National Security

AF sacks sexual assault prevention chief for sexual assault; Stavridis to Tufts; Dunford is hopeful in Afghanistan; a painting for Kerry; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

"Outrage and disgust:" The Pentagon issued an angry statement last night after the head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention office was charged with...sexual assault. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va. was arrested early Sunday in a bar and restaurant area near the Pentagon after he allegedly groped a woman in a parking lot, grabbing her breasts and buttocks. When he attempted to grab her again, she fought him off and called police. Krusinski, who Arlington County, Va. police reported was drunk at the time, is the Air Force's point man on sexual assault and prevention. Krusinski has been removed from the job. The incident occurred in the Crystal City area of Arlington near the Pentagon on 23rd Street, where there are a number of bars and restaurants. The incident comes as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tries to reinvigorate the Defense Department's sexual assault prevention efforts amid worries that not enough has been done. The Air Force, in particular, is confronting high-level concerns that some of its top officers have appeared indifferent to sexual assault. There are now two cases in which an Air Force three-star general has overturned a sexual assault conviction, and that comes after the case at Lackland Air Force Base in which dozens of recruits were raped and assaulted. After Krusinksi's arrest was first reported by a local news site, Hagel spoke with Air Force Secretary Mike Donley and the officer was removed from his job. We're told Hagel was "positively angry" when he heard of the news and he's poised to announce more initiatives to combat sexual assault in the coming weeks. "Other department officials were shocked that someone with responsibility for sexual assault prevention efforts would be arrested on charges connected to the kind of behavior he was sworn to stamp out," said one senior defense official.

The Pentagon's George Little: "Secretary Hagel expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively. Secretary Hagel has been directing the department's leaders to elevate their focus on sexual assault prevention and response, and he will soon announce next steps in our ongoing efforts to combat this vile crime."

Did another Air Force three-star overturn a sexual assault conviction? The Air Force was already grappling with the case in which Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, reversed a guilty decision in the sexual assault case of an Air Force lieutenant colonel -- a decision that has received high-level scrutiny from Congress and the Pentagon. Then today, WaPo's Craig Whitlock reports that the promotion of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, an astronaut who was headed to become vice commander of the Air Force's Space Command, has been blocked by Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democrat from Missouri. McCaskill "wants to examine Helms' previously unpublicized decision to overturn the conviction, on charges of aggravated sexual assault, of a captain at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California," Whitlock writes.

In both cases, the three-stars went against the recommendations of their legal advisers to overrule a military jury's findings. "Neither general was a judge and neither observed the trials, but they intervened to grant clemency before the convictions could be heard by an appeals court," Whitlock writes. A memo written by Helms and obtained by the WaPo indicated that Helms had reviewed the case and found the accused, Capt. Matthew Herrera, to be a more credible witness. "It is undoubtedly true that [the accuser's] feelings of victimization are real and justifiable," Helms wrote in the memo. "However, Capt. Herrera's conviction should not rest on [the accuser's] view of her victimization, but on the law and convincing evidence."

On the hotseat- Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee today at 9:30. Watch it live here.

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.

Stavridis is headed to Tufts. Adm. Jim Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander and head of U.S. European Command, is headed to Boston to become the dean of the Fletcher School of International Affairs at Tufts University after he retires in July. Stavridis, who will have served in the European job for four years -- about a year longer than a typical combatant commander -- has been eager to retire. Tufts announced his appointment yesterday, with Tufts Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris saying he has the "rare combination of intellectual curiosity, social intelligence, humility, leadership skills and respect from others that have made him one of the great military and political leaders of his generation, and that will make him a spectacular Fletcher dean, and a key member of the university leadership team."

