National Security

New documents from Benghazi show pointed concern

Marines are so littoral, The Navy tries its hand at motorboat drones, The “red herring” of the military vote, What would make Stan McChrystal cringe, and more.

The Benghazi attack stays in the news because the story keeps unfolding. This morning there are new details from an exclusive FP report about documents and personal items found at the site of the "diplomatic mission" in Benghazi that suggest the degree to which American personnel were concerned about security that day. Two reporters who visited the site six weeks after the assault found papers apparently showing that American personnel were concerned about a Libyan police officer watching the compound the day of the attack.

"...two unsigned draft letters are both dated Sept. 11 and express strong fears about the security situation at the compound on what would turn out to be a tragic day. They also indicate that Stevens and his team had officially requested additional security at the Benghazi compound for his visit -- and that they apparently did not feel it was being provided," write reporters Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa.

Issa and Chaffetz want answers on the documents revealed in the FP story, the Cable's Josh Rogin reports.

Now Petraeus is beginning to feel the heat from Benghazi. The CIA played a much more pivotal role than previously thought in Benghazi on the night of the assault that killed four Americans. Senior U.S. intelligence officials provided a detailed tick-tock of what occurred after the Sept. 11 attack in an effort to set the record straight. Some believe the State Department, which had nominally been responsible for security at the mission in Benghazi, was taking the public hit for not responding to the need for more security there. But what is now known about the role the CIA played at the compound - indeed, the "U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation," as the WSJ reports this morning, paints a fuller picture of the dynamics at play. Of the 30 Americans who were evacuated from Benghazi the next day, only seven worked for State. The CIA began to establish a base of operations there in February 2011 to help stem the "spread of weapons and militant influences" throughout the region- not only in Libya, but in Mali, Somalia and Syria, the WSJ reports. It was this secretive mission that contributed to the bungled security situation in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11 - and the administration's puzzling response in the weeks afterward.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where, amazingly, the questions on Benghazi still linger. 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.

This would not make McChrystal happy. When Stan McChrystal was ISAF commander in Kabul he endeavored to create an austere environment and sought to close down some of the amenities that seemed unfathomable to him in a war zone, like a KFC and a coffee shop that might have improved morale but for some fobbits created an illusion that places like Kandahar Air Field were kinda like that Air Force base in northern California. McChrystal's efforts were barely successful, stymied by the collective bureaucracy of more than 40 nations and the Department of Defense. Imagine his reaction to this: a friend of Situation Report tells us that there is now a large bright green Astroturf field at Kandahar Air Field with a running track around it. Our friend writes: "It's a beautiful island of fake green amid dust and sand and the stench of sewage, a new End Zone Green Zone in the middle of the boardwalk, with soldiers in reflective belts playing football and soccer well into the night while spectators sip smoothies and smoke cigars. The former crown jewel of the KAF boardwalk, the Canadian hockey rink, sits disused and forlorn."

Marines are deploying to the littorals - in New Jersey. The Pentagon is sending Marines to the New Jersey coast to help in the aftermath of Sandy. But that's probably not the real coastline they're thinking of as the Marines retool for conflict around the world.

But the Marines have other littorals in mind. Despite the military's abysmal record at predicting where it will fight its next wars, the services are nonetheless laying claim to the areas in which they think they'll be doing the most work. The Marines often cite the fact that 80 percent of the world's population lives along coastlines around the world -- meaning that's where the action will be. "This concentration of people, political power, and economic dynamism means that the littorals are where the world's future crises will take place," Mills writes. There are a number of chokepoints that represent "the archipelago of action" for U.S. naval forces, he says: the Malacca Straits, the Strait of Hormuz, the Arctic Ocean, the Panama Canal, the waters off East Africa, the Suez Canal, and the Gulf of Guinea. Perfect time to remind the nation of the Marines' special sauce: the Marine Air Ground Task Force, which could come in handy in so many of these areas. Mills does just that, quoting Commandant Gen. Jim Amos: they are "light enough to get there quickly, but heavy enough to carry the day upon arrival, and capable of operating independent of local infrastructure."

Nice gig if you can get it. The Mills piece was written with the assistance of an organization called the Ellis Group, a Marine Corps internal think tank comprised of about 10 majors and lieutenant colonels and led by a full-bird -- all personally selected by the commandant. They focus on war-fighting issues for the Navy and Marine Corps and what the Corps needs to do to compete.

Why it's called the Ellis Group: For the amphib-ignorant, the group is named after Maj. Earl "Pete" Ellis, the father of amphibious assault in the 1920s. The group was just formed in May 2012.

The Navy is getting in on the drone action. Last Friday, an unmanned, 36-foot boat launched a series of missiles in a test to see how such vessels could be used to patrol the waters around larger boats and decrease their vulnerability to swarms of suicide attackers using small speedboats --the same way that the U.S.S. Cole was attacked 12 years ago last month. It's called the unmanned surface vehicle precision engagement module (USV PEM), and the Navy is working on it with the Israelis in a fairly obvious attempt to foil Iranian war plans in the Persian Gulf region, Killer Apps' John Reed reports. Reed: "The project is part of a joint-U.S.-Israeli collaboration run out of the U.S. Navy's sea systems command's Special Warfare Program Office. The same shop is responsible for, among other things, fielding a number of tiny submarines used to listen for enemy submarines, deliver Navy SEALs, and other secret squirrel activities."

So you think you know who's going to get the military's vote? Folks like to assume they know that the military is filled with red-staters, and it's true, there are many. But with just a few days before the election, it would be wrong for Mitt Romney to assume he's got the military vote, argues FP's Rosa Brooks. Indeed, it's long been a question just how many Democrats and Republicans there are in the military; there is no easy way to determine it.

The annual Military Times poll -- interesting as it always is -- is, as the paper itself points out, fundamentally flawed in that it relies on voluntary responses from readers -- a preponderance of whom are older, white, career-military males. Brooks cites the work of Jason Dempsey, a lieutenant colonel formerly on West Point's faculty, who has found that the political attitudes of Army personnel closely track the views of the civilian population. And, surprisingly, on some social issues, soldiers may be more liberal than the rest of society: "[I]n 2004 (the most recent year for which there is hard data), for instance, civilians were substantially more likely than Army personnel to oppose abortion under all circumstances, and large majorities of Army personnel supported increasing domestic government spending on education, health care, Social Security, and environmental protection," Brooks writes.

Twelve Years and Counting



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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