National Security

The man in the Pentagon Hagel most wants to meet; Hagel’s Job One; Dunford, Karzai, meet over Wardak; U.S. may give direct aid to Syrian rebels; Why “Women-in-Combat” could be a misnomer, and more.

By Gordon Lubold

After yesterday's vote, Chuck Hagel strode through the Pentagon's E-Ring looking for the man he most wanted to meet. The Hagel camp had hoped for more than the 58 Senate votes it picked up -- marking the slimmest confirmation margin ever for a defense secretary -- but, as one senior defense official told Situation Report: "A win is a win."

Bruised, battered but undeterred after the vote, Hagel and some key aides were walking the halls of the E-Ring when Hagel decided to look for the man he knew he should meet as defense secretary: Ray Chandler. "The first person I want to meet in the Pentagon is the Sergeant Major of the Army," Hagel quipped, as he dodged into Chandler's outer office. Hagel, the former sergeant and Vietnam vet, knew that the Army's top enlisted man is a man you always want to make happy. But Hagel created an unscripted moment in the hyper-scripted world of the defense secretary: Chandler wasn't home. We're guessing the two will meet soon.

Hagel watched the vote on C-SPAN. While yesterday's vote was being taken, Hagel sat in his transition office on the Pentagon's third deck, surrounded by the key aides who had helped him get through the last several weeks: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Liz King, Acting Chief of Staff Marcel Lettre, Special Assistant Aaron Dowd, cyber guru Eric Rosenbach, policy guru Eric Lynn, speechwriter Jacob Freedman, Press Secretary George Little, Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog, and a few others. After the vote, Hagel and company clapped, he smiled, and walked back into his office to get to work.

Hagel's Job One. Hagel survived a nasty confirmation fight and will need to mend fences with some of the people in Congress who are on record saying they don't think he'll make a strong defense secretary. And, of course, sequester looms large. Assuming it goes through on Friday, the new Pentagon chief will have to contend with a $46 billion cut of its budget, furloughs for more than 800,000 defense civilians, and cuts to maintenance, training and operations across the department. Hagel will also have to get into the weeds with the budget problem Pentagon officials worry about even more: the threat of continuing to operate without a real budget and instead deal with a Continuing Resolution that hamstrings the Pentagon in myriad ways. People close to him and watching from afar say Hagel will hit the ground running on these issues.

But perhaps most important thing he'll do is build credibility within the Pentagon. Although he has the credibility of a sergeant and a combat veteran, he will need to reach out to the uniforms quickly. "The number one challenge he'll have to take forward is to establish links with and trust with the military," said one former government official to Situation Report. "I don't think he starts from square one; he starts as someone with a history in the military. There is going to be respect for his service. He is going to be credible. But I think anybody comes in new to the building, they have a set of relationships that they need to establish. I think he is experienced enough and savvy enough to recognize that."

One way he can do that is by proving to the uniforms that he is serious about taking care of the veterans who are returning and those already home. That will show, in a big way, that he wants to work with the building's senior officers in a genuine way and that he won't just pay lip service to helping wounded warriors transition home. Indeed, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, another Army veteran, was one of the first people to call Hagel after he was confirmed, and the two agreed to meet soon, defense officials said.

The former government official: "In this town, every day is a new day. If he comes in understanding that and moving forward proactively, he can either let the situation hamstring him, or he can define his own parameters. He's now a confirmed secretary of defense. So day one starts now."

Welcome to Wednesday's 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.

Hagel's day. Hagel walked into the Pentagon this morning at 7:30 and was sworn in at 8:15 by the "Mayor of the Pentagon" Mike Rhodes, director of administration and management. He'll be surrounded by his wife and senior aides in a private swearing-in ceremony. He will then host his first "Daily Senior Staff Update," with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, Vice Chairman Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, and other top uniforms. And at 10:30 he'll speak to Pentagon officials and employees in the Pentagon auditorium, laying out his priorities for the department. Later, he'll meet with the service secretaries and then go to the White House for meetings with national security officials.

