National Security

Hagel, Dempsey talk DPRK; Budget frustration; Obama vs. NSC; U.S. mum on U.K.; Jon Stewart vs. the VA; the Troubles, and more.

By Kevin Baron

Hagel, Dempsey get serious on North Korea. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, said the U.S. would "unequivocally" defend itself and allies from North Korean attacks, and they rejected the regime's claims that Washington was driving up tensions. The U.S. defense leaders, in their first full Pentagon press conference together since Hagel took office, said they are taking the threats of nuclear war from Kim Jong-Un seriously. "He's the leader of North Korea," Hagel said. The duo also defended their decision to approve a $1 billion increase in ground-based interceptor missile defenses, despite criticism that North Korea's long-range missiles are not ready for prime time.

Budget crunch worsening. Dempsey pulled no punches on Thursday and with frank talk only a Joint Chiefs chairman could deliver shredded Congress for leaving the military flapping in the budget uncertainty winds. "The uncomfortable truth is that we're -- on Monday, we'll be halfway through the fiscal year, and we'll be 80 percent spent in our operating funds. We don't yet have a satisfactory solution to that shortfall, and we're doing everything we can to stretch our readiness out." Dempsey said the new numbers show DOD must find $41 billion to cut in the remainder of fiscal 2013, which is better than the previous $47 billion estimate, but that the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account is running $7 billion over budget.
Messing with the wrong Marines.
Dempsey related a message from the Marines he visited last week at Parris Island. "Dysfunction back here is a distraction to them. Nearly every question I fielded in my town hall meeting with military members and their families was about the protracted budget uncertainty. And that's a shame."
But it is a crisis?
Straight question, from Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "Are we entering a -- a period of readiness crisis? Or is it more a period of adjustment, where you have to live within your means, basically?" Straight answer, from Dempsey: "The answer is yes, actually. It's both." Dempsey said to ask again in two weeks if there's enough in the budget to avoid a full-blown readiness crisis. "We're in the midst of trying to figure that out."

Welcome to Good Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we hope Washington's cherry blossoms open already. Well, it's been a lot of fun being your substitute bus driver while Gordon Lubold, a.k.a. @glubold, is on holiday getting his George Harrison on. I'm Kevin Baron, usually author of The E-Ring, FP's blog about the Pentagon's power corridors. But it's not goodbye if you follow me on Twitter @FPBaron and email me at Sign up for Situation Report here or just ask and we'll put you and your in-laws on the list. And as always, if you have something to ask or tell, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. Happy Easter, everyone. May the rest of your year be a joyous one.

Obama ignoring NSC, denies war goods for Syrians. President Obama is sitting on a National Security Council recommendation that the U.S. send Syria's rebels non-lethal combat supplies, including body armor, The Cable's Josh Rogin reports. The NSC advice came just before Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Rome last month to meet with the "Friends of Syria" council, which is frustrated at the limited international support it is receiving. Instead of body armor, the White House offered up nearly-expired halal meals-ready-to-eat (MREs). Meanwhile, Rogin writes, European capitals have worked to open loopholes to the arms embargo on Syria. "In what moral universe would the U.S. not want to provide body armor and other non-lethal equipment to the brave Syrians who are fighting against Assad?" said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). "Once again, it seems the president is isolated even within his own administration."

U.S.-U.K. defense leaders mum on strategy summit. The top military officers of the United States and Great Britain met behind closed doors this week at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, for strategy discussions both sides say could guide the future of one of the worlds' most important alliances. Just don't bother asking what they talked about, argued over, or decided. "We charted a course to ensure that they remain our strongest partner. And it was very well-done," said Dempsey, when probed at the tail end of Thursday's Pentagon press conference. "I haven't rendered a report yet to the secretary. So you'll excuse me if I go no further at this point."
Dempsey loves history. "In 1942, George Marshall and his British colleague called together their -- the combined chiefs, and they met over at Roosevelt Hall at Fort McNair on the top floor. And they decided how they would make sure that their relationship would advance the cause of not only their own countries, but, truthfully, the world, out into the foreseeable future. So my British colleague and I decided to re-create the moment," Dempsey said, by meeting in the same room. The group calls themselves the US/UK Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Pictures of you. The SecDef's flickr page has several photos of the meeting, so we know it actually happened. Hagel dropped by and presented a medallion to Gen. Sir David Richards, Britain's chief of defense. "We will build on these talks to ensure we're properly structured to cooperate bilaterally," Richards said, in a statement.

