National Security

A crash at Bagram; Bags of cash to Karzai; FP’s 500 most powerful people include Hagel, Dempsey; Tara Sonenshine to leave State; Petraeus’ comeback “like the invasion of Iraq”; Goodbye to Carter Ham, and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

A civilian American cargo plane near Bagram air base in Afghanistan has crashed this morning. No word on casualties, and no definitive word on cause, but the AP reports that the aircraft crashed from a low-altitude soon after it took off, around 3 p.m. Afghanistan time. A Pentagon official told Situation Report that emergency responders are on the scene now assessing the situation and more information will be available soon.

The incident follows a plane crash in southern Afghanistan over the weekend that killed four Americans. That crash, of an MC-12 surveillance craft, did not appear to be the result of Taliban violence. It killed four airmen, the Pentagon announced: Captain Brandon Cyr of Woodbridge, Virginia; Captain Reid Nishizuka of Kailua, Hawaii; Staff Sergeant Daniel Fannin of Morehead, Kentucky; and Staff Sergeant Richard Dickson of Rancho Cordova, Calif. [the original post indicated the MC-12 aircraft was a helicopter].

NYT: "With bags of cash, the CIA Seeks Influence in Afghanistan." The NYT has a page-oner this morning about the money the CIA has given to Afghan President Hamid Karzai almost monthly over the last 10 years. The lede: "For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan's president -- courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency." One American official, to the NYT: "The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States." Read the story here.

ISAF's operational update, out this morning, here. It includes

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a 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.

Help Wanted at the Air Force. On Friday, the Air Force announced that Secretary Mike Donley was stepping down after serving five years -- the longest for any Air Force secretary. Donley replaced Mike Wynne after then Defense Secretary Robert Gates famously fired him and the Air Force Chief of Staff, Mike "Buzz" Moseley, over the Air Force's handling of nuclear weapons. Donley retires June 21. A number of names have been floated to replace him, but Carol DiBattiste, a lawyer working in the private sector who served as an Air Force under secretary more than a decade ago, seems to be on a very short list. No word on when the White House will make an announcement, but there is anxiety in some quarters about Air Force leadership, especially since a key job,  the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition,has yet to be filled. The service, like the others, is confronting major budget and platform issues this year.

Weird ­-- The Air Force announced Donley's retirement via an internal news story, which struck many in the Pentagon as a strange way to make a big announcement. At a breakfast earlier in the week, reporters had repeatedly pressed Donley about when he was retiring, but he would only say "soon."

Tara Sonenshine, leaving State. The Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs - a job that helps shape the voice for American diplomacy and security interests around the world, will leave State July 1 after about 14 months on the job, Situation Report has learned. Sonenshine, who on Friday left for Ethiopia, did not respond to queries, but we're told by multiple sources that she told her staff that it is her intention to leave this summer when most of her special assistants transition out to new posts. Nothing is yet finalized, but Sonenshine, an editorial producer for ABC's Nightline for many years before serving at the NSC in the Clinton White House, was the former executive vice-president of the U.S. Institute of Peace before moving to State. She is exploring options at universities or a return to media work.

FP's new issue, called "The Power Issue," is out today. Table of contents, here.

Writing on FP, "Eleven BuzzFeed lists that explain the world," here, by BuzzFeed editor in chief, Ben Smith.

BuzzFeed-inspired list by FP's John Reed, "One Pentagon Weapons System that was on Time and Under Budget," here.

The 500 Most Powerful People in the World, on FP, here. (Includes Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; John Brennan, CIA director; Keith Alexander, director of the NSA; and Chuck Hagel, defense secretary.)

Petraeus' comeback is being orchestrated "like the invasion of Iraq." Petraeus' return to public life, first reported by Situation Report March 15,  is in full swing, as Buzzfeed reports yesterday, has mounted a "two-pronged" attack on Washington from the outside, pushing vetetrans issues and having specially-arrnaged dinners, like the one recently at the home of National Journal and Atlantic publisher David Bradley. 

Buzzfeed's Ben Smith and Emily Orley: "Meanwhile, on the inside, there are signs of just the right sort of Washington insurgency: Petraeus has not attempted the kind of brash, frontal, and unapologetic return former Rep. Anthony Weiner is trying in New York. Instead, he's barely visible, working with the ubiquitous Beltway fixer Bob Barnett, though he has no book project or paid speaking tour in the works. He has been quietly, formally welcomed back to the town's high society, arriving as the guest of honor one recent evening at the home of Atlantic publisher David Bradley with such eminences as Walter Isaacson, Andrea Mitchell, and Alan Greenspan; at the dinner, a person familiar with the conversation said, the sex scandal was mentioned only obliquely. Crucially, his wife Holly - who was present at the Bradley dinner - appears to be on board for his rehabilitation. ‘The rollout is devised like the invasion of Iraq,' said one person who spoke recently to Petraeus." Buzzfeed's full story, here.

