National Security

Hagel will furlough civilians 11 days; Is the Air Force ready in Europe? Dempsey, not big on mil intervention in Syria; Why carrying pens is an occupational hazard for journos at Karzai’s palace; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Hagel will announce later today that DOD will furlough civilian employees for 11 days this year. At a "town hall" meeting at the Pentagon later today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will announce that after trying to find a way to eliminate furloughs altogether, he will have to force defense civilians on unpaid leave for 11 days. But he will give the services the option of exempting some employees from the furloughs as needed. That will be welcome news for the Navy, which had complained that it was having to force shipyard workers on unpaid leave even though the service could save the money in other ways. "He's reducing the number of furlough days from 14 to 11 and tried to reduce the number even more," a senior defense official told Situation Report, confirming an AP story that popped earlier this morning. "But after several rounds of meetings on sequestration and asking for different furlough scenarios, he decided that we really don't have a choice but to save money for the remainder of FY13 to support military readiness, operations, and training," the official said. "No one is happy with having to make this tough decision, especially him."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we're coming at you from sunny Florida where, believe it or not, there's reporting to be done. 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. And please follow us @glubold -- it would make our Tuesday.

Apologies - For the erratic arrival time of Situation Report the last few days. Technical difficulties have been holding us up recently. We apologize on behalf of the ^&*&%$!* technology that holds us captive and makes us say mean things to no one in particular.

If the U.S. decides to act in Syria -- or anywhere else -- the pilots it might need to fly the missions could be a little rusty. Budget cuts are dampening readiness rates across the services. For the Air Force in Europe, that means fewer fighter squadrons at the ready. As of April 8, U.S. Air Force, Europe command had to ground three of their six fighting squadrons. The Air Force was able to get half of one of the grounded squadrons ungrounded, but budget cuts are still forcing pilots from 2½ squadrons in Europe to sit on their hands. That will quickly become a readiness problem, says Col. Jeff Weed, deputy director of operations for the command in an interview last week with Situation Report. If the Air Force there is called up to do something in the region, there won't be as many fighter squadrons at the ready. "If you have something that happens that would require four fighter squadrons in Europe, you don't have that right now," Weed said, adding that the grounded squadrons could still be tasked if need be, but there would be additional risk because they wouldn't be as ready as the squadrons that have been flying.

Because of where it sits, at a number of bases across Europe, USAFE has the assets that are likely to be considered for being called into action if the administration were to intervene militarily in Syria or, say, in North Africa. But grounding the squadrons, which include F-15s and F-16s, means less training time for those pilots -- and fewer flying hours with coalition partners, as well, Weed said. Typically there are between five and six such training opportunities with partner nations, which fall under what's known as the Tactical Leadership Program. This year, two of those classes, of about two weeks each, have been cancelled due to sequestration, Weed said, preventing pilots from practicing as mission commanders -- a critical task. "For two of the classes, we didn't have the money."

Weed says that the squadrons who are training are ready, but it's a question of how much the ones that aren't flying can be prepared. "For those squadrons that have flying hours, we're as ready as we ever were. For those squadrons that don't have flying hours, they are doing everything they can to be ready without playing the game."

His comments flesh out what Air Force leaders have been saying for a while. Air Force Secretary Mike Donley, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 7: "We've been consuming Air Force readiness for several years and will continue to focus resources available to meet combatant commander requirements. But with the steep and late FY '13 budget reductions brought on by sequestration, the readiness hole that we've been trying to climb out of just got deeper."

When a squadron has stood down, what do the pilots do?

"Literally, they are not flying," he said. There is still a little to do, and some pilots can fly in the "sims," or simulators, but otherwise, there is not much to do, Weed said. "You don't need to be flying to learn more about your airplane, to study the tactics manuals, but just like playing a professional sport, the longer you don't fly, the more your skills atrophy."

CSIS Tony Cordesman says that it's "awfully early" to say if cuts have yet had an impact on readiness. And, he said, as far as reducing training opportunities with coalition partners, it's unclear if an initial mission, say in Syria, would go forward without the U.S. taking the lead anyway. A strike mission in Syria would be a very "complex and technologically challenging" one the U.S. might go alone at first anyway, he said.

