National Security

Civilians in Afghanistan: last in, first out; Afghanistan: “no longer the sexy place to go”; A bad week for Marines; Ash is back; $50 million more for GITMO? A reprieve for DOD civilians, and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold and Kevin Baron

American civilians in Afghanistan: "Last in, first out." The drawdown from Afghanistan means that not only the Pentagon but also the State Department, USAID, and other agencies working there like Commerce, Treasury and the FBI, are winding down operations and bringing their people home. The "civilian surge" was always controversial because it took so long to muster and, once in place, its impacts were harder to measure. Regardless, it is now beginning to end.

In some locations, the pace of the civilians' withdrawal is much speedier than the military's, suggesting a rush for the exits and creating the perception that their commitment to Afghanistan is weakening. According to one agency's plan, obtained by Situation Report, the number of civilians working in Afghanistan will begin to drop precipitously in June -- far faster than the drawdown of military bases and personnel. By next April -- when the Afghanistan presidential elections are scheduled and the need for civilian expertise will be critical -- there will be even fewer civilians positioned around the country. Some experts believe the April election will likely be delayed by at least a few months, meaning the dearth of civilian representatives to help facilitate it will be even more remarkable. And by December 2014, the difference between the size of the military footprint and that of the U.S. government's civilian representatives is even greater. The plan is predicated on the assumption that, in many cases, programs will have ended; in other cases, replacing civilian personnel on the ground won't be feasible, according to the plan.

The efficacy of the surge of civilians into Afghanistan will be a Washington debate for some time, but the current plan validates the perception that civilian agencies were slow to get to the war -- and now quick to get out.

"Last in, first out," lamented one American official in characterizing the accelerated departure of American civilian personnel from Afghanistan.

More on the civilian drawdown from Afghanistan, below.

Tough week for Marines. After the malfunction of a 60mm round this week caused an explosion at a munitions depot in Nevada that killed seven Marines, comes news last night of more Marines dead. This time, it's at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., where one Marine is suspected of killing two others at Officer Candidates School before taking his own life. According to OCS's official Facebook page, the alleged shooter apparently barricaded himself at OCS but was later pronounced dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Tough day for Col. Kris Stillings, the commanding officer of OCS
, who was previously a military assistant for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we're out of town to get some sun on the bones. We're placing Situation Report in the capable hands of FP's own Kevin Baron, author of The E-Ring, for the next week. Hit him at or us anytime at Even while we're away, our inbox is always open -- it's just our outbox that may be a little lento. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And 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.

Obama: Iron Dome not a peacemaker. President Obama gave a speech yesterday that everybody is still talking about, urging Israelis to seek peace with their neighbors. In the address, Obama mentioned Iron Dome, Israel's famed short-range missile defense system, which the U.S. has helped fund. The Pentagon has stood by Israel's questionable strike-accuracy reports. But Obama reminded Israelis (and their political leaders) that the system is no substitute for peace: "And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm."

Ash Carter finished up his trip to Asia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is back in the Pentagon today after his nearly weeklong trip to Asia. On the way back, he stopped at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he visited some 150 troops and was greeted by Lt. Gen. Stephen Hoog, the senior military officer in Alaska. With an F-22 Raptor and a Stryker serving as a backdrop, Carter thanked the group for their service and coined each one. Today he'll be focused on budget and sequester issues, as well as the new review of defense strategy.
Staffers on a plane
-- Chief of Staff Wendy Anderson, Special Assistant Jonathan Lachman, Senior Military Assistant Rear Adm. Herm Shelanski, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert, and Spokesman James Swartout.
Reporters on a plane
-- American Forces Press Service's Cheryl Pellerin.

Levin breaks ranks, wants U.S military intervention in Syria. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke ranks from President Obama, and in a letter to the president co-signed with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria. "We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally," Levin wrote the president, on Thursday.
The Levin-McCain plan of attack -
The duo suggests establishing a no-fly zone in the north by destroying Syrian fighter jets on the ground, as well as taking out President Bashir al-Assad's anti-aircraft systems and Scud missile batteries.

A last-minute reprieve for DOD civilians? Defense Department officials announced they were holding off on sending out furlough notices for another two weeks, as Congress appeared ready to pass a continuing resolution extending government funding through the month. DOD wants to see the numbers, first. "We have not made any decisions on whether or not the total number of planned furlough days for fiscal 2013 will change as a result of this delay," said Pentagon press secretary George Little, in a statement.

