Situation Report

Hagel, German defense minister talk Turkey, Afghanistan; 62 percent of Americans don’t favor Syrian intervention; Don’t GoToMeeting: How AMC saves the dough; Justin Mikolay, married; Lapan to Afghanistan, and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Poll: A hefty majority of Americans do not believe the U.S. should intervene in Syria. A new CBS/New York Times poll shows that 62 percent of Americans do not believe the U.S. has a responsibility to intervene in Syria, while 24 percent do think the U.S. should so something - a four percent increase over a month ago, CBS reports.

Their report: "Even as news of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was announced by the Obama Administration, fewer Americans are paying attention to news about Syria than were doing so last month. In March, slightly more than half of all Americans were following news about Syria at least somewhat closely. Now, four in 10 say they are doing so, including just 10 percent who are following it very closely. Still, those following the news about Syria very closely are far more likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to get involved there. Nearly half (47 percent) of that group thinks the U.S. has a responsibility to get involved there -- though about as many do not (48 percent)."

Aid begins to arrive. CBS is also reporting that American aid to the Syrian opposition is just beginning to arrive today. It includes military food rations and medical supplies - aid the Obama administration had promised some time ago, the network reported earlier this morning. That assistance arrives just as the LAT reports of a large blast in Damascus that has killed 13 people and caused dozens of other casualties - the second big one to rock the city in as many days.

Meantime, at the Pentagon today, Hagel will meet with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere. The two will talk Afghanistan operations - Germany's work in the north, as well as both countries' deployment of Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey under NATO. The two will also discuss support for operations in Mali as well as NATO defense planning, Situation Report is told.  Maiziere will arrive at the building a bit after 1pm today.

Welcome to Tuesday'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.

New this morning: Michelle and Jill want more vets hired. CNN Money published an op-ed this morning by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden on the need for companies to hire more veterans. It reads, in part: "These men and women are some of the highest-skilled, best-trained, hardest-working people in this country. They are medics and engineers, drivers and welders, computer technicians and machinists. They are eager to work and determined to keep on serving this country. All they need is a chance. But the challenge of giving them that chance is only becoming more urgent. In the coming years, more than a million service members will be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning to civilian life. That's on top of the hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses already out there looking for work."

The world's most dangerous man whom you've never heard of. FP has an exclusive, inside look at the life and death of Imad Mughiniyeh, "the world's most wanted terrorist not named Osama bin Laden." Mark Perry, writing on FP: "His true identity as the violent mastermind of Hezbollah would have come as a shock to his Damascus neighbors, who thought he was a chauffeur in the employ of the Iranian embassy. A number of them had even called on him, on several occasions, to help tote their bags to waiting taxis. He had happily complied. On this night, he was in a hurry. He exited his apartment building and walked quickly to his SUV, crossing behind the tailgate to the driver's side door. He never made it. Instead, a remotely detonated explosive, containing hundreds of deadly, cube-shaped metal shards, ripped his body to shreds, lifting it into the air and depositing his burning torso 15 feet away on the apartment building's lawn. Just like that, the most dangerous man you never heard of was dead, his whole career proof that one person really can reshape politics in the Middle East -- and far beyond it. "Both bin Laden and Mughniyeh were pathological killers," 30-year veteran CIA officer Milton Bearden told me. ‘But there was always a nagging amateurishness about bin Laden -- his wildly hyped background, his bogus claims.... Bin Laden cowered and hid. Mughniyeh spent his life giving us the finger.'"

Situation Report corrects - We wrote yesterday that an MC-12 was a helicopter even though it's a twin-engine turbo-prop fixed-wing plane. Hashtag weknowbetter. Thank you to all the readers for pointing this out. Repeatedly! We do regret the error.

Jason Collins, great, but where are all the gay military members? Collins made history with his acknowledgement of being gay, but the E-Ring's Kevin Baron wanted to know why military officers and staff NCOs haven't revealed themselves in the same way. Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, who was a key figure behind the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," told Baron: "‘There is no equivalent. There's no Jackie Robinson,' for gays in military. ‘There are a lot of people out there, and a lot of those people have come out. But the thing is that because they are military officers and not NBA stars, they came out quietly," he said, "and very often they don't even come out to all members of their units. ‘We weren't expecting heroes to step out and become famous. We were expecting business as usual.'"

