National Security

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.

Sequestering

  • Bloomberg: Defense contracts surge in March despite sequester.
  • WaPo: (editorial) Shrinking the Pentagon. 

The Stan

  • 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. 

Noting

National Security

Resolution on U.S.-Japanese stalemate; Is there another sequester in the works?; An Army two-star, relieved; Carter Malkasian advising Dunford; @zbig makes a debut; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

The U.S. and Japan reach agreement over bases. The two countries have agreed to a new plan for closing and consolidating dozens of U.S. military bases and U.S.-controlled locations across Okinawa in a move that U.S. defense officials believe will unjam the more than 15-year effort to reposition thousands of troops across the Pacific. The "Consolidation Plan for Facilities and Areas in Okinawa" represents the first time that Tokyo and Washington have agreed on all the pieces of what to do on Okinawa, a senior defense official told the E-Ring's Kevin Baron last night, ahead of the announcement this morning. "The new plan calls for 2,500 acres of land including six major facilities and several smaller areas to be returned to Japan, from entire housing districts to sections of land as small as an access road. The controversial runway [for Marine aircraft] will be added to the coastal base," he writes.

Statement from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, early this morning: "Now more than ever it is essential that the United States maintain a geographically distributed and sustainable force throughout Asia that can provide for the protection of Japan and our other allies, and U.S. interests. We are resolved to focus our bilateral efforts on modernizing the alliance to meet emerging security challenges in the region."

The Pentagon's budget is due out April 10, and it will likely exceed the $475 billion cap. That could mean a new round of sequester cuts, budget guru Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told Situation Report last night. Harrison will host a roundtable discussion this morning on next week's budget release. He'll release a new analysis of what could happen if the budget caps the Pentagon is supposed to work within are "breached." But you can find a few of his thoughts, here, first. "Looking Beyond the Fog: Fiscal Challenges facing Defense," here.

Harrison: "If DoD submits a budget request that exceeds its $475 billion cap, as senior Pentagon officials have indicated it will do, it is implicitly placing its faith in Congress to lift the budget caps or make the necessary cuts in DoD's request to fit within the caps. That faith may be misplaced because both the House and Senate budget resolutions, shown in Figure 2, also exceed the budget caps."

And: "If the two sides do not pass legislation that alters the BCA, the current caps will remain in effect for FY 2014 and beyond.  If the budget caps are breached, it will again trigger an automatic, across-the-board sequester to reduce the level of funding to the caps. If the FY 2013 budget process is instructive, Congress may prefer to let sequestration cut the budget rather than make the hard decisions itself." 

"Carter Sahib" Malkasian has joined Dunford in Kabul. The famed American civilian adviser, who spent two years in Helmand between 2009 and 2011, is now back in Afghanistan working with ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford in Kabul, Situation Report has learned. Actually, he's been there for several weeks, but his job through the State Department didn't become official until recently. Malkasian, well known to Afghan hands, is considered a standout as a Pashto-speaking risk-taker who earned the respect of locals and helped bring stability to that region. So much so, that when he lived in Garmser district in Helmand, they called him "Carter Sahib" -- a term of honor and respect rarely earned by outsiders.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran's profile of Malkasian in the WaPo, here. Malkasian's new book, "War Comes to Garmser," on Amazon, here.

Is an up-and-comer now a down-and-outer? An Army two-star relieved for misconduct. Army Maj. Gen. Ralph Baker, who held a key command in Africa, was removed March 28 for alcohol use and sexual misconduct. Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command -- who is handing over command today in Stuttgart, Germany -- lost confidence in Baker and relieved him of command of the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa, according to reports. Baker, who had been seen as having more stars in his future, has challenged the decision to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. According to AP, Baker is now serving in a temporary "special assistant" job with the Army staff at the Pentagon. 

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we always appeal to our readers for great tips. 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, military stories of success or excess.

