National Security

Big Army goes SF

AID sends William Hammink to Afghanistan, What $71 million to DynCorp paid for, Panetta: Benghazi was too risky for U.S. forces, The Brits are the bomb, and more.

The Army is getting culturally attuned. Recent worry about al Qaeda's increasing impact in the Maghreb gives lift to the Army's effort to create "regionalized-aligned brigades" that are specifically trained for certain areas and can carry out missions in those theaters armed with at least basic levels of language and cultural awareness. Sometime this year, the Army's 2-1 brigade combat team will be fully trained and ready to be used in the U.S. AFRICOM theater of operations. Soldiers will have received only six weeks of language and cultural training, but they will be better prepared for any kind of operation -- from five-man train-and-equip missions to larger battalion-level exercises.

"I think what we want to make sure is that they're much more culturally attuned to the area they're going to," an Army official working on the initiative, told Situation Report. "I think that is an important part, and it's certainly something that 12 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted to us, that you've got to understand the culture within which you operate. If you don't, it does come with potentially cataclysmic problems."

For more on this, read below.

A deadly attack at a mosque in Faryab province in Afghanistan brought condemnation from Gen. John Allen this morning, who said the attack, which killed or injured dozens of Afghans, is an "affront to human life, to religious devotion and to the peaceful aspirations" of all Afghans. "This violence undertaken at a place of worship, and during Eid, once again shows the insurgency's callous hypocrisy and disregard for religion and faith." 

The oft-used term "perfect storm" usually has nothing to do with the weather. But today forecasters fear Hurricane Sandy (a.k.a. "Frankenstorm,") could rival the perfect storm of 1991 and the combination of Sandy and a winter storm from the west could be hitting the East Coast by early next week.

Tracking Sandy:

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we're battening down the hatches and chaining the scooter to a tree. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

Bill Hammink will be the new chief of mission for USAID's Afghanistan program, we've learned. He'll begin next summer and take over from Ken Yamashita. USAID had struggled to find a replacement for Yamashita but in Hammink found someone who's the kind of person AID would have wanted, one official told Situation Report. Hammink has been mission director in India.

What $71 million pays for: SIGAR says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to address serious construction flaws at an ANA base in Afghanistan and let contractor DynCorp off the hook -- even after SIGAR pointed the flaws out two years ago. The Camp Pamir garrison in Kunduz province was cited in 2010 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction as being at risk of structural failure because of poor site grading and "serious stability issues." In March of this year, SIGAR revisited the garrison, finding more structural failures, improper grading, and new sink holes, according to a new SIGAR report out yesterday. "Despite the unsatisfactory performance of the contractor, DynCorp, [the Corps of Engineers] released DynCorp from further contractual liability..."

SIGAR report (including pictures of buildings cracked in half):

Panetta said there was not enough "real-time information" to deploy forces to Benghazi at the time of the Sept. 11 attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. There is a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" with regard to Libya, Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon presser yesterday. "We were prepared to respond to any contingency and certainly had forces in place to do that. But the basic principle here is you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who is on the ground, or in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey, and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation."

Read E-Ring's Kevin Baron:

Those crazy Brits: running in Sunday's Marine Corps marathon will be a U.K. bomb disposal team. We hear that 27 British Army servicemen and -women will compete in Sunday's marathon and one of them will be running in a protective bomb disposal suit. The group will be raising funds and awareness for soldiers wounded in the course of their duties as bomb disposal experts -- the people who face mortality every time they do their job. Major Lain Church will try to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon time while wearing the 75-pound protective suit. Current record: 7:06:37, held by Cpl. Dan Skelly, also of the British EOD. Prince Harry: "Running a marathon is challenging enough. Doing it in a 75lb protective bomb disposal suit simply beggars belief, and just further illustrates the superb qualities of the men and women who serve so selflessly in bomb disposal."

The Army gets culturally attuned, con't. It's obvious to anyone watching that the Army is going through a transformation, figuring out how to position itself for the next era of warfare -- whatever that is. The pivot to Asia gives it additional missions, but for the most part, the service, one Army official told Situation Report, will be largely based in the U.S. for the first time in a hundred years, apart from bases in Europe and Asia. That's where it can refocus intellectual and training energy on the places where it may be called to deploy -- in small forces and in large. "Building partnership capacity" will become an increasing buzz-phrase for the Army -- indeed the military overall. Creating regionalized brigades is a "sourcing solution" that makes those units more geographically relevant when the combatant commanders need them to deploy. "We want them to be globally-available for contingency operations, so they have to be decisive-action trained - defense, offense and stability operations, but we also want them to be regionally and culturally-sensitive," " the Army official told Situation Report.

The Army official acknowledged that training junior soldiers in cultural awareness and some language training will be "quite a challenge," but stressed that it would focus on basics. There would be a higher level of learning for senior leaders, he said.

