National Security

Condi had her doubts about the surge; Whither the pivot?; Budgets and nukes: Low-hanging fruit? Dempsey to China; Furloughs to be in full-swing; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

New this hour: Six Marines killed in Nevada at explosion at Army depot. NBC: "Six U.S. Marines were killed and at least eight wounded when a mortar exploded during a live-fire training exercise overnight at an Army munitions depot in the Nevada desert, military officials told NBC News. There were conflicting reports about what happened. According to one account, a 60-millimeter mortar shell exploded in a tube as Marines were preparing to fire it. Another account said that the shell exploded as Marines were picking it up to load it. The accident happened at Hawthorne Army Depot, a 147,000-acre ammunition storage and training facility just east of the California line."

On the Iraq surge, Condi had her doubts, according to a new transcript of a Saturday morning "brainstorming" session in November 2006. Revealed for the first time, a new, classified transcript of a conversation between then Secretary of State Condi Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and others in his office shows there were deep divisions within the administration as to how to proceed in Iraq, where sectarian violence had crumbled the military success of the invasion three years before. Writing on FP, NYT reporter Michael Gordon quotes Rice: "'What can we really do?' asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who wondered aloud if the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad might be "playing us for a sucker.'" Gordon: "Much of the discussion, which is chronicled in a classified transcript described in detail here for the first time, was dominated by Rice's argument that the United States should abandon a strategy in which "nothing is going right" and instead focus on "core interests" like fighting al Qaeda and contesting Iranian influence. Instead of trying to stop the burgeoning sectarian violence, Rice suggested, the American military might concentrate on averting "mass killings" --attacks on the order of Srebrenica, the 1995 massacre in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.

Hadley pushed for the surge. "But Hadley and his aides on the National Security Council were pushing in the opposite direction and making the case for sending more troops. ‘On force numbers in Baghdad, we have never had a level of forces that historical case studies, such as those conducted by Rand, find to be necessary,' said Brett McGurk, an Iraq hand on the NSC. "There is an argument that coalition forces are not only critical to preventing mass killings, they are also critical to establishing the conditions for a political deal."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we remember those heady days 10 years ago, at an airbase in Kuwait. FWIW, below. Our remembrance of that heady time, FWIW, below. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at 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.

Did the Iraq war begin today or tomorrow? There is always a little bit of confusion. But it was a time zone issue, of course. From Tom Ricks' "Fiasco," page 116: "Combat commenced on March 20, 2003 in Iraq - it was still the evening of March 19 in Washington, D.C."

Link to FP-RAND conversation last week on Iraq, 10 years later, with Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, Steve Hadley and a dozen or so others who planned, executed and analyzed the war, here.

FP's selection of the 10 most iconic images of the war in Iraq, which includes one of the statue, the crying baby girl with blood spattered on her dress, and a plane full of Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, the first unit to enter Baghdad and one of the strongest images: Getty photographer John Moore's capture of a woman lying next to her fiancé's gravesite at Arlington, sobbing. All here. 

Hagel, whose position on the Iraq war contributed to his confirmation troubles, released a statement this morning on the 10th anniversary, that betrayed none of that but honored the sacrifices of service members. It read in part: "The American people will always honor the sacrifices of the 4,475 U.S. service members who died in Iraq, and the more than 32,000 who came home wounded.  Every man and woman who served in Iraq carries with them the scars of war.  As we remember these quiet heroes this week we are also reminded of their families and their sacrifices, as we also honor and thank them."

The Pentagon spends $31 billion on nukes. That could be low-hanging fruit in a budget crunch, say experts. A new fact sheet being released today by the Arms Control Association looks at the money the Defense Department spends supporting 1,700 deployed strategic warheads and their associated missiles, subs, and bombers -- as well as the other 3,000+ warheads in the active U.S. stockpile -- and suggests options for budget savings. "The U.S. Navy wants 12 new ballistic missile submarines with a lifetime cost of almost $350 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-armed strategic bombers that would cost at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles (price unknown). The Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have been pursuing a costly, $10 billion plan for upgrading B61 nuclear bombs in Europe, which may no longer be there by the time the upgrades are finished," according to the paper.

