National Security

Kerry in Afghanistan; “Right time” for USARPAC’s four-star; Bagram be gone; WTF, Iraq? What happens in Syria; F-35 meta-conspiracy; and more.

By Kevin Baron

Afghanistan takes control of detention center. Overnight and with little fanfare or early warning, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) finally relinquished full control of the U.S. Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP) -- formerly known as the Bagram prison -- to the government of Afghanistan. The facility's new name is Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan (ANDF-P). Yes, they even gave themselves an unnecessary acronym.
Take my Bagram, please.
After sparring over the handoff for months, the Americans agreed to let Afghans take the watch over the final several dozen prisoners considered most dangerous, after the Afghans reportedly promised to provide a tougher review before setting any of them free. Gen. Joseph Dunford, Afghanistan war commander, said, "The transfer of the detention facility is an important part of the overall transition of security lead to Afghan National Security Forces." But the U.S. will still provide transition teams and cough up another $39 million to help run the facility. So far, the U.S. has spent more than $250 million on two detention centers, USFOR-A said.

Kerry in Afghanistan. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Afghanistan just hours ago for an unannounced visit. Kerry has hopped from Iraq, back to Jordan to meet Pakistan's Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and now into Afghanistan on his first trip there since taking over the State Department. 

You asked for it, North Korea. U.S. Army Pacific set to hand keys up to new, four-star commander. The reason the Pentagon elevated the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) commander from a three-star job to a four-star job, even though it would create yet another top general officer billet during a time of downsizing, is simple: North Korea. According to a former USARPAC commander, it was the Pentagon's belief that war on the Korean Peninsula has become increasingly likely which led to the decision that a four-star commander should run the show. Given the renewed bluster from Pyongyang, the Pentagon may have gotten this one right.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we hope you all are reading this on Spring Break in Florida, as 2-4 inches of depressing late season snow blanket the Washington region. Don't adjust that dial, kids, the byline is correct. Gordon Lubold is on vacation, so I'm in the driver's seat all week. Mwah ha ha! Follow me @FPBaron. 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. Candy? Why, yes, thank you for sending news from your hooch, the military weird, strange trends, odd sightings, personnel changes or genuinely serious tales of DOD VIP SNAFUs.

U.S., ROK sign new in-case-of-war action plan. The ascension of Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks at USARPAC is expected within weeks, and follows news this weekend that the U.S. and South Korea signed a new response plan to defend the peninsula, giving operational control (OPCON) to the Koreans for limited "provocations." Is this the real OPCON transfer we've been waiting for? U.S. officials weren't talking immediately, several outlets reported this weekend.

For decades the 8th Army on the Korean Peninsula was commanded by a 3-star. That unit was the Army's service component for Korea. But they also were responsible for the command and control of all Army forces, and the Army's support to all other services, known as "Title 10 support," on the peninsula.

The Pentagon has instead shifted those latter duties and responsibilities up to USARPAC, based in Honolulu, which is getting a new headquarters. USARPAC now controls the required flow of troops to and from Korea in case of war, while the 8th Army is freer to focus on its expected land role as the 8th Field Army.

"It's an absolute right decision at the right time," explained retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin "Randy" Mixon, in an interview. "It made sense because in the event of hostilities in Korea, forces would move -- not only move directly through and onto the peninsula, but they would move through Japan and other places where U.S. Army Pacific was already in command control of Army forces."
Because North Korea is being scarier than usual.
"I think it's a very serious situation. It appears to be, to me, from my experience over there, something that we just can't treat as normal behavior," Mixon said of North Korea.
Because in Asia, rank is currency.
The bump to four stars also gives the Army commander the rank many felt was overdue. Mixon said while the U.S. historically considered the Pacific theatre one for the Navy and Air Force, most Asian nations consider their armies their premier forces and want Army training. Mixon traveled from California to India as a three-star general often meeting with four-star counterparts during constant multinational exercises. He never had a problem with access, but Asia wants more training, and this shows the Army is serious about the Pacific -- and the Obama administration's pivot. "Across the board, we are seeing growth over the last three or five years or so [in exercises], and with this ongoing change on the Korean Peninsula, it makes perfect sense to move that to a four-star position."

"We had a very spirited discussion on the subject of the overflights." Or so said John Kerry, on Sunday, after the unannounced visit to Baghdad that preceded his unannounced visit to Afghanistan. Kerry told the Iraqis the U.S. did not appreciate Iranian arms reaching Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad's hands via Iraqi airspace. "I also made it clear to him that there are members of Congress and people in America who increasingly are watching what Iraq is doing and wondering how it is that a partner in the efforts for democracy and a partner for whom Americans feel they have tried so hard to be helpful -- how that country can be, in fact, doing something that makes it more difficult to achieve our common goals, the goal expressed by the prime minister with respect to Syria and President Assad."

