By Gordon Lubold
Afghanistan is taking the lead across the country and a peace office is opening in Doha. In a ceremonial move in Kabul today, the government of Afghanistan is taking the lead in military operations across the entire country the next phase in security transition that culminates in December 2014. Administration officials briefing reporters this morning said it represented simply the next step with the ultimate goal of turning over not only lead operations but also full responsibility to the Afghans by next year.
But the bigger news is the opening of the office in Doha. Later today, the Taliban and the Qataris are expected to release statements on the opening of a new Taliban political office in Doha. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier today said that Afghanistan would send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban. Karzai's High Peace Council will represent Afghanistan, and the U.S. and Pakistan will also play roles. Karzai also hinted that the talks would ultimately move to Afghanistan. It is seen as a step in the right direction in negotiating a settlement to the end of a long war, and Karzai's willingness to accept the plan amounted to a significant achievement. But administration officials were sober about the talks' initial prospects, given Afghan mistrust of such a process and other factors. "It's going to be a very long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all," said one administration official during a morning conference call with reporters. "So we're at the beginning of a difficult road... I wouldn't be looking for early results."
The news of the Doha office inspired a friend of Situation Report to quote the Roman poet Horace, in Latin: "Parturient montes, nascitur ridiculus mus," which means, roughly: "The mountains are in labor, they bring forth a ridiculous mouse."
JIEDDO reports that IED events in the last 90 days are down 13 percent from last year. In a new report provided to Situation Report, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization says that there were 3,572 IED events within the last three months, but that the "found and cleared rates" - IEDs that are found or otherwise detonated without causing injury - is "consistently improving." In a dark sign that insurgents are attacking Afghan forces as they take more of the lead, JIEDDO reports that 62 percent of IED events target Afghan forces. IED attacks that cause casualties continue to decrease, JIEDDO says, but still account for 61 percent of all American casualties in Afghanistan. Of those, "severe casualties" have decreased 28 percent. See JIEDDO's PowerPoint, here.
How do you make a bomb that won't blow up? Read the WaPo's Greg Jaffe's front pager today, here.
Amid the transition, a large blast targeting a prominent lawmaker rocked Kabul AP reports, missing him, but killing three civilians.
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Fact check: Carter Ham will testify on Benghazi - again. A number of media reports this morning say that former AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham will testify "for the first time" on Benghazi controversy, in a closed hearing June 26 before the House Armed Services Committee. Breitbart's headline: "General Carter Ham to Finally Testify on Benghazi." But Ham, now retired, has answered questions on the matter publicly already, including at both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and in closed sessions March 15 for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and again privately before the Accountability Review Board, the body created Hillary Rodham Clinton and headed by Thomas Pickering and Mike Mullen. Just sayin: Ham testified on Benghazi at the SASC March 7 "posture hearing"; Transcript here.
Half of the non-lethal aid for Syria hasn't arrived yet. Lost in last week's news that the Obama administration would begin to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition was the fact that about half of the non-lethal aid promised months ago has still not arrived. Administration officials acknowledge that only some of the aid promised the Syrian opposition this spring has arrived in the country. They cite Congressional notifications, the need to vet recipients on the other end, and the more mundane necessity to obtain and then ship the supplies they plan to send as the hold up.
Gear like vehicles, medical supplies, communications equipment and night vision goggles - all key to helping to give the Syrian military opposition the upper hand once again - are all part of the assistance plan. The State Department is working with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Syrian Military Coalition on the aid but that there isn't any specific timeline, a spokesman for State told Situation Report. "The process can take from several weeks to several months," he told Situation Report. "We want to establish channels that any assistance we deploy is done so in a manner that reaches those in need and is done so in accordance with our assistance regulations." Approximately $127 million of aid is in the process of being delivered. Another $123 million, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry April 20 in Istanbul, is still undergoing Congressional notification processes, the spokesman said. CSIS's Tony Cordesman told Situation Report that he thinks the idea of "non-lethal aid," like night vision goggles, for example, give the military opposition a capability to kill that they don't otherwise possess - so the term "non-lethal aid" is, to him, an oxymoron.
CSIS's Tony Cordesman, to Situation Report: "If you're having problems with lethal non-lethal aid, just imagine the kinds of problems you're going to have with lethal-lethal aid."
Read our whole piece on non-lethal aid delivery, here.
Want to know how Iran dodges nuclear watchdogs? Read this hidden report unearthed by FP's Colum Lynch: Iran continues to evade U.N. sanctions on its nuclear program by changing its supply routes, erecting new front companies, and shopping the world for lower grade parts not explicitly prohibited by the U.N. Security Council, but still capable of contributing to the assembly of a nuclear power reactor. That's according to a "confidential" unpublished report by a U.N. Security Council panel monitoring sanctions on Iran, exclusively published by FP. The 45-page report - which summarizes the U.N. panel's work over the past year - documents several cases in Europe and the Middle East where Iranian agents have sought to procure a host of industrial products -- including valves, carbon fiber, and bellows -- that can be used in a nuclear facility. The equipment, however, is not explicitly prohibited from being sold to Tehran, making it easier to get similar items through customs. Read the confidential report, here. Read Lynch's bit, here.
Seven questions NSA Chief Keith Alexander should answer today. Killer Apps' John Reed has them, here.
The services are acting like children. Last month, the WaPo did a big piece on camouflage uniforms among the military and how the services' haute couture had gotten a little out of control (Thanks, Marine Corps!) with 10 different uniforms, at huge cost, and with sometimes little effect. With a budget crunch defining everything, there is now an effort underway to force the military to wear one camouflage uniform. The WSJ: "When the Marine Corps marched its own way and redesigned the look of its camouflage gear in 2002, it kicked off something of a fashion arms race among the services, as each branch proceeded to devise its own colors and patterns, helped by swollen budgets during wartime."
And: "Both the House and Senate versions of next year's defense-spending bill have language mandating one camouflage uniform design for the military rather than the nearly dozen current iterations, some of which even top brass concede are useless in combat and put troops in danger."
Said one defense official, to the WSJ: "The services are acting like children... If you want to separate yourself, do it in your dress uniform. It doesn't do us any good to have a battlefield where you have three or four uniforms."
Several middies will be charged with rape. Naval Academy officials yesterday said that "several" Academy football players would be charged with rape after an incident last year in which another middie, now in her third year, charges that during an off-campus party at a "football house," she became intoxicated and then raped. According to her attorney, Susan Burke, she only learned of the rapes through friends and social media the next day. The WaPo reports: "The length of the NCIS's investigation - more than a year - drew criticism from Burke, the accuser's attorney, who had accused Miller of foot-dragging. But Monday, Burke said, ‘We are pleased at moving forward after this long delay.'"
State's whistleblower is being harassed, her attorney says. The Cable's John Hudson reports that Aurelia Fedenisn, the former State Department inspector general investigator who accused colleagues last week of using drugs, soliciting prostitutes and having sex with minors says Foggy Bottom is now engaged in an "intimidation" campaign to stop her. Her attorney, Cary Schulman, told Hudson that Fedenisn has paid a steep price: "They had law enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate herself."
- WSJ: General Helms and [McCaskill's] hold. Why?
- Omaha World Herald: Some vets oppose bill on saluting flag while they're out of uniform.
- AP: Military has schedule for women to move into combat jobs, including SEALS, other commandos.
- AP "Interactive:" The National Security Agency.
- Foreign Affairs: Why drones fail (when tactics drive strategy).