John Allen appeared for the first time publicly since deciding to pass on the top military job in Europe, speaking briefly on the record before a group of about 100 invited guests to the Institute for the Study of War's "Welcome Home" dinner at the Hay-Adams last night. Open bar downstairs, followed by dinner on the ninth floor with a movie set view of the White House and Washington Monument that served as a dramatic backdrop to Allen and Kim Kagan's conversation before dinner. During the on-the-record portion of the evening, Allen said, as he has many times, that he believes the campaign in Afghanistan is "on track" and that the plan to shift security to the Afghans will work. He expressed confidence in the plan to withdrawal 34,000 troops over the course of the next year.
Governmental reform, institution building and strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces are all important to keeping Afghanistan on track, Allen said. But perhaps the biggest challenge is countering the uncertainty Afghans perceive. Allen: "Uncertainty is a challenge that we must face and the more we are able to articulate our commitment to Afghanistan's future, the less likely we'll see hedging strategies domestically, hedging strategies regionally, the more we can get on with the business with convincing the Taliban that their narrative of defeat of us, their narrative that we are leaving on the first of January 2015 is in fact specious."
Allen spoke of some of the "pretty dark moments" during his 19 months in Kabul, including the day almost a year ago when the Korans were burned, igniting one of the deepest challenges he had to confront as commander. "When that phone rang early that morning, I believed that we likely were going to see the end of the campaign...but the advice I received from friends, relationships that we had developed, all of those things together, I think saved the campaign," he said.
Allen, joking about the advice he received from his wife, Kathy, who sat at a table nearby: "Kathy said, don't tell any jokes because you're not a very funny general."
DC Seen: The guest list included: Mark Fox, Catherine Dale, Scott Miller, Jon Greenert, Chris Brose, Mike Barbero, Amb. Ron Neumann, Bud McFarlane, John Nagl, Dave Close, Arnie Punaro, Jack Keane, Mike O'Hanlon, Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman, and Jeff Dressler.
The Eats: Allen joked about being the only thing between the guests and dinner, saying that when he saw the menu, he understood why so many people came. A salad with "roasted plum tomatoes" was followed by "Duet of Petit Filet Mignon and Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Cheddar and Scallion Mashed Potatoes, Chardonnay Beurre Blanc, seasonal vegetables." Dessert: "Belgium Dark Chocolate Tart, Maldon Sea Salt Caramel."
Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where we're hoping it's not the kind of day where you put your hands under the automated water faucet and nothing comes out. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.
Gordon Adams breaks down each of the services' sequestration plans in a piece on FP called "How Like the Services." Each service has released documents that detail their Plan B if sequestration hits March 1. The Army's plan, according to Adams is "classic Army," the Navy's plan is "more succinct and more honest" and the Air Force's plan is "blunt and in your face." Adams writes: "The trouble is, of course, that sequester has not happened. The secretary has not made choices; priorities have not been allocated. But the services have been let out to make the worst case they can. Only the Navy is straightforward in saying these are "potential" impacts, and that is true not only because sequester has not happened, but because the decisions and prioritizations have not been made."
The Air Force Association is on record against sequestration. And in a letter to Reid, Boehner, McConnell and Pelosi, obtained by Situation Report, the AFA says: "American military personnel have put their lives on the line repeatedly in near-continuous combat engagements throughout the past two decades. They take this risk with the firm belief that our Nation's leaders will do everything possible to equip them for success. The combined effects of the continuing resolution and sequestration will break that pledge." Signed by more than 25 top Air Force officials, now retired, including: Whit Peters, James Roche, Mike Wynne, Duncan McNabb, Charles Wald, Victor Renuart and others.
In Brussels today, Panetta had his first face-to-face with Joe Dunford since the general became the Afghan war commander. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta received an update from Dunford while in Brussels for the NATO defense ministerial both men are attending this week. Panetta reiterated afterward: "Joe is the right guy for the right time." In Brussels, Panetta is holding bi-lats with the Italian defense minister, the Afghan Defense Minister BK Mohammadi, and the German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, as well as meeting with the NATO secretary general -- all before the formal NATO sessions begin. This afternoon, Panetta will meet with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, their first face-to-face since operations in Mali began.
During today's NATO sessions, ministers will discuss something called the "Connected Forces Initiative," which we're told is "how bi-lat agreements support NATO readiness." The ministers will also discuss U.S. support for the NATO Response Force and receive an update on how nations are supporting what's called the Chicago Defense Package, including "common funding and capabilities sharing" for NATO members. Tonight's dinner in Brussels will focus on the future of NATO and "how the alliance needs to think about future operational environments," Situation Report is told.
George Little provided a readout from the meeting between Panetta and Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo di Paola: "[They had] a productive and warm meeting that followed up on Panetta's recent visit to Rome. They discussed the transition process in Afghanistan, this year's fighting season, and the path to an enduring presence beyond 2014. The Secretary noted Italy's strong participation in ISAF. They also discussed NATO capabilities, budget pressures in Europe and the United States, and the looming prospect of sequestration. The Secretary emphasized how devastating sequestration would be for US defense and national security."
