National Security

Watchdog SIGAR blasts the ANSF

What Karzai’s election announcement means, Did the F-35 father a new Chinese baby? and more.

SIGAR issued a blistering report on the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces to sustain themselves. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction charged that Afghan forces aren't able to conduct operation and maintenance work because they have too few personnel to perform those duties and because many of the personnel they do have are unskilled -- and some can't even read. The group cited "undeveloped" budgeting, procurement, and logistics systems and said that only about 40 percent of critical ANSF sustainment jobs were filled.

"The ANSF lacks personnel with the technical skills required to operate and maintain critical facilities, such as water supply, waste water treatment and power generation," the report said.

The report was less about wrongdoing than about the need find ways to take the training wheels off quicker. And if professionals talk logistics, as we always hear, then SIGAR is on to something, holding the ISAF training mission's feet to the fire to make sure it stays focused on building all aspects of the security forces' required capabilities.

The NATO training mission and the Pentagon have shared many of these broad concerns for a long time as the security transition in 2014 looms. Indeed, creating sustainable security forces is a cornerstone to U.S. and international strategy in Afghanistan. But the SIGAR report, which looks at specific sustainability issues within the ANSF, creates a to-do list for the ISAF training mission.

The Pentagon's Cmdr. Bill Speaks on the report: "Our mission is to make sure that Afghan National Security Forces are able to sustain their facilities after 2014. We welcome periodic audits that identify problems and obstacles to achieving that goal, and we will certainly make all necessary adjustments to our training to ensure we meet that goal."

Read the full report:

Clinton calls for the building of a new Syrian opposition. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian National Council can no longer be the "visible leader of the opposition," during a stop in Croatia. "They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard," Clinton said, as reported by The Cable's Josh Rogin on FP. Clinton acknowledged yesterday that the U.S. has been working to establish a new council to represent the Syrian opposition, the form of which will be unveiled at a conference next week in Qatar, Rogin reports. A senior administration official told The Cable: "We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress."

According to the latest Pew poll, Obama would make better foreign policy decisions. Fifty percent of respondents said Obama would make better foreign policy decisions over 42 percent who said Romney would. Answers to that question for Obama are up three points from mid-October (47 percent), but down three points from mid-September (53); answers to the question for Romney are down one point from mid-October (43) but up four points from mid-September (38).

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where the election can't come fast enough. 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.

The announcement that Karzai would allow elections in 2014 was welcome news to the international community but it's not necessarily what it seems. As focus intensifies on the security transition expected to take place in 2014, many Afghan hands have lamented the lack of attention to the political transition that is supposed to take place then as well. According to the Afghan constitution, elections has to take place in 2014 and President Hamid Karzai must step down. There had been doubt that he would follow through -- thus requiring the constitution to be rewritten -- but those fears have largely abated. The concern now is that Karzai will essentially pick a successor and the elections will be rigged. This could widen fissures between a number of political, ethnic and tribal groups and raise legitimate fears of civil war. This week, media reports said Karzai had set elections for April 2014, but Scott Smith, a former U.N. official who is now at the United States Institute of Peace, pointed out to Situation Report that it was the International Election Commission, not Karzai, that made the announcement. In fact, Karzai doesn't have the power to set elections himself, only the Constitution dictates that.

Regardless, the move is a positive sign, he said. "This is not necessarily a sign that Karzai will allow free and fair elections, but it should make those who insist that he will not [allow them] to think twice," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "I think that it is fully within the realm of possibility that among the options Karzai is considering, having elections that allow a stable transfer of power is one of them."

There is increasing pressure for the U.S. to do more to facilitate an election that will be seen as legitimate by the Afghan people as the U.S. military walks out the door. Sensing the strategic failure rigged elections -- or no elections -- could bring, American military officials have been quietly pushing for more action on political transition. Afghan elites, too, want the U.S. to be more forceful when it comes to Afghan elections. But the State Department, citing Afghan sovereignty, has been slow to get involved. And officially, the prevailing view is that the American role should only be to help secure polling stations for a safe, clean, and fair election.

Many believe this is Karzai's moment, in which he can become the father of modern Afghanistan. Although when it comes to Afghanistan there are always pessimists, the head of the International Crisis Group believes Karzai can forge a path to strong and credible elections. "But talking about it is not enough," wrote Louise Arbour in a recent op-ed. "The country's leadership has to act."

If the grainy images are to be believed, China is flying its newest stealth fighter. Military blogs in China claim that the Chinese military is flying its new J-31 fighter, built by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. That makes two new fighters, in addition to the Chengdu J-20, that China has unveiled in the last two years, reports Killer Apps' John Reed. There are numerous pictures of the J-20, which, for some reason, Chinese bloggers were allowed to photograph. But there have been far fewer images of the new J-31. Reed: "While there is no proof that China's latest stealth fighter stole design specifications from American stealth fighter projects, the rear portions of aircraft blatantly copy the design of Lockheed Martin's F-22 while forward sections of the jet look an awful lot like an F-35." (Remember that the F-35 program suffered a massive cyber intrusion some years ago, and thieves took reams of data about the plane.)

