National Security

The Korean Peninsula, more rhetoric, not more dangerous; Explainer: the North’s air defenses; Karzai “not crazy”; Dunford doesn’t need a Plan B; Where did Petraeus’ picture go? And a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

The situation on the Korean peninsula is getting more serious, but there are still no signs the North is changing its "military posture." Amid all the scary-sounding rhetoric, there haven't been any detectable mobilizations of any scale within North Korea. But yesterday, news came that the Navy had sent the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer based in Japan that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, closer to the Korean Peninsula. That came after the arrival Sunday of two F-22 stealth fighters as part of an exercise in South Korea. The jets will remain on static display for now. But the overall picture was one of using U.S. military hardware to urge restraint - and to take some of the pressure off South Korea, which is growing more and more edgy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, yesterday: "Well, I would reiterate that we haven't seen action to back up the rhetoric in the sense that we haven't seen significant changes, as I said, in the North in terms of mobilizations or repositioning of forces, and that is important to note. And what that disconnect between the rhetoric and action means, I'll leave to the analysts to judge." WH briefing transcript here.

Pressure on North Korean ally China will grow. As the stakes get higher, the U.S. and allies will lean more heavily on China to see if its leaders can tamp down tensions on the Korean peninsula, experts say.

MIT's John Park tells Situation Report that it's likely we'll see that pressure increase. China will be told: "Either coddle your North Korean ally or reign it in," Park said. But while there is an "asymmetry of interests" between the U.S. and allies and China with regard to North Korea, that only lasts to a point. China signed on to U.N. sanctions against the North, with U.N. Resolution 2094, earlier this month. But Park warns of the three-month "honeymoon period," after which China typically loses interest and reverts to a status quo relationship with the North. "There are a number of things that China is alarmed about, but at the end of the day, there is no fundamental change in its approach to dealing with North Korea."

What do North Korea's air defenses look like anyway? Killer Apps' John Reed asked that very question. Reed: Sure, North Korea is said to have one of the densest air defense networks on Earth. But it's largely made up of 1950s-, ‘60s-, and ‘70s-vintage Soviet-designed missiles and radars -- the type of weapons that the U.S. military has been working on defeating for decades via a combination of radar jamming, anti-radar missiles and stealth technology. In fact, the B-2 and F-22 were designed in the 1980s and 1990s specifically to evade such defenses, and the ancient B-52s could simply fire AGM-86 cruise missiles at North Korea from well beyond the range of the country's air defenses." Reed looks at the SA-2 Guideline, the SA-6 Gainful, the SA-3 Goa, the SA-13 Gopher, the SA-16 Gimlets, and the SA-4 Ganef.

FP also looks at how the U.S. is running out of fancy planes to send to Korea. FP's John Hudson: "[W]ith Sunday's mobilization of F-22 stealth fighter jets, the U.S. military has quickly hit its ceiling of awe-inspiring next-generation aircraft." Hudson looks at B-52 bombers, B-2 bombers, and the F-22.  

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where testing is never required -- we still don't use horsemeat. 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.

A picture of Petraeus seemed to come down in the D-Ring. Just a week after David Petraeus began to orchestrate his return to public life after falling, hard, from grace, the Pentagon removed a picture of him from the walls in the building's press area and replaced it with a new one of Chuck Hagel. The pictures, of various defense leaders in the last few years, had been placed on the walls within the last year as part of a refurbishing of the inner-corridors in the area. The roughly 1' x 2' poster boards included two of Petraeus. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber writes: "The Petraeus picture and other photos depicting current or former senior Pentagon officials were taken down late last week or early this week. It appears the pictures were rotated out and replaced with newer photos of DoD officials, a practice that is typical throughout Pentagon hallways." We're told the picture of Petraeus wasn't taken down altogether, but just moved down the hall.

Hagel is headed to Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next month, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports.

What's Ash Carter doing today? Glad you asked. At 10:30 this morning Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will attend at ceremony at National Defense University to honor the 19th SecDef, Bill Perry. The Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies will be renamed in honor of Perry and Carter is giving the keynote.

Ron Neumann is optimistic about the possibilities for Afghanistan. Former Afghanistan Ambassador Ron Neumann was one of four analysts who returned from Afghanistan late last month, including Mike O'Hanlon from Brookings, Tony Cordesman from CSIS, and Michele Flournoy, free agent -- though she recently re-joined the CNAS board as a co-chairman. Each has published something on their trip in recent days that portrays a mix of hope and optimism tempered with challenges and the need for U.S. commitment. "I think Afghanistan has a chance to muddle through and not disintegrate," Neumann told Situation Report. With U.S. aid and support, the Afghans can work on professionalizing the army and work on governance, he said. But he fears, as many do, that Afghanistan will misinterpret signals from the U.S.  about its withdrawal and plans for a post-2014 presence and respond in the wrong way. "They will only work on those things if they think we're going to stay on it," he said. "If they think we're bailing out, they will go to hedging behavior and survival behavior." So much of Afghanistan's own decision-making is based on U.S. decisions -- they are inextricable. So as the White House seeks to "guard the president's freedom of decision" on Afghanistan policy, that can send signals to the Afghan government that undermine that very same policy, he says.