Stavridis, in an e-mail to Situation Report overnight: "I'm very excited to take on responsibilities as Dean of The Fletcher School -- it is a position that will firmly anchor me in the international space, where I've spent so much of my career.  After four years at NATO in Europe, with a focus on Afghanistan, the Balkans, piracy, cyber, Libya, and lately Syria, I want to remain engaged.  And it will give me a chance to continue my connections in Latin America and the Caribbean from my time in Miami as Commander, US Southern Command." And: "Above all, it is a chance to teach, mentor, and work with younger professionals as they prepare for the global world of the 21st century.  It is going to be hard work, but I'm ready to go..."

Watch the Navy's stealth drone make its first arrested landing. Killer Apps' John Reed found a quick vid of the Northrop Grumman-made X-47B drone, here. The drone is meant to prove that the Navy can operate a "fighter jet-sized stealthy drone from aircraft carriers -- paving the way for a fleet of similar aircraft to enter the service around 2020 under a program called Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS," he writes.

Hagel met with Kerry at the Pentagon yesterday. The two had lunch together yesterday and discussed a "range of national security issues" before Kerry left for Russia last night. Hagel gave Kerry a print of a painting from the Navy's art collection titled "Showing the Flag in Ca Mau (PT-71)," by Gerland Merfeld, who painted it in 1969 as an embedded illustrator. The picture was selected to honor Kerry's service and depicts two Navy Patrol Craft Boats in the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam. Caption contest: What are Hagel and Kerry doing? The E-Ring's Kevin Baron posted this picture, released by the Pentagon, of SecState John Kerry and SecDef Chuck Hagel sharing what we like to call a light moment. Other pics, here.

Same worries, different day: China's military continues its buildup. But the Pentagon acknowledges for the first time that China has targeted U.S. government computer networks. The Pentagon yesterday released its newest "China power report," here, and the assessment is pretty much the same as it was last year: continued growth with little transparency. But this time around, the Pentagon was pointed in its accusations that China was behind a number of the cyber attacks against the U.S. This comes on the heels of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey's trip to China - and American and international efforts to get China to do more to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula. From the report: "In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military. These intrusions were focused on exfiltrating information. China is using its computer network exploitation (CNE) capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs. The information targeted could potentially be used to benefit China's defense industry, high technology industries, policymaker interest in US leadership thinking on key China issues, and military planners building a picture of U.S. network defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis. Although this alone is a serious concern, the accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks. China's 2010 Defense White Paper notes China's own concern over foreign cyber warfare efforts and highlighted the importance of cyber-security in China's national defense."

Dunford is hopeful. ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford sat with the NYT for an interview in which he answered "yes" to all three of the three fundamental questions he has posed about the future of Afghanistan, according to the Times: Will the Afghan troops be able to assume lead responsibility for military operations? Will the Afghan security forces be able to give security to the Afghan people nationwide for the presidential elections scheduled for next April? And, will the international troops be able to transfer all authority to the Afghans at the end of 2014, when the International Security Assistance Force mission ends?

"The answer is yes," to all three questions, Dunford told the Times' Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg, noting that there is still much work to be done. The NYT: "Referring to the growth in size and capabilities of the Afghan Army, in particular, he said: ‘You can accuse me of being an optimist and I'll plead guilty. But to those people who think this can't happen, I would just ask them to look at the last two or three years and ask them why they can't imagine that we'll be on the same trajectory that we've been on the last two or three years,' he said referring to the growth in size and capabilities of the Afghan Army, in particular."

Times Correction: The original Times story in print (and in the Pentagon's Early Bird) indicated mistakenly that it was the first interview Dunford had had since assuming command. Not true. At the very least, Dunford spoke briefly to Situation Report, here, on April 8, and also to the AP's Kim Dozier, here, March 14. The Times realized the mistake soon after and corrected it in the online version of the story.

Noting
  • Reuters: Bank of China closes account of key North Korean bank.
  • AOL Defense: What will F-35 costs in new SAR estimate? Do they matter?
  • Iran Primer: How deeply is Iran enmeshed in Syria?
  • Defense News: Carrier launch pushed back four months.
  • Al-Monitor: Royce says arms not necessary to defeat Syria's Assad.
  • FP: Send the nukes back to South Korea. 