"I think we would have an expectation that our senior leaders within the brigade would be relatively proficient," he said. "But I think we have to be realistic about proficiency among some of our junior soldiers."

The first regionally aligned brigade will support AFRICOM, which has seen its missions increase dramatically, from 190 in fiscal year 2011 to 322 in fiscal year 2013. Missions run from sending five soldiers to build a firing range to battalion-level exercises -- efforts that build capacity in nations with which the U.S. wants strong relationships. Indeed, Secretary Panetta said this week that the U.S. military might play a supporting role for now in hunting al Qaeda in northern Mali.

But there is some fear that "Big Army" is getting too specialized, and, among the Green Beret community, there is resistance to the idea.

Roger Carstens, a former Special Forces officer, told Situation Report that he thinks the idea of cultural awareness for soldiers isn't necessarily a bad idea. But in Africa, Carstens doesn't believe there is demand for a large Army presence, and he compared the new U.S. effort to using a jackhammer to build a house when a regular hammer will do a more effective job -- and less expensively.

"African countries in Maghreb are a little concerned about a big American footprint," said Carstens, in a phone interview from Somalia, where he is conducting research. "What they would probably like is a small footprint where the hand of the U.S. is really not seen: low-cost, behind-the-scenes, discreet, so the leaders don't have to apologize for the U.S. -- maybe some Green Berets sleeping in the dirt with their soldiers."

The lesson learned from the last 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carstens says, is that the U.S. Army has trouble with nuance. "Americans are going to demand air conditioning, helicopter pads, the ‘golden hour,' medical, and Baskin Robbins," Carstens says. "They just can't do small."

Carstens sees the effort as a defense against congressional scrutiny: "Is there a demand signal, or is the American Army asking for this because they are about to get their balls cut off?" Carstens said. "The Army is running scared right now because they see the budget axe coming."

Not everyone sees it that way. Teaching soldiers basic cultural awareness -- like what it means to hold up your hand, which, in some cultures can have distinctly different meanings -- makes sense. "The ultimate argument for cultural training is the hand argument," a former soldier who served in the special operations community told Situation Report. "I can't imagine that it would be unhelpful for a BCT to have language and cultural awareness where they go into theater."

And the former soldier did not see the move as a threat to Special Forces. "My sense is policymakers will use Special Forces wherever they can," he said.

Read Carstens' piece on FP on what it takes to stand up special forces in Libya.

The Politics of Defense

  • Early Warning (blog) Thompson: Defense and politics: How Obama hobbled himself in the swing states.
  • Politico (comment) Meeks: Romney's hollow argument on Pentagon cuts.

Droning On


The Pivot


Situation Report

Panetta: al Qaeda in Mali has to be stopped

The Army’s green movement, Dakota Meyer on being told “no,” and more.

By Gordon Lubold

Leon Panetta believes the U.S. and its partners have to go after al-Qaeda wherever it lives -- including Mali. But that doesn't mean it will send troops there; it has to be a joint effort with local governments, Panetta said yesterday at the Pentagon. Panetta: "we have to ensure that al Qaeda has no place to hide and that we have to continue to go after them wherever -- wherever they are, wherever they try to develop a command-and-control capability from which they could conduct attacks, either in Europe or on this country," he told reporters. "I believe the effort now ought to be to work with nations in that region to ensure that al Qaeda does not develop that kind of base in Mali. But it ought to be an effort that is developed in conjunction with other countries in the region that share the same concern."

Mali may need 3,200 troops to fight al Qaeda in the north. The African Union pledged to mobilize troops to fight Islamic radicals in Mali's north and is writing a "final operational plan" for the African-led force to be completed by the end of the month. But the numbers of troops needed is high, and preparing those troops and actually sending them there to begin the offensive might not happen for many more months.

Meanwhile, It's no longer enough to train soldiers to have strong leadership and combat skills. They now need to be "good power and energy managers." The Army is changing the way it thinks about energy use in war and at home to save money and, ultimately, to mitigate the perils soldiers face in the field. From insulating tents to ending the practice of obsessively changing flashlight batteries, the Army is seeing the (green) light, officials tell Situation Report.

Across the military, officials have been mandated to come up with more sustainable weapon and mobility systems that meet higher energy-use standards and slowly, gradually force the military into using less energy. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has pushed the idea of creating "the Great Green Fleet," using bio-fuels to fuel ships. That effort has had mixed results, in part because Congress remains dubious about the investment it will take for the military to create more sustainable systems. Indeed, the up-front costs are high, but there is increasing acceptance in the military that it has to change the way it thinks about energy. In the long run, the bill payers are paying either way.

"It's pay me now, or pay me later," says Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, the Army's top logistician.

More on the Army's green movement below.

