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."


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.



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."


  • 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?