Did Foreign Policy jump the shark with hairless cats? We must admit "14 Hairless Cats that Look Like Vladimir Putin" by FP's own Elizabeth Ralph brought a smile. The feature shows pictures of Putin in various poses alongside other ones of hairless cats in similar poses - who knew? Some readers loved; others thought FP had gone too far. What's next? "Hairy Honey Badgers That Look Like John Brennan?" Not happening. But it was just part of a fun experiment to look at the world through the lens of BuzzFeed, which produces lists on everything. The Moscow Times noticed: "Readers offered mix reviews of the effort, with some saying Foreign Policy had sunk to a low and shouldn't compare a man with an animal. ‘Foreign Policy: You really lost my respect as "reasonable critical magazine,"' wrote one reader. But others suggested that those who took offense should lighten up. ‘I feel bad for all the people who cannot accept some humor in a respected publication once in a while,' a reader wrote."

We like this one, too: "36 Mustaches (and a few beards) that explain why There's no Peace in the World," here.

Department of Every Little Bit Counts: The Pentagon's budget crunch means people are making little changes across the Defense Department. The military used to pay to fly service members all over the country for even the smallest justification. Conferences or military education used to be sufficient reason to spend tens of millions in airfare, lodging, rental cars, and food. But as sequester hit, the services curtailed many of those events -- a visible way the DOD could show it was cutting back.

One example is Air Mobility Command, the Air Force's big logistics command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., which is using teleconferencing to cut down on the number of traditional conferences and on-site education opportunities offered to its airmen. By eliminating just one annual conference of about 118 active, guard, and reserve wing commanders, the command will avoid spending as much as $120,000 this year, Situation Report is told. Instead, this spring AMC will host a virtual conference of wing commanders using two teleconference tools: MilBook, which allows participants to collaboratively nominate, refine, and discuss topics that commanders want to address, and Defense Connect Online, or DCO, which is essentially an online meeting site that allows commanders to talk using voice, text, and video from their computers. "Total cost of the meeting will be zero," Lt. Col. Matt Whiat, chief of the commander's action group at AMC, wrote in an e-mail. Read more on this below.

Mattis was spotted Saturday at the wedding of Justin Mikolay and Maggie Kropp. Appropriately held at the stunningly refurbished Army Navy Country Club (Mikolay is an Annapolis grad and Kropp is a West Point grad), the two made it legal. Readers may know Mikolay as a member of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's speechwriting team, who also wrote for David Petraeus and Mattis. Mikolay left the Pentagon in February and now works for Palantir. The couple won't soon forget 20-plus Annapolis grads helping Mikolay's two older brothers recreate the scene in Top Gun in which Maverick and Goose serenade Kelly McGillis' character to "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." Also spotted, in addition to Gen. Jim Mattis: Mikolay's speechwriting buds Greg Grant and Jacob Freedman.

Dave Lapan is pulling his retirement papers. Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, was to retire by summer but is rescinding his retirement date so he can deploy to Afghanistan to become a spokesman for another Marine, ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford. He'll deploy in July. Air Force Col. Ed Thomas will replace him at the Pentagon, as we noted last week. Lapan told friends that, like his current job, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, professionally rewarding, and challenging -- and all for "an important mission at a historic time."

The jihad will be Tweeted. The most wanted American jihadi in Somalia has been Tweeting as his enemies close in on him. Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman writes an account of it, here. "... the American jihadi in Somalia survived a Thursday assassination attempt only to tweet today that his former allies in al-Qaida's Somali affiliate are stepping up their efforts to wipe him out. On Monday, according to what Hammami warned might be his last words, Shebab gunmen surrounded his home, marched him to "court" and opened fire in a Somali forest. ‘Even if we die weve won,' Hammami tweeted from his @abumamerican Twitter account today. ‘May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for.'"

Saving money, the virtual way, con't. Like many others, the command views conferences and military education as key to professional development. AMC has been testing some off-the-shelf communications programs similar to GoToMeeting and SurveyMonkey to conduct virtual meetings, conferences and education to ensure they can operate within government's security firewalls, Whiat said in an interview. The command is also doing more professional military education virtually. Courses that have in the past required military students to fly to the command or elsewhere for a week of class average about $140,000 per course. Now, two courses, one for mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers, will be held virtually and the cost for both courses will be zip.

Some aspects of professional development do have to be conducted in person. For example, an involved discussion of leadership and ethics doesn't work online. For these, the command hopes to develop a "hybrid concept" by next year that combines virtual interaction with the minimum amount of "in-person time" needed, sometimes holding portions of a class during a larger conference that participants would need to attend anyway. AMC said it did not have a total cost of the conferences and development courses across the command because each falls into several "directorates and functions," making it difficult to assess the total impact of holding more virtual meetings on the command.

Noting

  • Forbes: JIEDDO head sees Boston bombings as part of a pattern.
  • E-Ring: USS Freedom broken down, not going down.
  • AP: Army amputee completes air assault school.
  • Defense News: Pentagon industrial base chief predicts pain.    
  • Real Clear Defense: Congress must address eroding readiness in FY14 budget.
  • Killer Apps: The Air Force wants to protect its spacecraft from attack. 

 

 

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.