Pentagon seeks another $50 million to keep GTMO prison open. The Obama administration will request $49 million to build a new prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the New York Times' Charlie Savage reports. "The project appears to be a proposed replacement for Camp 7, where so-called high-value detainees who were formerly held by the Central Intelligence Agency -- like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described architect of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- are housed."
Even detainees think Obama gave up on GTMO --
U.S. Southern Command's Gen. John Kelly said on Wednesday the hunger strike being staged by prisoners is a cry for attention. "What we've learned is that the detainees had -- and their attorneys presumably had -- great hope that the facility would be closed. You know, President Obama has attempted to do that certainly. And they were particularly put off, I'm told, that when the president has really made no mention of closing the facility, he said nothing in his inauguration speech. And this is them bringing this up to us, that nothing in the inauguration speech about closing it, nothing in the State of the Union. You know, he's not re-staffing the office that was, you know, focused on closing or transferring. So from that they have decided, obviously, that they -- they need to be heard perhaps more than they have been."

Gen. John Allen appears Monday at Brookings. He'll do a discussion on Afghanistan at 10 a.m. Mike O'Hanlon moderates the event.

Flournoy and Campbell named co-chairs of CNAS board. Michèle Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy, and Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, have been named co-chairs of the Center for a New American Security's Board of Directors, CNAS announced formally yesterday. Campbell and Flournoy, of course, founded CNAS in 2007. They replace former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who will remain on the board. 

Defense budget: Lemons from Lemonade. AEI's Mackenzie Eaglen says the budget crisis is a chance for real Pentagon reform that tackles the "structural drivers" of costs, in a new report issued Thursday: The problem is Pentagon budget cutters are focusing on the wrong things instead of "the primary drivers of DoD spending," she argues, which include "excess bureaucratic overhead, unused infrastructure, and unbridled personnel costs."

DOD gets a thumbs-sideways on rare earths. An industry advocacy group gives mixed reviews to DOD's latest strategic materials report. Good for the Pentagon, says the Strategic Materials Advisory Council, for giving higher priority to rare earth materials that are critical for things like batteries and guidance systems, but don't stockpile from China in the meantime. Short answer: Buy American. This report, the group complains, "does not take meaningful action to ensure a secure supply chain for these materials."

The drawdown of civilians from Afghanistan, con't.

The strategic impact of civilians' accelerated departure from Afghanistan is unclear, said another U.S. official.

"The consequences aren't yet known," the individual told Situation Report. But it's already evident to civilian agencies that the accelerated drawdown poses a problem for the work that many want to continue doing. "As the volume of stuff that civilians are expected to do will increase as the military draws down, this is a knee-jerk, pendulum reaction to where form is driving function, as opposed to function driving form," said an official.

Some believe the White House, which announced the military drawdown of 34,000 troops by next year, is pushing to end U.S. involvement there and wants to curtail civilian deployments. The American official, however, believes the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is driving the rush out. A spokesman for the embassy in Kabul said there was no one available to speak about the issue for another week and therefore would not have a comment.

How the "golden hour" is driving the civilians' departure. The military is slowly closing bases across the country as part of the planned drawdown of military personnel and their footprint. As of March 1, ISAF, the war command in Kabul, had closed more than 247 bases, leaving about 180 bases still open. ISAF has already transferred more than 380 bases to the Afghan government. But that's creating new challenges for the civilians, who rely on the military's support for security and even for medical evacuation. Over the last few years, the Pentagon created what's called the "golden hour," the amount of time required to get injured personnel to a medical facility to receive medical care. But as bases close, it's not possible to meet the golden hour requirement in more and more of the country. Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko expressed the problem himself in testimony last month: "This means that the safe zone or ‘bubble' around these medical facilities extends about as far as a 20-minute helicopter ride. As troops continue to withdraw, the amount of territory in Afghanistan that falls outside these security ‘bubbles' will increase. Accordingly, the number of U.S. funded projects and programs that can be monitored and overseen by U.S. personnel will decrease."
Where are all the up-and-comers?
Young "up-and-comers" at State and AID, as well as more seasoned civilians attempting to revive their careers, used to push to get positions in Afghanistan. But it isn't that way any longer. "Now you don't see the up-and-comers anymore," one official told Situation Report. Other civilians don't think the "age generalization" is completely true - but agree that Afghanistan is "no longer the sexy place to go."

There have been notable exceptions to the idea that civilians have not had an impact. They include people like Carter Malkasian, a State Department representative, who speaks Pashto and was embraced by Afghans in Garmser district for the personal sacrifices and risks he took living among them and convincing tribal leaders to return home -- thus helping to create more stability there.