Panel today at 9:30. A group from ACA and Stimson will talk about "sustaining U.S. nuclear forces in a tight budget" this morning and will present estimates on the "actual cost of the nuclear stockpile." The discussion will focus on the $50-58 billion in savings they suggest could be achieved between 2013 and 2022. Who? Barry Blechman, Russell Rumbaugh at Stimson, and Tom Collina and Daryl Kimball at ACA. Their new fact sheet, here. Deets of the event here.

Ash Carter is still in Asia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter wrapped up a series of meetings in the Philippines and is now in Indonesia, where today he will attend the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue with other senior international defense officials, Situation Report is told. While there he will speak on "The Rise of Asia and the New Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region."

There's a reason the QDR has been in limbo. Defense officials yesterday announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Pentagon to take a second look at its defense strategy, the one President Barack Obama announced himself more than a year ago at the Pentagon. That strategy, which helped create the "pivot to Asia" - or rebalancing - will probably not be completely overhauled. But with fewer resources, the Pentagon now must see if it can afford what Obama set out to do last year. But a separate exercise, the Quadrennial Defense Review, the congressionally mandated look at the department's capabilities, strategies and focus, is entirely predicated on the defense strategy now getting a second look. But the QDR has been held up as the officials waited for the new secretary -- and then, once Hagel was in the building, his guidance on how they should proceed. The Pentagon's announcement yesterday of a review of the defense strategy, called "The "Strategic Choices and Management Review," will look at "all past assumptions, systems and practices," and will define the major decisions to be made in the next decade "to preserve and adapt our defense strategy, our force and our institutions...under a range of future budgetary scenarios" [italics ours]. "The results of this review will frame the Secretary's guidance for the fiscal year 2015 budget and will ultimately be the foundation for the Quadrennial Defense Review due to Congress in February 2014," according to a statement from the building. The whole thing is due May 31.

Point man for the review? Ash Carter, deputy secretary of defense, working closely with Gen. Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Tony Cordesman of CSIS today will talk about his recent trip to Afghanistan. He will talk about the "critical role of a change of government" and making transition work - the changes in the threat assessment, strategy and the approach to shaping the Afghan National Security Forces and the serious economic risks inherent in the transition process, Situation Report is told. Today at CSIS at 9:30.

Here are some "broad options" for cutting Defense Department spending, according to the CBO. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report that looks at options for trimming the DOD budget to "align projected costs with available funding." The CBO found that the cost of implementing DOD's plans through 2021 would exceed the funding allowed under the budget caps "by a large margin," and that the Pentagon will have to cut back on its forces and activities more and more each year to meet those caps. Also, "policymakers could reduce costs by cutting the number of military units, funding to equip and operate the units -- or both." Read "Approaches for Scaling Back the Defense Department's Budget Plans," available here.

Dempsey's pretend convo with the Ayatollah: What are you thinking? Gen. Dempsey spoke yesterday at CSIS, reports the E-Ring's Kevin Baron, and talked briefly about what he would ask Iran's supreme leader if he had the chance: "If I had a chance to sit with the ayatollah, I would ask him what exactly you are hoping to achieve... I'd like to hear it from him," Dempsey said. "What it is that they believe the future holds for the region?"

Dempsey also said the American commitment to security in the Persian Gulf remains strong, despite the uncertainty around the Pentagon budget. The U.S. and the Gulf region, which includes Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman, have shared interests. "I came here today with a message of assurance - a little peace of mind in the context of uncertainty," he said. Dempsey's speech here.

Also, Dempsey's headed to China. Kevin also learned of an upcoming trip Dempsey will take to China next month. Details are few this far out, but staffers are working it out now.

Situation Report corrects -- When we attempted to answer our own question, "Who is Juan Garcia?" in yesterday's edition, we goofed. Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia was a Texas state representative, not a member of Congress. Apologies for the error.

Furlough notices are going out for defense civilians. Sequester means as many as 800,000 DOD civilians will be forced to take unpaid leave between now and September, equating, typically, to one day off per week for 22 weeks. The furlough does not affect uniformed military. This week, furlough notices were sent to civilian employees of the Defense Department, and those employees have seven days from the day they received them to appeal those notices or otherwise reply. Between March 29 and April 24, "furlough decision letters" will be sent to employees, and then the actual furlough period begins April 25. The furlough period extends for 11 pay periods, between April 21 and Sept. 21. "These dates," said a Pentagon spokesman, "are subject to change."

