National Security

Hagel could be in office by Friday; Carter and company talk sequestration on the Hill; What the North Korean test means; Why Mark Lippert may not leave the Pentagon; The “Iz a-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters” could be the wolf closest to the door and more.

Obama will announce that he will bring home 34,000 troops this year. Multiple news outlets are reporting this morning that President Barack Obama will announce in tonight's State of the Union address that 34,000 troops will return home this year. Depending on the "slope" of their departure, that would leave a smaller fighting force for this spring, summer and fall. And it would leave just 32,000 American troops on the ground in America's longest war by the end of the year.

What Hagel is looking at today: Today's Senate Armed Services Committee vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination for SecDef is expected to be party-line, Situation Report was told this morning. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is then expected to bring the nomination to the full Senate floor no later than Thursday. Although the political theater could continue, that vote, assuming it is ultimately successful, means Panetta's last day could be Friday and Hagel would soon thereafter be wheels-up for NATO ministerial in Brussels next week that has produced some anxiety as the Hagel saga dragged on.


Ash Carter to Congress: sequestration could be a tragedy. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, along with top Pentagon officials, to discuss the perils of sequestration. We've heard this story before. But we are, once again, approaching the witching hour, on March 1. Carter's testimony: "What is particularly tragic is that sequestration is not a result of an economic emergency or a recession. It's not because discretionary spending cuts are the answer to our nation's fiscal challenge; do the math. It's not in reaction to a change to a more peaceful world. It's not due to a breakthrough in military technology or a new strategic insight. It's not because paths of revenue growth and entitlement spending have been explored and exhausted. It's purely the collateral damage of political gridlock."


"We have long argued that the responsible way to implement reductions in defense spending is to formulate a strategy first and then develop a budget that supports the strategy. If the Department were forced to operate under the mechanistic sequestration rules and the CR for the remainder of the fiscal year, it would achieve precisely the opposite effect by imposing arbitrary budget cuts that then drive changes in national security strategy. This is why I continue to urge Congress, in the strongest possible terms, to avoid sequestration by devising a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package that both the House and Senate can pass and that the President can sign."

Dempsey, to Congress: In his opening statement to the SASC this morning, Gen. Martin Dempsey pleads for members of Congress to "resist kicking this can further down the road." Dempsey sounded both serious and condescending, asking for budget certainty while reminding the Senate -- again -- that sequestration

would "break faith" with troops and "reduce our options and increase our risk." Dempsey: "Now, we are only days away from making that risk a reality. We can do better."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we would never resign in a historic move. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

North Korea says it conducted a third nuclear test. The North announced through its news agency that it had indeed conducted another test, using a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force" than had been tested before. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement overnight, saying: "The U.S. Intelligence Community assesses that North Korea probably conducted an underground nuclear explosion in the vicinity of P'unggye on February 12, 2013. The explosion yield was approximately several kilotons. Analysis of the event continues."

One expert tells Situation Report that two key questions are whether North Korean used uranium, as opposed to plutonium, in the test and whether it has succeeded in miniaturizing a weapon design that would enable it to put a warhead on a missile. "While there are other hurdles for the Kim Jong-eun regime along this path, the troubling phenomenon is that it's moving forward," MIT's John Park told Situation Report this morning. He says that if the U.S. is able to determine that North Korea tested a uranium device this time around, "the North Korean nuclear imbroglio will have mutated into a more complex and dangerous one. Rather than hoarding a dwindling stockpile of weapons grade plutonium, the North Koreans could have amassed a substantial quantity of highly enriched uranium by operating a hard-to-detect uranium enrichment program. That translates into more nuclear warheads," he said, adding that a successful test raises the question of what foreign assistance the North received. "Iran tops that list," he said.

Obama was expected to promote further reductions to the American nuclear arsenal in tonight's State of the Union address. Now, it's unclear if talk of downsizing would go over very well. Earlier this morning, the White House released a statement from Obama, saying the nuclear test was a "highly provocative act" that "undermines regional stability." And, he said, it represents a threat to national security. Given that, White House speechwriters may be scrambling to figure out how to convey Obama's hope to reduce the number of America's nukes

