National Security

The Navy's big drone test; A white elephant for Afghanistan; Frustration with furloughs; Will Europeans fighting Assad become terrorists?; George Little’s briefing in brief; Tom Donilon to CFR; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Will the robot stick the landing? The Navy is amped up today about the landing of its latest drone on an aircraft carrier. This morning, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and others will watch as the X-47B, a prototype will make an arrested landing on the U.S.S. Bush aircraft carrier off the coast of Virginia. That's a remarkable feat for any pilot. But this aircraft will be, of course, unmanned. If successful, today's test will put the Navy one step closer to full-time carrier drone ops. Earlier this year, the drone took off from the Bush, landing on land sometime later. Today's event will be the first landing on a carrier. All the Navy's carriers are expected to have drones in the coming years as a mark of the Navy's move to transform naval air power. Drones extend the reach of a carrier since they are seen as having double the range of, say, an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

CHINFO's Rear Adm. John Kirby, to Situation Report, via e-mail - "We are very excited about today's test on board USS George H.W. Bush.  We've tested the X-47B extensively ashore, and it's done exceptionally well.  We believe it's ready.  It's time to bring it in for an arrested landing at sea. Navy air wings of the future will include an appropriate mix of both manned and unmanned aircraft.  Today's test is a big first step in realizing that goal."

We'll update you later - Situation Report is going along for the ride this morning, on a V-22, to the Bush. As requested, we've provided the Navy info on our next-of-kin.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report.

Will Europeans helping topple Assad become next year's terrorists at home? Up to a thousand Europeans are headed to Syria but there is a growing fear that these "irregulars" will become hardened terrorists and then return to France, Germany, the U.K. and elsewhere and pose a threat.  FP's Colum Lynch:  "But while ministers from these irregulars' governments say they too are in favor of toppling Assad, these same officials are doing everything they can to stop these fighters -- or at least develop new laws to criminalize their activities. The reason: fear that these irregulars will one day return to Europe, equipped with deadly military skills, trained in the tradecraft of international terrorism, and steeped in the extremist anti-Western ideology of al Qaeda and its Syrian brethren, the al-Nusra Front. On a single day in April and in a single country, Belgium, the authorities launched 48 raids on suspected jihadi recruiters believed to be luring Belgians to fight in Syria." French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, to Lynch: "It is a ticking time bomb." Read the rest, here.

Furlough frustration. We had a brief item yesterday about what you can and cannot do on furlough days, including the guidance that defense civilians on forced vacation from work must leave the BlackBerry alone. That prompted a reader of Situation Report (and defense civilian) to suggest that the Defense Department sends mixed signals on BlackBerries:  "Here is what kills me: Yes, ‘Don't touch that BlackBerry.'  But why do they issue us BB's??  It is so we can check them and stay in touch when not at work, meaning weekends/evenings.  Yet just like on a furlough day, I am not paid for weekends or evenings, either.  So my first furlough day will be this Friday.  I am under orders NOT to turn on my BB from 0001-2400 on Friday ‘because I am on furlough.'  But I am a professional so I will definitely wake up Saturday morning and check my BB.  I work in an operational unit of 400 people that is over 60% military... so we will continue to have operations on-going.  I need to stay connected.  The hypocrisy of this amazes me.  So I will look at my BB all day Saturday and Sunday to stay current and to catch up on what I missed on Friday, and Monday when I go to work...oh, wait.. NOPE!  I'm furloughed on Monday too!  So the BB will go back off till Tuesday, probably right after midnight so I can see what I missed.  And this makes sense to anyone?"

Is this Afghanistan's "whitest elephant?" There is a beautiful, new 64,000-square foot command center in Afghanistan's Helmand Province - just what U.S. commanders said they didn't want - and it's all ready to go. Excepting one problem - the U.S. probably won't have any troops to send to it. The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran: "The windowless, two-story structure, which is larger than a football field, was completed this year at a cost of $34 million. But the military has no plans to ever use it. Commanders in the area, who insisted three years ago that they did not need the building, now are in the process of withdrawing forces and see no reason to move into the new facility. For many senior officers, the unused headquarters has come to symbolize the staggering cost of Pentagon mismanagement: As American troops pack up to return home, U.S.-funded contractors are placing the finishing touches on projects that are no longer required or pulling the plug after investing millions of dollars."

And: "But some senior officers see the giant headquarters as the whitest elephant in a war littered with wasteful, dysfunctional and unnecessary projects funded by American taxpayers. A hulking presence at the center of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, it has become the butt of jokes among Marines stationed there and an object lesson for senior officers in Kabul and Washington. The top Marine commander in Helmand sent a memo to the U.S. headquarters in Kabul three years ago stating that the new structure was unnecessary. But his assessment was ignored or disregarded by officers issuing contracts for construction projects, according to senior military officials familiar with the issue."