But generally speaking, the civilian surge will not go down as a bureaucratic success story. Highly-paid civilians were sent there, sometimes with little to do. "In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the civilian answer to the surge was to throw people at the problem, without going through a military style analysis of needs and mission to match resources against," said a U.S. official who works with the military.

"The surge was not particularly effective on the civilian side," said Tony Cordesman of CSIS, who returned from Afghanistan within the last week. "It wasn't well organized, people weren't used properly in the field, and they are going to be pulled back rapidly after the campaign season."  

Droning On

Global Thermonuclear Warfare


Middle East War Drums

National Security

Hagel meets 20 veterans groups today; How North Korea will resort to cyber-attacks; The fate of the DWM; Such a waist: why an AF colonel was relieved; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold 

North Korea threatened U.S. bases in the Pacific. In retaliation for the U.S. flying B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula, the North today threatened to attack U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam, while at the same time the country's state radio blared air-raid warnings, the NYT reports. "Until the 1990s, air-raid drills had been a popular tool for the Pyongyang regime to highlight the perceived threat of an American invasion and to instill in its people a sense of crisis and solidarity. The one-hour air-raid drill on Thursday came amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North's nuclear test on Feb. 12 and the subsequent United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.
"Nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, taking off from Guam, had previously flown missions over South Korea as part of joint military exercises. But this month, the Pentagon took the rare action of publicly announcing those missions to reaffirm the United States' ‘nuclear umbrella' for South Korea and Japan at a time of rising anxiety over the North's nuclear threats. South Korean news media also carried photos of a U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarine making a port call at a South Korean naval base."
A spokesman of the Supreme Command of the North Korean People's Army, according to the North's state-run news agency:
"The U.S. should not forget that the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the DPRK's precision strike means." He added: "Now that the U.S. started open nuclear blackmail and threat, the DPRK, too, will move to take corresponding military actions."
The North Koreans have one card.
Chris Hellman, a senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project, said earlier this week that while the North's threats must always be taken seriously, they also shouldn't be given too much weight. "They have one card -- and they play it repeatedly," Hellman told Situation Report. "And it's the nuclear card." Hellman believes the North Koreans fully recognize that they put themselves at too much risk if they ever were to attack using a nuclear weapon. "It's a card they can never truly play because once it's used, it's gone...if they do this, they will be obliterated." Hellman predicts that there could be further escalation between the North and South and the U.S., but that each side will ultimately go back to its corner. "This scenario has played out over and over again," he said.
MIT's John Park on the North's reaction and the increased use of cyber attacks from one of the world's "least wired countries" against the South - the world's "most wired country." Park:
"We're likely to see more North Korean reactions in the form of cyber-attacks against South Korea.  Investigators in Seoul announced that the recent cyber-attack on South Korean banks, broadcasting companies, and insurance companies was traced to a China-based IP address.  North Korea in the past has used IP addresses and servers spread among several countries in carrying out cyber-attacks on South Korean targets.  South Koreans are largely immune to traditional saber rattling and threats from the North having lived with them since the 1950s.  The use of cyber-attacks presents an asymmetric opportunity for the North Koreans.  It can directly disrupt the lives of South Koreans and create a unique sense of vulnerability... The quandary for the U.S. and South Korea at present is that there is no equivalent of a B-52 over flight in the cyber domain."

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And 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.

This time, with feeling. Many of you continued to have problems accessing the links to FP's event on Iraq with RAND, as well as another piece on FP: the 10 most iconic images of the war. Here are those links once again: The conversation with Steve Hadley, Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, John Nagl, and more, here. The 10 iconic images can be found here. 

Pivot, rotate, rebalance, whatever you call it! Even the generals get confused about the politically correct way to talk about the, er, move/move back to the Pacific. Gen. John Kelly, U.S. Southern Command commander, at the Pentagon yesterday, talking about sequestration and operations: "[W]hat's the term we use? Rotate... Pivot -- pivot, yeah, rebalance, yeah."  Read the whole transcript of the briefing, which includes his thoughts on Latin and South America, Iranian and Pakistani influences there, and the surge of hunger strikers at GTMO - all here.

BTW, It's John Kelly, not John Kelley. We had Jill Kelley on the brain in our item yesterday about U.S. Southern Command commander John Kelly. Both live in Florida! But apologies for misspelling the Marine's name.

