Dunford on drawdown: ISAF has flexibility; A turning point for fixing veterans’ issues?; Sea Air Space Expo begins today; John Kerry on START: time to get real; and a little more.
By Gordon Lubold
Joe Dunford says he has the flexibility to manage the drawdown of forces this year to optimize support for the ANSF. ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford will arrive in Washington later this week and next week will appear before a Senate panel to talk growth of the Afghan National Security Forces, the "retrograde" of materiel from Afghanistan, and the drawdown of American forces over the next year. Of primary interest is the slope of the drawdown after President Barack Obama announced that 34,000 troops would come out by next February. The question now is how many will deploy back home and at what pace. But Dunford told Situation Report, "We've been given the latitude to manage the drawdown in a way that allows us to best support the ANSF in their first fighting season. The only requirement is to meet the 34K number by next February. It's not about being steep or gradual...it's about maintaining the right forces through the period of high operational tempo." There are currently 63,000 Americans in Afghanistan. In an interview by phone Friday with Situation Report, Dunford addressed the issues he is confronting as (likely) the last ISAF commander in Afghanistan, and what he'll tell the Senate Armed Services Committee next week.
On the growth of the ANSF: Two page one stories, in the WaPo and the NYT today, depict the Afghan National Security Forces as beginning to take the lead - albeit with the usual challenges. Indeed, Dunford says the challenges are evident. But he says he is confident, and that the ANSF is poised for an increasingly lead role in the coming months. And by next year, the Afghan force will be able to create enough security for the elections, now expected in April, with additional support. Challenges remain, however. "There are still issues of leadership, institutional development, ministerial capacity, and those are all issues that have to be worked. It's fair to say that we grew that quantity of the force, we're now growing the quality of it."
On retrograde: The U.S. has approximately $36 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan, including 28,000 vehicles and trailers, all of which need to be shipped out of the country. There are also approximately 90,000 shipping containers of equipment that need to be recovered, identified, and repacked for shipment. It's unclear how much will stay and how much will be returned to the U.S., but all experts agree that there are numerous challenges getting it all out by the end of next year. That's because it all must be funneled through only a few small openings on the ground, primarily through Pakistan. But Dunford said he is confident the retrograde of equipment will get done by the end of 2014. "We have northern routes, southern routes, and multi-modal routes (sea and air)," he said. "What I've told leadership in terms of retrograding equipment needed to reset the force is, we'll work to get that done by the end of 2014."
On planning for post-2014: Dunford said there remain "gaps on the battlefield" that include planning and combat support, like close air support, logistics and command-and-control and those factors will be important in deciding what the U.S. contribution looks like after 2014. "What has to inform post-2014 is our assumptions about the strategic landscape to include progress in political reconciliation and where the Afghan forces will be in terms of development."
On the importance of commitment and conveying the message to the Afghans: "I think a little more fidelity on the NATO mission and the U.S. mission -- I think that would be very helpful in terms of the message," he said.
Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we are grateful for the cowbells and big drums during yesterday's Cherry Blossom 10-miler. We were starting to think we were famous because of all the nice shout-outs until we realized our name was printed on our bib. And we appreciate the high-five early on from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's chief speechwriter, Jacob Freedman, who stood on the other side of the rail to support his girlfriend and father.
Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. 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 military stories of success or excess.
Sea, Air, Space! The annual exposition begins today. The Navy League's Sea Air Space Expo begins today at the Gaylord at National Harbor outside Washington with a ton of events, speakers, and defense contractors all talking about how to do more with less. Today at noon, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert speaks in the Potomac Ballroom. Today's events, here.
Veterans' issues may begin to get their due. On Friday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and VA Secretary Eric Shineski hosted a reporter's roundtable to talk about what they're going to do for veterans and how the $2.5 billion plus-up in the VA's budget will help. It was the first such meeting for McDonough and Shinseki, who is not known for doing much media engagement. But with pressure growing on the VA to show a turnaround in the VA's ability to address a backlog of more than 900,000 veterans cases-- and Time magazine's Joe Klein calling for Shinseki's resignation -- the event was, in a small Washington way, something of a milestone.
"The fact that they did it is significant," Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Situation Report. "This isn't a normal thing for the secretary and the chief of staff to sit down and talk about the budget."
Shineski, a wounded war veteran who spoke truth to power during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, had seemed like the perfect choice for President Obama as he attempted to make good on his promise of fixing veterans issues. But Shineski has been a disappointment to many, as the backlog of veterans' cases has grown exponentially -- some 2,000 percent -- since he took office. There are now more than 900,000 backlogged cases, and some vets have waited 1,200 days for resolution of their case. Then, when reporter Aaron Glantz discovered that 97 percent of the record keeping at the VA is still on paper, outrage became widespread. Comedian Jon Stewart's recent dig at the VA has done as much as anything to spur action. Showing images of all the paper records, he joked, "Is that the V.A. or an episode of Hoarders?"
Read Military.com's version of the roundtable.
Rieckhoff is hopeful about what Chuck Hagel can do for vets. But Rieckhoff believes that Hagel, a former enlisted man and combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, can help bring focus to the issue. "He went in as a boot camp private and is now the secretary of defense, so he understands it not only at the Cabinet level, but what the grunt in the field is facing today." But: "We still haven't seen any response from the president." VA Inspector General report on the backlog, here.
Ash Carter talks today about the rebalance at CSIS @3pm. Deets here.
On the 3rd anniversary of the START treaty, John Kerry says: Time to face facts. It was three years ago today that Obama and then-President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START agreement to reduce American and Russian deployed strategic nuclear forces to their lowest levels since Ike was in office and the Cold War defined everything with the Russians. Today, John Kerry, writing on FP: "That December in the Senate, we clawed our way to ratification with 71 votes, a big bipartisan statement that the arms control and nonproliferation consensus could hold together even in a polarized political culture. That statement was reaffirmed by treaty supporters from Henry Kissinger and James Baker -- and every other living secretary of state -- to President George Herbert Walker Bush.
Still, when I noted that far more ambitious treaties had previously been approved by votes of 90 or 95 to zero, a colleague of mine wondered whether in this hyper-partisan Washington, 71 might be the new 95."
And: "I'm proud that in the end we sent a signal to the world that in American foreign policy, however uphill the slog and improbable the victory, partisan politics can still stop at the water's edge. But I'd like to see our country get back to the days of near unanimity on these vital issues -- because the commitment to nonproliferation and arms control that began under Presidents Nixon and Reagan should continue well into the future.
How, you ask? Kerry: "We start by relentlessly following the facts, and the facts are that through the last two-plus years since the treaty entered into force, despite any of the alarm bells treaty foes may have rung, the treaty is working -- exactly as advertised.
- Bloomberg: Defense contracts surge in March despite sequester.
- WaPo: (editorial) Shrinking the Pentagon.
- CNN: Blast kills nine on bus.
- NYT: With swagger, Afghan troops take the lead.
- WaPo: Afghan troops enter a Taliban nest without U.S. troops at their side.
- Times of India: With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, New Delhi must prepare for contingencies.