National Security

Karzai kicks SF unit out of Wardak; On sequester, did the Pentagon overplay its hand? Hagel would be sworn in Wednesday; Could a half-inch crack in the F-35 create a broader fissure?; What Dan Senor got wrong, and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

If the Senate votes on the Hagel nom on Tuesday, he'll likely be sworn in Wednesday. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday to end the filibuster against Chuck Hagel and then quickly confirm him. Despite some last minute maneuvers -- and efforts like the full-page ad in the WSJ this morning from the Emergency Committee for Israel, featuring a bummed-out looking Hagel -- his confirmation is likely. The Hagel camp believes he will get as many as 65 votes, and Situation Report is told he would be sworn in Wednesday. Details are still being worked out for the swearing in, which of course ends a tumultuous political episode -- and potentially begins another.

Karzai has kicked U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak province. At a presser Sunday, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said a American SOF unit had to cease operations immediately and leave an area of Wardak province within the next two weeks, potentially creating a security void in a critical "staging area" used by the Taliban. This comes after citizens in that area reportedly made repeated complaints, charging that an American unit had unlawfully "detained, tortured and killed innocent civilians," according to a report in the WSJ. "The move will complicate the transition process by worsening U.S.-Afghan tensions and increasing operational uncertainty as international forces hand over security responsibilities to their Afghan counterparts." It's also a sign that Karzai will not make life easy for the U.S. military in the remaining 22 months or so of its formal combat presence. The U.S. military said it was investigating the allegations, but it wasn't clear if the unit had begun pulling out.

What happened in Brussels with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere? On Friday, there was confusion in Brussels on the last day of the NATO defense ministerial, after the German defense minister either misspoke or mistakenly spoke the truth, telling reporters that the U.S. would leave between 8,000-12,000 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. How many troops the U.S. keeps in country is perhaps the most significant question in Afghanistan policy, and de Maiziere's comment was surprising because (a) he does not represent the United States, (b) it's not clear that Washington has made any decision, and (c) the range he cited is higher than most anticipate. The Pentagon quickly addressed the statement, saying that the range of 8,000-12,000 represented the range for both the U.S. and international forces, but still leaving the door open for a sizeable American force post 2014. We'll see. But for now, a senior defense official explained de Maiziere's comment to Situation Report: "It seems like it really was a purely innocent mistake. Nothing more."

 

Welcome to the Monday edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.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.

Four days from sequestration, has the Pentagon overplayed its hand? Democrats and Republicans alike think DOD's apocalyptic rhetoric is overstated, noting that after more than a decade of massive wartime spending, it is hard to argue that budget cuts will have consequences as dramatic as Secretary Leon Panetta and others have claimed. The NYT's editorialists today suggest that much of the Pentagon's rhetoric is "plainly hype," they write. "Both the generals and the civilians in the Pentagon know that some cuts are possible and that even under the sequester American security need not be compromised. The military has many resources, and in some respects it is over-resourced. Important budgetary accounts -- military pay and benefits -- are exempted from the sequester and, according to experts, the Pentagon has more flexibility than is commonly understood to weather these reductions." And on the front page of the paper this morning, Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker point out that defense spending, once a sacred cow for the GOP, is seen differently. Although some notable conservatives still clearly decry further defense cuts, Republicans in the main are more serious about reducing spending than stressing cuts to the Pentagon: "Most Congressional Republicans are standing their ground, a position they say is strategic. The federal government's growing debt cannot be controlled through the spending at the annual discretion of Congress, and after the cuts take effect, that part of the federal budget will drop to levels not seen in five decades as measured against the size of the economy. Long term, the problem is entitlements, especially Medicare and Social Security."

Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, told the NYT: "Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11. But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts."

It could take 10 days for Pratt & Whitney to figure out what's wrong with the F-35 engine. The crack discovered last week during a routine inspection of an F-35A resulted in the grounding of 51 aircraft Thursday. It was about a half-inch long, according to Reuters' Andrea Shalal-Esa, and it will take about 10 days for experts at engine maker Pratt & Whitney to determine if the crack was the result of a design flaw or something else. Meanwhile, today the Pentagon's top F-35 official and executives from Lockheed Martin are at an air show in Australia to make sure the Australians know the program is on track. The Australians, who are supposed to buy 100 of the expensive plane, may be getting cold feet: they are thinking about doubling their inventory of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, Shalal-Esa reports this morning. It's unclear that the problem with the engine will lead to any significant changes in U.S. procurement, but it's the second time the plane has been grounded this year. If the Pentagon gets to choose its own budget cuts, debate over the future of the F-35, the most expensive fighter jet ever produced, could get pretty heated as budget cutters look for low-hanging fruit. No sense that this grounding will put the F-35 in such a position, but it may grow harder to defend.

Dan Senor's column on "What a Defense Secretary Does" in the Weekly Standard might have given Bob Gates a little too much credit. Senor counters the view that the job of defense secretary is only about implementing White House policy - which is what defenders of Chuck Hagel have been arguing in recent weeks in response to worries about his past statements. Senor writes to the contrary, saying that the defense secretary actually should have "the keys to the car" and is as much if not more so a policymaker on national security as anyone in the White House. As an example of this, Senor says that as defense secretary, Bob Gates stepped in to help strengthen the Army officer promotions system by sending David Petraeus to head the Army promotion board. After up-and-comer Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, credited with playing a big role in the post 9/11 world, was passed over twice, there was widespread recognition that the system was broken and Petraeus seemed like the man to put it back together. Senor used the example of McMaster's then-stalled career - he is now a two-star - to show the significant policy-making role the defense secretary can play. But a friend to Situation Report wrote us to say that it was actually Army Secretary Pete Geren, not Gates, who intervened to get Petraeus as the head of the promotion board. "Geren came up with the idea, wrote the parameters that could only fit [Petraeus] and Gates simply approved," the friend wrote. "I get his larger point, but history is about getting the details right."

 

The Knife

  • Defense News: DoD unlikely to get budget-cutting authority.
  • Omaha World Herald: Hagel faces rush to front lines of budget war.
  • The Atlantic: Why Congress should avert sequestration, then make smarter cuts equal to the same dollar figure. 

The Stan

  • USAT: Insider attacks decline in Afghanistan.
  • Small Wars: Withdraw and win: "Go" for victory in Afghanistan.

Into Africa

  • Socialist Worker: What France wants in Mali: untangling the web of lies and deceptions that obscure the strategy.
  • Reuters: 10 Chadian fighters killed in Mali.
  • Al Arabiya: Arab militia kills 50 in Sudan's Darfur.
  • Defence Web: Four Somali immigrants convicted of supporting militants. 

Noting

  • Danger Room: The AR-15 is more than a gun, it's a gadget.
  • Saudi Gazette: How an ordinary Syrian became a Kalashnikov-wielding fighter.

The Peninsula

  • The Telegraph: North Korea approves 28 "socialist" hairstyles.
  • American Prospect: No one understands the North like the South (Korea).
  • AP: First female South Korean president faces crisis from the North.

National Security

Breedlove to Europe; A new plan for the ‘Stan; Hagel, reaching the finish line; Obama sends 40 more military to Niger; A “furlough calculator” for sequesters and more.

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 gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.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.

The Stan

  • 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. 

Noting

  • 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. 

Into Africa

  • The Cable: USAID's Shah pledges more U.S. support for Somalia.
  • AP: Islamic rebels fire rockets at military in Mali.
  • NYT: Russia sends humanitarian aid to Mali.
  • VOA: French, Mali forces in Gao push out Islamist rebels.