No, we didn't. Yes, we did. Our bit Friday about Jonathan Lee leaving the Pentagon to go to the NSC suggested Samantha Power was still at the White House. Of course she left in February.

The Air Force Association supports a 1 percent military pay raise cap. Air Force Times reports that the AFA supports a smaller salary hike to pay for other programs. Doug Birkey, AFA's government relations director: "This all comes down to balance for a budget that addresses numerous issues, of which pay and operational accounts are a fractional element," Birkey said. "Whether providing base security, funding Air Force hospitals, daycare facilities, sustaining military construction projects, procuring new aircraft, et cetera, are numerous factors in play that must all be managed."

A send-off for Carter Ham. Gen. Carter Ham, who recently turned over U.S. Africom to Gen. David "Rod" Rodriguez, is retiring and said goodbye to close friends and colleagues at a Friday reception at Fort Myer's O-Club. Both he and his wife, Christi, spoke briefly and fondly of an Army life that spanned nearly 40 years, including stops for him in Europe, Iraq, and the Pentagon. Ham is credited with giving the newish combatant command more credibility across the continent. He was also the point man in studying the impact of ending the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and he led the internal review of the shootings at Fort Hood.

DC SEEN at Ham's retirement reception: Jeh Johnson, Mike Mullen, John Campbell, Martha Raddatz, Skip Sharp, Jennifer Griffin, Rusty Blackman, Mike Nagata, Eric Schmitt, John Sattler, Sam Neill, Sarah Chayes, Sally Donnelly, and Heidi Grant, among many others.

Happy Belated to "Battleland." The military blog published by Time and produced lovingly by Mark Thompson recently turned two. The birthday was cause for a change to its slogan -- from the somewhat controversial "Where military intelligence isn't a contradiction in terms" to the new "Military intelligence for the rest of us." Thompson, writing April 16 on the original slogan: "We've heard from a number of readers that it initially turned them off. But we always explain that in a national-security world so full of hokum (meaning baloney, not the NATO nickname -- Hokum -- for the 1980s' Soviet KA-50 Black Shark attack chopper with its nifty coaxial rotors), there's a place for a common-sense approach to the real threats facing the nation." Top 10 Battleland posts over two years, here. Battleland today, here. 

At least a few mil types attended the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno saluted members of the Armed Forces and asked the audience with loved ones in the service to stand as the Armed Forces Medley was played. "We represent over 2 million men and women -- soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen -- who serve our country so that we can have nights like tonight," Odierno said, according to a White House pool report. "During the Marine Hymn, Gen. John Allen could be seen standing at his place close to the front of the room, happily singing along," the pool report said. ABC brought Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; CBS brought Allen, who officially retired this month; Fox's Ed Henry, who is the president of the WH Correspondents Association, brought Odierno. Odierno sat at the head table with POTUS, FLOTUS, and Conan O'Brien.

Not so fast: why America still needs aircraft carriers. Responding to a recent argument that the era of carriers is past, Vice Adm. David Buss and Rear Adms. William Moran and Thomas Moore argue on FP that, contrary to what critics say, flattops are the platform of the future. They write: "To sustain global leadership, we must have enough ships to maintain an enduring and capable naval presence in those areas of significant interest to the United States. To be effective, our capability must be credible -- and fully appreciated by any potential adversary. As we deal with declining budgets, there will be pressure to pursue a strategy suggested by some critics (who are mostly focused on near-term cost and perceived vulnerability) to eliminate some big-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs) and convert the "savings" into some quantity of smaller surface combatants and L-class amphibious ships. In theory, this strategy would increase the presence density of U.S. naval forces and meet the capacity demands outlined in current defense strategic guidance. But let's examine this emerging strategy a bit more closely."

Noting

  • NYT: Next steps on military sexual assaults (editorial).
  • CS Monitor (cover): Boston bombing reveals a new American maturity about insecurity.
  • FP: Assad's chemical romance: how the regime outfoxed Obama.
  • AP: Army says no to more tanks, but Congress insists.
  • Danger Room: Inside the CIA mission to haul plutonium up the Himalayas.
  • Al-Monitor: Why Russia does not believe Syria used chemical weapons.

 

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