Campbell joins the 100,000 Strong Foundation today. Later today, the 100,000 Strong Foundation will announce that Kurt Campbell, who recently stepped down as State's top diplomat for Asia, is joining the foundation. He is said to have been a "longtime supporter" of what had been the 100k Strong Initiative since it was begun at State in 2010. Now, Situation Report is told, he will be providing "strategic guidance and regional expertise" to the new foundation, launched Jan. 24 with Hillary Clinton."
From the "About Us" at 100,000 Strong: "The 100,000 Strong Foundation's mission is to expand and diversify the number of Americans studying Mandarin and studying abroad in China. The goal is to bridge the gap between cultures, strengthen the US-China economic and strategic relationship, and enhance global stability."
Situation Report corrects. In our item yesterday about Bob Work going to CNAS we said incorrectly that Campbell was on the board of CNAS, which he helped to found in 2008. He is not. And Michele Flournoy, of course, is but one of 14 board members. BUT Situation Report has learned that Campbell will in fact be joining the CNAS board, TBA in the coming days, so there you have it.
Texas, are you listening? How Hagel can exact revenge. The Center for American Progress' Larry Korb and Lauren Linde, writing on FP, say that once Chuck Hagel gets into the Pentagon, he can stop playing defense and go on the offense against his political opponents in the Senate, like newly-minted Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who questioned whether Hagel had received money from U.S. enemies, like North Korea. He could close bases, move forces from one state to another, or halt weapons programs that provide jobs in red states, like Texas or Oklahoma or South Carolina.
"Neither Hagel, nor any secretary of defense, can close military bases unilaterally, but he can have a large impact on which bases are part of the list that is sent to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In 1995, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry resisted pressure from some in the Air Force to place two major logistics bases in Texas and California on the list. When the commission overruled Perry and put them back on the list for closure, Perry mitigated the economic impact on the states by privatizing the bases. Similarly, even before unveiling his list in 2005, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made it known that Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota would be on the closure list. Although the commission refused to support this, the commotion surrounding the decision undermined Minority Leader Senator Tom Daschle's 2004 reelection bid, which he lost."
But Korb and Linde also argue Hagel may be above it all: "Given this record, Senator Hagel can be depended upon to put his country first, unlike many of his critics."
A combat veteran and "total badass" will speak about women in the military today. Combat veteran Kayla Williams, author of a book called "Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army," will speak at the Center for National Policy and the Truman Project about women in combat and women's changing roles in the military today at noon at the newly merged think tank's offices on Massachusetts Avenue. The panelists will include Williams and Mike Breen, executive director of Truman CNP and a former Army captain. RSVP here: email@example.com. Watch the event livestream.
The Pentagon announced it may furlough as many as 800,000 civilian employees if sequestration goes through. Although significant, the furloughs are not as dramatic as some reports suggest. According to the Pentagon's plan, the majority of the 800,000 civilians would be told they had to take one day off per week for 22 weeks, between April and September, when the fiscal year ends. And each military service has until early March to ask for specific exemptions on behalf of employees deemed critical. Our E-Ring post here.
"No fair!" After we ran the piece from Danger Room about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell apparently getting fooled by a story about GI benefits for Gitmo detainees, we got a note from a Situation Report reader, Phil Christenson: "NOT FAIR [CAPS his] to McConnell or the poor kid who sent the letter to the Pentagon. Senators get thousands of letters a week from their constituents and they have unpaid interns or practically unpaid kids right out of school who do nothing but send letters on to agencies for their response without the senator or more senior staff seeing any of it. Unless you are foolish enough to believe that the Secretary of the Treasury signed every dollar bill in your wallet, you should not act as if routine transmittal letters are anything other than automatic signatures on machines that spit out hundreds or thousands a day."[Note that the initial post said Christenson is McConnell's press secretary, which is of course incorrect.]
OutServe-SLDN announced new chapter president, a retired colonel. Col. Gary Espinas will serve as OutServe-SLDN's first director of chapter and member services for the military advocacy group for actively serving LGBT community, OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Espinas is now a military professor of national security affairs in Monterey, California and will assume his new duties at OutServe-SLDN beginning April 30 after he retires.
- Killer Apps: How the U.S. wants to counter Chinese cyber espionage.
- Time's Battleland: The saga of the F-35 and the coming sequester flak.
- Danger Room: Senator lists death rate of drones at 4,700 people.
- The Atlantic: Hagel detractor supports Fascistic Vision of Israel. NY Daily News: Reporter Dan Friedman explains his role in the "Friends of Hamas" and a birth of a rumor.
- Politico: Chuck Schumer: Hagel almost had tears in meeting.