By Gordon Lubold
Benghazi resurfaces on the Hill today. House Republicans are resuscitating the eight-month old Benghazi controversy, bringing three officials to testify to better assess if more could have been done to prevent or respond to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Republicans believe the U.S. military could have done more. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will listen to the testimony of three men, including Gregory Hicks, a former deputy chief of mission, who will say the military could have done more. Hicks has said that special forces personnel were ready to board a Libyan government plane on the night of the attack, "but were told to stand down by regional military commanders because they lacked the authority. The plane wouldn't have gotten to Benghazi before the attack was over, Republicans concede," writes the WSJ.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT): "There's still a lot more we need to learn about what happened, why it happened, how it happened, because the administration has stonewalled this at every step."
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA): "We had a very thorough review of what happened in Libya: they looked at the military aspects as well as the security and diplomatic aspects and they found nothing."
Testifying: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism,?U.S. Department of State; Gregory Hicks, a foreign service officer and former deputy chief of mission/chargé d'affairs in Libya; Eric Nordstrom,?diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya.
ISAF launches an investigation into alleged misconduct. The International Security Assistance Force announced early this morning that it had begun an investigation in connection to the killing of four insurgents on April 28 in Afghanistan's Zabul province. The investigation follows "an internal report of alleged misconduct by ISAF personnel," according to a statement from the command. "I have informed the Afghan Government of the situation. ISAF will do a very thorough investigation, and if appropriate, we will take action against the personnel involved," said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the ISAF commander. "We take all allegations of misconduct by our personnel very seriously. ISAF will fully investigate this incident and keep the Afghan Government informed."
Sticks and stones: An American soldier throws a rock at a portrait of Karzai. ISAF has pulled a soldier from Kunar province after receiving repeated complaints that the soldier had been throwing rocks at a 9' x 15' portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the NYT reports.
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The Pentagon is planning for the worst in Syria. Per the WSJ's Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "The Pentagon is stepping up plans to deal with a dangerous regional spillover from Syria's possible collapse-a scenario it had recently seen as remote-drawing up proposals including a Jordanian buffer zone for refugees secured by Arab troops, said U.S. officials familiar with the discussion. The plans seek to minimize direct U.S. involvement, but they reflect a reassessment of the Pentagon's hands-off approach. The shift comes after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's trip last month to the Middle East, during which Arab leaders appealed for the U.S. to focus on the danger of Syria's disintegration into warring sectarian fiefdoms."
How much would a no-fly zone cost for Syria? The E-Ring's Kevin Baron asked that very question. "Tomahawk cruise missiles, fighter jets, aerial refueling tankers, flying hours -- the taxpayer cost for creating and holding a no-fly zone over Syria seems like an expensive operation, right? Not so fast. According to defense budget analysts, creating a no-fly zone over Syria may be far easier -- and cheaper, as military operations go -- than top brass are letting on. There are several factors that contribute to the cost of a no-fly zone, but in short it all depends on just how far the United States and its allies are willing to take it. The size and duration of the operation are top factors. But there's more than one way to keep Syria's Air Force out of the skies. ‘I get why people get so amped up about no-fly zones" said Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. People often tend to think of Iraq, he told the E-Ring, and the 12 year-long complex, high-demand Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch. Those missions cost an estimated $1 billion per year, combined."
The Pentagon has a cultural problem when it comes to sexual assault. A new Pentagon report shows that the rate of sexual assault has surged by an amazing 35 percent -- news that comes as defense officials are grappling with the report that Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, assigned to lead that service's sexual assault prevention office, had himself been charged with sexual assault. The mammoth study, released yesterday, estimates that 26,000 individuals in the military were sexually assaulted in fiscal 2012, up from 19,000 for the same period the year before. But the number of reported cases was far fewer: There were 3,192 cases in 2011 and 3,374 in 2012 -- suggesting that victims suffer from fears of retaliation. The report finds that fewer than one in 10 cases result in a conviction. The Pentagon rolled out in broad brushstrokes a plan for addressing the issue, from fixing the command climate that can contribute to the problem and unifying the services and various commands to be consistent about how to combat sexual assault. Some members of Congress are pushing for a change the Pentagon doesn't yet accept - that commanders shouldn't have authority over these kinds of cases. Hagel, angry over the arrest of the Air Force officer, decided at the last minute to speak in the Pentagon's briefing room to convey his own disgust at the problem and speak to how he would lead the change across the department.
