Chinese arms biz expands at American expense; A Loya Jirga forms; Hagel is wheels up; AUSA kicks off; Bye-bye Manas; Boko Haram gets shown the door; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
More validation for Asia Pivoters: China is making huge inroads when it comes to building its arms industry and the U.S. is losing out. Look at this NYT Page Oner today, by Edward Wong and Nicola Clark, reporting from Beijing: "From the moment Turkey announced plans two years ago to acquire a long-range missile defense system, the multibillion-dollar contract from a key NATO member appeared to be an American company's to lose. For years, Turkey's military had relied on NATO-supplied Patriot missiles, built by the American companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, to defend its skies, and the system was fully compatible with the air-defense platforms operated by other members of the alliance. There were other contenders for the deal, of course. Rival manufacturers in Russia and Europe made bids. Turkey rejected those - but not in favor of the American companies. "Its selection last month of a little-known Chinese defense company, China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corporation, stunned the military-industrial establishment in Washington and Brussels.
"...Industry executives and arms-sales analysts say the Chinese probably beat out their more established rivals by significantly undercutting them on price, offering their system at $3 billion. Nonetheless, Turkey's selection of a Chinese state-owned manufacturer is a breakthrough for China, a nation that has set its sights on moving up the value chain in arms technology and establishing itself as a credible competitor in the global weapons market. Peter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Institute, which tracks arms sales and transfers: "This is a remarkable win for the Chinese arms industry." More here.
But China has other problems, of course. Today, it just shut down a city of 11 million: AP: "Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter. An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people. More on that story, here.
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Chuck Hagel is wheels up this morning for Brussels. The Defense Secretary is headed to Brussels for a series of defense ministerial meetings, including on Afghanistan, returning Wednesday. Tomorrow, Hagel will meet with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and participate in two NATO "working group" sessions. The Secretary has seven "bi-lats," one-on-one meetings with allies, including with Australia, Netherlands, Afghanistan, Canada, Hungary, Germany and Russia. The big NATO-Russia Council and the "ISAF-50" nation meetings will both take place on Wednesday. Updates @glubold.
Staffers on a plane - Senior military assistant Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, Presssec George Little, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Jim Townsend, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia Evelyn Farkas, Chief speechwriter Jacob Freedman and "cruise director" J.P. Eby; Joining in Brussels: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan-Pakistan Michael Dumont.
Reporters on a plane - AP's Lita Baldor, Reuters' Phil Stewart, NYT's Thom Shanker; WaPo's Ernesto Londono; VOA's Luis Ramirez; Pentagon's Karen Parrish and Bloomberg's David Lerman.
Meanwhile, a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan will determine the fate of that country - and the American role in it - for years to come. Its conclusions won't come until after the Oct. 31 date for when the U.S. has said it wants a security agreement, but it's likely that deadline will be extended as needed. The Guardian: "A national meeting to discuss the fate of a future security deal with the United States will be held in the third week of November, Afghan officials said on Saturday. The key gathering will decide if America and its allies will keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014 or pack up and leave. Sadeq Mudaber, a member of the convening commission, said the consultative assembly of tribal elders, or Loya Jirga, will start at some point between 19 and 21 November and could last as long as a week. He expected up to 3,000 people may attend. A week ago, the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, and President Hamid Karzai reached an agreement in principle on the major elements of a deal that would allow American troops to stay after combat troops serving with a NATO-led international military coalition depart at the end of 2014. But in making the dal, Karzai said a potentially deal-breaking issue of jurisdiction over those forces must be debated by the Loya Jirga before he makes a decision." More here.
Also in the air this week: John Kerry. Secretary of State Kerry is doing a European city tour, with stops in Rome, Paris and London. Before he left Washington, he spoke about Pakistan.
AP's Lara Jakes, who is on the trip: "America's top diplomat says the U.S. relationship with Pakistan "could not be more important" as the Islamic republic grapples with economic and security woes and regional stability. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Sunday as he sat down with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in Washington this week for talks with the White House. Kerry declined to answer questions after brief remarks to reporters at the State Department. But U.S. officials say the Obama administration is posed to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to help bolster ties with Islamabad that have deteriorated over deadly American airstrikes and the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. ‘We have a lot to talk about, and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important,' Kerry said as his meeting with Sharif began. ‘On its own, (Pakistan is) a democracy that is working hard to gets its economy moving and deal with insurgency, and also important to the regional stability.' Sharif did not speak during the brief session with reporters.
What's at stake in the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan. The NYT's Ed Board: "As it winds down its 12-year-old military commitment in Afghanistan, the United States is still looking for a face-saving way out of a conflict that seems headed, at best, for a stalemate. The new bilateral security agreement between the two nations is part of that exit strategy. So is a hoped-for political settlement with the Taliban, on which there has been no progress, and a 2014 presidential election process that is also having problems." And in conclusion: "Now, just when the country needs to elect and unite around a new president, the political process, which is controlled to a large extent by Mr. Karzai, seems as vulnerable to corruption as ever. According to Reuters reports, voter cards, which are used to cast ballots, ‘have become a form of currency,' selling for about $5 each. American troops, no matter how long they stay, cannot compensate for this kind of self-inflicted damage." More here.
