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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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."