Is the Pentagon getting dumber? It cut $3 billion from its intelligence budget last year, spending $21 billion instead of the $24 billion it spent the year before. Why? Fiscal constraint. The Pentagon's Lt. Col. Jim Gregory told the E-ring's Kevin Baron that the cuts "reflect the secretary's priorities in light of the fiscal challenges before us."

Reports that a North Korean general was executed by mortars have a ring of truth, but as we reported last week, DPRK officials rumored to have been killed have a habit of showing up again. Supposedly, a deputy defense minister by the name of Kim Chol was rounded up for drinking liquor with a female colleague in violation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's warning not to engage in "singing, or dancing, merrymaking or recreation" after the death of Kim Jong Il. Then, reports of his death by firing squad emerged. But Michael Madden writes on FP: "The Kim Chol story first appeared in South Korean media in March; its reappearance, and the trivial reason cited for his execution, suggests it originated from gossip. It also suggests that rumors of his fate may have been intentionally circulated to warn ambitious members of the military not to challenge the authority of the new leadership."


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The Battle for Resiliency in Asia: it’s the hardeners versus the dispersers

Dempsey returns from Israel; How many FSOs one Osprey could buy, and more.

It's not yet clear the Obama administration is going to put its money where its mouth is on the pivot to Asia. One example of that fear may be found in the outcome of the debate on basing in Asia that is now being waged inside the Pentagon. As the military rebalances its personnel, assets and resources to the East, it's focused on "resilience" and what it will cost to achieve it. But for all the talk of the pivot, it's not clear the resources are there to back it up.

"It just seems as though it's a big change but doesn't amount to a big bill," Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute told Situation Report. "It's mostly words." Read more below.

Dempsey is returning from Tel Aviv. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Marty Dempsey, visited Israel and saw the "Austere Challenge 12" exercise in which the U.S. played a prominent role. Dempsey toured different exercise sites, visited an Israeli air base, and met with both American and Israeli personnel participating in the exercise. He also visited an Iron Dome air defense system with Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz of the IDF. Dempsey didn't take reporters with him, and no one is under the illusion that Dempsey would want to make news on Israel days before the presidential election at home. Dempsey's spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, told Situation Report this morning that Dempsey and Gantz "shared thoughts on regional security issues and missile defense capabilities" and discussed the threats facing Israel from rockets and missiles, Iran, and instability in neighboring Syria.

Lapan: "The visits gave General Dempsey a first-hand look at some of the missile defense capabilities. Iron Dome is a successful program in which the U.S. has assisted with Israel's defense and Austere Challenge is a large-scale, combined exercise designed to test the abilities of the two countries' armed forces to defend Israel against rocket and missile attacks from anywhere in the region."

Yeshiva World News report:

Meanwhile, there are more than 11,500 National Guard forces on active duty or in the process of activating across 13 states, as first responders and FEMA work in the aftermath of Sandy. This includes forces from DC, Maine, and West Virginia. One of the hardest hit areas was in Hoboken, NJ, where flooding has trapped some city residents who are in need of evacuation and supplies. The Guard arrived there late last night, according to the Hoboken Patch.

Welcome to Wednesday's Halloween edition of Situation Report, where the only scary thing in our world today is deadline. 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.

CNA's Henry Gaffney, Jr. doesn't like all the warmongering and didn't like John Arquilla's piece on FP. Arquilla used Obama's comment in the last debate about how military strategy isn't like the board game "Battleship" as a peg to explain how military strategy actually does resemble the game. Gaffney worries about the "war-mongers in our midst" who fear their professions will be threatened without the prospect of war. Gaffney, who spent 28 years at the Pentagon and is now at the CNA, responds: "So John Arquilla says, ‘Sea wars have become far more cat-and-mouse matters, whose outcomes have become critically dependent on the need to see the enemy first.' I wonder what sea wars of the past he has in mind? And aren't we now decades past from Jutland and Leyte Gulf? And what sea wars of the present does he have in mind? It looks like Arquilla and the rest of the benighted U.S. defense community is all anxious about the great sea war with China, having nothing else to dream up war for.  Self-fulfilling prophecy? I hope not. Poor China! They go to war, they would be committing economic suicide given their dependence on sea traffic to get their oil and distribute their goods, all for the sake of grabbing a few rocks in their adjacent seas. Luckily, it is now said in the U.S. that Air-Sea Battle has nothing to do with China. I'm relieved." Read Arquilla's piece here:

Today the Center for American Progress releases a report on the need to create a "unified budget" for national security and foreign policy. "The members of our Task Force agree with the near-universal consensus that sequestration is more about political maneuvering than sound budgeting practice," members of the task force wrote. "But we argue that the amount of cuts to the Pentagon budget mandated by both parts of the debt deal is readily achievable with no sacrifice to our security if the cuts are done in a thoughtful manner over the next decade." The task force also thinks the savings in the American defense budget should be "redeployed" to other parts of the government -- largely to non-military programs -- that help the country and its homeland "prevent global crises from escalating into military confrontations." Unifying the security budget, the task force says, creates a better balance among all "security tools."