CSBA's Todd Harrison says you can't cut spending in Afghanistan so training and other areas are always going to be vulnerable to cuts. "What is the real impact on readiness, we won't necessarily know until they stand back up and start flying again," he said. "You're telling them to stop burning the gas for a period of time, but you're accepting a readiness hit because of that."
Situation Report corrects -- In an item in yesterday's edition, we said that Juliette Kayyem won the Pulitzer. She was a finalist, and we regret the error.

When no means no. (And we're not talking about sexual assault.)  The E-Ring's Kevin Baron assembled all the times Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey has said he does not want to get mired in the Syrian conflict. Of course, he knows it's not up to him and he'll salute smartly and take that hill if the administration decides to move out. But in the meantime, his best military advice, at least publicly, is to steer clear.  February 12, 2012 - On CNN: "I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us." February 14, 2012 - To the Senate Armed Services Committee: "It is a much different situation than we collectively saw in Libya. I think that's an important point to make, because we don't have as clear an understanding of the nature of the opposition." May 28, 2012 - On CBS "This Morning": "I think diplomatic pressure should always precede any discussions about military options. And that's my job by the way is options, not policy. And so we'll - we'll be prepared to provide options if asked to do so." June 7, 2012 - In the Pentagon: "The pressures that are being brought to bear are simply not having the effect, I think, that we intend. But I'm not prepared to advocate that we abandon that track at this point." More here.

Smuggle a decent pen into a Karzai presser and you could be banned. The notoriously security-conscious guards at Afghan President Hamid Karzai's palace -- who once vanished temporarily with one reporter's prosthetic leg to X-ray it -- have now prohibited reporters from carrying their own pens into press conferences. Instead, reporters are required to check their pens along with their mobile phones and other items and collect them when they leave. The reporters are instead required to use pens distributed by Karzai's people. Problem? The pens are crappy. So at last week's presser, two regular reporters got creative.  The NYT's Matthew Rosenberg and Rod Nordland sneakily slipped their own writing instruments into their shoes. Great plan until they were caught. The two were escorted out to check their pens, they were handed two Afghan pens, and returned to the presser, we're told. We suspect Afghan security at the palace will be asking everyone to remove their shoes from now on.

Did Ash Carter bring his own pen? Deputy SecDef Ash Carter met with Karzai at the Presidential Palace and also visited ISAF forces in Jalalabad and met with U.S. troops. It's unclear what the two talked about, even as pressure grows on the U.S. to make a public commitment to security force levels after 2014. From a readout: "Deputy Secretary Carter congratulated President Karzai on the progress of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) that is enabling the Afghan Forces to take the lead in security in over 90 per cent of the country. Deputy Secretary Carter reiterated the strong U.S. partnership with Afghanistan and emphasized the continued U.S. commitment to support the ANSF into the future.  Deputy Secretary Carter expressed his admiration for the performance and professionalism of the ANSF."

Erdogan arrives in Washington this week -- and CAP is concerned. The Center for American Progress is out with a report this morning that raises concerns about U.S.-Turkey relations -- and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's visit here this week. As important as the bilateral relationship is, the U.S. must note the way in which Erdogan has pushed back on criticism at home. "[T]he Obama administration places strategic concerns at the heart of the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship. The United States did not explicitly sideline issues of democratization, but these issues were superseded by more pressing concerns," the new report says. "The sidelining of press freedom, minority rights, and judicial reform now threatens to impact the joint strategic project being advanced by the United States and Turkey to establish secure and democratic governance in the region and foster economic growth. The fact that Turkey has regressed on issues of press freedom and stalled on judicial reform undermines the persuasive power of the Turkish democratic model on the wider region." Full report here.

Noting


  • Real Clear Defense: No more blank checks for DOD.
  • AP: Navy to launch first drone from carrier.
  • Defense News: Stimson Center: DOD could trim $1 trillion without eroding combat power.
  • Stripes: Osaka mayor: "Wild Marines" should consider using prostitutes.
  • Military Times: Hagel open to all options to address sexual assault.
  • Haaretz: Netanyahu meets with Putin to discuss Syria, Iran.