Of course, Hagel has to find ways to fix his relationships with much of the Senate and the rest of a doubting Congress. But Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the Armed Services Committee and helped shepherd Hagel through the tortuous process, said yesterday that Hagel will find a way to work with Congress and that Congress will find a way to work with Hagel. The Cable's Josh Rogin quoted Levin yesterday: "He's a professional. We're professionals. We've all served together; we've all been through the rough and tumble of politics. Frankly, we're friends. Even those who voted against him would count themselves as friends," Levin said. "Everybody here who has worked with Senator Hagel realizes that he's not the kind of person who carries grudges ... I don't see any negative effect on his capability to run the Defense Department."

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, said he had to "up his game." Graham: "I think he will be entering weak based on his performance. That's his challenge: to prove to Congress that he's capable of doing his job. I hope he will." And Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told Rogin that Hagel can fix it if he tries. "There's no question that this process has been very damaging to him. There's no question this has not been a positive thing for him," Corker said. "My guess is that after this thing is over he's going to need to really go to work and show that he can and will be a tremendous leader at the Defense Department."

Dunford and Karzai met in Kabul. The new ISAF commander, Gen. Joe Dunford, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the "security concerns" in Wardak province after Karzai's government over the weekend ordered U.S. Special Forces out of the province following what the Afghan government characterized as unaddressed complaints about alleged torture, beatings, killings and disappearances of Afghan civilians. ISAF and the Afghan government have formed a joint commission to investigate the claims, but a previous investigation conducted by ISAF has not validated any of the issues the government raised. At today's meeting, Dunford "used the opportunity to reaffirm the coalition's commitment to protecting the safety and ensuring the security of Afghan citizens," ISAF said in a statement this morning.

Yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little wouldn't say how long the commission will take to do its work and said he didn't want to speak for the ISAF commander as to whether the Pentagon was pushing to keep the Special Forces units in Wardak. Little: "I think we have to let the process work in Kabul, and that process hasn't begun in earnest yet, so we are working with the Afghans and consulting with them to understand the specific concerns and then to arrive at a way ahead." ISAF officials so far have declined to say what the status of the forces are in Wardak or if they are packing up yet to leave.

Consider this from the Department of Messaging: It's not "Women-in-Combat," which is seen by some as a misnomer and does nothing to acknowledge and honor what women have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade. Some uniforms believe the best way to describe integrating women into combat roles should be referred to as "Women-in-Combat Arms."

Mistakes were made. The Pentagon acknowledged yesterday that a mistake was made in that data tracking the number of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. AP's Bob Burns reported that ISAF in Kabul incorrectly reported the decline in attacks last year by seven percentage points. That means the claim made in January that Taliban attacks were down by 7 percent had to be revised altogether, and that in fact there had been no change in the number of attacks. Burns: "The corrected numbers - from the original reports of a 7 percent decline to one of no change - could undercut the narrative promoted by the international coalition and the Obama administration of an insurgency in steep decline. A coalition spokesman, Jamie Graybeal, attributed the miscounting to clerical errors and said the problem does not change officials' basic assessment of the war."

Pentagon pressec George Little reiterated yesterday at a briefing yesterday that the revision to the reporting did not change the fundamental narrative about Afghanistan. Little: "This is a regrettable error in our database systems that was discovered during a routine quality check. We are making the appropriate adjustments. In spite of the stated adjustment, our assessment of the fundamentals of progress in Afghanistan remains positive. The fact that 80 percent of the violence has been taking place in areas where less than 20 percent of the Afghan population lives remains unchanged. As we have said repeatedly, we have pushed the Taliban out of the population centers, and they have failed to retake any of the areas they lost during the surge, and this remains true."

U.S. Aid for Syria? After months of refusing to provide direct, public aid to Syrian rebels, the U.S. may be considering a major change in its approach. Frustrated that the Assad regime remains in power, the Obama administration is considering providing rebel with equipment such as body armor and armored vehicles, as well as training and other assistance. The WaPo: "The administration has not provided direct aid to the military or political side of the opposition throughout the two-year-old conflict, and U.S. officials remain opposed to providing weapons to the rebels. Elements of the proposed policy, which officials cautioned have not yet been finalized, are being discussed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry in meetings this week and next with allies in Europe and the Middle East as part of a coordinated effort to end the bloody stalemate, which has claimed about 70,000 lives."