National Security

Kerry to the Pentagon today; Did Syrian rebels use sarin?; Why bags of cash represent a failure in U.S. policy in Afg; Why Mabus loves the USS Makin Island; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Did Syrian rebels use sarin? Unclear, but a U.N. official says she has strong suspicions that Syrian rebel forces used the deadly nerve gas, potentially validating President Barack Obama's considered approach. Carla Del Ponte, the commissioner of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, told an Italian-Swiss TV station that Syrian rebel forces have used the nerve agent, even as a Free Syrian Army spokesman said rebels don't have any unconventional weapons and don't want any. FSA's Louay Almokdad, quoted by CNN: "More importantly, we do not aspire to have (chemical weapons) because we view our battle with the regime as a battle for the establishment of a free democratic state....We want to build a free democratic state that recognizes and abides by all international accords and agreements -- and chemical and biological warfare is something forbidden legally and internationally."

NYT's Bill Keller on why Syria is not Iraq: "Of course, there are important lessons to be drawn from our sad experience in Iraq: Be clear about America's national interest. Be skeptical of the intelligence. Be careful whom you trust. Consider the limits of military power. Never go into a crisis, especially one in the Middle East, expecting a cakewalk. But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy." Read his piece here.

Kerry to the Pentagon today. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is headed to Russia, will first lunch at the Pentagon for the first time since he became secretary. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been wanting to host Kerry at the building since Hagel arrived in February, we're told. Easy prediction: Syria is a top agenda item.

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.

Deteriorating relations: new fighting along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Another round of fighting erupted today in a border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, sharpening the increasingly tense relationship between the two countries, Reuters reports. The clash today erupted after Pakistani troops tried to repair a gate on the border in the Afghan district of Goshta -- the same area where an Afghan border police officer was killed in an exchange of gunfire last week. Bad fences, bad neighbors. Over the weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai hinted that the Taliban should turn their weapons toward Pakistan and said that no Afghan government would recognize the Durand Line, the boundary between the two countries drawn by the British. The WSJ over the weekend: "Mr. Karzai's comments -- his strongest remarks yet since the border clashes -- may complicate U.S.-led efforts to mediate a peace settlement and to ship military equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan as most international troops prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014. ‘Without cooperation with Pakistan, we will never be able to reach stability in Afghanistan,' cautioned Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst. ‘We need their assistance for negotiations with the Taliban but we also depend on them for our economy.'" 

Revelation that the CIA has been handing Karzai bags of cash as an object lesson in self-defeating U.S. Afghanistan policy. The tale of the CIA's payments to Afghan President Hamid Karzai lead Sarah Chayes, writing on FP, to raise a number of issues. Read her piece on FP here and you'll know why she concludes with a laundry list of questions about the CIA, corruption in Afghanistan, the arrest of Muhammad Zia Salehi, later to be identified as the CIA's bag man, and why Karzai at the time ordered his release: "So whom did Salehi call from his jail cell the afternoon of his arrest? Was it Karzai, as many presumed at the time? Or was it the CIA station chief? What began as a test case on Afghan corruption, in other words, turned into a test case in U.S. foreign-policy dysfunction, raising a number of further questions of deeper import to the United States. Just how connected are CIA activities to core U.S. goals abroad? Or to a concerted plan for achieving them? To what extent do CIA officials set their own agenda? Is that agenda always in the U.S. national interest? How often is it at cross-purposes with the goals of the president, the department of state, even the military? What is the appropriate degree of transparency and accountability to prevent the inadvertent sabotage of other U.S. efforts and investments? Who must call these shots?" Chayes, in conclusion: "Only if senior U.S. leaders have the courage to address these questions directly, to arbitrate them clearly, and enforce their decisions, can U.S. foreign policy hope in the future to avoid the tragic waste of lives and effort that has characterized the past decade."