Quick trade-offs, per by the task force: Instead of using $75 billion to absorb cost overruns of weapons in development, spend the money to protect the international affairs budget and have $23 billion left over; instead of spending $5 billion to maintain spending on military R&D commit funds to deficit reduction; instead of spending $90 million to buy one V-22 Osprey, implement programs to train foreign service officers and diplomats for better cooperation with international organizations; and instead of spending $15 billion to finance "systemic inefficiencies" in the military's healthcare system (excluding cost of caring for injured or disabled vets, which is separate), fund 95 percent of the Department of Transportation's investment in clean fuels R&D, green emissions technologies and sustainable transportation projects. One more: Instead of $2.6 billion for one Virginia Class sub, fully fund the White House's commitment to fund international peacekeeping forces - and have $500 million left over.

The report went live at 7a.m.:

Since we missed it, maybe you did too: the powerful image of soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington, apparently taken as Sandy bore down, went viral. But it was actually taken in September, Poynter reported Monday afternoon. That said, soldiers do guard the tomb under extreme conditions unless it gets unsafe and, Tribune reported, appeared to stay on post through most if not all of the storm -- as they've done since 1948.

The pivot, and the hardeners versus the dispersers, con't.

There are two camps in the Pentagon debate over how to pivot to Asia: the hardeners and the dispersers. Dispersers believe the best way to foil China is to locate assets and personnel across many bases or temporary platforms around the region; hardeners thinks existing bases should be strengthened to make them sturdy enough to weather an attack -- and recover quickly to sustain fighting.

As talk of the end of the Afghanistan war grows louder, there is little enthusiasm among Americans for building up bases and deploying assets to another part of the world. Indeed, the lack of political motivation to take the pivot seriously may well jeopardize Pentagon plans to establish strategic footholds in the region to counter a rising China. Yet it is, apparently, the focus of effort for planners in the Pentagon who have been charged to pivot east.

Some believe there are few good options, even between hardening bases versus dispersing them, as there are few places to which to disperse and little hardening capability that could make a difference if China were to attack.

Hardening, say, bases on Guam means spending billions of dollars to build or expand runways and create the ability to quickly repair facilities once they are hit, as well as building bunkers or other hard facilities in which to store bombers like the B-1 and -2 and fighters like F-15s, -16s and -22s and -35s.

That means real money, and so far there isn't a sign of that coming. While the Navy largely appears to be well budgeted for the pivot, and, under a President Romney, would get funding for more ships and facilities -- the Air Force isn't likely to see funding levels increase dramatically even with the pivot.

Dispersing forces -- and relying on partnerships with countries like Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia with which the U.S. could co-locate with much smaller footprints -- could place American assets further from harm's way. It could also be far cheaper and create a more effective strategic effect against China if it were to become a real adversary. By creating a presence across a region in many, smaller places, American assets could be more effective in countering China if it were to become a real adversary.

Those arguments sound appealing at a time of a budgetary squeeze and leave little enthusiasm to harden U.S. bases.

"When you talk about basing, that money will be hard to find," one military officer in the Pentagon familiar with the debate said. Spurring Congress to "put money overseas" doesn't have the constituency it needs, the officer said. "There are no champions for it."

Even among those who do advocate for hardening bases, there is recognition that hardening will help only so much.

"The fact of the matter is, against an enemy with good, long-range capabilities, we can't harden our bases enough," says Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. "We just can't do it, and it would cost a lot of money."

Dispersing and diversifying, has the added benefit of expanding American partnerships and creating a stronger alliance across the region, he says.

In the end, Pentagon planners -- and budgeters -- will have to achieve a balanced approach between basing and dispersal, he says. "Precision targeting relies on precision intelligence," he told Situation Report. "If you can blind your adversary so they can't form an accurate picture of the battle space, then you have a significant advantage."

A "diversified base posture" allows the U.S. to play a "shell game" with its forces, creating confusion among the Chinese about whether those forces are in hard targets or dispersed among many softer ones.

Noted: Loren Thompson will vote for Obama, but not because of his positions on foreign policy or national security. Romney is better from those standpoints, he says.

Celebrating Guns

  • Al-Jazeera: Wedding gunfire brings down power lines, starts fire, electrocutes 22 in Saudi Arabia.


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