A little exquisite? "The building's amenities also have prompted alarm among senior officers. A two-star Marine general who has toured the facility called it ‘better appointed than any Marine headquarters anywhere in the world.' A two-star Army general said the operations center is as large as those at the U.S. Central Command or the supreme allied headquarters in Europe." Read the rest, here.

Also, read "The best bluffs of the U.S. Afghan relationship," on FP, here.

Tom Donilon, a distinguished fellow. Former National Security Adviser Donilon, joining CFR this month, per Mike Allen's Playbook this morning. Read James Mann's piece on Donilon on FP from May, which posted shortly before Donilon stepped down, here.

Chuck Hagel says DOD schools aren't out of the woods just yet. Stripes' Chris Carroll:  "If budget cuts roll on in coming years, Department of Defense schools are going to face tough choices, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told military educators on Tuesday. Hagel, speaking at a training seminar of the Military Child Education Coalition held near Washington, said DOD has done what it could to shield the Department of Defense Education Activity from the worst ravages of sequestration. That included giving principals leeway to arrange staff furloughs so the school year is not disrupted, and school accreditations are not threatened. Officials also took steps to protect special testing required for graduation or advanced college credit." Hagel: "While there are efforts to replace sequester, there is no guarantee they will be successful," Hagel said. "We teach our kids to plan ahead, to be prepared.  We tell them proper planning prevents poor performance.  We must live that lesson as well." Read the rest, here.

Lottsa questions, no easy answers, apparently. Pentagon press secretary George Little briefed reporters in the building yesterday on everything from Egypt to Syria to force-feeding detainees at Gitmo. Many questions stemmed from the NYT story yesterday (was it a trial balloon?) that hinted at an accelerated drawdown from Afghanistan due to the souring relationship between Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai.

Little, on post-2014 Afghanistan: "Any potential U.S. military presence beyond 2014 would focus on a few basic missions:  targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda and its affiliates; and training and equipping Afghan forces, our partners.  We are continuing our conversations with the Afghans on how we could carry out those missions, which is why we're in discussions about the bilateral security agreement, among other things."

On the "zero option" for post-2014: "This decision at the end of the day is the president's to make, our enduring presence beyond 2014.  I'm not going to get into the specifics of our recommendations one way or the other with the White House."

On the "time and space" available to make a decision on Afghanistan: "So I can't say for certain what would be involved."

On how Hagel would convey the supposed views of the uniforms on ensuring there is a force in Afghanistan after 2014: "I'm not going to characterize one way or another, their views."

On was the NYT story a "trial balloon," as one reporter suggested: "I'm not aware that this was a trial balloon.  I can't say that for sure."

On the current situation in Egypt: "The department supports overall U.S. government policy on Egypt right now and that we're -- and that is that we're committed to the democratic process in Egypt, and we don't support any single party or group and that we support a transition to civilian authority and to democratic principles, as defined by the Egyptian people."

On whether it's a coup - "Because we haven't made a determination in this regard, I'm not going to speculate on what the consequences may or may not be.  Historically, the Department of Defense has had a close relationship with the Egyptian military, and we hope that, under the right circumstances, that can continue."

On reports that U.S. shipments to the Syrian opposition have been frozen: "I wouldn't comment directly on those reports.  But the administration has been clear that we're looking for ways to provide military support to the Syrian opposition.  I'm not going to inventory when and how that might be occurring, but that's the stated intent of this administration, and we will continue to pursue ways of doing that."

On the AP story yesterday on the problems in the POW/MIA program and whether the Pentagon leadership knew about them before the AP report: "Sometimes media reports raise attention... in a department of three million people."

Full transcript of yesterday's briefing, here.

What's the future of the maritime forces, anyway? Glad you asked. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos talk about that very subject tomorrow at 9 a.m. at CSIS in Washington. 

Noting

  • Stripes: Workers protesting work force cuts at base in Africa.
  • Breaking Defense: A glimpse inside Air-Sea Battle; nukes, cyber at its heart.
  • AP: Air Force pulls sexual assault brochure over it including objectionable advice.
  • Small Wars: Sequestration as Godsend: Operate DOD as a business.
  • Defense News: Feinstein, Levin: slap restrictions on mil aid to Egypt. 
  • USAT: Special Forces' marriages on shaky ground, survey says. 
  • Duffel Blog: Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright blames Stuxnet leaks on "those daggum Duke boys."