A rift in Republican ranks over Hagel. While the SASC is expected to vote on Hagel's nomination this morning, the controversial nom is testing the leadership of the committee's new ranking member, Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican from Oklahoma, who replaced Sen. John McCain. Even as other Republicans step out of the way to allow Hagel's nomination to go forward, Inhofe remains steadfastly against it. He is insisting that if Hagel can't get 60 votes, his nomination should not go forward. Hagel has the votes to win a majority, but he may not have enough to overcome a filibuster. Inhofe was quoted by the LAT as saying he, Inhofe, is entitled to 60 votes: "I feel a responsibility, because of all the things we've been talking about, to do what I can to see that Chuck Hagel is not confirmed as secretary of Defense." But yesterday McCain seemed resigned to allowing Hagel's nom to move forward. He issued a statement saying that, while he still shares his Republican colleagues' many concerns about Hagel, he can no longer justify standing in the way. He cited the "integrity" of the nomination process and the importance of handling noms in a "fair and appropriate manner that is mindful" of the importance of national security positions. McCain even hinted he might vote for Hagel after all. "With this in mind, I have examined the information and responses to Members' questions that Senator Hagel has provided to the Committee, and I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the Committee demands of every presidential nominee to be secretary of Defense." McCain later told reporters  yesterday: "Someday, we will have a Republican president. Someday, we may even have a majority in the United States Senate. It sets, I think, a wrong precedent."From the Department of Random Appearances: A picture of Panetta, in younger days, on the wall of the National Aquarium. Right next to Betty White. Flournoy and Campbell are joining the CNAS board of directors. The Cable's Josh Rogin reports that Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell will join the board of the Center for a New American Security -- the think tank they founded in 2008 -- with Campbell becoming chairman. Campbell, known as the chief architect of Obama's "Asia Pivot," left his position as assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs on Friday. The smart money to replace Campbell at State, Rogin writes, is on National Security Staff Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel. Another possibility, says Rogin: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific Affairs Mark Lippert, who is close to President Obama. Lippert "is a real possibility for the job and is said to want to move over to State," Rogin writes. But a defense official tells Situation Report: "Mark is fully committed to continuing his role in a Hagel Pentagon. Having transformed Asia Pacific Security Affairs during the Panetta years, he has become a crucial regional player and Mark's 110% focused on growing defense investments in the rebalance."

The threat of cyber-warfare may come in the form of gangs. A cyber militia group likely backed by Iran, Iz a-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters, could pose a real threat to the U.S. and to its economy, writes Rich Andres on FP: "In September of last year, this group announced that it had launched an attack on a collection of U.S. banks in retaliation for the ‘Innocence of the Muslims' (the video that ignited violent protests across the Middle East on September 11, 2012). Al-Qassam's attack is one of the largest and most persistent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on record, dwarfing the 2007 Russian cyber-militia attack that crippled Estonia. Authorities have described al-Qassam's capabilities as military-grade and speculated about the organization's ability to disrupt the already ailing U.S. economy." A new National Intelligence Estimate, due out soon, may or may not finger Al-Qassam. But it's likely that the kind of attacks of which the group is capable will be featured prominently in the estimate since national security types rightly worry about the real perils of cyber attacks. And cyber attacks, the source of which can be very hard to attribute, are the quintessential form of warfare in an age of asymmetric battles. Andres: "Over the last decade, both China and Russia have nurtured militias dedicated to crime. In Russia's case, the organizations are tied to mafias loosely connected to the government through a web of corruption, graft, and indirect and intermittent ties to military and intelligence agencies. Russia's cyber-mafia operations allow organizations to coordinate criminal activity and exploit cyber-wealth around the globe in operations worth billions of dollars each year. The cost to the state is minimal, generally little more than allowing law enforcement to turn a blind eye to theft involving victims outside the country, while harshly punishing criminals that attack Russian political targets. The overall effect is to increase Russia's GNP and to provide a cloud of cyberattacks emanating from Russia and Eastern Europe large enough to obscure and create plausible deniability for state-launched cyber operations. For instance, while a number of U.S. officials, including President Obama, have denounced countries for planting logic bombs in U.S. critical infrastructure that could knock it offline, the existence of massive criminal cyber operations makes it difficult to blame Russia -- even for war-like acts like taking down an electric grid."


  • Arms Control Wonk:  Obama in situ for SOTU.
  • CNN: World leaders react to North Korea's test.
  • AP: Timeline on North Korea's nuclear pursuits.
  • AP: Rebels capture airbase in northern Syria.  
  • USIP: The Institute's ongoing series on "sleeper risks."  
  • Stripes: Esquire article wrongly says bin Laden shooter denied healthcare.
  • Danger Room: Spec Ops Command isn't sweating bin Laden shooter's mag profile.  


National Security

Graham to put hold on Hagel, Brennan noms; A mini drawdown from Afghanistan this spring; Dunford Afg. speech short and sweet; Russell Rumbaugh: time for a war tax; and a little more.

Advise and non-consent: Lindsey Graham wants more information on Benghazi and will hold the Hagel and Brennan nominations until he gets it. This is in effect the second time the Republican senator from South Carolina has threatened to hold up Hagel's nomination. Previously, he said would block it from moving forward unless Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Benghazi. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey did so Thursday. Still not good enough for Graham, who said on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday: "I don't think we should allow [John] Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship [or] Hagel to be confirmed as secretary of defense until the White House gives us an accounting," Graham said. "Did the president ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks?" Sen. Jack Reed, the Democrat from Rhode Island, who appeared on the same show Sunday said the move to block the president's nominations is "unprecedented and unwarranted."

Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, reportedly supports the hold, but neither he nor Graham support a filibuster.