Remembering Iraq. There will be a lot of remembering about the war in Iraq today, some selective, some expansive, some emotional, some political. Here¹s mine, in brief: It was 10 years ago today that we were an embedded reporter, positioned at Al Jaber Air Base across the border from Iraq in Kuwait, feeling like we picked the short straw since we were embedded with a Marine Harrier squadron when we really wanted to be with a unit on the ground who would actually cross the L-O-D. After some awkward days of relationship-building - ­ the first ones under the formal embedded media program -­ the Shock and Awe campaign began. But from where we stood, it felt like neither. The Harrier pilots with whom we were embedded feared talking to the media could spoil their shot at the show and we were blinded to what was really going on on the ground: our soda straw view of the war came from a place where Haagen Dazs was available in little containers in the Air Force cafeteria and the only sense of war was the pounding explosions far away - and the occasional false alarm that required us to put on our gas masks and run for cover.

The war, such as it was, didn¹t feel like much until four days after it all began. That¹s when a small group of reporters went to the neighboring air base to cover the memorial service held for four Marines killed in a helicopter crash ­ the first casualties of the war. We stood in a packed hangar, listening to fellow Marines, failing to hold back tears, as they spoke of the dead men. At that moment, all the hassles of the embedded media program, the bad Internet, the long, dark walks to the head in the middle of the night and the antiseptic-ness of modern conflict fell apart. War became real.

Weeks later we¹d hear something else about that day that told us all we needed to know about the disconnect between Washington and the field. The Marine color guard who had attended the service in the hangar had worn white slings over their cammies - ­ the wrong color, apparently, they should have been black - and a sergeant major at headquarters Marine Corps who had seen images from the service had sent an angry message back: even during war, Marines were supposed to be in uniform.

The Stans

  • CNN: Pakistani officials arrest man in connection with Daniel Pearl slaying. 
  • AP: Taliban rescind offer of peace talks with Pakistan.
  • AP: Dunford: Team working to resolve issues that anger Karzai.
  • VOA:U.S., Afghanistan, struggle to agree on Special Forces.
  • NYT: Objections to U.S. troops intensify in Afghanistan.


Emerging Conflict

National Security

Carter in Asia; The Navy fights alcohol abuse; Jeh Johnson: “we must be realistic” on a drone court; MC Times’ cover boy: Jim Mattis; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Ash Carter is headed to Manila after meetings in South Korea. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said budget cuts won't affect the Pentagon's ability to help defend South Korea. "The commitment to the [South Korea-U.S.] alliance is part of the Asia-Pacific rebalance, and we will ensure all the pieces of our defense relationship will continue to move forward, and this will occur despite the budgetary pressures in the U.S." Carter's trip to Asia, which includes other stops, should help to reassure allies that the American budget woes - as North Korea stiffens its posture against its southern neighbor and the U.S. - won't affect its resolve in helping to defend the region. On Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would add 14 new ground-based missile interceptors in the area by 2017 in response to the saber-rattling from the North in what is bound to be a controversial move because of President Barack Obama's rhetoric on missile defense. Hagel is in the Pentagon today.

Jeh Johnson is skeptical of the need for a so-called drone court. The Pentagon's former top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, the former chief Pentagon lawyer who approved personally the legal authority behind every major military strike under President Obama, is speaking this morning at Fordham University about drone warfare and the legal issues confronting it, reports the E-Ring's Kevin Baron, who obtained an early copy of the speech. "Johnson directly challenges advocates of the idea, including many senators calling for more oversight and transparency over the war on terrorism such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), intelligence committee chairwoman, and his old boss former Defense Secretary Robert Gates," Kevin writes.

Johnson, this morning: "Our government finds itself in a lose-lose proposition: it fails to officially confirm many of its counterterrorism successes, and fails to officially confirm, deny or clarify unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties. Our government's good efforts for the safety of the people risks an erosion of support by the people. It is in this atmosphere that the idea of a national security court as a solution to the problem -- an idea that for a long time existed only on the margins of the debate about U.S. counterterrorism policy but is now entertained by more mainstream thinkers such as Senator Diane Feinstein and a man I respect greatly, my former client Robert Gates - has gained momentum... But, we must be realistic about the degree of added credibility such a court can provide."

