National Security

Obama to redouble efforts to shutter Gitmo, reduce drone strikes; Rosa Brooks wants POTUS in her classroom; Horror in the U.K.; Is Jon Stewart goading the WH on the VA?; Hagel: build a better software program; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Today, Obama outlines new efforts to close Gitmo and curtail the use of drones. The remarks, at 2 p.m. at National Defense University, will come amid the disclosure yesterday that four Americans were killed in 2009 by drone strikes. Previously, the administration had only acknowledged that one American, Anwar al-Awlaki, had been been targeted and killed, and only two others of the four had been known. But Obama will touch on a new policy to "sharply curtail the instances" when drones can be used to attack outside "overt war zones," the NYT reports, referring to countries like Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Obama will also essentially move drone operations from the CIA to the Defense Department.

The NYT: "While Mr. Obama may not explicitly announce the shift in drones from the Central Intelligence Agency in his speech, since the agency's operations remain formally classified, the change underscores a desire by the president and his advisers to balance them with other legal and diplomatic tools. The C.I.A., which has overseen the drone war in the tribal areas of Pakistan and elsewhere, will generally cede its role to the military after a six-month transition period as forces draw down in Afghanistan, officials said." Obama will also explain how he is focusing his administration on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appointing a senior State Department representative to oversee transfers of detainees.

Holder claims an "unprecedented level of transparency into how sensitive counterterrorism operations are conducted." As the administration attempts to counter critics of its Gitmo and targeted-killing policies, Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed yesterday that the U.S. has killed three Americans in addition to al-Awlaki. In a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he wrote: "Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States." And: "[A] cornerstone of the Administration's policy is one of the principles I noted in my speech at Northwestern: that lethal force should not be used when it is feasible to capture a terrorist suspect. For circumstances in which capture is feasible, the policy outlines standards and procedures to ensure that operations to take into custody a terrorist suspect are conducted in accordance with applicable law, including the laws of war."

Welcome to Thursday'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 national security stories of success or excess. And please follow us @glubold.

Law professor Rosa Brooks, who last week testified on the nature of armed conflict before the Senate Armed Services Committee, has five questions for Obama: 1: "Mr. President, what -- if any -- limits do you believe the 2001 AUMF imposes on the use of military force, and what basis does Congress (or the public) have for evaluating whether your administration is respecting those limits?"

2: "Mr. President, exactly how do you define ‘associates' of al Qaeda and the Taliban? Is being ‘affiliated' with al Qaeda enough to make an individual or organization a lawful target under the AUMF, or must that person or organization do something more to become a lawful target? If so, what's the ‘something more'?"

3: "Mr. President, if Congress amended the 2001 AUMF tomorrow to apply only to actions taken inside the borders of Afghanistan, do you believe you would still have the inherent constitutional power (and right under international law) to use military force to protect the United States against terrorist threats? If so, why do you need the AUMF? What, if any, uses of military force are you currently undertaking that you believe are lawful under the existing AUMF but would not be lawful if they were premised only on your inherent constitutional powers?" Read the rest here.

Horror in the U.K.: The Mail Online's headline says it all: "Blood on his hands, hatred in his eyes: 2.30pm on a suburban high street, Islamic fanatics wielding meat cleavers butcher a British soldier, taking their war on the West to a new level of horror." British authorities are now confirming that the victim was indeed a British soldier, who was apparently targeted because of his service in the appalling attack yesterday in a London suburb.

More amazing -- A woman who jumped off a passing bus to assist the victim then confronted the attackers, urged horrified onlookers to videotape them. The woman, 48, said later that she told the man, who claimed to want to start a war in London that night, "Right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose." And: "I wasn't scared. Better me than a child," she said later, according to Mail Online. Video of the man talking about the attack, the lifeless body of his victim behind him. 