National Security

The Pakistani military saw bin Laden raid on TV; Afghan security forces done good; 50 bottles of ketchup; The Do’s and Do Nots of Furlough; Chaos in Egypt; Will Booz Allen suffer? and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Karzai versus Obama: Frustration, accusations, and a bad VTC. The U.S. may accelerate the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan in part due to the souring relationship between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama. The NYT reports this morning that Obama has become increasingly annoyed, especially after the prospect of peace talks stumbled out of the gate last month. A video teleconference between the two men, aimed to defuse tensions, only worsened them. Now the "zero option" for a residual force, long thought to be a negotiating tactic, is back on the table. The NYT: The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was gaining momentum before the June 27 teleconference, according to the officials. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario - and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai - to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.

"The officials cautioned that no decisions had been made on the pace of the pullout and exactly how many American troops to leave behind in Afghanistan. The goal remains negotiating a long-term security deal, they said, but the hardening of negotiating stances on both sides could result in a repeat of what happened in Iraq, where a deal failed to materialize despite widespread expectations that a compromise would be reached and American forces would remain."

A senior Western official, to the NYT: "There's always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option... It is now becoming one of them, and if you listen to some people in Washington, it is maybe now being seen as a realistic path."

The Pakistanis blame themselves. A new, leaked report, that reached Western media outlets yesterday, candidly reveals a number of things about what the Pakistanis knew about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, the raid, and the aftermath. The report shows that Pakistan blames itself for failing to determine that bin Laden was living for years in Abbottabad, and points to intelligence failures among Pakistan's security forces that were "rooted in political irresponsibility."

The four-member Abbottabad Commission spent two years studying the raid, which embarrassed a country and suggested collusion between its forces and bin Laden. Commissioners interviewed more than 200 people before the secret report was published by Al-Jazeera yesterday. FP's John Reed pored through the report and found that the Pakistani Air Force learned about the U.S. raid from a television news report about the infamous U.S. helicopter crash that night during the raid.

Reed: "The commission says the Pakistani military never saw the raid coming because of the American choppers' stealthy, noise-reducing equipment, the skill of their crews at flying below radar, and the fact that Pakistan's air defenses are focused on its border with India, not Afghanistan. The U.S. "was never expected to commit such a dastardly act," the commission's report quotes the unnamed deputy chief of Pakistan's air staff for operations (DCAS) as saying. The raid was so unexpected that the Pakistanis had no radars looking at the valleys along their northwest border with Afghanistan that the U.S. troops used to fly from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to the report."

In Wardak, the Afghan security forces done good; U.S. interpreters, not so much. Afghans, especially in Wardak Province, praised the arrest of a U.S. Special Forces interpreter, an Afghan, over allegations that he was involved in the killing, torture and abuse of local residents in a sign of the increasing maturity of the Afghan forces. The arrest of Zakaria Kandahari, in Kandahar, also helps ISAF, which had had to fend off reports that coalition personnel had been involved in the attacks. In an interview with the WSJ, Khalilullah Ibrahimkhil, a tribal elder of Ibrahimkhil village of the Maidan Shahr district in Wardak, called the detention of Mr. Kandahari a "good deed" by Afghan security forces. "He has done inhuman deeds here," he told reporters Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil. "His detention will bring people closer to the government." Read the rest, here.

We need you, you need us: Hagel met with Kazakhstan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov. The two met yesterday. Kazakhstan, of course, is critical to the U.S. retrograde effort from Afghanistan. The readout, from Pentagon pressec George Little: "Secretary Hagel praised Kazakhstan for its support for the coalition in Afghanistan and for hosting the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Secretary Hagel reiterated the Defense Department's desire to continue working with Kazakhstan to further develop the bilateral security relationship.  He also reaffirmed the United States' enduring commitment to security in Afghanistan and the region beyond 2014."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we note that the new owner of Hostess Twinkies has come up with a miraculous way to extend the shelf life of the Twinkie - to 45 days. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report.

About 50. Speaking of food, 50 is roughly the number of bottles of ketchup WaPo reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran has received from military spouses and others still angry over his article some weeks ago that showed the political challenges of closing commissaries as part of a larger issue of reducing military benefits during the Pentagon's budget crunch. Chandrasekaran has received some 50 bottles in multiple shipments (here's some, on the Tweeters, last month - #ketchupgate). Folks got so upset they started an effort in which they would send him ketchup after his story pointed out all the varieties available in a modern commissary. He will soon schlep them to a food bank, as he'd first vowed to do.

On furlough? Here's what you can do - and what you can't. (Hint: don't touch that BlackBerry.) This week, the forced vacation plan began across the Defense Department and Situation Report has already run into defense civilians unable to talk or e-mail due to the new rules by the Office of Personnel Management. While on furlough, individuals remain employed by the federal government, therefore, so don't take any outside work unless you've consulted your ethics official, Situation Report was told in an e-mail, so don't forget that part. And, we're told: "Furloughed employees will not be authorized to work remotely or off-site, to respond to DoD-provided digital devices, or conduct official business when in a furlough status."