Breedlove gets expected SACEUR nod. Confirming what has been widely reported, President Obama has selected Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the top Air Force commander in Europe, to be the next supreme allied commander of NATO. The move means Adm. James Stavridis can finally start packing for home after a prolonged wait, as Gen. John Allen rejected the position in favor of retirement. "We need to get that position filled," Hagel said. "Very happy to see the nomination of my US Air Force Component Commander and senior NATO Airman, General Phil Breedlove, to relieve me," Stavridis wrote on his Facebook page.

Combat photography's best. FP has a cool gallery of the year's best combat camera work. Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 Military Photographer of the Year competition.

Jon Stewart eviscerates the VA. In a video going viral in military circles, the Department of Veterans Affairs gets harsh treatment from The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. "That is f*cking unbelievable. The VA's got a backlog of 900,000 people. McDonald's handles ten times that many people in an hour and, may I remind you, they're run by a clown," Stewart said, on Wednesday's show. "So, what is the deal with this? I thought they were going to modernize the VA system?" he asked, but showed reports the VA "still uses paper" to process claims. Additionally, VA computers that store veterans' medial records can't communicate with DOD's computers. "How insane is this complication?" Stewart said he expects better from "the part of government that takes care of our disabled veterans and the part of government that creates them."

Happy 15th Anniversary, Good Friday Agreement. Not that long ago peace in Northern Ireland seemed impossible. Then, the Good Friday Agreement came. "The people of Northern Ireland and their leaders have traveled a great distance over the past fifteen years. Step by step, they have traded bullets for ballots, destruction and division for dialogue and institutions, and pointed the way toward a shared future for all," said Obama, in a statement marking the April 10, 1998, achievement. How the Irish overcame The Troubles and rejected constant terrorism later became inspiration for some peacemakers hoping to share those painfully learned lessons with Iraqis and Kurds, and later with Afghans. "There is urgent work still to be done -- and there will be more tests to come," Obama said. John Kerry, in a statement, said, "The courage, conviction, and hard work of leaders and communities over the past 15 years in implementing the agreement and securing subsequent agreements have led to a more peaceful and vibrant Northern Ireland."

Heard in the halls. "For a place that's supposedly on the brink of war with North Korea, it's pretty quiet around here." -- Anonymous staffer, on the E-Ring.

The E-Ring visits the Seventh Floor. Dempsey was Kerry's guest at the State Department on Thursday, where the general assured the diplomatic corps that the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom were closer than ever. "We had a great discussion about the challenges of today's uncertain and complex environment and what we can do -- together -- to keep our nation safe and strong," Dempsey (or an aide) wrote on his Facebook page. Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, was also on stage.

Let's do lunch. Ever the infantryman, Hagel announced on Thursday that he ate lunch with several enlisted men and women for an hour and a half. He enjoyed the session so much, Hagel has decided to make it a monthly gig. "It's a tremendous way to humanize a relationship, but particularly important for me, as I am new here," the secretary said. Hagel said more than reassuring troops about the budget crisis, he wants their feedback. "You take care of those people, and you protect them. And you try to stay ahead of what they're thinking."

