National Security

The change-out in Afghanistan continues; This just in: North Korea, not Iran, is the wolf closer to the door; Barno pushes back; Malians oust militants from Timbuktu; The cost of war; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

The U.S. flew F-22 steath fighter jets to South Korea yesterday. As tensions become more pronounced between the U.S. and North Korea, the WSJ reports on A-1 this morning that the U.S. deployed the jets -- "among the most expensive and advanced weapons in the Air Force's arsenal" -- to the peninsula on Sunday. "In a conflict with North Korea, F-22s would likely be the first aircraft used. The hard-to-detect fighters could be sent in to take out air defense missiles and radars in advance of bombers aimed at missile launch sites or other targets. They could also be used to escort nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers, should these be used in a strike."

And: "The use of F-22s in the training exercise with South a signal the U.S. is eager to showcase its most potent weaponry to North Korea." 

D'oh! Does it feel like 2002? When it comes to North Korea vs. Iran, it's the North that is the wolf closer to the door. The Journal also publishes a piece this morning about how North Korea has "eclipsed" Iran as a nuclear arms threat. Many will cringe at the notion that in the end, for all the anxiety and political theater over Iran's nuclear capabilities, it's actually North Korea that poses the (much?) bigger threat. The North has built a warhead, has conducted successful medium-range and long-range missile tests, can enrich uranium, and has the ability to use plutonium for a warhead. Iran can only check two of those boxes, having conducted a successful medium-range missile test and has the ability to enrich uranium, the WSJ reports. Evans Revere, a former State official: "By many estimates, North Korea will have the ability to deliver nuclear weapons using long-range ballistic missiles to distant targets within four or five years... [T]his will drastically change the security environment in Asia."

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where despite a great respite, we actually are happy to be back and thank the E-Ring's Kevin Baron for driving the bus last week.  We'll spare you any obvious April Fool's jokes today - everything here is fahreal. 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.

The change-out continues in Afghanistan. There are new commanders in Afghanistan or soon will be. Army Maj. Gen. Sean McFarland, who has been the J-3, or DCOS OPS, was replaced recently by an Army one-star, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Bannister. The new Regional Command-East Commander is Maj. Gen. James McConville. The newish head of intel for ISAF is Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter. The commander of RC-Southwest, which had been Marine Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, is now Marine Maj. Gen. Walter Lee Miller. And Situation Report has learned of others headed to Afghanistan in the next few months whose assignments haven't yet been announced: Lt. Gen. Mark Milley will replace Lt. Gen. James Terry as the day-to-day operator, or commander of the ISAF Joint Command. And Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, who heads the Special Operations Task Force, will soon be replaced by Maj. Gen. Scott Miller. Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, commander of RC-South, will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division. 

Dunford met with Kayani. ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford met today with Pakistan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in what was Dunford's first visit with Kayani as ISAF commander. The two talked about strengthening cooperation and pressuring militants who threaten security along the border. Stability there has become especially important as the U.S. begins its retrograde of equipment over the border amid what U.S. and Pakistani officials have begun to term a new era in U.S.-Pakistani relations. From ISAF: "During the session today, the two military leaders discussed a variety of issues related to strengthening cooperation and pressuring militants who threaten security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."

Dunford: "The Pakistanis, the Afghans and the international community all desire peace and security in the region. These meetings are important to achieving that goal as we continue to explore ways to expand our relationship." 

Fighting continues in Timbuktu. Islamic militants were fighting off Malian and French forces, and a suicide bomber attacked a Malian Army checkpoint over the weekend, launching what we're told is a "well-coordinated Islamic offensive." Occasional FP contributor and friend to Situation Report Matt Trevithick and a colleague, Daniel Seckman, are on the ground there. They tell us that French warplanes arrived about 12 hours after the attack, helping to push the Islamist fighters back from within 100 meters of a popular hotel where Timbuktu regional Governor Mangara and his staff were staying. Trevithick and Seckman: "The governor, a former Malian Army Colonel, was confident his forces could maintain security in the city and repel the attack, saying ‘Malian forces are more than capable of both fighting Islamists and coordinating with French forces.'"

We're told that there were three Islamists running through the city, across rooftops of houses and through the streets, when the Malian Army, in coordination with mobs of local citizens, cornered and killed them. The crowds were chanting "Vive Le France" and "Allahu Akbar" together. "It was incredible: women, children, men and boys all armed with sticks and rocks and ran after the Islamists through the streets," Trevithick and Seckman wrote in an e-mail. Although the French military has received a lot of credit in recent weeks, the two tell us that in Timbuktu it was the Malian army did the heavy lifting - and killing.