Today's WaPo's "Faces of the Fallen," the gallery of those killed, in Afghanistan, between July and August, here. As of yesterday, there are 2,173 dead under Operation Enduring Freedom.

Memory champion and former sailor Ron White's "biggest memory project" of his career -- remembering the rank, first and last name of 2,200 people who were killed in Afghanistan -- more than 7,000 words total, for America's Memory, which includes a video of him talking about the project. "The purpose of this project is to say: ‘you're not forgotten,'" White says. Ron White once memorized a deck of cards in 87 seconds, according to a story in Navy Times.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at 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.

Does the U.S. Army train foreign militaries well? The answer is no if your name is Kalev Sepp of the Naval Postgraduate School, who participated in the event last week put on by FP and RAND on the Iraq war. The four-hour discussion, with Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, Steve Hadley, John Nagl, Paul Pillar and several others who launched, fought, executed and analyzed the war, focused on a number of still hotly-contedted issues. FP is putting up excerpts of the conversation. Sepp and others talked about the Army and COIN. Sepp: "I would suggest that the American Army, in particular, is not good at training foreign armies. My feeling is that the Marines have done this much better. When I was with Third Marines just a couple of years ago, I was in the middle of a discussion among their battalion commanders where they were able to discuss the difference in burial rites between the different valleys in their sector of operations. I mean, you know, that knowledge of the culture that they were going to operate in. But I would say that the American Army does this badly, has a history of doing it badly."

Participant John Nagl: If there's one thing that we failed to do in Iraq and in Afghanistan as effectively as we should have, it's security forces assistance - a long?standing principle required for success and counterinsurgency. We continued to not resource that properly. That is the raison d'être for the American Army in this century. It is refusing to accept that. We are continuing to mess that up, and will continue to mess it up until somebody grabs the Army by the shoulders and shakes it and says, security force assistance is your job. Do it."

Other excerpts from the FP-RAND event on Iraq, 10 years later. FP and RAND's event, excerpted here.

Read BBC Magazine's piece by Tara McKelvey on how the complicated legacy of the Iraq war is making it hard for Hollywood to tell the story.

Sole-source contracts: Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon top the list. Federal agencies, including the Pentagon, awarded $115.2 billion in no-bid contracts in fiscal 2012 -- a nearly 9 percent increase from three years ago -- and defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon all had a large share of those contracts. Bloomberg's Danielle Ivory reports (posted on website of Rep. Sam Graves, R-MO, who was quoted in story). "President Barack Obama in 2009 told federal agencies that no-bid contracts were ‘wasteful' and ‘inefficient.' Four years later, his administration spent more money on non-competitive contracts than ever before....Those top Pentagon vendors and other large contractors can draw on established relationships with procurement officers to claim a greater share of non-competitive work, said Robert Burton, former acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under George W. Bush.

‘It highlights a growing problem in the procurement system,' said Burton, who represents contractors as a partner at Venable LLP in Washington. ‘The pie is shrinking, but, at the same time, the number of non-competitive awards has increased. That's a bad combination.'"

The Navy and Marine Corps are getting breathalyzers across the fleet. The services are launching a fleet-wide program to begin breath-testing sailors and Marines to ensure that troops don't report for duty while under the influence  -- and to help stem suicide, sexual assault, and other problems that are linked to alcohol. It's one of the ways Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has been active on these issues, is leaving his mark on the services.

"Despite anything you may have heard, no one in your chain of command is interested in stopping, ending, prohibiting, limiting, barring or banning the safe, legal, responsible use of alcohol," Juan Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Situation Report recently. "If that is your way to blow off steam...and you're ready to go on Monday, you don't have a problem. At the same time, what we couldn't do is ignore the op-reps that come across our desk every single morning" that suggest a direct link between some of the services' biggest problems and alcohol. In an interview in his E-Ring office, Garcia said about 40 percent of suicides involve alcohol and that there is "almost a direct correlation" between sexual assault and alcohol. "So as we fight the suicide war, the sexual assault war, we're in the early steps of this, but we think this is a big, big tool," he said.