Is this what happens when you don't have a security agreement? Hard to know, but a suicide bomber in Baghdad drove a minibus into an outside café in the Shi'ite Muslim district of Amil today, killing at least 38 people. Reuters: "At least 12 people were killed in a spate of suicide bomb attacks on security personnel and government buildings earlier in the day, police said. Violence in Iraq, which had eased after reaching a climax in 2006-07, is now rising again, with more than 7,000 civilians killed this year, according to monitoring group Iraq Body Count." More on that here.
The American experience in Afghanistan, sold as scrap: the WaPo's Kevin Sieff, on all the materiel being sold in the biggest garage sale ever. Sieff, reporting from Bagram: "The armored trucks, televisions, ice cream scoops and nearly everything else shipped here for America's war against the Taliban are now part of the world's biggest garage sale. Every week, as the U.S. troop drawdown accelerates, the United States is selling 12 million to 14 million pounds of its equipment on the Afghan market." That story here.
AUSA - the Army's massive trade show, kicks off in Washington today. Agenda and live streaming, here.
Vigilantes score a win against Boko Haram in Nigeria. The NYT's Adam Nossiter: "The men from Boko Haram came tearing through this rural town, setting fire to houses, looting, shooting and yelling, ‘God is great!' residents and officials said. The gunmen shot motorists point-blank on the road, dragged young men out of homes for execution and ordered citizens to lie down for a fatal bullet. When it was all over 12 hours later, they said, about 150 people were dead, and even one month later, this once-thriving town of 35,000 is a burned out, empty shell of blackened houses and charred vehicles. Boko Haram, Nigeria's homegrown Islamist insurgent movement, remains a deadly threat in the countryside, a militant group eager to prove its jihadi bona fides and increasingly populated by fighters from Mali, Mauritania and Algeria, said the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima.
"But about 40 miles away in Maiduguri, the sprawling state capital from where the militant group emerged, Boko Haram has been largely defeated for now, according to officials, activists and residents - a remarkable turnaround that has brought thousands of people back to the streets. The city of two million, until recently emptied of thousands of terrified inhabitants, is bustling again after four years of fear. More here.
'The juice wasn't worth the squeeze.' The U.S. finally pulls out of Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. After years of tense negotiations and more than a hundreds million dollars in payoffs, the U.S. military is finally giving up on a massive air base that served as a critical logistical hub for the Afghanistan war. The Pentagon announced late Friday that the U.S. would return the Manas Transit Center air base to Kyrgyzstan by next July, just as the U.S. attempts one of its most complex logistics challenges yet -- returning people and gear from Afghanistan as that war draws to a close at the end of next year. The relationship between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan has been bumpy for years as Bishkek demanded more and more money from the U.S. for using a base they knew to be critical to the logistics operations surrounding the Afghanistan war. In the end, the U.S. may have been essentially outbid, as the base -- built with American "global war on terrorism dollars" as one officer put it -- became a gold mine to Kyrgyzstan and other countries, like Russia and China, became interested in its use. But Friday's announcement appeared to reflect that the U.S. was fed up with the demands for more cash, and wouldn't pay any more for use of the base. "It became too complicated," a senior defense official told FP. "The juice wasn't worth the squeeze." Read the rest of our story, with a helpful assist from FP's Yochi Dreazen, here.
The Obama WH wins over a key hawk on Iran: Eliot Engel. The Cable's John Hudson: "Following a round of high-stakes talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, the Obama administration is seeking to reassure lawmakers it won't give away the house in its negotiations with Tehran. On Friday, its chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman won over a key Iran hawk, Rep. Eliot Engel, during a round of calls to the Hill. "Under Secretary Sherman told me that the Iranians appeared serious in the recent nuclear talks in Geneva, but cautioned that the devil's in the details, and made clear that U.S. negotiators will remain clear-eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran's nuclear weapons program," Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Cable. More here.
The Navy's largest destroyer, headed into the water. AP, from Bath, Maine: "After embarrassing troubles with its latest class of surface warships, the Navy is hoping for a winner from a new destroyer that's ready to go into the water. So far, construction of the first-in-class Zumwalt, the largest U.S. Navy destroyer ever built, is on time and on budget, something that's a rarity in new defense programs, officials said. And the Navy believes the ship's big gun, stealthy silhouette and advance features will make it a formidable package." More here.
D'oh! A newly minted lieutenant promises "not to screw up" in first address to wrong platoon. From The Duffel Blog: "A commissioned officer fresh from training and recently arrived at the 1st Cavalry Division made a promise to "not screw up" to soldiers of the wrong platoon, sources confirmed today. Eyewitnesses barely restraining laughter reported that the visibly flustered 2nd Lt. Matt McGuffin, assigned to 3rd Platoon, stood in front of the 40-strong Headquarters Platoon for several seconds before being able to speak, attempting vainly to wipe his glasses on his ACU blouse." Read all about it here.