 

Situation Report

Benghazi’s got legs again; What women in combat will say about sexual assault; Honoring the fallen … journalists; Stavridis’ last post; Is McHugh still Army Sec?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

New this morning: FP's latest e-book, Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber: Riding Shotgun from Karachi to Kabul in a Pakistani Truck, by Matthieu Aikins, who spent last fall on the military supply route to Afghanistan. It's a story as much about the harrowing life on Pakistan's highways as it is an anatomy lesson in the way foreign military intervention can transform a society. Published this morning, the e-book is part of FP's Borderlands series with the Pulitzer Center. From FP: "Aikins observes how the crucial lifeline for the Afghanistan war has become wound up not only in the shady deals of Pakistani contractors and predatory police, but also in the lives of rural Pashtuns who over the last decade have left their tribal homelands for trucking jobs in droves -- like the two hash-smoking brothers in whose cabin Aikins rides. In his six-day, 1,000-mile trip, Aikins confronts roadside bandits, Kalashnikov-wielding tribal patrols, and hawk-eyed toll guards (not to mention confinement in the truck's blazing-hot cabin)." What kind of truck did he ride in? A rickety 1993 Nissan. For the book, click here. Amazon Kindle version, here.

The Benghazi has story has "new legs." Friday's revelations about the editing of the talking points on Benghazi -- including the removal of lines linking the attack to Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda -- are breathing new life into the eight-month old story. Republicans now have some real traction on what amounts to a political, not a national security, story. The talk shows were bursting with punditry yesterday, including from Bob Gates, who weighed in on CBS' "Face the Nation" (interviewed on Saturday in Williamsburg, Va.):  "Frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East. Despite all the turmoil that's going on, with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting somebody there in a timely way -- would have been very difficult, if not impossible. And frankly, I've heard ‘Well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over and try and scare 'em with the noise or something?' Well, given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals, I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft -- over Benghazi under those circumstances."

Gates, on sending special forces: "Sending in special forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I have read, people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously. And to send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think, would have been very dangerous. And personally, I would not have approved that because we just don't -- it's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way. And there just wasn't time to do that." Full CBS transcript, here.

The WSJ "Review and Outlook" this morning: "The upshot is that the Benghazi story has new legs, despite the best efforts of White House allies in the media to dismiss it... One issue worth more examination is which U.S. and NATO military assets were available in the region to respond to the attack, and why they didn't. The White House and Pentagon insist there was nothing within range that would have made a difference, but we also know that military officers respond to the political tone that civilian officials set at the top."

The WaPo's Jackson Diehl, this morning on the Republicans' pursuit of the truth on Benghazi: "A constructive discussion is there to be had. Instead, we have more bickering over words -- and more dreams of frog-marching White House staffers in handcuffs."

What's next: Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House oversight committee, is expected today to ask for depositions from the chairmen of the Accountability Review Board: Thomas Pickering and Mike Mullen.

BTW: Gates on Syria. Gates was asked what actions the U.S. could take to resolve the conflict in Syria, and Gates said that other powers in the region, some of which have a greater stake in the resolution of the conflict, are just as capable of stepping in. "Why should it be us?" Gates said. "I think our direct involvement and particularly our direct military involvement would be a mistake," he said.

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. And please follow us @glubold -- it would make our Monday.

Newseum honors fallen journalists today. A full-page notice on page A-9 of the NYT today broadcasts the Newseum's memorial for fallen journalists. It reads in part: "Journalists take calculated risks every day to report the news. Too often, they pay with their lives. In 2012, 84 journalists in 25 countries died while covering the news. Some were targeted deliberately, while others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All were working to expand the reach of a free press around the world." Number of names on the Newseum Journalists Memorial who have died since 1837: 2,246. More here.