At the AFRICOM change of command in Stuttgart a few hours ago, here's what Hagel said in a statement to Ham (read aloud there since Hagel didn't go): "You took command of AFRICOM at a critical time on the continent, and in the larger region. As a result of your leadership, America has deepened its engagement in Africa, building and strengthening important relationships with our allies and partners in the region. Your inspired leadership has helped African nations realize the value of AFRICOM in fostering stability and hope on the continent. You have proven yourself to be one of America's most outstanding, unassuming, and agile military thinkers and leaders." 

Zbig is going all 21st century and what not. @CSIS's Andrew Schwartz yesterday announced that former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has launched a new account on the Tweeters. He's got one of the coolest handles you could have: @zbig. He has 4,411 followers-and-counting this morning and one tweet about 22 hours ago: "In our new age of cyber attacks, for my first tweet, some thoughts on how to prevent ‘Anonymous Wars.' ?#anonymouswars."

In the administration's carefully orchestrated maneuverings over North Korea, did signals get crossed in announcing the deployment of two destroyers? The E-Ring's Baron reports on the minor kerfuffle over just who ordered the USS John McCain and the USS Decatur to the Western Pacific. "There was no White House secrecy order," a senior defense official told Baron. "According to several U.S. officials, the decision to task two destroyers on a ballistic missile defense mission specific to North Korea went through the usual chain of command. Pacific Command's Adm. Samuel Locklear requested additional ballistic missile defenses in the Western Pacific. That decision was made in conjunction with Northern Command's Gen. Chuck Jacoby. Those two combatant commanders are responsible for determining the military forces required for ballistic missile defense of U.S. allies in Asia and the homeland, respectively. Their request was given to the Joint Staff, at the Pentagon. The Joint Staff then asked the Navy what assets were available to meet the mission. The Navy identified the Decatur and the McCain, which Locklear then ordered to their positions. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel did not give the order."

A friend of Situation Report e-mails: "They sent the USS McCain. Can the USS Lindsey Graham be far behind?"

Christine Fox is taking a lead role in the new strategic choices assessment. The Pentagon has given Christine Fox, the head of the Pentagon's cost assessment and program evaluation team (CAPE), a big role in its new look at the Pentagon's defense strategy. It's a "move that underscores DOD's interest in maintaining its current strategy while revising related budget priorities," according to Chris Castelli of Inside Defense. "Fox has been given a special role as the ‘shepherd' of the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), a senior defense official told InsideDefense.com. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is technically leading the review, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey." Fox, who is expected to retire later this year, was given this last assignment because CAPE seemed like the logical office to conduct the review.

Arnie Punaro, a former Marine general officer and senior Hill staffer, told Castelli: "I also like CAPE because in the past they have been willing to challenge the 'sacred cows' in the Pentagon...and as Hagel's speech today indicated, he has his aim points on the bullseye of the three ticking time bombs in the Pentagon: acquisition where you spend more, take longer and get less; DOD's massive overhead; and the unsustainable, fully burdened and life-cycle costs of the all-volunteer force."

Bonus information on Fox: She was the inspiration for the Kelly McGillis character in Top Gun. She used to be a Navy civilian and during the 1980s was an analyst at the Top Gun school. Read all about it in People -- in 1985 -- here.


The Pivot

  • CNN: North Korea loads missiles onto launchers. 
  • USIP's Olive Branch: North Korean threats turn eyes to China. 
  • AP: North Korea's aggression could strengthen U.S.-China alliance.
  • Stripes: U.S.-Japan agree relocation of Futenma is more than a decade away.

Thinking on Iran

  • Security Clearance: New talks seek progress on Iran's nuclear program.
  • Iran Primer: Interview with Colin Kahl on nukes in Iran. 
  • WaPo: Waning hopes for nuclear deal spur calls for outreach to Iranian public.
  • Free Beacon: Pre-emptive strike on Iran, "least worst option," says Michael Hayden.

Noting

  • The Economist: "Attaboy." Few outside Kabul are as powerful as the governor of Balkh.
  • Defense News: Service secretaries all take voluntary pay cut. 
  • Duffel Blog: Sailor only at strip club to keep liberty buddy safe.