National Security

How the Pentagon is cutting a rug in Afghanistan

Marines on standby in the Med; Dempsey is concerned about the scandal; Commanders behaving badly, The Navy gets a Biden, and more.

Standing by in the Med: the Marine Corps' 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, just weeks away from returning home after deploying in March, have been asked to stay in the Mediterranean given the unrest in Gaza, the Navy Times reported. Their ships -- and no others -- are on alert, Situation Report is told this morning. "The ARG/MEU is simply being positioned should there be a need, no mission assigned," a defense official told us. "The most likely purpose would be a [noncombatant evacuation operation], but even that is a remote possibility at this point." Two missile defense destroyers are in the area, but they are always there and there has been no change to their mission posture, we're told.

The decision to send HRC to Jerusalem and then to the West Bank "dramatically deepens the American involvement in the crisis" report the NYT's Peter Baker and Isabel Kershner. Clinton will visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then head to the West Bank to visit Palestinian leaders. She will also go to Egypt. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes says the best way out of this is through diplomacy. "It's in nobody's interest to see an escalation of the military conflict." http://nyti.ms/SM8HrH

Yousaf Butt's piece on FP about how Israel's Iron Dome doesn't validate Star Wars. http://bit.ly/UbmCtc

Meanwhile, who said Dempsey has been silent on the scandal? The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Marty Dempsey, hasn't been out front on the issue, exactly, seeming to dodge Panetta's traveling press corps in Asia when the two itineraries overlapped and then talking to an in-house reporter later on. But yesterday he issued a statement on his blog, saying that the military isn't "distracted" by the scandal, but that he is "concerned." Dempsey: "We're committed to learning and adapting. We're committed to honoring the profession and protecting the nation. We're not distracted -- we can't afford to be," he wrote. The hundreds of thousands of service members around the world have to have to be top of mind for the Pentagon's leadership, he wrote. "Their well-being and the well-being of their families, remains our top priority. The nation deserves our best effort and our attention to the security challenges we face. It will have it as we work through these challenges." http://1.usa.gov/ZYZdiJ

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we were sorry we missed this headline when it first appeared last week: "New al-Qaeda Recruit Sick of Hearing Senior Terrorists Brag about 9/11 Attacks." We can't say "not The Onion" because it is. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. And sign up for Situation Report here: http://bit.ly/NCN9uN or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Jim Bullion is getting to know this equation well:  economic opportunity = stability. The newish director of the Pentagon's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations is focused on how to bring economic opportunity to Afghanistan by luring private sector investment to the country and helping Afghans to strengthen existing industries. The "TFBSO" as it's known, is doing a number of things, but perhaps the initiative that best illustrates its work is focused on the $300-500 million carpet industry. For years, Afghans have hand-tied the rugs on giant looms, but for whatever reason, didn't have the machines to shave off the loose threads, tie the tassels on either end, or wash them. Instead, they ship them across the border for finishing touches, only to lose out on the sale. "They would make the carpets, they sell the unfinished carpets to Pakistan or Iran, they finish them, repackage them, put ‘made in Pakistan' on them and sell them into the world market," Bullion told Situation Report in an interview in his Crystal City office Monday. (Indeed, we've seen rugs in high-end U.S. carpet stores that we understand were made in Afghanistan but that we were told come from Pakistan.)

So Bullion's group is building two new "cut-and-wash" facilities, one in Heart and the other in Mazar-i-Sharif to help them finish their own rugs and get them into the international market.

Perhaps more interestingly, for anyone who has tried to buy a rug in Afghanistan, most designs are two decades behind the rest of the world -- same traditional patterns and colors. "But the modern market wants something different," Bullion said. So the Task Force is introducing rug designers from the U.S. and Europe to Afghan rug producers and taking them to a few of the large world carpet shows around the world.

That could translate into more jobs for an industry that now employs between one and three million people, Bullion said. 

When the U.S. talks about staying in Afghanistan past 2014, it's outfits like the Task Force that will still be there, laying the groundwork for long-term stability. The greatest fear among Afghans, he says, is that the U.S. and international community will be leaving. But he thinks that perception will be changing shortly, suggesting that the U.S. presence there through next year could be robust.

Bullion: "I think the messaging that's going to come out in the next few weeks and months here about our ongoing presence is going to be one that's really going to strengthen things."

Introducing Jim Bullion. Bullion is stepping out in a role that was once occupied by Paul Brinkley in a large way. Brinkley, a former chief information officer, made a name for himself as he played "matchmaker" first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan, linking the private sector with markets in those war zones as the Pentagon recognized that connecting military strategy with economic development could pay off. Bullion, a recently retired Army reservist colonel who has himself worked in the private sector for many years, was asked to take on this role and jumped at the chance. He told us it's the kind of job where some days he feels as if he is hitting his head against the wall, and others where it's the best job he's ever had. Bio: http://1.usa.gov/TNTCVA

Coming tomorrow: Bullion on the country's mining future.

The CIA has closed down its office of Climate Change and National Security. Its functions have been siphoned off to other offices, media reports said. "I'd think with all the demands on them, it's mainly a resource/priority issue," a friend of Situation Report wrote us. "There will still be someone watching/assessing CC even if no center. And the subject is sure to be covered in the forthcoming 2030 paper from the Nat'l Intelligence Council." Greenwire broke the story: http://bit.ly/T7DNux

It ain't just the four-stars: more commanders behaving badly. The Navy has fired two skippers from amphibious ships for misconduct in unrelated incidents. Capt. Ted Williams, commanding officer of the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney, and Cmdr. Ray Hartman, commanding officer of the amphib dock-landing ship Fort McHenry, were fired by 6th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe. Navy Times' Joshua Stewart: "Both COs were weeks away from scheduled change of commands. Williams was set to be relieved on Dec. 6, while Hartman was scheduled for Dec. 12. Officially, the Navy said they were both relieved via ‘accelerated change of command.'"

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Navy Times' running list of COs and XOs fired since 2011 includes 24 commanding officers, five executive officers, and 13 senior enlisted leaders in 2012 alone.

Navy Times story: http://bit.ly/WrhOEn

The List: http://bit.ly/QbKpfn

Joe Biden surprised the Pentagon with a drop-by yesterday for the naming of the new Virginia Class sub, the USS Delaware. The ship's sponsor was his wife, Jill, but he came by just because he can. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron: "The vice president later stopped to shake hands with one soldier who said "Congratulations, sir," to the newly reelected Biden, hoping for a picture in the E-Ring hallway. ‘Meet my commander,' said Biden, introducing his wife. Biden smiled broadly but security officials had already informed onlookers that no pictures of the vice president were permitted." http://bit.ly/TNUhqf

Did Biden's surprise throw a wrench in the Pentagon's day? Not really, but there was major freaking initially, Situation Report is told: "VP turned out to be low impact. A bunch of email flew around this morning to make sure leadership knew and that was about it."

What is a ship's sponsor, anyway? A female civilian asked to sponsor a vessel to bestow good luck and divine protection over the vessel and all who sail aboard it. We're just getting this from Wikipedia, but the sponsor is a permanent member of the ship's crew "and is expected to give a part of her personality to the ship as well as advocate for its continued service and well-being."

Jill Biden, at the Pentagon yesterday (with her husband beside her): "In the years to come, I'm looking forward to meeting the Sailors who serve on the boat. I'm excited to get to know their families, because wherever the Delaware goes, all around the world, a little piece of my heart will go with her." 

"Can you put that query in an e-mail for me please?" VPOTUS' son Hunter will receive his commission in the Navy as a...public affairs officer.

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