More Korea

  • AP: NKorea Orders Rocket Prep After US B-2 Drill
  • Washington Post: A very good sign that North Korea is bluffing about war
  • NYT: U.N. Treaty to Control Arms Sales Hits Snag
  • Reuters: Russia warns against military activity near North Korea

Hacker House

  • Daily Mail: REVEALED: The Nato bunker deep in Netherlands forest where hackers 'almost brought down world's internet in biggest every cyber-attack'
  • CNET: How the Spamhaus DDoS attack could have been prevented

Price of War


National Security

Attention Africa; Troops wavering on war; Warning from Mali; What Army brain drain?; Amnesty on GTMO, and more.

By Kevin Baron

Pentagon gets serious about Africa. When four African heads of state visit Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon early Thursday morning, the administration hopes to showcase countries where democracy and security are flourishing. But for Pentagon planners, African security has become a growing and complex challenge right as resources are tightening. 

"You can tell our bosses we work very, very hard," said a senior defense official who briefed FP's The E-Ring in an interview on Wednesday. Pentagon officials plan to raise the issues of extremism, terrorism, narcotics and other trafficking, and border security with the visiting delegation, whose countries DOD officials hope can be models for other African nations.

"All four of these countries, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Cape Verde, are all examples in their own right of how to reform your security sector and how to start developing a healthy civil-military relationship in Africa," the senior defense official said. 

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where we're starting to appreciate strong coffee and alarm clocks. While your regular point man Gordon Lubold is soaking up rays, you get me, Kevin Baron. I'm also the author of The E-Ring, FP's blog about the Pentagon's power corridors. Follow me on Twitter @FPBaron and email me at Sign up for Situation Report here or just ask and we'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have something to ask or tell, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. Nevermind the censors, just send it.

Hagel coming out. The new defense secretary and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will hold their first full dual press conference together, today at 2:30 pm, in the Pentagon briefing room.

Why trafficking. Drug flows across North Africa have DOD's attention because a) the narcotics are the main concern of Senegal and Cape Verde, and b) the drugs mostly end up in Europe, which Pentagon says is a security threat. "We have a border problem, so the same transit routes in the Sahel, for example, that will use drug smuggling might also use it for arms smuggling and other illicit trafficking," the official said.
Setting the scene.
The delegation's meeting with Hagel is scheduled to include 12 African visitors, including the heads of state, the defense minister of Cape Verde, foreign ministers of the other three countries, a political counselor, and one of the presidents' fathers.

Military diplomacy needed post-Arab spring. Thursday's visitors are among several African military and political dignitaries making a pilgrimage to the Pentagon. The president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, visited last year, and a delegation from Tunisia is due in April with Moroccans expected in early summer. DOD is trying to renew key relationships in Africa, especially after the Arab awakening. "Everything is sort of new to the Tunisians and the Libyans, certainly," the official said. "We're new to them and some of them are new to us."
Good news, bad news
. "I think on some level the relationships have gotten even better and stronger than they were previously, because you have a more open environment in which to have truly strategic discussions with these partners." But defense officials are struggling to nail down additional training and exercises: "In Tunisia and Libya, unfortunately right now we're on such limited staffing at the embassies.... It does unfortunately impact our ability to do more, faster."

Most troops think U.S. will fail in Afghanistan. For the first time, a majority of U.S. troops surveyed in an annual poll believe the U.S. is unlikely to accomplish its goals in Operation Enduring Freedom, signaling a significant shift in attitudes toward the campaign. The results of the annual Military Times poll of troop attitudes, published this week, show just 32 percent of troops think the U.S. is "likely to succeed" in Afghanistan, which is down from 47 percent a year ago. Roughly 54 percent believe Iraq was a success, which is down from 72 percent in 2011, the last year troops were deployed there.
Officers vs. enlisted. Unsurprisingly, officers are more satisfied with life in the military, including their pay and leadership. Amusingly, nearly four out of five officers rated themselves excellent or good, whereas the enlisted guys and gals rated fewer than two of five officers that highly. Less than half of the enlisted men surveyed felt they were paid a fair wage; the result falls to just 33 percent in junior ranks.
No girls allowed.
More than half of all respondents, 52 percent, said they would discourage their daughters from joining the military, while 39 percent said opening combat to women would have a negative impact on readiness.

