The French say the Syrians have tons of chemical weapons; Hagel, Kerry, Dempsey pitch limited strikes today; Why haven’t arms reached Syrian rebels?; Why conventional prompt global strike weapons matter; Military suicides are up; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
The Assad regime has tons of chemical weapons -- literally. That's the words, at least, according to a newly released French intel report, which is way more detailed than the American and British versions. The new report provides a more comprehensive look at the Syrian chemical weapons program. And it also includes a breakdown of the toxic agents that the Assad regime is believed to have obtained: hundreds of tons of mustard gas, tens of tons of VX gas and several hundred tons of sarin gas. FP's David Kenner: "Assad's sarin stockpiles, which the United States says were used in the Aug. 21 attack, reveal a ‘technological mastery' of chemical weapons, according to the French. The sarin is stored in binary form -- the two chemical precursors necessary to make the gas are kept separate, and only mixed immediately before use. This technological sophistication may be a key point when U.N. investigators release their report on the Damascus attack: If they find that the toxic agent used in the attack was an advanced form of sarin -- containing chemical stabilizers and dispersal agents -- the weapon will most likely have come from Syrian regime stockpiles." Read the rest of his bit, and link to the French intel report, here.
Hagel, Dempsey and Kerry make the pitch for limited strikes on Syria at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today at 2:30. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey appear before the SFRC today to make their pitch for limited strikes aimed to punish Assad for his using chemical weapons on his own people late last month. They'll get questions on what the administration's overall Syria strategy is, how the strikes will achieve it, and how the U.S. doesn't get dragged into the civil war there. After President Barack Obama expanded the responsibility for pursuing the strike option on Congress, saying he doesn't need its approval but asking for it anyway, he has placed one of the biggest foreign policy decisions Congress will face squarely at members' feet. Now Congress will need to determine if the limited strike option is too limited - or too open ended.
McCain is on board. It appears that the meeting yesterday at the White House with Sen. John McCain may have worked to persuade McCain to back the administration's plan to strike Syria - as long as the U.S. does more to arm the rebels. The NYT's Jackie Calmes, Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: "In an hourlong meeting at the White House, said Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, Mr. Obama gave general support to doing more for the Syrian rebels, although no specifics were agreed upon. Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria."
Indeed, three months after the CIA was given authorization to arm Syrian rebels, the rebels are still waiting. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Nour Malas, this morning: "The delay, in part, reflects a broader U.S. approach rarely discussed publicly but that underpins its decision-making, according to former and current U.S. officials: The Obama administration doesn't want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate. U.S. officials attribute the delay in providing small arms and munitions from the CIA weapons program to the difficulty of establishing secure delivery ‘pipelines' to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, in particular Jihadi militants also battling the Assad regime. Allied rebel commanders in Syria and congressional proponents of a more aggressive military response instead blame a White House that wants to be seen as responsive to allies' needs but fundamentally doesn't want to get pulled any deeper into the country's grinding conflict."
Would the Pentagon do a better job? The WSJ report touches on the calls to shift the job of arming rebels in Syria from the CIA to the Pentagon. People like Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who may raise the issue during testimony today. The WSJ: "Putting the Pentagon in charge would allow the U.S. to do ‘industrial strength' arming and training, [Corker]... said in an interview Monday. Some lawmakers accused the White House of failing to deliver on its promises because of concerns it would get blamed if the effort went wrong and for fear of getting trapped in a proxy fight that pits Mr. Assad and his backers-Iran, Russia and Hezbollah-against an array of opposition groups, some linked to al Qaeda and others supported by the U.S. and some Arab allies.
Corker, who recently visited Syrian rebel leaders in Turkey: "There's been a major disconnect between what the administration has said it's doing relative to the rebels and what is actually happening... The (CIA) pipeline has been incredibly slow. It's really hurt morale among the Syrian rebels."
Read our report, earlier this summer, that asks just who in the administration is in charge of Syria policy. The confusion is still relevant today as the U.S. thinks about ramping up its delivery of lethal and non-lethal aid. Read it here.
Bruce Riedel argues for why the U.S. should focus on al-Qaida in Syria. Writing on al-Monitor, Riedel says: "Any military intervention that attacks Assad forces and degrades their capabilities will inevitably influence the balance of power in the civil war. The more the regime is weakened, the more the opposition gains. Indeed, critics of President Obama who want greater involvement in the civil war argue for a large-scale attack precisely to assist the opposition. Since the opposition includes a strong and growing al-Qaeda component, such an approach could mean inadvertently helping that organization. A stronger al-Qaeda in Syria - especially one with the possibility of gaining control over some of that country's chemical arsenal should Assad be weakened - is clearly not an American interest. Whatever policy Congress endorses, it should include a robust effort to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Syria before it becomes an even greater threat to US interests." Read the rest of his piece here.