Hagel: "We're going to stay focused on every aspect of this problem. And ultimately eliminating sexual harassment, sexual assault should be our goal. Of course it's our goal. Is it going to be difficult to attain that? Of course it is. But if we don't have that as the goal setting out, or if we have halfway measures or we'll -- we'll accept 80 percent, that's not good enough. We recognize what's ahead. And as I've already explained -- and I think pretty honestly and pretty clearly and pretty directly -- this is a cultural issue. It is a leadership issue. It is a command issue."
Obama, not having it on sexual assault. Minutes before the Pentagon was to release a new plan to combat sexual assault, President Barack Obama was asked at a White House event with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye what he thought about the sexual assault issue at the Pentagon following Krusinski's arrest for sexual assault.
Obama: "I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period." And: "And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted."
USA Today thinks Saturday Night Live couldn't satirize the Pentagon on sexual assault any better than the Pentagon itself after the arrest Sunday of Krusinski. Read that editorial, here. And the must-read Duffel Blog's headline sums up a growing perception of the Air Force: "Report finds Vast Air Force Conspiracy to Recruit Hot Chicks."
Hagel is meeting with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee today in the Pentagon, and talking to them by phone. Sexual assault issues top the agenda, along with a number of other ones, we're told.
Michael Lumpkin started yesterday in Hagel's front office. Lumpkin joined Hagel's "front office squad" yesterday, according to a senior defense official. For the time being, we're told, Lumpkin will focus squarely on health-of-the-force issues, including sexual assault and veterans transition issues. Hagel had arrived in the building in February planning to focus on the latter, but events over the last many weeks has forced him to pay extra attention to the former as well. Lumpkin will be the laser for the secretary on both issues. As we first reported April 19, when Hagel announced Lumpkin's hire along with his special assistant Mark Lippert, Lumpkin had served as the acting assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and also as deputy chief of staff for operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs and served on active duty with the Navy for 21 years.
Maybe Hagel isn't a change of command kind of guy. In the ceremonial-hyped military, change of command ceremonies are a big deal. The passing of the flag, the tributes, the stories, the VIPs in the front row. But for the bigger ones for combatant commanders, in places as far away as Hawaii and Stuttgart, Germany, they can get costly and pose logistical and scheduling challenges. As a result, Hagel probably won't show at every change of command. Although Hagel attended the ceremony for Army Gen. Lloyd Austin at U.S. Central Command on March 22, he skipped the one for Army Gen. David Rodriguez at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany on April 5. He'll also skip the one for Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, taking over for Adm. Jim Stavridis, on May 10; Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will go in his place, likely in a smaller - and cheaper - plane. Hagel believes changes of command are important, and expects to be able to attend these kinds of events in the future, a senior defense official told Situation Report. But they take too much time when the secretary is confronting so many issues in the building, from the budget, to sexual assault, to Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea. "...sometimes a day or two travel for an hour or two of ceremony isn't justified for a secretary of defense at the moment with the major demands associated with key defense priorities right now," the official said in an e-mail.
Reading the tea leaves: The future of the Pentagon library, under review. The Pentagon is conducting an analysis to determine "a way ahead" for the Pentagon library, or PNL, potentially reducing or closing it altogether, depending on the kind of feedback Pentagon officials receive. "Given fiscal realities, we need to look for ways to either reduce or even eliminate the PNL and the services it provides," states an internal memo seeking feedback for potential "courses of action" on the library that was provided to Situation Report. The library is adjacent to the Pentagon conference center, located just outside the actual building, and was part of the Pentagon renovation of that area completed some years ago.
Navy CNO Greenert: Sequester won't kill the pivot. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert leaves today for a nine-day trip to Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, where he will meet with allies and make sure they know that, despite budget challenges at home, the Navy's pivot plans to Asia remain intact. Greenert told AFP in an interview that he will seek to "reassure" partners that the Navy's plans to expand American naval presence in the Pacific region will go forward with "new ships and high-tech weaponry." Of the Navy's current fleet of 283 ships, 101 are deployed and 52 of them are somewhere in the Pacific. By 2020, the Navy plans to have 62 ships in the Pacific region. Greenert to AFP: "We're going to grow. There's no question about the next seven to eight years."
- Roll Call: More base closures on the way?
- Danger Room: Pentagon wants human surrogate for Ray Gun tests.
- BBC: Syria conflict: Envoy Brahami hails U.S.-Russia accord.
- DOD Buzz: Navy, Marines, offer options for Syria, North Korea.
- The Atlantic: America's best options in Syria.