Gay equality, captain? The guys over at Duffleblog are having a little fun with the popular movement to change one's social media profile picture to the gay rights symbol, a red equal sign. If you rotate the sign... well, enjoy

Speaking of's Bob Geldof. In a cool podcast via the Center for Global Development, Geldof recounts the early 1980s when he feels the world first took serious notice of Africa, how Band Aid changed things, and the excitement he sees today on the continent. Asked by Development Drums' host Owen Barder, "Why haven't you just walked away?" Geldof replied, "Because you can see things change." Geldof works with a private equity firm, and says he avoids NGOs because he feels they are slow and he likes to move fast. Hmm, wonder what he feels about development and aid money used in COIN or as an anti-terrorism tool for Africa's ungoverned spaces? What do you think?

Yochi in Mali. In an article for FP, "Welcome to Cocainebougou," Yochi Dreazen, veteran war correspondent just back from a bumpy trek across the vast North African country, explains why winning any war in Mali won't come easy. Well, a senior Malian military official in Bamako explains it, and Dreazen writes: "Smugglers and Islamists have been traversing the terrain for decades, he said, and the Malian troops will be deploying there in force for the first time. ‘I would like to say we'll be able to stop the smuggling, but that would be a lie,' he told me. ‘They know every cave and every little path. We'll be lucky to find half of them. But every shipment we stop will help starve the terrorists of money.'"

Ben Hodges brushes back Barno. In a big "not so fast my friend" article freshly posted on FP, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges rejects retired Lt. Gen. David Barno's recent assertion that all of the good talent is leaking out of the military. "What an insult to the thousands who are in fact staying," he retorts. Hodges is commanding general for NATO's Allied Land Command, in Turkey, but is known back in the Pentagon from his days on the Joint Staff running the Af-Pak Cell under Adm. Mike Mullen's chairmanship.

Tuition Assistance is back. In one of the quickest turnarounds in Pentagon history, officials reversed their decision to cut back tuition assistance benefits for troops as a way to meet the mandated spending cuts of sequestration. The Pentagon is essentially following Congress' orders, after lawmakers passed language in last week's continuing resolution barring the cutbacks. Read more in the E-Ring, here.

Remember GTMO? Amnesty International does. "Talk is cheap. It's time for President Obama to take real action to fulfill his Guantanamo promise," said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA's Security with Human Rights Campaign, in a statement on Wednesday. Johnson was reacting to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who said "the administration remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay." But that's not what the hunger strikers at GTMO believe.  
Where is President Obama? In testimony before Congress and at a Pentagon press briefing, Gen. John Kelly, the commander of Southern Command, which includes Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said roughly two dozen prisoners were on some form of hunger strike to protest President Obama's silence on closing the detention center. Obama made no mention of GTMO in his State of the Union or inauguration speeches. Amnesty's Anne Fitzgerald, director of research and crisis response, last Friday sent Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a three-page letter pleading for the new Pentagon chief to make something happen.

"It should not be difficult for any human being to imagine the sense of hopelessness such silence could compound in a detainee population held for years in indefinite detention," Fitzgerald wrote. She notes that Obama did reference human rights and dignity in both speeches, which she contends should be reason enough to compel the president to move on closing the facility.

"I urge you in the name of universal rights, human dignity and justice to ensure that a new and redoubled close the Guantanamo facility and end the detentions there." 

Acrimony in Asia

  • VOA: US Sends B-2 Bombers Over Korean Peninsula
  • NYT: North Korea Cuts Off the Remaining Military Hot Lines With South Korea
  • USA Today: Chinese navy makes waves in South China Sea


  • Daily Beast: Yeah, We Broke the Internet: The Inside Story of the Biggest Attack Ever
  • FP: Esquire stands by its Osama bin Laden story amid storm of criticism
  • FP: Navy moving ahead with its stealth attack drone program
  • FP: Obama to Mexico; Kerry to Asia