Emerging theme from the White House? Neumann says there is gradual recognition that November 2016 isn't far away and that the Obama White House doesn't want to be seen as having lost Afghanistan. Thusly, the next presidential election may be an increasingly large factor to what the White House does on Afghanistan over the coming year, he says, in terms of drawdown but also the post 2014 presence.

Neumann on President Hamid Karzai: "He's not crazy. He has reasons for everything he does. It's useful to remember that everything he has fits about are things that have been on his agenda for six or seven years. He has the feeling that we don't listen to him unless he screams. So now he screams first."

Almost the four amigos. The four analysts have traveled before to Afghanistan extensively in the past, though not always all together, Neumann said. But give or take some members, roughly the same contingent have visited together over the years. This 10-day trip included visits with Gen. Joe Dunford, political leader and former presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah, President Karzai, a number of other political leaders and others. ISAF supported but did not pay for their trip, he said. Neumann paid for his costs himself, he said.

Girls only! The actress Angelina Jolie opened a "girls only" school in Afghanistan, the Times of India reports. "Jolie plans to fund more schools by selling her own self-designed accessories collection, the Style of Jolie, to retail stores for the first time with 100 per cent of the profits going to her new foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict."

ICYMI: ABC's Martha Raddatz' interview yesterday morning with Gen. Joe Dunford on needing a plan B for Afghans to provide their own security. Raddatz: "When asked if there's a ‘Plan B' in case Afghanistan isn't capable of providing for its own security by 2014, Dunford replies without hesitation that ‘it's going to work.'"

Dunford: "I'm confident that we have a plan in place right now to grow the Afghan security forces to the level they need to be at in order to secure the country." And, on the need for sustainability: "The critical piece is to ensure that the Afghan security forces do have the sustainability in the future where they can continue to secure the people and allow the political transition to take place as well as development."  On the tough fight this season: "We've seen some indication that the Taliban would like to be successful this year, particularly conducting high profile attacks and assassinations of Afghan leaders to try to erode the will of the coalition... we'll be able to provide the Afghans the support they need to be successful this summer."

The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation is getting in on the Africa action. USGIF is creating a new Africa working group, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports. They are looking to enhance the U.S. government's Africa expertise and steer AFRICOM's attention further south, beyond the conflicts in North Africa that are commanding headlines. Keith Masback, the nonprofit's CEO, on AFRICOM's focus on North Africa: "It's top heavy, in terms of diplomacy and engagement.... We gotta get smart about that continent if we're going to operate there." The working group will reach out to a variety of government agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as outside development groups, U.S. special operations forces, and AFRICOM.  

Why the focus? "You start peeling back the proverbial onion on Africa and it doesn't get simpler," Masback said.

Islamic militants messed with the wrong city this weekend, according to a dispatch from Timbuktu. In a bigger post on what we reported yesterday from Mali, FP contributors Matt Trevithick and Daniel Seckman write that the Malian Army and citizens inside Timbuktu were effective in ridding the city of Islamic militants who attempted to take it over. "Timbuktu citizens played an integral role in repelling the fighters, with men, women, and children forming mobs that chased the Islamists through the city. Armed with sticks and stones, approximately 75 civilian residents angrily denounced the attackers and provided critical information, including Islamist locations, to the Malian Army."

The Pivot

  • HuffPo: North Korean photographer offers glimpse inside country.
  • AP: North Korean nuclear threat not a game, UN chief says.
  • CNN: North Korea says it plans to re-start shuttered nuclear reactor.   
  • BBC: Why China's military has turned to gaming.


  • Buzzfeed: The sequester isn't a joke for Jeff Maryak.
  • Danger Room: Need ships? Try a 3-D Printed Navy.   
  • Duffel Blog: Petraeus apologizes for affair, asks auditorium of 600 if he can crash on anyone's couch tonight. 

Into Africa

  • Al-Jazeera: Mali's ethnic tuareg accuse army of abuse.
  • Time: Jihadi strike in Timbuktu reflects changed terrorism threat in Mali.
  • AP: Central Africa Republic: coup leader solidifies rebels' grip on government. 


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.