Noting

  • The Duffel Blog: Facing mass layoffs, the Taliban protest U.S. sequester.
  • The Atlantic: The Taliban's new, more terrifying cousin. 
  • AP: Israel: Mortar shell from Syria lands in Golan.
  • NYT: "Honor Betrayed:" Attacked at 19 by an Air Force trainer and speaking out. 
  • The New Yorker: (Coll): Are we still fighting al-Qaida? 
  • AlJazeera: Iran nuclear talks end without breakthrough. 
  • LAT: 10 hurt in Afghanistan suicide attack. 
  • Small Wars: The role of ideology in negotiation and conflict resolution during the Tuareg rebellions. 
  • U.S. News: New report on al-Qaida: Terrorism more about ‘Bloods and Crips' than ‘Koran and Hadith.'

National Security

ISAF, not commenting on status of forces after Karzai kicked SOF out; JIEDDO: Good news from Pakistan on bomb-making materials; Hagel vote today; A game-changer in Syria?; Napolitano, in the house; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

ISAF is pushing back on the reports that Special Operations Forces did anything wrong in Wardak province in Afghanistan, but won't say if the units have ceased operations or are moving out. Over the weekend, President Hamid Karzai threw a curveball to newly-minted ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford by directing that American Special Operations Force units operating in Wardak province west of Kabul should pack up and leave. The Karzai government had received multiple complaints from individuals in Wardak alleging that American units had tortured, killed, or abused Afghans there. Karzai's government issued a statement that said in part: "[A]rmed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people. A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge." U.S. officials in Kabul say that a previous investigation did not validate concerns from Wardak.

"In recent months, a thorough review in cooperation with the Defense Ministry and National Directorate of Security has confirmed that no Coalition forces have been involved in the alleged misconduct in Wardak province. Because we take these allegations seriously, ISAF and Afghanistan officials have agreed to a joint commission to look into the current concerns of citizens in Maidan Wardak," an ISAF spokesman told Situation Report. But ISAF would not confirm the status of SOF operations in Wardak or whether any units were planning to come out within the two-week timeframe Karzai demanded. "We don't discuss the status of their operations," a spokesman told us. 

A game-changer in Syria? Saudi Arabia is financing a "large purchase" of infantry weapons from Croatia and is sending them to rebel fighters in Syria in a move that could potentially tip the balance between opposition fighters and the Assad regime, which has successfully clung to power as fighting continues and thousands of people die. The NYT reports this morning that these weapons began reaching rebels late last year and "have been a factor in the rebels' small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad." NYT: "The arms transfers appeared to signal a shift among several governments to a more activist approach to assisting Syria's armed opposition, in part as an effort to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Mr. Assad's forces. The weapons' distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular, and appears to have been intended to bypass the jihadist groups whose roles in the war have alarmed Western and regional powers." One senior American official described the shipments as "a maturing of the opposition's logistical pipeline," but said that the opposition in Syria remains fragmented and that the shipments were not a game-changer. "I remain convinced we are not near that tipping point," the official told the Times.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we never use horsemeat. 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.

The moment you've all been waiting for: the Hagel vote. Sometime this morning, the Senate is expected to end the filibuster against Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and then, depending, vote up or down on his nomination. He's expected to get through, but of course you never know. If he does, we're told he would be sworn in tomorrow. Panetta, at home in California, will be watching the vote on CSPAN, AP reports.

The NYT today on confirming Hagel: "The Senate has a constitutional duty to review top executive appointments. But it's one thing to raise serious questions about a candidate's character or political views; it's quite another to distort a nominee's views on Israel and Iran as some conservative Republicans as most rigidly pro-Israel groups have with Mr. Hagel."

