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