National Security

Patriots to Turkey

Panetta visits troops 60 miles from Syria; An unfortunate incident at Karzai’s palace; Lessons learned from Paula and Petraeus; Hitting the nail on the ‘head,’ and more.

The U.S. is sending 400 Americans and two Patriot batteries to Turkey to defend against missile launches from Syria. As he wrapped up a five-day trip through the region, finishing in Turkey, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed orders to send the missile defense system, including about 400 Americans, to help contain the Syrian conflict. The batteries will arrive in the next few weeks, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters during a briefing aboard Panetta's plane as it headed toward its last stop at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The move responds to Turkey's increasing concern that the Assad regime could lob Scud missiles, perhaps loaded with chemical weapons, across the border.

"The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working very closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria," Little told reporters.

Little would not say where the batteries would come from or how long they would stay, nor would he say if the Patriots could be used to enforce a potential no-fly zone.

Later, Panetta dropped in on troops stationed at Incirlik, 60 miles from the Syrian border. The secretary thanked a group of about 300 airmen for their service, wished them a good holiday, and told them about his fears of sequestration and a broken Congress. But the turmoil in Syria was top of mind at Incirlik, where there are about 2,200 service members, along with 1,800 dependents. Nearly all of the questions were about Syria: one airman asked what the U.S. would do if the Assad regime used its chemical weapons, another asked how Syria would respond to the assistance the U.S. has provided Turkey, and yet another asked if Panetta believed Incirlik would expand in size given its strategic role in the region. In his uniquely avuncular way, Panetta assured the airmen standing in the hangar that everything would be ok and that, ultimately, the Assad regime would fall.

"I think it's just a matter of time before that happens," Panetta told them.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report and greetings from the E-4B Doomsday plane on its way home to Washington, an aircraft designed to survive a nuclear attack but without much in the way of Internet connectivity. And you can forget about it altogether during refueling. 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.

Behind the music -- Panetta awoke this morning at Camp Eggers in Kabul and after receiving the usual morning briefing, prepared to leave Afghanistan for Turkey, the last stop on his five-day tour, which also included Kuwait. Panetta, whose successor is expected to be announced within days, appeared to enjoy what may be one of his last trips as defense secretary, posing for pictures with the drivers of the trucks that had ferried his party around Kabul before jumping into a black Ford SUV to head for the airport. There, in jeans, trail shoes, and a black fleece, he joked with cameramen, laughed with members of his party standing on the tarmac, and presented challenge coins to the air crews supporting his trip. He left a rainy, gray Kabul on a C-17 cargo jet, and arrived in Turkey, but left on the E4-B Doomsday plane he normally flies overseas. Once on board, he presented a birthday cake to Reuters' Phil Stewart (with an unlit candle on top so as not to violate airplane safety rules), who turns 39 today.

After landing in Washington, Panetta will head to California for the weekend. When he returns, he told troops in Turkey, he will be focused on helping Congress -- and the Pentagon -- to avoid sequestration, which would amount to an additional $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years if Congress doesn't act by Jan. 2.

"So my hope is that over these next few days, and we're down to the wire here, these next few days and they'll ultimately make the right decision to be able to avoid a kind of fiscal disaster that awaits us if we don't do the right thing," Panetta told troops at Incirlik.

Panetta's trip in stories and pictures: http://1.usa.gov/Z1Q0IT

On the way into Karzai's palace last night, something unfortunate happened. CBS Radio's Cami McCormick, who lost one of her legs in an IED explosion during a 2009 reporting trip to Logar Province, returned to Afghanistan this week for the first time as one of the reporters traveling with Panetta. After a year and a half at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and nearly another two years of painful physical therapy, McCormick gets around reasonably well with the help of a cane. The return to Afghanistan was emotional for her but had been going well until she and other reporters attempted to go through the security checkpoint at Karzai's palace Thursday for a late-night presser. Palace guards insisted that her prosthetic leg be removed to go through a metal detector and to be inspected by a bomb-sniffing dog. Nervous, she asked that the dog be brought to her and her leg not be removed from her sight. The guard, who had already taken her cane, and had her prosthetic leg under his arm, first asked her to walk with him. When she couldn't, he left with it anyway, lifting it up, parading it past other stunned reporters, and leaving her stranded. After another reporter and a defense official intervened -- and a few "F-bombs" were exchanged -- the prosthetic leg was returned. But it left her shaken. "It briefly felt like losing my leg twice," she said. Nevertheless, she said returning to Afghanistan was important and she left with a feeling of accomplishment. "Even that experience won't take that away from me," she told Situation Report.

The more you know - Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams from RC-South in Afghanistan whom we quoted yesterday is that Abrams -- son of Creighton, father of the M-1 tank.