This month, the Navy is fielding "alcohol detection devices" to Naval Air Forces Atlantic and Naval Air Forces Pacific, and by the end of this week, units at Surface Forces Atlantic, Surface Forces Pacific, and Cyber Forces should all begin receiving the devices.

The program is not designed to be punitive, but to prevent sailors and Marines from reporting for duty with alcohol in their system. For the Navy, the breathalyzers will only be used for "duty section personnel" and for Marines who report to work. Unlike the legal definition of intoxication for most states, of .08 percent, the threshold the Navy has set for flagging personnel is .04 percent. Garcia and others have stressed that the program is not a way to get rid of sailors -- "this is not a liberty device, it's not an end-strength reduction device," he said -- but a way to determine if personnel are unfit for duty. A by-product of the program will help leaders within both services to identify potential problems before they become big ones, Garcia said.

Alcohol abuse was rampant in the 1980s, when a DOD-wide survey showed that 27 percent of the force had an illicit drug in their system within the past 30 days. After a big crackdown, that number dropped to less than 3 percent. Today's "pop positive" number today is about .01 percent, Garcia said.

A Navy "NavAdmin" announced the program in January.

Who is Juan Garcia? He is a second-generation naval aviator, a soft-spoken former Democratic state representative from Texas who represented suburban Dallas area but who lost his re-elect in 2008 and is now a top Navy official. He and his wife Denise met at Harvard Law School. 

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Garcia as a former congressman. He served in the Texas state legislature.]

Why the "other Navy" needs to cowboy up. Three words as to why the "unsexy" Coast Guard is about to see the frontlines of action: "The Arctic Ocean." So says James Holmes on FP: "If and when that icy expanse opens regularly to shipping, the Arctic will need policing, just like any other marine thoroughfare. It might even become a theater for geopolitical competition, although the short time it will be ice-free each year, the uneven advance and retreat of the icecap, and the unpredictable location of the sea lanes will limit its potential for conflict relative to, say, the Western Pacific or the Persian Gulf. But the potential is there, and up north, the Coast Guard's aging fleet of cutters and small craft will be critical to upholding maritime security and hedging against maritime conflict."

Jim Mattis, cover boy. The Marine Corps Times today profiles Gen. Jim Mattis, warrior-monk, mentor, historian, colorful curser, and outgoing Central Command commander in "Chaos, Out" by Dan Lamothe, behind the MCT's paywall, at least for now. Mattis is leaving command to Gen. Lloyd Austin, who takes over this week. Mattis, whom we first met in Kandahar in November 2002, has been quiet in his Central Command role. That he is leaving now, some five months before the end of a typical three-year tour for a combatant commander, has raised questions if the White House pushed him out over his views on Iran.

An excerpt from the story: "Since 2010, the general known by the call sign ‘Chaos' has run U.S. Central Command, overseeing the war in Afghanistan and other military activity throughout the Middle East. On March 22, nearly 10 years to the day that he led 1st Marine Division during the ground invasion of Iraq, Mattis will be replaced by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and retire. Thus ends one of the most dynamic careers for a general officer since the late Lt. Gen. Lewis ‘Chesty' Puller hung up his uniform in 1955."

And: "Mattis doesn't like the attention. He has been cryptic about his future ever since word surfaced late last year that Austin had been selected to replace him. During testimony March 5 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he offered a typical response to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., who inquired about the general's retirement plans. ‘I have no idea right now, senator,' he said. ‘But it's going to be a lot of fun.'"

Back to Walla Walla? In a March 14 email to Marine Corps Times: "I've had some ‘riotous excursions of the human spirit' alongside the young Sailors and Marines and it's time to leave the stage to the young leaders who got their rank the old-fashioned way -- they earned their stripes in combat. The Corps is in good hands, and it's been a privilege to serve with the Leathernecks. Now it's time to go."

Atlantic Wire's 16 most "hair-raising" Gen. Mattis quotes, which include: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet," and, when he was succeeded as Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation: "When Gen. Abrial arrived to relieve me as the supreme commander, only don't ask, don't tell kept me from hugging and kissing him."