As France and Mali retake Timbuktu from extremist forces, the U.S. signs an agreement that paves the way for a new spy hub in Niger. Malian forces, with the assistance of French troops, retook the city from al Qaeda militants with relative ease, but raised fears that Islamic fighters would stage a guerilla war. "It's an enemy that can quickly melt into the populace," a French military officer told the WSJ. Meanwhile, the U.S. is moving toward establishing a drone base in Niger to help the French and Malians in their counteroffensive against Islamic extremists. "A new drone base in northwest Africa would join a constellation of small air strips in recent years on the continent, including in Ethiopia, for surveillance missions flown by drones or turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft," according to the NYT this morning, which said Niger was the most likely place for the base. The WSJ said the U.S. had signed an agreement yesterday with Niger.
State insists there won't be a ground war. Toria Nuland at State said the U.S. military is not doing B-O-G or even fighting at all. "What I will say is that the U.S. military is not going to be engaged in combat operations in Mali, and we don't expect U.S. forces to become directly involved on the ground in combat either. So this is a discrete set of missions in support of our French ally in the efforts that they are making to support the people of Mali."
Read in this morning's WSJ about the historic African city of Timbuktu, at one time as rich with the gold that passed through it in medieval times as it is in literature.
Avoiding Tier Bravo: The Navy is in dire straits when it comes to the CR and sequestration. Chief of Naval Operations Jon Greenert says Congress must act because it's do-or-die time for the continuing resolution under which the Pentagon is operating. The Navy is just one service confronting budget shortfalls under the CR but it's been one of the most vocal. In a memo dated Jan. 25 and obtained by Situation Report, Greenert announced "near-term actions" that could only be reversed if Congress passes a budget for fiscal 2013 or allows the service to reprogram investment accounts. Next month, for example, fleet commanders will have to cancel third- and fourth-quarter ship maintenance. Mirroring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's recent announcement, civilian hiring has also been frozen. Greenert also told the fleet that all commanders must curtail or cancel all non-essential travel or training or conferences. And stop buying furniture. "All commanders and commanding officers shall limit administrative expenses and supply purchases to essential consumption only," Greenert wrote. "We will stop minor purchases that are not mission-essential, such as furniture, information technology, and unique equipment. Ceremony expenses shall be similarly limited."
And page one of a colorful PowerPoint slide about mitigating the impacts of the CR and sequestration says: "Without Congressional relief on transfer authority, Tier Bravo cuts are inevitable."
What's Tier Bravo? Drastic reductions, according to the slide, in deployments, ship maintenance and operations, flying hours and operations would occur under sequestration during March if Congress doesn't act, described here as "Tier Bravo." Operations for one of the Navy's hospital ships, the USNS Comfort, would be canceled altogether during this period. And, funding for the Blue Angels, the Navy's crowd-pleasing flight demonstration squadron of F/A-18s, would be cut in the third and fourth quarter. Question: are the Blue Angels that important anyway at this point?
Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at email@example.com. And sign up for Situation Report here or just drop 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.
Joe Dunford is wheels up on Thursday. Marine Gen. Joe Dunford will head for Kabul Thursday after months of prepping for his new job as ISAF commander, likely the last one there will be. We're told he's visited the Hill many times, spoken with think tanks and others as he prepared for the job he's about to undertake -- and heard all the viewpoints. He'll do left-seat, right-seat with Gen. John Allen for a week before the change of command Feb. 10. Allen then returns home to the Washington, D.C. area, where he will await his expected re-nomination to the top military job in Europe.
Much has been made of the number of Afghan war commanders and their relatively short tenures. But Dunford, who will be the sixth American to command ISAF, may end up serving the longest if he stays through the end of 2014, when the security transition is complete. Gen. Dan McNeill served 16 months; Gen. David McKiernan served 12 months before he was removed by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Gen. Stanley McChrystal served 12 months before resigning after publication of an unflattering story in Rolling Stone; Gen. David Petraeus served 12 months; and Gen. John Allen will have served 19 months, since July 2011. Dunford will serve 22 months if he stays through December of next year.
One, cut a hole in a box. Doctrine Man talks "doctrine-in-a-box." DM: "Come on, you're not a little curious?"