Paula and Petraeus: what's still missing. Both Paula Broadwell and David Petraeus have, through surrogates, expressed regret for their affair, but have they really taken responsibility for what it all means? So asks Sarah Chayes, the NPR correspondent turned military adviser to the stars turned senior associate at Carnegie. "I have not heard either of them or any of us for that matter -- members of the national security community -- weigh our public responsibilities in the drama and its impact on institutions we claim to cherish," Chayes writes on FP. Membership in the tight national security community, from the brass to civilians to think tankers to journalists and other policy wonks, confers many privileges, from access to influence, but it also requires responsibility. Chayes: "In a community, friends -- and even military subordinates -- bear some collective responsibility for the behavior of their friends or superiors, as uncomfortable as it may be to intervene." http://atfp.co/STWVOf

Another dog story.  We heard from another reader with a story about a dog after our little post about the handler in Kuwait who didn't want Situation Report to pet the doggy. "I was embedded at KAB two weeks ago, and I saw a Marine sitting with a German shepherd with big friendly eyes," the reader wrote Situation Report. "Can I pet him?" he asked the handler. "He laughed sarcastically and said ‘I wouldn't.'  Next time I saw the dog he was ripping into a guy wearing a padded suit.

Hitting the "head' on the head. Another reader wrote in about the post about the Navy's use of the word "head" Marines and sailors are one in the same, he pointed out. "There's no distinction to be made," the reader wrote. "The Marine Corps is part of the naval establishment and has always used naval jargon. From the day I arrived at Parris Island (more than four decades ago) I learned it was downright dangerous to refer to anything by anything but its proper nomenclature. A wall is a bulkhead, a ceiling an overhead, a floor a deck, a staircase a ladderwell and you never go to the bathroom, you make a head call."

National Security

Suicide bomber attacks Kandahar air base hours after Panetta leaves

Hagel to the Pentagon? Karzai to DC; Is the U.S. mil a victim of its own success in Afghanistan; Amos to have the talk with his generals; Why a head is called a head, and more.

Bloomberg News is reporting that Obama is expected to nominate Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. "Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has emerged as the leading candidate to become Obama's next Secretary of Defense and may be nominated as soon as this month, according to two people familiar with the matter," writes White House correspondent Hans Nichols, who is known at Bloomberg for getting personnel tips right.

"Hagel, who served as an enlisted Army infantryman in Vietnam, has passed the vetting process at the White House Counsel's office, said one of the people. The former Nebraska senator has told associates that he is awaiting final word from the president, said the other person. Both requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters."

A vehicle-borne IED exploded near Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan hours after Panetta visited troops. The attack killed one American service member and injured three more. Defense officials said that a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was detonated "in the vicinity" of Kandahar airfield, just hours after Panetta left the base with his traveling entourage. It is as yet unclear if the attack was connected to Panetta's visit or if it was coincidence, defense officials told Situation Report in Kabul.

Military officials at the base had just provided a reasonably optimistic view of Regional Command-South, the area in which the airfield is located. Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of RC-South and the 3rd Infantry Division, had just a few hours earlier said that insurgent threats at the airfield itself had been interdicted in part because of growing Afghan intelligence capabilities.

"I think the security conditions are getting better every single day, and they'll continue to get better as we move towards the next phase of our mission here," Abrams told reporters during an impromptu briefing on the press bus just hours before the attack. "But they have dramatically improved over time."

ISAF officials at the airfield were on the scene "collecting facts and assessing the situation," according to George Little, Pentagon press secretary.

Reporters traveling with Panetta heard about the report after one member of the press corps retweeted a post from the Kandahar Media and Information Center, which reported that the attack had injured 10 Afghans and three ISAF personnel and occurred around 5pm local time.

Panetta had met with officials in the south and then spoke to troops during an outdoor "troop event" in which he thanked them for their service, updated them on budget talks at home, and acknowledged the work they had done to secure the area. RC-South is considered reasonably secure compared to even a few years ago and compared to other regions in Afghanistan -- particularly the eastern sector known as Regional Command-East. But there are still at least three "contested" areas in RC-South, according to a separate operational update reporters received that afternoon. There are approximately 14,000 Americans still serving in RC-South, which includes Kandahar, considered the spiritual home of the Taliban.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report and greetings from Kabul, where we are on our fourth day of travel with Panetta, and here in Afghanistan the "wintry mix" today almost foiled the secretary's plans to fly to Kandahar. 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.

