National Security

Allen returns to Afghanistan

The big step for mining in Afghanistan, Panetta: al-Qaida remains a cancer, Why Mullen had a chef, and more.

John Allen is back in Afghanistan. The ISAF commander returned to Kabul overnight, his first time back since the scandal involving him and David Petraeus first broke. His departure from Washington means that DOD investigators sifting through as many as 30,000 pages of e-mails have what they need from him in person. Gen. Allen's promotion to the top U.S. military job in Europe was put on hold when it was discovered that there might be inappropriate e-mails between him and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. We and others have reported that the actual number of e-mails is far less than the volume of pages suggests; of those, it is thought that there are very few that are potentially inappropriate. People close to the situation believe it will not take long for investigators to finish reading the e-mails between Allen and Kelley and make a determination about what occurred. Allen has maintained that there was no wrongdoing.

Allen's PAO Maj. Dave Nevers would not comment on the investigation or the form it's taken, but sent Situation Report this statement before he himself boarded a plane bound for Kabul: "The Defense Department Inspector General's investigation into certain communications by Gen. Allen continues. Out of respect for that process, Gen. Allen will continue to refrain from commenting on those matters that may fall within the scope of the investigation. He is happy to be back in Afghanistan, particularly in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops."

Panetta warned of the "cancer" that is al Qaeda and said there are "no shortcuts" to exiting Afghanistan before 2014. In a not-so-uplifting pre-Thanksgiving speech at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, Panetta said the U.S. has beaten back the al Qaeda operation that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 and has held Taliban fighters at bay. "All this sends a simple and powerful message to the Taliban, to al Qaeda, and to the violent extremist groups who want to regain a safe haven in Afghanistan: we are not going anywhere; our commitment to Afghanistan is long-term; you cannot wait us out," he said.

Panetta didn't mention the troop strength recommendations for Afghanistan that he may already have from ISAF Commander Allen, who had told Situation Report in August that he would be making those recommendations to Panetta and the White House in November. Many believe he will recommend a gradual withdrawal of troops and keep as big as a force in Afghanistan through next year's fighting season as he can.

Panetta said there are a number of places outside of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, which will continue to require constant monitoring so they don't become breeding grounds for terrorists.

Panetta: "We have slowed the primary cancer ­- but we know that the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the global body."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where we usually know what day it is but yesterday we didn't. Today we can say accurately: Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. 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 U.S. condemned an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv that injured as many as 22 and punctuated uncertain efforts to get a truce to the fighting along the border between Israel and Gaza. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to fly to Cairo today in her efforts to stop the fighting. The NYT this morning on the attack on the bus: "On several occasions since the latest conflagration seized Gaza last week, militants have aimed rockets at Tel Aviv but they have either fallen short, landed in the sea or been intercepted. Hundreds of rockets fired by militants in Gaza have struck other targets."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney early this morning: "These attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous.  The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack.  The United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.

Jamie Rubin, on CNN: "What's new and different and harder and makes this all much more complex, is the United States is not actually dealing with the player that is important right now, which is Hamas."

Exploration of four Afghan mines could begin as early as January, a big step toward giving Afghanistan a chance to profit from the trillions of dollars of gold, iron ore, copper, lithium, and other minerals discovered there, even if those profits could be years away. By the end of next month, the Afghan government is expected to approve an amendment to its minerals law that will allow four tenders from mining firms to conduct exploration operations. It is a significant step, say officials at the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, the Pentagon arm that is helping the Afghan government with mining and other business development, because it helps to put the Afghans on the start of a path to economic sustainability.

The game-changing opportunity for the country is tempered by the sober thinking of pragmatists who see weak governance, rampant corruption, poor security, and a lack of intellectual or infrastructural capacity -- meaning it could take as much as a decade for Afghanistan to see green.

But experts say the four tenders are important because they represent the first agreements to be reached under Mining Minister Waheedullah Sharani, widely considered to be a man trying to do the right thing as the country looks to create long-term economic viability.

Sharani learned from the controversial contract with a Chinese firm for rights to the Aynak copper mines. That incredibly simple, four-page document, negotiated with the help of the World Bank, gives the Chinese firm extremely favorable terms. The most worrisome aspect of the contract is that it gives the Chinese the option to essentially sit atop a reserve of copper worth billions of dollars and do nothing for years. The contract with Chinese firm MCC, which the Afghans will finally make public in the coming weeks, taught the Afghans such painful lessons about fairness that future mining contracts are expected to force more accountability among the firms competing for mines and make sure the Afghan government gets a bigger piece of the pie.

By January, the four tenders should be complete and exploration -- which itself could take another two years -- can begin. "Right now we've got four mines on the table that have been bid on, the bids have been evaluated, and the winning bidders have been pretty well identified," Jim Bullion, director of the Pentagon's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, told Situation Report. "And almost each one has an Afghan partner."

The Task Force has been actively helping the Afghan Ministry of Mines to identify mines that would generate the most interest among international investors and developers, then help them evaluate the bids they receive to make sure the criteria they use will help them get the best deal.

"As we look at these mines, these are world class mines that will be able to compete with any big mining operations around the world," he told Situation Report.

Although there is optimism all around, it remains unclear how much money the Afghans could see out of even these first four mines. The exploration of the mines, to begin soon, will help answer that question. But mining is like venture capitalism, says Bullion. "You know that for every 10 you have, there are a certain number that are not going to deliver what you hope for, and some are going to deliver way beyond what you hope for," he said. "It's managing a portfolio that will hopefully come together and overall deliver a pretty good revenue stream to the government down the road."

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruffled some feathers last week with a quip claiming that while he was still in office, living alone and microwaving meals, he would look across the lawn to his neighbor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, who enjoyed having meals cooked for him by staff.

"I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time," Gates said in response to a question after a speech last week and that was quoted in The Washington Post. "He wryly complained to his wife that ‘Mullen's got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I'm shoving something into the microwave. And I'm his boss.'"

As the E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes, "what in any other season would have been a classic Gates laugh-line is now taken as a serious question, as the four-star lifestyle has come under scrutiny" following the scandal involving David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen. Of course, high-ranking officers have big perks at their fingertips, and the scandal has pointed up just how many they have. "But they also have great latitude on whether or how they use those perks," Kevin writes.

The military has issued ethical rules for the road for generals and admirals, and Mullen was always very careful to use support that fell within those lines. As the top military officer to the U.S., the home in which Mullen lived was used for a number of social functions on any given week, and as such, Mullen and his wife Deborah needed aides to help plan and host the many dinners, meetings and other events.

A former adviser to Mullen told Kevin: "I want to believe that Secretary Gates was just joking and I suspect that he was because he and Adm. Mullen had that kind of relationship where they jive each other as next-door neighbors. Secretary Gates knows very well how fastidious Adm. Mullen was about this."




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."

Yousaf Butt's piece on FP about how Israel's Iron Dome doesn't validate Star Wars.

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."

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 And sign up for Situation Report here: 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:

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:

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:

The List:

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."

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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