National Security

John Allen to the Middle East; Man bites dog: A good week for the F-35; No timeframe for transferring drone ops to Pentagon; What Obama’s moves mean for Pakistan; War on terror: Are we there yet?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

John Allen has been appointed as a special envoy for the Middle East. Allen, who retired in April after passing on the job for which he was to be nominated -- Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and head of U.S. European Command -- has now been appointed special U.S. envoy on security issues in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He's expected to be working closely with Israel on their "security needs and the security arrangements that would accompany the establishment of a future Palestinian state," according to Haaretz, which first reported on the appointment. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appointed Allen in coordination with Secretary of State John Kerry, according to Haaretz: "Last week Allen visited Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and senior Israel Defense Forces officers and was briefed on Israel's security demands in any final arrangement with the Palestinians. Allen will fill a role similar to that of Gen. James Jones, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 and developed a security plan for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement."

Meanwhile, Obama is appointing Toria Nuland, Doug Lute to jobs in Europe. The president is expected to nominate former State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland as assistant secretary of state for Europe and Doug Lute, who has been on the White House's National Security Council staff for several years, as ambassador to NATO. Nuland is expected to have rough sledding on the Hill, where fresh concerns about her role in the Benghazi talking points scandal are likely to create some bumps.

Welcome to Friday'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 and best to you readers this Memorial Day weekend.

F-35s on sale! Your savings? $4.5 billion. The total cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program fell $4.5 billion in 2012, according to a new report cited in a number of reports, including this morning by Defense News: "This marks the first time in the F-35's checkered history that estimators have lowered the projected cost of the program, the Pentagon's most expensive acquisition effort. The pricing, unveiled in the Pentagon's annual selected acquisitions report (SAR), released Thursday, now projects development and procurement of the fifth-generation stealth fighter at just over $391 billion, still tens-of-billions of dollars more than originally projected." The Pentagon's Frank Kendall, undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, credits the DOD's Better Buying Initiative, which aims to improve the Pentagon's acquisition programs and get better programs for less money. The Pentagon's Selected Acquisition Report, summary of tables, here.

The F-35 is having a good week. For a program fraught with problems and in the budgetary crosshairs for being the most expensive at DOD, the JSF is enjoying some good press. Not only did its costs come down, according to the DOD, but instructor pilots got qualified in aerial refueling last week at Eglin Air Force Base That's key to allowing the aircraft to become operational and amounts to "another step in a recent series of achievements as the program matures," Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. J.D. Dorrian told Situation Report. And next week, the Air Force and other services will report to Congress about their plans for declaring the Initial Operational Capability, or IOC, in each version of the plane.

Dorrian, to Situation Report on the refueling milestone: "Before last week, the only pilots who had aerial refueled were test pilots. This means there is a cadre of instructor pilots who are qualified to teach others to aerial refuel the jet as part of the curriculum."

Donley, Welsh to hold presser today. Air Force Secretary Mike Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh will appear today in the Pentagon briefing room at 11 a.m. to discuss "the state of the Air Force." Watch it live here.

Obama introduced a new concept to the war on terrorism: its ultimate end. President Barack Obama yesterday tried to signal how the war on terrorism would take a new direction, essentially defending the administration's controversial and expansive use of drone warfare while making vague pledges to rein in some of those operations and   redefining the use of lethal force. The speech, at National Defense University yesterday, laid out in broad brush strokes how the administration would begin to define the criteria by which those operations are justified more narrowly. At the same time, he promised to find a new site for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and ultimately close that controversial facility. All of which begins to suggest that there may ultimately be some end to an "endless war."

Obama: "For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, helping to explode our deficits and constraining our ability to nation-build here at home.  Our service members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf.  Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home.  From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation -- and world -- that we leave to our children."

All this came as a heckler, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin - familiar to anyone who has covered hearings on Capitol Hill the last several years- somehow got into the event and stopped the president's speech several times. Who let her in? Breitbart attempts to answer the question. Benjamin calls her demonstration "epic" compared to others, according to the story.