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When it comes to intelligence gaps and the U.S. "black budget," there is everybody else - and then there's Pakistan. The WaPo's Greg Miller, Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman: "The $52.6 billion U.S. intelligence arsenal is aimed mainly at unambiguous adversaries, including al-Qaeda, North Korea and Iran. But top-secret budget documents reveal an equally intense focus on one purported ally: Pakistan. No other nation draws as much scrutiny across so many categories of national security concern. A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community's ‘black budget' shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan's nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counterterrorism sources recruited by the CIA. Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else."
And: "The disclosures - based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden - expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed." Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., to the WaPo: "If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing... The mistrust now exceeds the trust."
Today, Carnegie unveils a new report on a pesky issue to the Pentagon: how to get weapons on targets speedily without making the Russians and others fear the U.S. is using nukes. A new report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's James Acton looks at Conventional Prompt Global Strike weapons and the "capability gap" the Defense Department confronts when it comes to places like Iran or North Korea, where the U.S. would likely want to put weapons on distant targets quickly. But in such scenarios, there are only two options, analysts argue: cruise missiles or bomb-laden jets that are slower to get on target, and ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. But missiles with nuclear warheads can stir fears among other countries who might misidentify an incoming missile as nuclear-armed and launch a nuclear strike of their own. Otherwise known as "warhead ambiguity," the issue has long concerned Congress. Enter Conventional Prompt Global Strike weapons, which DOD strategists believe could fill the capability gap by providing the U.S. arsenal with such weapons with conventional warheads. "I think the administration has been entirely focused on this warhead ambiguity problem, as has Congress to an extent, and hasn't been looking at all of the risks associated with these weapons," Acton told Situation Report this morning. Acton is out with what Carnegie says is one of the first detailed analyses of the issue, today.
Who will be reading the new report? Likely a bunch of people, but also staffers for Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, who are both pushing on the issue because one of the CPGS systems would be built in Alabama.
Acton's recommendations: "A scenario-based approach to CPGS acquisition would maximize value for money. Before embarking on the acquisition process, the Department of Defense should decide upon the specific missions for which CPGS weapons might be acquired in order to identify clear military requirements. A comparison of the ability of CPGS weapons and non-prompt alternatives to meet mission requirements is needed to determine whether to procure CPGS weapons at all. This comparison has been absent from the debate. It should account for the relative costs and the implications of potential countermeasures. CPGS acquisition decisions should take into account the need for U.S. enabling capabilities. The continued failure to consider this issue could lead the United States to procure CPGS weapons incapable of fulfilling mission requirements. The debate about the strategic ramifications of CPGS should include the full range of risks and benefits. Warhead ambiguity does not pose the biggest escalation risk in a conflict with Russia or China. All risks should be weighed against the potential benefit of enhanced deterrence. The negative characteristics of boost-glide weapons for managing escalation in a conflict should be recognized. These risks are serious and have been overlooked. Whatever CPGS technology the United States chooses, it should pursue cooperative confidence-building measures with Russia and China. Cooperative measures, which could be treaty based or politically binding, would more effectively mitigate the strategic risks posed by all CPGS technologies than unilateral measures." Read the report here.
Military suicides are on the rise despite efforts, especially within the Army, to stop them. HuffPo's David Wood: "... the number of military and veteran suicides is rising, and experts fear it will continue to rise despite aggressive suicide prevention campaigns by the government and private organizations. The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), already struggling to meet an increasing demand from troops and veterans for mental health services, are watching the suicide rates, and the growing number of those considered ‘at risk' of suicide, with apprehension."
The warning signs, according to Wood: "While the rate of suicides has traditionally been lower for the military ranks than for civilians, that trend has begun to reverse; The number of suicides among active-duty troops of all services remains relatively low, at 350 last year, Pentagon data show. But that number has more than doubled since 2001, while in the Army's active-duty ranks, suicides have tripled during the same period, from 52 soldiers in 2001 to 185 last year."
And: "Roughly half of active-duty troops who die by suicide never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But there is growing evidence that war trauma weighs heavily on those who did. In one indication of deep emotional stress, the suicide rate among U.S. troops deployed to Iraq between 2004 and 2007, a period of intensified fighting, jumped from 13.5 to 24.8 per 100,000, according to a report issued in 2009 by the Army surgeon general."
And: "Some 8,000 veterans are thought to die by suicide each year, a toll of about 22 per day, according to a 2012 VA study. The VA acknowledged the numbers might be significantly underestimated because they're based on incomplete data from 21 states, not including Texas or California. Even so, the data documents an increase of nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the most recent year of data in the study.
And: "The population of veterans over 50 -- more than two-thirds of all veterans -- is swelling with aging baby boomers. Mostly men, they are considered more at-risk of suicide because they tend to be socially isolated, struggle with physical or mental deterioration, and possess easy familiarity with firearms." Read Wood's whole report here.