MOH recipient Dakota Meyer, the former Marine sergeant, describing what he did during the firefight of Ganjgal in 2009 on Jon Stewart last night after not getting the response he needed from higher-ups and acting on his own: "Finally we just [went in] because it's simple. We were taught obedience to orders, but I can tell you what we're taught more importantly is a brotherhood, and it's about doing what's right..."

On that day: "You take your worst day you could ever imagine, then multiply it by a million, and it's just like, we just started laughing."

On working autonomously: "It's so frustrating for us over there because you've got a guy like me that's on the ground... if you're going to send me out on a patrol and you're going to trust me enough to go on a patrol without you coming with me, then let me make my own decisions, and if you're not there, then if you want to make the decision, then how about you get up and get on the patrol with me because you'll make a different decision when you're getting shot at then you would sitting in a room drinking coffee."

Meyer's new book, "Into the Fire," was written with Bing West, the author and former assistant secretary of defense.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

Who said what? Read 15 statements on foreign policy and national security and figure out if Romney said it or Obama did.

Tara Napier, formerly of the Pentagon's Office of Public Affairs and longtime assistant to Geoff Morrell, is on leave from her job at BP doing press for the Romney campaign.

The pre-election reticence continues. It's increasingly clear around Washington and the Pentagon that no one is saying much of anything just days ahead of the election. For some Washington hands, that elicits a big "Duh:" of course it's a dumb time for anyone to say anything unless they want it construed politically. But even some of the most innocuous of queries are still being back-burnered. This year is probably no different than any other year or administration. But one individual joked that the "unconstipation" would begin sometime soon (i.e., after Nov. 6). Which is why expectations are low for the press conference today at the Pentagon with Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey. No word on what if anything they may say, but there is plenty going on in the world: Syria, Lebanon, Mali, the "disposition matrix," Afghanistan...

It takes five years to train a cyber-warrior to conduct "high-end offensive" cyber operations for the Army and its military intelligence brigade, a top Army intel official said, reports Killer Apps' John Reed. The brigade is a "custom-made cyber warfare unit" at Fort Meade, Md. and Fort Gordon, Ga. to conduct what Reed says are some of the most sophisticated cyber operations around the world. Their work is described as defensive -- but they are supposed to hunt down enemy hackers and develop cyber weapons to use against a "host of online targets."

The Army's green movement, con't.

The costs of moving to sustainable energy across the military are high. And it's unclear how interested Congress is in long-term savings when there is so much talk of fiscal cliffs and sequestration. But if nothing else, the military is changing its approach, even in small ways.

Vehicles need to be more economical. Tents need to have a greater "R value" for insulation, and the one-generator-a-tent approach is over.

It all makes sense, Mason said during a panel discussion at AUSA this week.

"You'll consume less fuel, which requires less fuel trucks on the battlefield, which requires less maintenance to fix those trucks, which reduces exposure to those soldiers on those lines of communications to [improvised explosive devices]," he said.

AUSA this week was full of vendors trying to sell big trucks, personal equipment for soldiers, and other combat systems -- some of which use green technologies. But they are typically more expensive, and it means the Army has to consider paying more for some of those systems as it attempts to make a transition to greener technologies. In the end, though, the costs are neutral, Mason said.

"You can invest up front in some energy saving technologies... but the amount of money it's going to save you and resources it's going to save over the life of that weapon system is going to be incredible."

It's hard to say how much the military can save because energy costs fluctuate so dramatically says, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack.

"Fuel cost is an uncontrollable expense, it is subject to what is going on in the global environment, what is going on in different parts of the world, it has to do with logistics on a grand scale of oil around the world, so expense is something that is uncontrollable," she said. "So the better focus we have on our consumption, that's the only way we have to control our budget."

The Army's green movement is already underway in Afghanistan, and it will continue there through 2014, when combat forces are expected to be completely out of the country. That is enough time to reduce some exposure to the dangers troops face in the field by making operations more sustainable, officials said. For example, the Army is looking at installing more efficient generators and hooking them together instead of simply putting one next to each tent or building -- and then adding solar panels and other sustainable energy systems where possible.

"2014 means we still have another 27 months that we're going to be fighting in Afghanistan. I mean the war is not over, and combat operations haven't ceased," she told Situation Report in an interview yesterday. "So since we're going to be there for awhile, if something has a return on investment in six months and we've scheduled it for closure 18 months out, that makes sense."

Hammack is a mechanical engineer by trade who is now the primary adviser on energy security and management to Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

How Hammack got the job: She was at an airport when the White House called and said, in effect, "Your country needs you." She had to hop on a plane but called WH personnel people back afterward. She started at the Pentagon in the summer of 2010.

The thing that surprised Hammack the most about working within the Army: She lost her first name. She is now, she says jokingly, "ma'am," not "Katherine."

Her bio:




The Pivot