Furloughs hit the Army in Afghanistan. A memo from an O-6 obtained by Situation Report tells Army civilians working in Afghanistan for the Human Terrain System that "until further guidance, all HTS employees, to include those deployed to Afghanistan, will no longer conduct business outside of the normal 40-hour work week. Effective immediately, employees are not authorized to work overtime or comp time hours." Read the memos here and here.

As many as 1,000 civilians who work sexual assault prevention for the DOD will be exempted from having to take unpaid leave this summer. In an effort to signal they are serious about preventing sexual assault, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey are exempting civilians who work across DOD on behalf of sexual assault prevention, in a story first reported by Politico late Tuesday evening. We also now that the number who will actually be exempted is greater than 500 and as many as 1,000, Situation Report is told by a defense official. Such exceptions include full-time sexual response coordinators and sexual assault victim advocates in the active and reserve components. SAPR program management staff at the Component Headquarters level will be exempt from the furlough program, which is expected to affect as many as 800,000 DOD civilians who now must take 11 days of unpaid leave between now and Sept. 30.

Will Jon Stewart single-handedly goad the Obama administration into fixing the VA? Unclear. But his darkly funny criticism has been effective. After Monday's episode of "The Daily Show," we're told some Dem political types were hanging their heads pretty low around the Pentagon. Stewart is supposed to be their cheerleader! But on this front, he's become to the Obama administration a prickly thorn who is only saying what even administration officials agree is true: Obama pledged to fix the problems at the VA in 2009 and they seem only to have gotten worse. And VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, placed in that job with much fanfare, has been there since 2009.

In Monday's segment, "America's Heroes Return: Operation Enduring Wait," Stewart took Obama and Hagel to task, even putting up a "Hagel Advent Calendar" -- a reference to the secretary's appearance on Capitol Hill more than a month ago, when he promised to marry the VA's computer system to the Pentagon's currently incompatible system within 30 days. If the Obama administration approached fixing the databases the same way it did during the campaign, the problem might be fixed, Stewart argued with characteristic zeal. "Motherfucker! You could clear up this VA thing in a month? Eich. Clearly the lesson appears to be that if we could take the same urgency, enthusiasm and clarity of vision you need to get elected to government, and apply those to governing, can we fix some problems? Yes we motherfucking can." Watch the episode, here.

Hagel met with Shinseki and Mikulski and others to discuss the way ahead in fixing the backlog of veterans' claims and the big seam between the DOD and the VA. The Pentagon announced yesterday that it would create a seamless software system by the end of the year with the aim of reducing the wait time and backlog of veterans' claims. At what was billed as a roundtable discussion yesterday on Capitol Hill, Hagel and Shinseki agreed to create a new healthcare management system that would remove the seam between the two agencies and begin to reduce the persistent problems war veterans face. But the system will still be two distinct ones, not just a sole, integrated one, much to the chagrin of some members of Congress who have asked that one system be created in the past. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine expressed disappointment, according to a story in the WaPo.

"It appears to back an interoperable approach over an integrated one," Michaud said. "An integrated electronic health record is something that Congress mandated years ago and has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on." Meanwhile, each agency will identify a "high-level person" whose sole focus will be on fixing the problem, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee that hosted the meeting yesterday. "Secretary Hagel is so designating that person.  We look forward to working with that person.  They have been now meeting frequently, and they're going to do that every 60 days.  The committee is going to insist on metrics of accountability, where we get reports every two -- every two months, as well."

Hagel: "We've got a ways to go.  We get that.  But we're moving in the right direction.  It will be done.  And I want to assure you, as I have Secretary Shinseki and members of Congress, that DOD will be a full partner, a responsible partner, understanding our piece of this, and we intend to be successful."

Noting


  • Breaking Defense: Coast Guard says sequester means $1 billion more of cocaine floods into U.S.
  • NYT: Women were secretly videotaped at West Point, Army says.
  • Aviation Week: USS Freedom cuts short its first underway. 
  • Small Wars: The infantryman's half-kilometer reconsidered.
  • McClatchy: Did the Pentagon cry wolf on sequester?   