Your invite was probably lost in your spam filter. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague hosted a private farewell dinner for HRC last night with a top-shelf guest list: Husband Bill and daughter Chelsea Clinton along with Chelsea's husband Marc Mezvinsky, Oscar de la Renta, Gen. Marty Dempsey, Dianne Feinstein, Alan Greenspan and his wife Andrea Mitchell, John Kerry, Jack Lew, Christine Lagarde, John McCain, Denis McDonough, Mike Morrell, Leon Panetta, Susan Rice, and George Shultz.
The Marine commandant is on board with W-i-C. Secretary Panetta's announcement last week that the Pentagon would lift the ban on women serving in combat roles raised questions about how amenable the Corps was to the change. Marines had been perceived to be slow to accept the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and accepting women in combat roles might run counter to Corps culture, particularly among ground guys. But whether the Corps' rank-and-file agrees with these changes or not, the service has earned a reputation for accepting whatever new orders it confronts and marching forward accordingly. On the women-in-combat front, Gen. Jim Amos is telling his Marines that it's the right thing to do. The change reflects his "long-held perspective and that of all service chiefs," he wrote in a memo to his general officers dated Jan. 24 and obtained by Situation Report. "My foremost guiding principle remains fielding a Marine Corps that is ready to fight and win, on short notice, in difficult and uncertain circumstances. This was the most important thing when you served on duty, and it remains so with me today. We will maintain our high standards while ensuring maximum success for every Marine."
"It will not surprise you to learn that I get the most questions about our infantry, reconnaissance and special operations MOSs. Across DoD, the decision to open them will be determined by recommendations from the Commandant and the Chief of Staff of the Army. Our recommendations are due in 2016. The 36th Commandant will have three years of collected data and ground truth to consider as he makes his final recommendation. I believe we have created the conditions for him to provide his best analytically-informed military advice on this critical matter to the civilian leadership, who have the constitutionally-enshrined power of final decision. I don't know what my successor's recommendation will be, but the end state is not a foregone conclusions, as some have suggested. The memorandum agreed to be all of the service chiefs specifically states, ‘...if we find the assignment of women to a specific position or occupational specialty is in conflict with stated principles, we will request an exception to policy," Amos wrote.
And in his own hand scrawled across the bottom of the letter: "Generals...the time is right for our Corps to turn this policy around... 13,000 of America's finest daughters have proven that over the past 11 years. I ask for your confidence in me and in our institution that our transition efforts be done ‘precisely correctly!' Thank you!"
Don't believe Amos? Listen to Sgt. Maj. Michael P. Barrett, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, who explains with characteristic intensity, just how it's gonna be. In a video on Marines.mil, Barrett, Amos' top enlisted adviser, explains that in 1918, 300 women joined the Marine Corps. Today, there are about 13,000. "Rescinding this policy, WILL NOT impair readiness, degrade combat effectiveness or cohesion. We will not lower our standards. Our plan is deliberate, measured and responsible, MEANING, our focus is on combat readiness and generating combat ready units while ensuring maximum success for every Marine. You are our brothers and sisters' keeper; you are responsible for looking out for the Marine on your left and on your right, regardless of gender. Thank you for your sacrifices, selflessness, efforts and courage. Continue to do great deeds and endure, always faithful, Marines."
Free concert with Afghan girls and boys. The Kennedy Center and Afghanistan's Ministry of Education is sponsoring a free "Millennium Stage Performance" of young musicians from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music -- the first ever. Sponsored by State, the World Bank, Carnegie Corp. and the Asian Cultural Council, the event, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. The program will feature selections of traditional Afghan and Indian music and also William Harvey's "The Four Seasons of Afghanistan," a play on Vivaldi's compositions in an "Afghan context," according to the press release from the Kennedy Center. Editor's note: we're trying something new when it comes to links in response to some of you who say your computers won't allow you to click through our bit.ly links. Instead, we're embedding hyperlinks into the copy. Less clutter, more access. Let us know if it works.
- C.J. Chivers: Were Iranian-made man-pads found off the coast of Yemen? Read.
- FP (Carter): Can we fix the all volunteer force? Read.
- WSJ op-ed (Bolton): What to ask Chuck Hagel about nukes. Read.
- Juan Cole: Canal provinces defy Morsi, weakening his authority. Read.
- Duffel Blog: Drunken Okinawan assaults Marine, passes out on floor. Read.
- The Iran Primer: Pivotal Election: the Conservatives. Read.
- Abu Muqawama: The Mali intervention. Read.