ICYMI: You think you know Chuck? Compare what Hagel has said with some of the critiques of Israel from Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon and Avi Dichter, former heads of the Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet -- all interviewed in the new documentary, The Gatekeepers. Click on this link to guess who said it: "I think you have to make peace with whoever you have to make peace with," or "When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist," or "Peace is always better than war." We probably won't send you a T-shirt if you win since we don't have any to send, but try it anyway.

Napolitano, in the house. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was seen stepping into the Pentagon's River Entrance Monday for a Council of Governors' meeting chaired by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. The group discussed cyber-security, the response to Hurricane Sandy, and of course, every defense official's favorite topic: the defense budget. Pentagon pressec George Little issued a statement saying: "Carter began the meeting by describing the Department's current budget situation and the devastating impacts of sequestration, which will go into effect on March 1 if Congress does not act. He reiterated the President's request at today's National Governors Association (NGA) meeting for Governors to urge their congressional delegations to pass a balanced deficit reduction package that avoid these cuts."

Carter and the group discussed an initiative announced at the NGA meeting, by which each state would make it easier for service members to obtain civilian professional credentials and licenses. And the group also approved a proposal to establish a "consultative process" between the Defense Department and the states for programming budgetary needs for the National Guard. "This consultative process opens an avenue for the states to communicate their civil support needs to DoD, strengthens unity of effort, and maximizes transparency on the strategic context of DoD programming and budgeting."

Also, on cyber: Napolitano briefed the govs on Obama's recent executive order on cyber, and the group discussed "state-federal partnerships" to improve cyber-security and "agreed to make cyber-security a recurring agenda item for future sessions."

Governors, also in the house: Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, and Wyoming Governor Matthew Mead.

Here, ICYMI, the letter Napolitano wrote to Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democrat from Mississippi and ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, about what sequester means to DHS -- including a 25 percent reduction in Coast Guard operations.

From JIEDDO, good news on the flow of bomb-making materials from Pakistan. In December, Situation Report reported on the frustrations of Lt. Gen. Mike Barbero, the head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, when it comes to the flow of fertilizer from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Fertilizer, of course, is used in making homemade bombs, and Barbero, whose job it is in part to counter the flow of such material, expressed his exasperation with one company, Fatima, that seemed to want to cooperate in stopping the use of its product to make bombs, but hadn't actually done anything. He had even testified before a subcomm of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the need for greater cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Well this week, Barbero issued a statement: things have gotten better. "While I stand by my testimony [in December], in recent weeks I've seen positive developments in discussions with the Fatima Group, the Pakistan-based producers of calcium ammonium nitrate. Fatima confirmed to me in writing that it has suspended sales of [calcium ammonium nitrate] fertilizer products in the border provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, affecting 228 dealers in those areas. I'm encouraged by their actions and remain hopeful this step will have positive and significant near-term impacts with respect to diminishing the IED threat not only to U.S. and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan, but to Pakistan's civilians and security forces as well." Fatima has also agreed to create a "reformulated product" that renders calcium ammonium nitrate "more inert and less explosive," Barbero said, and thereby "diminishing its effectiveness as an IED precursor material," calling such a long-term solution a "true scientific breakthrough."

JIEDDO, created as the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan was at its worst, is one of those Pentagon organizations that now may be seen as less necessary at a time of grave cost-cutting. It has been attempting to show that the work it does is still relevant.

Barbero added that the Pakistan military recently expressed a desire to "achieve tangible progress" on what's known as the U.S.-Pakistan Counter IED Cooperation Framework, which encourages information-sharing, enhanced border control, and helps build "counter-IED capacity" in Pakistan.

Noting

  • Al-Monitor: Iraqi national security adviser says terrorism tied to Syria.
  • CS Monitor: Karzai is mad as heck and he isn't going to take it anymore.
  • The Iran Primer: Khazaee welcomes U.S. calls for direct talks.
  • NBC: Hagel vote expected today after seven-week struggle.
  • David Frum on CNN: Vote no on Hagel today.  
  • LAT: Syria opposition will reportedly attend Rome meeting.