Is John McHugh no longer Army Sec? What up NYT? In a piece published over the weekend by the NYT, investigative reporter Ian Urbina writes (boldface ours): "The actor James Franco at U.C.L.A. John M. McHugh, the former Army secretary, at the State University of New York at Oswego. The commentator Ben Stein at the University of Vermont. All are notable figures who were invited to participate in college graduations in recent years, only to withdraw or be disinvited in the face of campus protests." We're pretty sure McHugh is still Army secretary, yup: His bio, here. Thanks to the friend of Situation Report for pointing this out, btw. Full story here

Fair winds and following seas: Jim Stavridis uses Facebook to sign off. Adm. Stavridis, who was one of the first senior combatant commanders to take social media seriously -- updating his Facebook page himself -- signed off today on his page thusly: "To the entire Allied Command Operations team, thank you for a wonderful four years! My wife Laura, our daughters Christina and Julia, and I have enjoyed every day of our time here in Europe. We have traveled throughout this vast region, and in every nation we've been welcomed by our friends, allies and partners. At the end of the day, what Allied Command Operations represents is a chance to create partnerships and build bridges in this turbulent 21st Century in a way that creates security for our families and our nations. We are truly ‘Stronger Together.'"

Our story on Stavridis and other top officers' use of FB, in another life, at the CS Monitor, in January 2009, here. Number of "likes" on his page: 10,667.

Stavridis' change of command as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe was today in Mons, Belgium; the one for European Command was Friday in Stuttgart, Germany. He will vacation and retire formally July 1 and start at Tufts University's Fletcher School in mid-July.

More evidence the military seems to let sexual assaulters off too easy: From the lede of the WaPo's page-one story today by Craig Whitlock: "Military recruiters across the country have been caught in a string of sex-crime scandals over the past year, exposing another long-standing problem or the Defense Department as it grapples with a crisis of sexual assault in the ranks. In Alaska, law enforcement officials are fuming after a military jury this month convicted a Marine Corps recruiter of first-degree sexual assault in the rape of a 23-year-old female civilian but did not sentence him to prison. In Texas, an Air Force recruiter will face a military court next month on charges of rape, forcible sodomy and other crimes involving 18 young women he tried to enlist over a three-year period. Air Force officials have described the case as perhaps the worst involving one of its recruiters. "In Maryland, Army officials are puzzling over a murder-suicide last month, when a staff sergeant, Adam Arndt, killed himself after he fatally shot Michelle Miller, a 17-year-old Germantown girl whom he had been recruiting for the Army Reserve. Officials suspect the two were romantically involved, something expressly forbidden by military rules." Full WaPo story, here.

Juliette Kayyem: Hagel's test on the sexual assault issue comes Wednesday, when the services report their plans to integrate women. The homeland security expert turned columnist turned Pulitzer Prize winner writes today: "Let's dispose quickly of the obligatory disclaimers that most men in the military are law-abiding and honorable, and that the Pentagon has made significant efforts to prevent sexual assault and provide support to its victims. But for all the fixes proposed by the Pentagon and a Congress that has rightfully lost patience, the only real solution will come with the complete integration of women into an armed services that has, for too long, treated them as second-class citizens. Sexual misconduct is a symptom, not a cause, of an institutional culture built around rules prohibiting women from equal status.... There's no penalty for the service branches to miss this week's deadline, but failing to keep to a generous timetable in the midst of a flood of damaging new revelations would send a terrible signal."

Talking Turkey and Syria

The Stans


  • The Hindu: 10 civilians killed in roadside bomb blast. 
  • Xinhua: China praises Pakistan's smooth elections. 
  • National Journal: "Stable instability:" NATO's plan for Afghanistan post 2014.
  • Washington Times: Medics treat Afghans to treat their own. 
  • Bloomberg: Leaving Afghanistan a $7 billion task for U.S.

  • The Pivot
  • NYT: North Korea names armed forces minister.
  • ABC: Rodman plans new North Korea trip, seeks to free American.
  • Reuters: Greenert, in Singapore, puts cyber-security on Navy's radar. 

Noting


  • Defense News: SOCOM pushes ahead with aircraft, vehicle plans.
  • AOL Defense: Why Congress should condemn IEDs.
  • Duffel Blog: Army says beatings will continue until morale improves. 
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