Is the war on terrorism over? Not anytime soon. A senior administration official, briefing reporters before the speech: "Rather than fighting a global war on terrorism, which is open-ended and expansive in nature and is not precise in terms who we are fighting, the President I think will make clear that what we are engaged in is a focused effort against a very specific network of violent extremists that threaten the United States and pose a direct and credible threat to the United States... even that effort we have to acknowledge will come to an end at some point, that the purpose of this effort is not to sustain a war footing in perpetuity, but it's rather to defeat al Qaeda and their associated forces and reduce the threat to the United States."

What does all this mean for Pakistan, one of the most vociferous critics of U.S. policy? Maybe not much. The number of drone strikes is down considerably after the U.S. recalibrated its approach to striking individuals and groups inside the country. But what Obama described in his speech yesterday is really already in play in Pakistan, Simbal Khan, a Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told Situation Report yesterday. The drone issue, she says, "is not really inspiring so much passion as it did once upon a time." Behind the scenes, there are candid discussions between the U.S. and Pakistan on drone strikes and generally more consensus between the two countries over the way ahead: fewer strikes, and only on high value targets, not suspected groups loosely linked to the war in neighboring Afghanistan. "What I hear from people working with Pakistanis right now is that the relationship on counter-terrorism is quite good," said Khan, who is working on a book about the U.S.-Pakistani security relationship over the last 10 years. "That means to me there is far clearer understanding of the kind of targets they're going after."

Transferring drone ops to the Pentagon: "An indication of a preference." Administration officials indicated a "preference" for transferring drone operations to the Defense Department from the CIA, allowing such operations to have greater transparency and in keeping with Obama's reinvigorated efforts to make drone warfare more legitimate by bringing some of it into the public domain. But the devil will be in the deets, as an administration official briefing reporters yesterday said only: "I think what we do express in the [new Presidential Policy Guidance], though, is the preference that the United States military have the lead for the use of force not just in warzones like Afghanistan, but beyond Afghanistan where we are fighting against al Qaeda and its associated forces. So there's an indication of a preference for the Department of Defense to engage in the use of force outside of warzones."

A senior U.S. official tells Situation Report that there's no timeline for transferring drone ops to the Pentagon. "The full migration will take some time to accomplish," we're told.

So-called signature strikes may be reduced under the new policy. Reuters: "New U.S. guidelines for conducting armed drone operations overseas set a higher bar for attacking non-Americans and could reduce controversial ‘signature strikes' targeted at suspicious groups rather than individuals. But the drone guidelines announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday still include vague language and loopholes that officials could use to conduct more expansive operations. The new rules, part of Obama's attempts to pull back from what he called ‘perpetual war-footing' against terrorism, came in a ‘Presidential Policy Guidance' he signed this week. Obama ‘has clearly raised the bar significantly for the use of drone strikes with the very specific and restrictive criteria,' said John Bellinger, former State Department legal adviser in President George W. Bush's administration."

WSJ: The naval brig at Charleston, S.C. is the leading candidate to replace Gitmo for military tribunals. A senior administration official told the Journal's Julian Barnes that the Charleston brig is a likely choice. Barnes: "Still, moving the commissions to the U.S. will face high hurdles in Congress, and may sit particularly poorly with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C), a key member of the Armed Services Committee. The 2013 Defense authorization act continues the ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. That prohibition will expire at the end of the year, but Republicans have long wanted to make it permanent."

Hagel weighed in on Obama's new "comprehensive vision" for how to protect the nation while "remaining true to our values and laws." Hagel: "I have directed the Department of Defense to work closely with our interagency partners and allies to implement the President's guidance, including the efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Having been closely involved in these issues as a U.S. Senator, the co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, and now as secretary of defense, I applaud President Obama's strong leadership in defending the United States of America and advancing our interests around the world."

Leon Panetta also chimed in on Obama's new approach: "Today, President Obama has defined a strong and responsible approach to CT. It builds on the successes of the past, recognizes the concerns that should be addressed, and continues the effort to keep America safe."

Noting

Syria, Year Two

  • Al-Jazeera: Russia: Syria agrees to take part in talks. 
  • Jersualem Post: Experts deny Israel may directly intervene in Syria.
  • Time: The shadow war behind Syria's rebellion: foreign backers jockey for influence in Turkey.

The Pivot

  • BBC: China offers troops to UN Mali peacekeeping mission.
  • WaPo: (Vance Serchuk) The ally Washington won't name.
  • The Guardian: North Korea agrees to return to nuclear talks under pressure from China.

 

 

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