What happens in anyone's guess. With so few Western reporters on the ground inside Syria, it's always been unclear exactly what's going down between the regime and rebels. Rumors of something as big as President Bashar al-Assad being assassinated this weekend had the Associated Press scratching their heads for a while.
Except for this woman. She's been there. Elizabeth O'Bagy, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, wins some sort of "nice timing" award for releasing today her detailed 50-page report on rebel life, "The Free Syrian Army." What they need, she writes in a copy provided to Situation Report, is "an operational level headquarters that can designate campaign priorities" and then task and fund them. The rebels finally have a Supreme Military Command, but the body rules from the bottom-up, not top-down.
Now, they need more arms. O'Bagy argues that worrying about loose arms is no reason to withhold them from the good guys. "The current policy of inaction carries much more risk. This policy has not prevented extremists from acquiring arms. Instead, it has prevented more moderate forces from acquiring arms and consolidating their authority while allowing the extremist forces to develop their own independent sources of support that are less easily monitored."

He pays attention to the F-35 conspiracy, so you don't have to. In Winslow Wheeler's latest FP article, the defense watchdog asks if the GAO is in the bag for DOD. It's a significant allegation, even for Wheeler, who is expected to look at the Pentagon's most expensive weapon ever with a sharp eye -- he worked at GAO for nearly a decade.
The F-35 story only seems to be getting worse.
"In 2013, the pace of negative events and reports has only increased," Wheeler writes. The aircraft have been grounded twice in three months and received back-to-back negative DOD reports. "The first four F-35 production contracts have overrun their targets by $1.2 billion; above that, the F-35s built before 2016 will need an additional $1.7 billion to fix the problems uncovered, so far, by testing. In addition, the amount needed to sustain the F-35 will climb to almost $14 billion in 2018," Wheeler argues.
Has GAO gone soft on F-35? But what's new this time, Wheeler warns, is that a GAO report last week appeared to suddenly start believing DOD claims of "progress" on F-35 issues. "GAO simply regurgitated the assurance in its report." Wheeler's proof why we should worry about the GAO finding: Lockheed liked it.

CENTCOM Ch-ch-ch changes. The flag was passed at Central Command, on Friday, as Army Gen. Lloyd Austin took command from retiring Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis. With the new boss comes a decidedly new focus, as CENTCOM leaves a dozen years of major ground warfare behind and enters an end-of-combat period for Afghanistan and expanded counterterrorism across the rest of the region. Read highlights of the ceremony, including a reminder of why Mattis hid from the press during his tenure, as Mad Dog gave us one final "Mattisism" for the road, in The E-Ring.
Please invent a cooler way to change command. P.S.: We love and respect many a military tradition. But one of the lamest has to be when a four-star commander stoically hands a flagpole to the defense secretary, who then hands the flag to the new commander. That's it? That's the whole sh'bang? Not even a flyby? Think about it, is all we're asking. Just no more Dionne Warwick. (We're looking at you, AFRICOM.)

Speaking of which... In the month and a half since President Obama nominated and the Senate confirmed Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks to become the first four-star U.S. Army Pacific commander, North Korea has rattled its saber enough to convince the Pentagon to increase its ballistic missile defenses. So how quickly will he actually assume command? The command isn't talking, which is ironic since Brooks was once famous as the "smooth mouthpiece" for the Army in Central Command, in the early days of the Iraq war.

Contractors cashing in at LanPac. If you're still not convinced the Army is serious about Asia, don't take our word for it, just follow the money.  The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) next month is holding an inaugural land warfare conference right in Honolulu. Mixon is heading back to his old stomping grounds, this time to see what the Army may like to buy from General Dynamics, where he now works.

Longform picks of the week. Every weekend, the FP staff round up some of the best long-form reading on the web. In this week's corral, with a natsec flair, is an interview with Jordan's King Abdullah II by the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg; Richard Engel talks about his kidnapping in Syria; and a profile of murdered prolific sniper Chris Kyle, who said of his targets, "They're just targets."

Budget Realities 

  • Miami Herald: Blue Angels perform last show for awhile
  • Reuters: Stop-gap spending measure funds MEADS missile defense
  • Boston Globe: B-52s should remain strategy relics

Gay Marriage Day in Court

  • CNN: Marriage and the Supreme Court: Five things to watch
  • The Hill: High court takes up gay marriage at key moment in rights debate
  • Politico: Republicans see cash opportunity in gay marriage shift


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