Jim Amos begins an around-the-Corps talk with senior officers next week. As Secretary Panetta considers how to re-emphasize ethics across his senior officer corps, members of the Joint Chiefs are moving out on their own to connect with senior officers to make sure they got the proverbial memo. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos begins an effort next week to reinforce personally his expectations with each of his 87 general officers. "Marines take this issue very seriously and watch it closely," Amos said through a spokesman.

"Senior leaders have to be held to a higher standard," Amos said in a statement to Situation Report through a spokesman. "After a decade at war, it is wise to remind all Marine general officers of who we are, and who we are not." Last spring, Amos, along with Sgt. Major Michael Barrett, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, undertook a four-month effort to talk ethics to Marine officers and staff noncommissioned officers. They called the talk the Heritage Brief. Amos will now brief each general officer with what amounts to a "Version 2.0" of that same talk, Situation Report is told. It will serve as a refresher course for general officers and their spouses "on the specifics of rules and regulations relating to senior leaders."

Meanwhile, Karzai will visit Washington the week of Jan. 7 to discuss the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship post-2014. At a late-night presser at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai and Secretary Panetta announced that Karzai would travel to Washington to discuss the U.S.-Afghan security agreement with President Barack Obama. The meeting will not seal a deal but will hammer out the two countries' "shared vision." At the presser, Karzai was asked what assurances he needed to cut a deal on immunity from prosecution for American military personnel -- a point he acknowledged was key to the overall agreement. But he wants a few things first: resolution on the detainee issue, confidence the U.S. will help Afghanistan to build a good Army and Air Force, and other things. While he didn't necessarily say anything new, Karzai sounded like a man ready to negotiate.

"I can go to the Afghan people and speak on the subject of immunity for U.S. troops with ease and with reason. But before I do that, I need to be given those assurances by the United States," he said.

Meanwhile, reporters traveling with Panetta have received generally positive assessments of the war in Afghanistan from ISAF commanders: violence is limited to a handful of areas and is generally down, and the Afghan National Security Forces are taking major steps toward independence. At the same time, conventional wisdom suggests that Gen. John Allen, the ISAF commander, will recommend having as large a fighting force through 2013 as possible. But if security has increased as the military says, some will ask why the U.S. needs to maintain a large fighting force there through next year and if it will be harder for the military to justify a large force if the White House wants it to shrink faster.

Panetta was asked that very question at tonight's presser by Situation Report. He didn't exactly answer it, saying that 2013 will be a "critical year" and that it is the talks about the size of the force after 2014 -- which could number between 6,000 and 10,000 -- that will drive the pace of withdrawal. There are approximately 66,000 U.S. service members currently serving in Afghanistan.

Part of his answer: "With regard to the specific recommendations as to how much of a force we need, once there is a decision about the enduring presence, and General Allen will make recommendations as to how he should proceed with regards to the drawdown through the end of 2014."

Random fact: number of reporters currently embedded in RC-South: "Just 2," we were told.

"Head" isn't really a Marine term as much as it is a naval one, we're told after our brief post yesterday about "head" versus "latrine." A Situation Report reader writes: "The use of the term ‘head' to refer to a ship's toilet dates to at least as early as 1708, when Woodes Rogers (English privateer and Governor of the Bahamas) used the word in his book, ‘A Cruising Voyage Around the World.' Another early usage is in Tobias Smollett's novel of travel and adventure, ‘Roderick Random,' published in 1748. ‘Head,' in a nautical sense referring to the bow or fore part of a ship dates to 1485. The ship's toilet was typically placed at the head of the ship near the base of the bowsprit, where splashing water served to naturally clean the toilet area."

Mike Barbero testified today at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lt. Gen. Mike Barbero, who heads the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, testified before the SFRC today on two issues critical to defeating IEDs: Pakistan and homemade explosives, or HME. Last week Situation Report looked at the issue of homemade explosives and the fertilizer that comes across the border from Pakistan to help make them.

Situation Report on Barbero, Pakistan and HME - http://atfp.co/YOoBJ4

SIGAR is investigating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' settlement with DynCorp International. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction announced today that it was reviewing the settlement between the USACE and DynCorp after the Corps of Engineers released the defense contractor "of all contractual obligations" and then, in a letter, said it lacked sufficient evidence to support whether the settlement was "fair and reasonable." The initial investigation surrounded the Corps of Engineers' contract with DynCorp for work at the Afghan National Army garrison in Kunduz in which "poor performance and structural failures" were pervasive.

SIGAR investigation: http://atfp.co/YOoBJ4

DynCorp letter to SIGAR: http://bit.ly/W0PicX

And thanks to the dog owner in El Dorado, Arkansas, who took pity on us when the handler in Kuwait wouldn't let Situation Report pet the doggy. We'd love to see your six dogs and we hope to take you up on it someday.