The honor cordon pivot: Hagel will meet the Singaporean prime minister today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will host Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for an honor cordon outside the Pentagon's River Entrance today at 12:15. 

$4 to $6 trillion: Harvard looks at the cost of wars. Harvard's Kennedy School is out with a new study on the financial legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their impact on the U.S. national security budgets for years to come. Everyone knows how expensive the wars were, as high as $6 trillion, according to some estimates. The staggering estimates initially of the war in Iraq, which ranged from $1.7 billion to $200 billion, proved to be, well, incorrect. But the Harvard study's main point is that the big wallop is still unfelt: "The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid. Since 2001, the US has expanded the quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans. This has led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. These benefits will increase further over the next 40 years. Additional funds are committed to replacing large quantities of basic equipment used in the wars and to support ongoing diplomatic presence and military assistance in the Iraq and Afghanistan region. The large sums borrowed to finance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will also impose substantial long-term debt servicing costs," according to Linda Bilmes of Harvard.

James Fallows: "As the paper lays out, a surprisingly large fraction of the long-term costs comes from the disability payments and medical obligations to people who served. People who were 18 or 20 years old when the war began, and who were injured or disabled (but survived), may need public help until very late in this century."

ICYMI: Hodges, your serve. In the back-and-forth between Dave Barno, the retired three-star, and Ben Hodges, the active three-star, on the future of the Army, we have a new round. It all started when Barno wrote about a week ago that the Army was at risk of losing its best-and-brightest in "Military Brain Drain." Hodges begged to differ, responding to Barno's piece, and saying actually, the Army is retaining the best people. Now Barno pushes back with a new piece on FP, "Loss Leader."

Barno, on Hodges' contention that the Army doesn't have the problem Barno thinks it does: "Maybe, maybe not. Frankly, I remain worried. The issue is not that the best and brightest in the military have already left. My concern is that the worst effects of the ongoing drawdown are still to come -- and may well be years away. The people who must ultimately judge whether Hodges's defense is sound are the junior officers and sergeants wrestling with tough individual decisions about staying in or leaving the service. But for the Army, now is the time to look for leading indicators and craft proactive strategies to avert what could easily become one of the worst unintended consequences of shrinking the force." Barno's original piece here. Hodges' response to Barno's piece here. BBC's piece on the Army's "hollowing out:" here.   

Bears repeating: FP's "best military photography" of 2012, here. 

The disconnect between the military and society is a special topic to Situation Report. It's one of the overarching things that keeps us intrigued on this beat. Typically, the narrative is that society has left the military on its own, greeting them in airports and thanking them for their service, but leaving just 1 percent of society to serve. Yesterday, the WaPo ran a piece by Mike Mullen's former adviser and public affairs officer, now-Adm. John Kirby, on a twist on that dynamic: it's the military that has insulated itself. The article, first published online last week, says the military should reach out. "It's time that we do a better job understanding and relating to the people we serve. We do not talk with them. Too often, we talk at them. We are the guest speakers, the first-pitch-throwers, the grand marshals. We show them the power of our capabilities through air shows, port visits and other demonstrations. This outreach is important, but it isn't always a two-way street. And it doesn't improve our understanding of the society we defend. We tend to focus on the fact that, because so few Americans serve in uniform -- something like 1 percent -- they don't understand us. There's some truth to that. But is it solely their fault?"

Noted: On our return late last week at BWI airport in Baltimore, we stood and watched as an impromptu crowd of travelers, having experienced their own multiple delays in getting home, gather outside the security gate to clap, hoot, holler and shoot pics as service men and women returned from Afghanistan.

The Pivot

  • AP: North Korea taps reformist premier amid nuclear tensions.
  • The New Yorker: North Korea's dangerous game.
  • WSJ: Beijing puts brakes on military car perks.


  • AFP: U.S. military cargo removal from Afghanistan: $5 to $6 billion.
  • Dawn: ISAF commander meets with Kayani.
  • AP: Afghan teen kills U.S. soldier while he was playing with children.   

Droning On

  • Defense News: Lawmakers say CIA should keep drones.
  • The Atlantic: Can domestic drones be fought at the ballot box?
  • Forbes: FAA to hold town hall meeting on drones Wednesday in Washington.
  • The Week: Drones changing hands.    

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