National Security

Where is the decision on Afghanistan? Amid comeback, Petraeus at center of Benghazi; Sexual assault prevention workers to get furlough reprieve; Whose fault is sexual assault? No pics of bin Laden; and a little bit more.

 

By Gordon Lubold

Hagel is expected to announce today that about 500 sexual assault prevention workers won't be furloughed. As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attempts to get a hold on the deepening sexual assault crisis across DOD, he will release about 500 sexual assault prevention workers from the forced, unpaid leave they would have had to take this summer as a way to show he's serious about tackling the problem. He'll likely announce the exemptions later today. "The Secretary believes it's prudent as we address the problem of sexual assault in the military to maximize access to civilian personnel who can support victims of this deplorable conduct," a senior defense official told Situation Report.

The Army removes a brigadier for alleged adultery. Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, the top general at the Army's Fort Jackson in South Carolina, has been suspended over allegations of assault and adultery. But an Army spokesman said the case was not one of sexual assault or harassment. The allegations are said to involve not only adultery but a physical altercation, according to various media reports. The head of the Army's Training Command, or TRADOC, Gen. Bob Cone, suspended Roberts and put Brig. Gen. Peggy Combs, who headed the Army's CBRN school at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., as interim commander.

Sexual assault in the military isn't just the military's fault, argues Micah Zenko and Amelia Mae Wolf, writing on FP. It's the society, stupid. Zenko, Wolf: "Unfortunately, however admirable the recent condemnations of sexual assault in the military, they're unlikely to have much impact, because sexual assault in the military is not a military problem. It is an American problem. Scholars, retired officers, and others have longed warned of the creeping militarization of American society. However, as the Pentagon yet again renews its sexual assault prevention efforts, it must not discount the socialization of the American military."

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

Where's the decision on Afghanistan? The Obama administration has so far been unable to publicly articulate the American military commitment to Afghanistan after the main drawdown of forces at the end of 2014, keeping allies in limbo and sending a message to the Afghan people that the U.S. is potentially wavering. American officials who have worked on Afghanistan say it's time for the president to say what the size of the American military force that will remain after 2014 will be. "Our allies are waiting on us, as are the Afghans," said one senior staffer on the Hill. "The more uncertainty there is, the more [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] and other elites will look to external actors for support."

The staffer added: "The White House has previously said that they want to wait until the end of the fighting season, and it looks like the military is toeing that line, too. But if you speak privately with senior military officers, they will tell you that this has been an excruciating and detrimental process."

After a Pentagon visit yesterday, the Australian defense minister, Stephen Smith, said his government was waiting until the U.S. announced its post-2014 plans before announcing its own. And on April 5, ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford told Situation Report: "I think a little more fidelity on the NATO mission and the U.S. mission -- I think that would be very helpful in terms of the message," he said.

Military officials say that, from a political standpoint, the Obama administration should be able to announce its plans to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014 while still genuinely claiming that it is ending the war there. Besides, many agree, the American public is barely paying attention to the war anyway.

But there has been little interest in the issue from the administration, which continues to work on bilateral security agreements and assess what the right number of troops should be. And, so-called shiny objects, from Syria to North Korea to Benghazi to leak probes and the IRS, have distracted the White House from focusing on Afghanistan, which is not so much a problem at the moment. "The ongoing multi-crises are eating up all the air time," said one senior military official.

Also read "Curing America's Fear of Commitment," by former ISAF commander John Allen's former political-military adviser, Marc Chretien, here.  Chretien, writing on FP:  "The fact that the United States is still in Afghanistan after 12 years -- in no small part because it decided to invade Iraq -- doesn't diminish the U.S. responsibility to leave an Afghan government behind that stands the best chance of achieving some semblance of stability and support for several years to come. Not to mention America's own interests in the matter: Allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the Taliban will only serve to further jeopardize U.S. national security. And that, at least, should be unacceptable to American politicians everywhere."

More on the post-2014 presence in Afghanistan, including the expected size of the force, below.