Full guidance from OPM, here. Ethics guidance, here.

It's now easy to use "chaos" to describe the situation in Egypt.  Writing on FP, Evan Hill describes the rampage and the situation generally, from Cairo: "It was around 3:30 a.m. in Cairo on Monday morning and time for fajr, the first of the day's five Muslim prayers. In an hour and a half, the sun would rise. Now, it was still dark. On a wide boulevard running in front of the heavily guarded gates of the Republican Guard club, a few hundred protesters were entering the fourth day of a sit-in demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy. They had been waiting, sleeping in sparse shade through the hot days, believing their president was held inside the compound. On Monday morning, they formed into lines, their backs turned to the soldiers guarding the gate, and began to pray. Less than two thousand feet away, in a high-rise apartment on the other side of the sprawling club, Salah and his family awoke. They prepared for fajr. Then they heard gunshots." Read the rest of "Shot in the Back," here.

And read here about how ugly Egypt's media war has become. Al-Jazeera and other media outlets have come under fire for what's being termed their overly sympathetic portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood. FP's David Kenner writes: "Among American stations, CNN has come in for the most grief for what anti-Morsy demonstrators view as its unsympathetic coverage. Protesters criticized the network's immediate decision to call the events a "coup" and blasted the network for labeling an anti-Morsy demonstration in Tahrir as supporting the deposed president. Some protesters have carried signs reading "CNN supports terrorism," while Egyptians in New York City organized a march to protest the network's coverage."

Full FP coverage of Egypt, here.

Venezuela mum on asylum for Snowden as the deadline passes. Venezuela, which seemed poised to accept NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden, has not said anything about asylum for Snowden, still holed up in Russia. NBC: "The Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow said it had no information on whether the fugitive NSA leaker had completed a deal that would allow him to leave the transit area of an airport in the Russian capital. In Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed late Monday that Venezuela had received an official request for asylum from Snowden, telling reporters at a news conference that the self-declared leaker "will need to decide when he will fly here," according to Russia Today." Read the rest, here.

Why Snowden may not make it harder for Booz Allen. It's not the first time the large consulting firm has had to confront concerns over its employees. In 2008, the WaPo reports, the company had that embarrassing episode in which a Booz Allen employee at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida had been granted the highest level, "top-secret" security clearance even though he had been convicted a few months earlier of lying to government officials in order to sneak a South African woman he'd met on the Internet into the country. And, the paper reminds us of the other incident last year in which the Air Force temporarily suspended the San Antonio division of the company from future contracts after it was discovered that it had obtained confidential bidding information that gave it the upper hand. The WaPo: "Those incidents had little or no impact on Booz Allen's success in recent years or on its ability to compete for federal contracts, which last year provided 99 percent of the company's $5.8 billion in revenue. Booz Allen now faces a greater test: Lawmakers and other officials are asking whether the company should be held to account for Edward Snowden, a former employee who had obtained national security documents and leaked them to the news media while at the firm. But if the past is a guide, the government is not likely to scale back its reliance on Booz Allen or other large contractors soon, industry officials and policymakers agree. Although intelligence agency reliance on outside firms has declined some in recent years, the latest available estimates still show that about 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget is spent on contractors. And big, well-established companies continue to have outsize influence."

Judge: Obama can stop the force-feeding at Gitmo, even if I can't. A federal judge yesterday ruled that she can't force the government to stop force-feeding detainees at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but she all but urged President Obama to. Currently, 45 detainees are on a hunger strike and are being force-fed by the government. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler: "It is perfectly clear . . . that forced-feeding is a painful, humiliating and degrading process." McClatchy story, here.

HuffPo's video of what it looks like to be force-fed (Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def as the model), here. It shows a painful-to-watch demonstration of an attempt to put a feeding tube put up Bey's nose, with his grunts and groans and pleads not to go further as he is restrained. "Please stop, I can't do it," he says. Later, he explains the burning he felt after the first tube is inserted. "I really couldn't take it."

Manning Manning

  • LAT: Defense opens in Bradley Manning's court-martial.
  • AFP: Manning was troubled over plight of Iraqis: witness.
  • NBC: Manning defense begins by painting picure of naïve, "go-to guy."

Syria, Year Three


  • BBC: Syrian opposition government head Ghassan Hitto resigns.  
  • Al-Jazeera: Presence of al-Qaida raises tensions in Syria.
  • CBS: U.N. calls for Ramadan cease fire in Syria.
  •  

Noting


  • AP: Afghan commander says soldier opened fire on Americans.
  • Military Times: Generals expected on stand, in jury, for Sinclair's sex assault case.
  • Battleland: Dracula's missile defense.
  • Av Week: Latest missile defense test an embarrassing failure.