Hagel meets with more than 20 veterans groups today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with representatives from about 20 veterans and military groups for a roundtable discussion on a host of issues, from the fiscal 2014 budget to transition assistance to veterans employment to the mental health of the force. 
Who's attending today's meeting?
A who's who of veterans and military groups, Situation Report is told: representatives from the Air Force Association, the American Legion, AMVETS, the Armed Services YMCA, the Association of the United States Army, Blue Star Families, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Marine Corps League, the Military Child Education Coalition, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, the Navy League, Operation Homefront, the Reserve Officers Association, the Student Veterans of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the USO, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House Foundation, Inc., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Hiring Heroes Program).
Then, tonight, Hagel boards a military jet for Tampa
, where he will "RON" (remain overnight). On Friday morning, he'll have a "working breakfast" with Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Then he'll preside over the change of command at U.S. Central Command, the combatant command that could be known as the tinderbox command since it's responsible for some of the countries that pose the biggest threats to international security: Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more than a dozen others. Gen. Lloyd Austin is taking over for Gen. Jim Mattis, otherwise known as "Chaos," who is retiring.
Staffers on a plane -
Acting Chief of Staff Marcel Lettre, Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, and chief speechwriter Jacob Freedman.
Reporters on a plane 
- None.

Is the Distinguished Warfare Medal the "New Coke" of medals? Hagel's meeting today with the veterans groups is about budgets and other issues, but the one topic that will generate the most lively discussion will be the Distinguished Warfare Medal. The medal, announced as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta walked out the door, recognizes the contributions of drone pilots -- to many, the unsung heroes of modern day warfare. But it has caused an uproar on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon, and from groups across Washington. Critics decry less the creation of the medal than its "precedence" -- where it sits in the hierarchy of medals for the hierarchy-heavy military. The new medal will be above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and just below the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Many in the ground service believe its placement denigrates medals recognizing acts of merit, heroism, or valor in a combat zone since it would be typically awarded to a drone pilot who maneuvers planes remotely.

It's likely the award would only be given under rare circumstances -- and for highly classified operations. That may have contributed to the thinking in the Pentagon that its creation wouldn't have caused so many problems.

Still, although the award underwent what one Pentagon official referred to as a "serious process" and the service chiefs all apparently signed off on it, there is now widespread recognition that the vetting process should have been better. "There's a sense that all of the right bases weren't touched and that the degree of opposition was underestimated," the official told Situation Report.

Although it wasn't his doing, Hagel confronted the controversy soon after entering office and, perhaps seeking credibility with the uniforms, directed that a study look at the award and its precedence. But the review does not necessarily mean there will be big changes. "It's not leaning in any direction," the official said.

Some officials suggest the award could be downgraded to below the Bronze Star but, possibly, still above the Purple Heart. Or, the Bronze Star and the Bronze Star with the "V" device for valor could be split into two -- an unprecedented move for awards -- giving the new Distinguished Warfare Medal precedence over the Bronze Star, but not over the Bronze Star with "V," in a move that would still put valor above joysticks. Even some of the award's most ardent supporters think changing the precedence of the medal in some form would probably be acceptable. But Dave Deptula, the retired three-star who oversaw the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program, says the fight over the medal represents legacy thinking.

"We need to be able to award brains as well as brawn," he told Situation Report this week. "And doing so takes nothing away from those who risked their lives in combat. The fact of the matter is that we have moved from an era of industrial age warfare to an information age where the battle space is not defined by lines on the ground and can occur in every domain."

An Air Force 06 was relieved of command -- for failing his PT test. Col. Tim Bush had what was described as an "impeccable resume" but was relieved after he failed his physical fitness test, according to Air Force Times' Jeff Schogol. Bush was the commander of the 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks Air Base, North Dakota. Schogol: "Bush told airmen at a commander's call that he failed the waist measurement component of the PT test, said an Air Force official who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Bush has requested to retire, the official said." The wing's vice commander, Col. Christopher Mann, will serve as interim commander until Bush's replacement can be identified.


  • NYT: Gaza militants fire rockets before Obama meets Abbas.
  • Danger Room: Forget budget cuts, the Air Force is ready for (Fantasy) Football.
  • Duffel Blog: Iraq war retroactively justified by discovery of WMD. 
  • New India Express: The Growth of Al-Qaeda


  • NYT: The number of hunger strikers surge at Guantanamo.
  • Lawfare: The statement on the hunger strikes.  

The Pivot

  • Yonhap: Report: Cyber attack in South Korea came from China.
  • Real Clear Defense: DOD having it both ways on sequester, Asia-Pacific rebalance.

Still Remembering

  • The New Yorker: (Filkins) The other Iraqi legacy.
  • NYT: (Rhode): Iraq legacy: an ailing press and an invade-or-nothing foreign policy.
  • Politico: (Barnicle): Iraq at 10.