National Security

Panetta in Kuwait, says intel on chemical weapons in Syria has “leveled off”

Afghanistan progress still a mixed bag; Vince Brooks to the Pacific; Defense bill requires notification of “successful penetration,” and more.

Panetta says intelligence on Syria's chemical weapons has "leveled off." Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who landed in Kuwait this morning, told reporters on his plane that there is no new evidence that the Syrian regime is planning to move or use its weapons. "We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way, but we continue to monitor it very closely," he told reporters on his plane after it took off from Andrews Air Force Base. "We continue to make clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population, that that would produce serious consequences." Panetta reiterated an ongoing concern that the apparent success of the opposition against the Assad regime could force it to use chemical weapons out of desperation.

Why letting the Syrian opposition win would be a "disaster." Glenn Robinson, writing on FP: "The exiles may have won the support of the Obama administration and others, but have little chance of holding power in Syria for any length of time, barring international occupation of the country. And nobody thinks the United States has any appetite to occupy another Arab country militarily, even for a relatively short period of time." http://bit.ly/SRsfhQ

Panetta is more sanguine on Pakistan. American officials have been saying they have begun to see a change in the tone from Pakistan and that they are encouraged after recent meetings with the Pakistanis that the country's leaders want to take the terrorist threat more seriously. "Complimentary operations," which had essentially ceased earlier this year, are back on track and there are a growing number of them, a new Pentagon report says. It's far short of a new era of cooperation. For his part, Panetta said "we are more encouraged" that the Pakistanis want to limit the terrorist threat within Pakistan and across the border. "My sense is that they are in a better place, that they understand their responsibility," Panetta said during the briefing with reporters on his plane. "[Pakistan Army Chief of Staff] General Kayani in particular has indicated a willingness to put more pressure on the safe havens." But he couched this new optimism with a bit of pragmatism. "In all cases, actions need to speak louder than words," Panetta said.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report and greetings from beautiful downtown Kuwait City, where we are traveling with the SecDef and you never know where the Doomsday will take us next. Situation Report's inbox arrival will be at odd times for a bit. And additional technical problems delayed us some today. 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. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

This new optimism on Pakistan comes as the Pentagon's own assessment of Afghanistan says safe havens are still an issue and the ANSF still needs to mature. The Pentagon released its bi-annual assessment of the war in Afghanistan, which shows security is increasing in populated areas, even if violence is up. The report also shows that only one of the 23 Afghan National Army brigades is capable of operating independently without air or other military support from U.S. or international forces. A senior defense official who briefed reporters at the Pentagon said the "fighting capability" of the Afghan forces and the fact that they carry out independent operations at many levels, even if those operations require coalition support, means they are far more capable than they were.

The senior defense official at a Pentagon briefing: "Is it going to be a challenge? I'd agree with you, yes, but -- and will there continue to be a need for training and advising after 2014? Yes, that's what NATO agreed on in Chicago and we're going to have a continuing train, advise and assisting force after that. But the combat role is -- already is more and more Afghan and will be -- the objective is to have it be completely Afghan by 2014."

But the report also indicated that Pakistani-based sanctuary for insurgents, including the Haqqani Taliban Network in North Waziristan contributes to keeping the security situation along the border and in Regional Command-East "volatile."

NYT report on DoD assessment and ANSF. http://nyti.ms/TRVGQH

"Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan:" http://1.usa.gov/XKuOWe

Why Panetta is in Kuwait: The secretary is on his usual visit to see troops around the region. Today, he is in Kuwait. "It's a tough time of year to be away from loved ones, and since 9/11, obviously so many have spent so many holidays away from home. But I want them to hear directly from me how much I appreciate their dedication, their commitment, their sacrifice, and their willingness to put their lives on the line to keep our country safe, so far away from their families. Our hope is that ultimately one day soon they can be home with their families for Christmas."

This is Panetta's first stop in Kuwait as secretary of defense; former Defense Secretary Bob Gates last visited Kuwait some years ago. U.S. forces in Kuwait conduct joint exercises and training and there are more than 13,500 of those troops still based in Kuwait. "They are an important partner," Panetta said of Kuwait. He had tea at the airport terminal where he was greeted and then his motorcade and the reporters in the press vans took a harrowing ride to a downtown hotel.

Sometimes it feels like it won't be an attack by extremists that will kill us, it will be the driving by high-strung American motorcade drivers who relish the opportunity to drive like maniacs in the name of security.

Reporters on a plane: AP's Burns and Walsh, Reuters' Stewart, AFP's DeLuce, WaPo's Londono, NBC's Kube, Long and Scritchfield, WSJ's Entous, NYT's Shanker, Bloomberg's Ratnam, the Pentagon's Pellerin, CBS' McCormick, Foreign Policy's Lubold.

Spotted at Andrews: the Levin Brothers, Carl and Sandy, returning a trip from their home state of Michigan where POTUS had been speaking.

For the Army, the pivot is starting to get real. Lt. Gen. Vince Brooks is expected to be nominated for promotion to general and head to the Army's Pacific Command, or USAPAC, Situation Report is told. His promotion would elevate the stature of the Army in the Pacific region just as it struggles to find the proper mission in the Pentagon's move to Asia that to some, seems more suited to the air and sea services. Army officials would not confirm the move, but it was said to be made more formally in recent days.

We never tire of reminding people outside the military how to remember ranks for stars: Be My Little General. (Brigadier General, Major General, Lt. General, General.)

Syrian rebels use "DIY" armor and Playstation-controlled guns, Killer Apps' John Reed reports. The video: http://bit.ly/XK7Bna

John also has this: the defense authorization bill would require DoD contractors to notify the Pentagon of cyber intrusions. John: In case you missed it, buried inside the 2013 defense authorization bill is a clause that would require defense contractors to notify the Pentagon any time they have suffered a ‘successful penetration.' Section 936 of the bill requires that the Pentagon "establish a process" for defense contractors that have classified information on their networks to quickly report any successful cyber attacks against them to the Defense Department. Contractors must include a description of the "technique or method used in the penetration," and include samples of the "malicious software, if discovered and isolated by the contractor," reads the bill. http://bit.ly/VVnBi3

New report out today on Afghan corruption from SIGAR says there are persistent problems with monitoring cash flow through Kabul airport. SIGAR's Phil Lavelle, in a statement, on the machines meant to counter money-laundering: "These machines, which can record and report serial numbers of currency, are regarded as important anti-money laundering tools. This latest report notes that SIGAR inspectors, on a return visit to KBL, found that the machines did not appear to be in use and were not linked to the Internet, as intended. The report also notes that individuals designated by the Afghan government as VIPs and ‘VVIPs' (Very Very Important Persons) continue to bypass these machines as they depart KBL."

http://bit.ly/125dUBU

WSJ reports on an effort by Afghans to probe corruption on its borders. http://on.wsj.com/Uea572

Noting

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