By Gordon Lubold
The U.S. may keep as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 - or it may not. At the NATO ministerial in Brussels, the German defense minister, Thomas de Maiziere, told reporters that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the U.S. will keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends next year. The revelation is bound to cause a stir in terms of public affairs protocol, since the German defense minister wouldn't normally announce another country's troop plans -- especially as the U.S. is still negotiating its post-2014 presence with Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, however, that the discussion was on a range of options for NATO, not U.S. troop numbers specifically.
"Not correct." Pentagon press secretary George Little: "The reports that the U.S. told Allies that we are considering 8-12,000 U.S. troops after 2014 are not correct. A range of 8-12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution. The President is still reviewing options and has not made a decision about the size of a possible U.S. presence after 2014, and we will continue to discuss with Allies and the Afghans how we can best carry out two basic missions: targeting the remnants of AQ and its affiliates, and training and equipping Afghan forces."
Breedlove is Obama's man. President Barack Obama is expected to pick an Air Force general, Phil Breedlove, as the next head of European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Breedlove, now the head of the Air Force's Europe and Africa commands, was at the top of the shortlist for the top job in Europe after Gen. John Allen pulled his name this week. Breedlove would be the first Air Force officer to serve as SACEUR in a decade and the only one to currently head a geographical combatant command -- the Navy, Marines, and Army lead all the others. Breedlove is thought to be well-liked by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and was fraternity brothers at Georgia Tech with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, who graduated in 1978 (Breedlove graduated in 1977). Breedlove was described to Situation Report as bright, engaging, down to earth, and "truly apolitical," according to one retired senior officer. He is well regarded by allies and fellow general and flag officers alike, we're told, and in the words of one senior Army officer, he is "more than able to hold his own with serious people." Breedlove's bio.
Welcome to the Friday edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at email@example.com. 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.
Forty more U.S. military head to Niger. President Barack Obama announced this morning that he has sent an additional 40 U.S. military personnel to Niger as part of a deployment of U.S. troops, 100 in total, who are providing support and intelligence collection and working with French forces in their efforts against Islamic extremists in Mali. Obama, in a letter this morning notifying Congress of the additional deployment: "The recently deployed forces have deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security." U.S. officials have said they expect Niger to become a host of a U.S. drone base to be used to monitor al-Qaida as it expands its activities in the region, and Niger has said they would welcome such an installation.
A new plan for the ANSF. NATO defense ministers in Brussels are seriously considering a dramatic increase in the long-term size of the Afghan National Security Forces in order to enhance stability. The NYT and others report that, under the new plan, Afghanistan would keep 352,000 troops through 2018. NYT: "The fiscal package that NATO leaders endorsed last spring would have reduced the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 troops after December 2014, when the NATO mission expires. That reduction was based on planning work indicating that the larger current force level was too expensive for Afghanistan and the allies to keep up, and might not be required. Some specialists even argued that the foreign money pouring into Afghanistan to support so large a force was helping fuel rampant official corruption. Senior NATO officials said Thursday that the allies were examining a new assistance package to Afghanistan that would last at least five years and keep the security forces at the higher troop level."
Hagel picked up more Republican support. Chuck Hagel now has the votes he needs to be confirmed as Pentagon chief and is expected to be voted in early next week. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama announced his support for Hagel, bringing to three known Republicans who will support him -- Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns from Nebraska (who recently announced he won't run again) are the others. Situation Report is told there will likely be more GOP support -- perhaps as many as 10 Republicans in all -- giving Hagel 65 possible votes.
But some Republican senators want Hagel's name to be withdrawn. With Sen. John McCain of Arizona calling for an end to the filibuster and with the additional Republican support for a vote, there appears to be a clear path toward Hagel's confirmation. Despite this, some Republican senators are calling for Hagel's name to be withdrawn in a last-ditch, and likely futile, effort to derail the nomination. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas wrote Obama to say: "While we respect Sen. Hagel's honorable military service, in the interest of national security, we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination, Cornyn's letter was signed by 13 other Republicans: Inhofe of Oklahoma, Graham of South Carolina, Wicker of Missouri, Vitter of Louisiana, Lee of Utah, Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rubio of Florida, Coats of Indiana, Johnson of Wisconsin, Risch of Indiana, Coburn of Oklahoma, Barrasso of Wyoming, Scott of South Carolina, and Cruz of Texas. In a statement, Cruz, who just became a senator in January, said: "If confirmed, Senator Hagel would be the most controversial Secretary of Defense in history."
For DoD civilians stressed about sequester and the potential of furloughs, a "Furlough Calculator." Some DoD civilians have been sent a "Furlough Calculator" to help them figure out what they'll earn - and lose - if Congress doesn't act. The Pentagon says that as many as 800,000 DoD civilians could be furloughed starting sometime in April if Congress doesn't avert sequestration - the forced spending cut of nearly $470 billion over the next 10 years. The "Furlough Pay Estimator in the Event Sequestration Occurs" helps employees to figure out their cut - which is estimated at about 20 percent of their pay. "Complete the grayed areas as reflected on your current Leave and Earnings Statement (LES). Estimated furlough amounts will automatically compute," according to the estimator - which appears on an Excel spread sheet. The calculator then shows the percentage of lost gross and the percentage of lost net pay.
Showing the flag: How Norm Hatch helped make history. Marine combat photographer Norm Hatch, 91-years old and "razor sharp of mind," is profiled today in the WaPo because 68 years ago this week he helped get a larger flag in the hands of the famous six who raised it on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. After the brass ordered a larger American flag to be placed atop the mountain so that it could be better seen, Hatch scrambled into action according to the Post story. "The next few hours, and the days immediately following, would thrust Hatch into the story of one of the most famous photographs in history.... The Alexandria resident, the last man living directly involved in its creation, helped ensure the image's place in perpetuity. Hatch corralled two men, Staff Sgt. Bill Genaust and Pfc. Bob Campbell, and ordered them to join the Marine detachment trudging to the summit of Suribachi with a larger flag. On the uneventful trek, Genaust and Campbell encountered a diminutive, bespectacled photographer for the Associated Press named Joe Rosenthal. Campbell knew Rosenthal from their days working at the San Francisco Chronicle; Rosenthal decided to join the party clambering up the mountain. ‘Rosenthal said he thought [the peak] looked like a good place to take a picture,' says Hatch today, sitting in the basement den of the home he has lived in for 62 years with his wife, Lois, now 92.... ‘He got there just in time.'"
Hatch, who is a neighbor of Situation Report, also addresses the false story of how Rosenthal staged the famous picture in the WaPo story.
Situation Report corrects: In an item yesterday about Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell being fooled by a story on a spoof site about GI benefits for Gitmo detainees, we quoted a Situation Report reader reacting to the item and inadvertently referred to him as McConnell's press secretary. We heartily regret the error.
- Zee News: Afghanistan turns down Pak request to hand over Maulvi Faquir.
- LAT: U.S. drone strikes up sharply in Afghanistan.
- AP: Pakistan arrests ex-head of banned Sunni group.
- Air Force Times: AF firefighting aid may see setbacks under cuts.
- Tablet: Will Leon Panetta ever get his vacation?
- CMR: Stealth attack on draft-age women.