out of the gate reflects the basic calculus that top funders are already lining up behind competitors, although he’s unlikely ever to compete evenly with Jeb Bush’s money-raising juggernaut…” Read the rest, here.
When inter-service rivalry turns deadly. AP: “Trial is scheduled to begin Monday in the case of a 63-year-old man charged with slashing the throat of another man during a drunken argument over whether the Army or the Marines are the better military branch.
William Earl Cunningham is charged with deliberate homicide in the Aug. 2 death of 40-year-old Nathaniel Horn during an argument in Laurel. Court records say Cunningham, who served in the Army, had a 0.217 percent blood alcohol level less than two hours after the killing.” More here.
The WaPo Editorial Board this morning advises urgency and consensus on the part of lawmakers toward boosting U.S. defense spending. That, here.
Pentagon leaders are raising their voices about the importance of the nuclear triad—a largely secretive subject not frequently elaborated upon—to America’s defense. Defense One’s own Marcus Weisgerber, here.
Meanwhile, the Marines are sitting on about $2 billion in unfunded requirements from the Pentagon’s FY16 budget request. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio and Roxana Tiron, here.
A new voice in the A-10 debate: Chuck Norris. Stephen Losey for Air Force Times, who reminds us also that Norris is hawking A-10 merch at his online store to benefit a charity: “Norris disputed [Air Combat Command] chief Gen. Herbert ‘Hawk’ Carlisle's conclusion that the Warthog must be replaced because ‘those airplanes are gonna wear out.’ ‘But that statement is true of every airplane in existence, and even the sun!’ Norris said. ‘The question is: Is the fleet of A-10s ready for retirement? I just celebrated my 75th birthday, but I'm nowhere near ready to head to the scrapheap. Some things improve with age, and the A-10 has done just that, too.’” The rest from Losey, here. For Norris’ op-ed, go here.
Andrew Bacevich is arguing that national security experts are “bullshitting us into another quagmire” and he takes aim at folks like Ken Pollack, Robert Kagan and Mike O’Hanlon. Bacevich: “…So on his second day in office, for example, he dined with Kenneth Pollack, Michael O’Hanlon and Robert Kagan, ranking national insecurity intellectuals and old Washington hands one and all.
Besides all being employees of the Brookings Institution, the three share the distinction of having supported the Iraq War back in 2003 and calling for redoubling efforts against Islamic State today. For assurances that the fundamental orientation of U.S. policy is sound — we just need to try harder — who better to consult than Pollack, O’Hanlon and Kagan (any Kagan)?”
Bacevich’s kicker: “…Let me propose an experiment. Put them on furlough. Not permanently — just until the last of the winter snow finally melts in New England. Send them back to Yale for reeducation. Let’s see if we are able to make do without them even for a month or two.
Who’s doing what today? Kabul’s Ghani and Abdullah duo his up breakfast with VP Biden before laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 9 a.m. … the Senate Armed Services Committee talks Middle East policy at 9:30 a.m. (deets here)… Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft talks budget with the House Appropriations’ Homeland Security subcommittee at 10 a.m. (stream live here).
Also today: Strategic Command’s Adm. Cecil Haney briefs the Pentagon at 1:30 p.m. … a half-hour later, Brookings’ Will McCants talks ISIS to mark the launch of a new book by J.M. Berger and Jessica Stern. More on that one, here… and the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program Director, Adm. John Richardson, talks budget with the House Armed Services Committee at 3:30 p.m. Full line-up for that one, here.
The governor on Okinawa stops work on a U.S. airfield. The NYT’s Jonathan Soble: “The governor of Okinawa ordered the suspension of work on a new American military airfield on Monday, escalating a confrontation with the central government. Officials in Tokyo said they would ignore his order and continue preparations for the project.
Construction of the airfield at Camp Schwab, a Marine Corps base near the village of Henoko, has been delayed for years by local opposition. Among other issues, parts of the two planned runways would jut into the coral-filled waters of Oura Bay.
“…The United States has had an extensive military presence on the island since 1945, including an airfield at Futenma that has become surrounded by dense residential developments over the years. The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 to relocate the base, but to the frustration of officials in Washington, local frictions about environmental and other concerns have caused repeated delays and changes of plan.” Read the rest here.
In the meantime, invite Iraq and Afghanistan War vets to consider how best to deal with Islamic State. Turn the op-ed pages of major newspapers over to high school social studies teachers. Book English majors from the Big 10 on the Sunday talk shows. Who knows what tidbits of wisdom might turn up?” More here.
Iraq War vet and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst devoted almost the entirety of her first floor speech to addressing the needs of veterans as she unveiled legislation to improve their access to mental health care. USA Today’s Christopher Doering, here.
And the Chief Investigator at the Oklahoma VA was revealed to have in fact been an ex-con who lied about having once been a police officer. That from Oklahoma’s KFOR-TV, here.