Eight more questions - from Tom Ricks's inbox - for the Navy's pro-carrier admirals. Last week, we ran excerpts of an FP piece written by three Navy admirals -- David Buss, William Moran, and Thomas Moore -- celebrating carriers and why the U.S. needs them in its maritime arsenal. It concluded: "Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings enable the United States to act as a key guarantor of peace and stability around the world. Having the ability to operate without a ‘permission slip' for basing and over-flight access, while generating the range of effects necessary to deter potential adversaries, is more than just a symbol of power. It is the essence of power."

A friend of FP's Ricks, "appalled at what he regarded as the ostrich-like views of the high-ranking authors," wrote him to pose eight questions, from "To what degree will China be able to impede our ability to freely use carriers in the Pacific in the future?" to "When does the POTUS realize that for years we have built platforms that we cannot afford to lose, either in monetary cost or the cost of lives?" The anonymous friend concludes: "The Navy has already accepted that the fleet is going to shrink to 270 ships, and I am here to tell you that it will go smaller than that, probably 230 before this is all done. This is largely because all of those ships that were built by Reagan are all retiring at the same time and we are not building replacements at the same rate right now. That will be the price of maintaining 10-11 supercarriers at $12-13 billion with an annual shipbuilding budget of $15 billion. The price will decrease overall naval presence, and raise questions as to the U.S. commitment to local security concerns." Read Ricks's friend's e-mail in its entirety, here.

Mabus talked Navy fuel costs on the Hill on Friday. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus did his people-platforms-power-and-partnerships stump speech -- essentially laying out the Navy's priorities -- at the Truman Project's annual conference. That includes green power and the need for making smart energy choices, he has said, often repeating the metric that "every time the cost of a barrel of oil goes up a dollar, it costs [the Navy] an additional $30 million in fuel costs." He pointed to the USS Makin Island, the newest amphibious assault ship, as an example of the way new ships are greener and more energy efficient than before. "Last summer the ship returned from its maiden deployment. Between the conservation training of the crew and the high efficiency systems the ship only spent about $18 million of the $33 million fuel budget for the seven-month deployment," he said -- a $15 million savings. "Plans for our next two big-deck amphibious ships, USS America and USS Tripoli, include hybrid electric systems like the Makin Island and we are working on a similar system to back-fit onto our destroyers."

Mabus also pointed to the Marine Corps's Experimental Forward Operating Base program, or ExFOB, in which the Corps is developing alternative energy systems that don't rely on traditional energy sources -- like fuel and batteries -- that put logistical pressure on the Navy and, according to Mabus, unnecessarily put Marines in harm's way. The 2010 deployment of an ExFOB in Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2010, using forms of energy like solar blankets, LED lights, and solar generators, was a proof of concept: It allowed a foot patrol in Afghanistan to operate for three weeks without battery resupply, "reducing the backpack load on Marines and increasing self-sufficiency at operation centers." Now, Mabus said, the equipment is a "standard part of the Marine Corps kit."

Noting

  • Inside Defense: Draft reprogramming would shift $9 billion, cut $4 billion from modernization. 
  • Quartz: The worst case cybersecurity breaches could be worse than you imagined.
  • The Atlantic: Have you ever tried to force feed a captured human? 
  • Defense News: DOD halts shifting war money into base budget.
  • Stripes: Air Force names airmen killed in Krygyzstan crash.  

Syria

  • Daily Beast: Israel's red line crossed, U.S. tacitly backs ally's strikes in Syria.
  • Weekly Standard: Syrian general says he was given order to use CW against rebels.
  • The Guardian: Syria accuses Israel of declaring war after further airstrikes.
  • NPR: Kerry's visit to Russia a chance to talk Syria, mend fences.

The Stans

  • Stripes: Seven Americans, one German killed in spate of Afghan attacks.
  • LAT: Crashed U.S. cars get second chance in Afghanistan. 
  • TVNZ: Fighting erupts between Afghanistan, Pakistan.