Amid Petraeus' comeback, questions about his role on Benghazi. David Petraeus has begun a carefully orchestrated return to public life after being forced out of CIA for his extra-marital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. But as new, more pointed questions over Benghazi emerge, so too has his role in that affair. The WaPo's Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung trace the origin of the much-maligned talking points to a cup of coffee Petraeus had with the ranking Democrat of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, three days after the attack. Ruppersberger wanted to talk with Petraeus to make sure his committee members, some of whom were new, would not disclose sensitive information under press scrutiny. Wilson and DeYoung: "What Petraeus decided to do with that request is the pivotal moment in the controversy over the administration's Benghazi talking points. It was from his initial input that all else flowed, resulting in 48 hours of intensive editing that congressional Republicans cite as evidence of a White House cover up. A close reading of recently released government e-mails that were sent during the editing process, and interviews with senior officials from several government agencies, reveal Petraeus' early role and ambitions in going well beyond the committee's request, apparently to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency."

And: "The information Petraeus ordered up when he returned to his Langley office that morning included far more than the minimalist version that Ruppersberger had requested. It included early classified intelligence assessments of who might be responsible for the attack and an account of prior CIA warnings -- information that put Petraeus at odds with the State Department, the FBI and senior officials within his own agency." Full story, here.

Hagel, Shinseki, to discuss VA claims backlog in a roundtable today on the Hill. Hagel will give remarks, along with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, at 3:15 p.m. today after a "congressional roundtable" on the issue hosted by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Democrat from Maryland and chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Hagel also hosts an honor cordon today for Dutch Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, at 1 p.m.

There are fewer Oklahoma National Guardsmen activated today. As officials reassess the death toll from the massive tornado that hit the Oklahoma City area, from as many as 91 to about 24, including nine children, the number of Guardsmen activated has been reduced to 163, Situation Report is told. But it's "still chaos." U.S. News reports that a spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard characterizes the situation as still being chaotic. "Hundreds of firemen, search and rescue workers and police responded to schools and neighborhoods affected by more than 200 mph winds. Legler flew over the disaster site Tuesday morning and says every intersection was occupied by first responders or members of the National Guard. Roughly 75 percent of the guardsmen based in Norman, just south of Moore, came out last night to work with airmen from the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron stationed out of Will Rogers Air National Guard Base near Oklahoma City."

Americans would face "exceptionally grave harm" if the pictures of Osama bin Laden's burial were made public. Three U.S. Court of Appeals judges for the D.C. Circuit sided with the government in determining that releasing publicly the pictures of bin Laden's burial at sea would cause a problem, in large part because the images that showed the bullet wound that killed bin Laden were "quite graphic" and "gruesome," writes Anne Marimow in the WaPo today.

U.S presence in Afghanistan, continued. Prior to the surge of forces for Afghanistan, the Obama administration took months to decide what it would do, creating what some military officers described as unnecessary anxiety. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Situation Report that Obama is "still reviewing options" from his advisers and hasn't made a decision. "As we've said, any U.S. military presence after 2014 would focus on two basic missions: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and equipping Afghan forces," she said.

Two government officials said an announcement was likely in the next few weeks, while others said it wasn't. One official said he thought the apparent lack of a decision would be noticeable at the NATO ministerial in Brussels at the end of the month.

Situation Report is told that when the announcement does come, it's likely to be close to 9,000 American troops and approximately 6,000 from the international coalition, for a post-2014 military force of about 15,000 troops.

 

Leaking


Syria, Year Two


  • Daily Beast: Senate moves toward arming the Syrian rebels.
  • Reuters: Syrian rebels call for reinforcements in embattled Qusair. 
  • The Australian: Friends of Syria to press for peace talks.

Noting


  • Danger Room: Four questions Obama's big national security speech should answer.
  • Pro Publica: Congressman to Hagel: where are the missing war records?
  • Bloomberg: The military's culture of sexual violence. 
  • Politico: House OK's big spending cuts.