Republican Morning Joe, this morning: "If you've got a working class guy who has voted Republican every four years and he turns on the Sunday shows and he's flipping around the channels and he sees Republicans in February still talking about Benghazi, saying they're going to hold up the picks for secretary of defense and CIA director for something that happened back in the fall, and they are continuing on hold up this and talk about it on Sunday morning, it's a colossal mistake." Hagel is thought to have 53 votes  among Dems, plus the two Democratic-leaning Independents, plus at least two Republicans, giving him 57 known votes so far. The SASC vote was postponed last week, and now it is unclear if it will be held this week, either.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we always appreciate your votesFollow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

Will the number match the mission? Obama may or may not announce details of the troop drawdown at tomorrow's State of the Union. Gen. Dempsey, in Afghanistan for the ISAF change of command over the weekend, said the number of American troops in Afghanistan will correspond to the mission they are given, or, as he told reporters: "The number will match the mission." He promised that he would not "ask 10,000 troops to do 20,000 troops' work." That squares with what top defense officials have said in recent months. The drawdown will be more robust after this fall, when the "fighting season" in Afghanistan ends, but it's likely there will be a small drawdown this spring.

It's already fairly clear that 5,000 troops or more will redeploy home over the next several months, taking the force of about 66,000 Americans down to almost 60,000. The U.S. is in the process of replacing conventional brigade combat teams that are typically 3,500 to 4,000 strong with the new Security Force Assistance Brigades, which typically consist of about 2,000 personnel. There are seven such brigades now; by early summer, there are to be nine SFABs on the ground, ISAF officials tell Situation Report. That means two of the larger, conventional brigades are to be replaced with two of the smaller brigades for a difference of about 4,000 personnel.

And starting this spring, some of the 400 or so Security Force Assistance teams, small units of as many as 18 people, will be redeployed home as the Afghan National Security Force is deemed stronger and more capable, Situation Report is told.

"I think that the idea of technical, modest adjustments over the course of the next few months, followed by a more substantial drawdown at the end of this season makes sense," Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon told Situation Report Sunday. O'Hanlon, who published an op-ed this weekend in the WaPo, praised Allen's tenure as ISAF commander. He said that if the drawdown plan leaves roughly 60,000 troops on the ground through this year's fight, he does not have any "extreme anxiety," and that it's consistent with what the administration has signaled. But O'Hanlon believes Obama recognizes that, like it or not, his legacy will be inextricably tied to Afghanistan's near future and will want to make sure the departure between now and the end of 2014 is smooth and creates as much stability as possible.
"He's thinking about the history books and this is very much his war at this point," O'Hanlon said. "He's the one that owns this."

Joe Dunford spoke briefly at Sunday's change of command ceremony in Kabul. Marine Gen. Joe Dunford assumed duties as Afghanistan's newest war commander -- and probably the last -- at a ceremony yesterday in Kabul. Dunford took over for another Marine, Gen. John Allen. "Today is not about change, it's about continuity. What has not changed is the will of this coalition," he said in a ceremony attended by Gen. Dempsey and Gen. Jim Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. "I'll endeavor to continue the momentum of the campaign and support the people of Afghanistan as they seize the opportunity for a brighter future."

Allen was the longest-serving ISAF commander at 19 months, but Dunford may end up presiding even longer -- as many as 22 months.

Invited to yesterday's Kabul ceremony but didn't attend: Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

A novel idea: a war tax to pay for war. Stimson's Russell Rumbaugh is out with an op-ed this morning on why the nation needs a war tax. Rumbaugh: "With leading officials calling for action in Syria, and the American military providing support for France's intervention in Mali, the need for such a tax is urgent. And President Obama's call for tax reform as the next round of budget negotiations begins offers a perfect opportunity to enact it." Any military action that required supplemental funding would require additional revenue from a tax surcharge, he argues. "By tying military action to additional revenue, the president would actually have a freer hand in deciding when to use force. Every argument the Obama administration makes for military action would explicitly include a call for increased taxes, forcing the question of whether the stakes in the military situation are worth the cost. If the American people agree they are worth it, the president will get both the political support and financing he needs."

Outsourcing: why Yemen is a concern. AEI's Critical Threats project is out with a piece that says Yemen continues to be a U.S. national security threat but that the U.S. has outsourced security to the Yemeni government -- which in turn has outsourced it to local tribal militias. "The validity of American strategy in Yemen thus rests on the viability of these local groups over the long term," concludes AEI's Sasha Gordon. Those local tribes now amount to the front-line troops defending territory from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Ansar al Sharia. "These militias have been effective, but are not reliable in the long term. Many instances of tribal militias clashing with government forces or with each other indicate as much." In conclusion:

"Looking into the future, the unavoidable question is: can the central government rely on Yemeni tribal structure, in the form of local militias, to protect the vulnerable areas outside the capital? Judging from the experience of the past year, the answer is no."