National Security

Obama’s drone problem (still); 92k vets hired; Saudi spy chief steps away from the U.S.; Flournoy: sustaining Afg; Forbes wants Taiwan in RIMPAC; Remembering @NatSecWonk; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

[A big e-mail SNAFU occurred this morning and our apologies for being more than three hours late this morning, er, afternoon.]

The indiscriminate use of drone warfare in Yemen, described. Writing on FP, Letta Tayler: "On a sultry evening in August 2012, five men gathered under a cluster of date palms near the local mosque in Khashamir, a village of stone and mud houses in southeastern Yemen. Two of the men were locals and well known in their community. The other three were strangers. Moments later, U.S. drones tore across the sky and launched four Hellfire missiles at the men. The first three missiles killed four of the men instantly, blasting their body parts across the grounds of the mosque. The final strike took out the fifth man as he tried to crawl to safety.

"Yemen's Defense Ministry described the three strangers as members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group that the United States calls al Qaeda's most active branch. The men were killed, ministry officials said, while ‘meeting their fellows.' But these two ‘fellows' had no known links to AQAP. Rather, they were precisely the kind of Yemenis that the United States has sought as allies in its fight against al Qaeda. One, Salim Jaber, was a 42-year-old cleric and father of seven who preached against violence committed in the name of Islam. The other was the cleric's 26-year-old cousin Walid Jaber, one of the village's few police officers. Just three days before his death, Salim Jaber had delivered a particularly adamant sermon against AQAP at the Khashamir mosque. The three strangers then showed up in the village in search of the cleric, relatives of the Jabers said. Fearful that the men might be seeking revenge for his sermon, Salim met with them only after his cousin offered to accompany him for protection." Read the rest here.

Is Obama adhering to his own guidance on drones? The WSJ's Siobhan Gorman: "Reports by two human-rights groups call into question whether the Obama administration is adhering to standards for U.S. drone strikes set by President Barack Obama in May. The reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, set for release on Tuesday, seek to document the civilian casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and the fallout on survivors, relying on firsthand accounts of witnesses. The reports also highlight the complex counterterrorism challenges the U.S. faces as it executes its unpiloted aircraft program and weighs the value of killing terrorists against the risks and costs of killing civilians." Read the rest here.

Civilian drone strikes still a big problem. The NYT's Declan Walsh and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud in this Page Oner: "In the telling of some American officials, the C.I.A. drone campaign in Pakistan has been a triumph with few downsides: In more than 300 missile attacks there since 2008, dozens of Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and the pace of the strikes, which officials frequently describe as ‘surgical' and ‘contained,' has dropped sharply over the past year.

"But viewed from Miram Shah, the frontier Pakistani town that has become a virtual test laboratory for drone warfare, the campaign has not been the antiseptic salve portrayed in Washington. In interviews over the past year, residents paint a portrait of extended terror and strain within a tribal society caught between vicious militants and the American drones hunting them. Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah: "The drones are like the angels of death...Only they know when and where they will strike." More here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at and we'll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

As of this morning, more than 93,000 veterans have been hired under the "100,000 Jobs Mission." An initiative by JPMorgan Chase and 10 other companies to foster the hiring of as many as 100,000 veterans by 2020 has topped 92,869 vets through the end of this quarter and grown to 121 companies, Situation Report is told. JPMC is announcing the number this morning. The idea behind hiring veterans is not only about hiring veterans, company officials say, but narrowing the gap between civilians and military cultures generally and "breaking down barriers to employment," as JPMC says. The 100,000 Jobs Mission has also created something called the Veteran Talent Exchange, an employer-led Web tool that is described by JPMC as something that "facilitates the sharing and referral of veteran career profiles" among the Jobs Mission members. Military and veteran job seekers (and their spouses) can joint the VTX at or here.

The Saudi spy chief distances himself from the U.S. The WSJ's Ellen Knickmeyer: "Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington's policy in the region, participants in the meeting said. Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud's move increases tensions in a growing dispute between the U.S. and one of its closest Arab allies over Syria, Iran and Egypt policies. It follows Saudi Arabia's surprise decision on Friday to renounce a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The Saudi government, after preparing and campaigning for the seat for a year, cited what it said was the council's ineffectiveness in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian and Syrian conflicts. ‘This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,' Prince Bandar was quoted by diplomats as specifying of Saudi Arabia's decision to walk away from the Security Council membership." Read the rest here.

Even spy-crazy France is surprised by the NSA's reach. FP's Shane Harris and John Hudson: "It's hardly a secret, or much of a shock, that the United States spies on some of its closest allies. But recent revelations about the National Security Agency hoovering up the telephone calls of French citizens have even surprised officials in that country, one of the world's great bastions of espionage. According to a report in Le Monde, the NSA has monitored more than 70 million French phone calls in a 30-day period. French officials had initially expressed little shock at a previous report that the United States was spying on its officials -- that is, after all, what intelligence agencies do. But they were taken aback by the scale and scope of the latest revelations about monitoring its citizens, a French official told The Cable." More here.

Randy Forbes wants Hagel to include Taiwan in the RIMPAC exercises. Rep. Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the HASC's Seapower and Projection Forces Subcomm, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday asking that "an invitation be extended to the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate" in the RIMPAC 2014 exercise. "While the People's Republic of China has been asked to participate, Taiwan remains uninvited despite the opportunity to enhance its humanitarian assistance/disaster relief capabilities," Forbes office said in a statement. Forbes: "Taiwan has been a faithful, democratic ally of the United States for decades and remains, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aptly noted, an ‘important economic and security partner' in the Asia-Pacific." The letter, here.

It's a critical month for Afghanistan and former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy argues for sustained U.S. engagement. Flournoy, writing on FP: "...Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.

"The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops. Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?

"The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters." Read the rest of her bit here.

Know someone who's missing The Bird? Send ‘em our way - we'll put them on the distro for Situation Report - we know a guy. [Note to all of you who ask - the Early Bird is the Pentagon's daily compendium of news stories distributed to DOD personnel only; it remains on hiatus for now.]

What happened to @NatSecWonk? @NatSecWonk, the indomitably - and, in some circles, infamously -- snarky Twitter voice on all things national security, has disappeared from the Twitterverse. The eponymously named @NatSecWonk handle -- the mask for an anonymous individual who challenged the Twitterati with his or her views about policy, operations and politics -- was abandoned within the last several days. Searches came up empty starting late last week: "Sorry, we couldn't retrieve user," came the response from TweetDeck. There was no reason given for the demise of NatSecWonk, who sniped at government officials, reporters -- and even complained about typos in think tank event notices. Some might say his or her demise was premature. Others were happy to see him or her go.

One official, who insisted on anonymity if the person could be described as "NatSecFlak" said NatSecWonk would not be missed. This official described NatSecWonk as one might talk about an abusive parent who had finally met a sorry end.

"NatSecWonk was an acerbic Twitter pundit that relished taking anonymous shots at senior leaders who are doing their very best for this country," NatSecFlak told FP in an e-mail. "The rants seemed pathological and personal.  I hope whoever was behind the feed will get better soon.  Their hate, rebranded as ‘snark,' will not be missed."

NatSecWonk described him/herself as someone who "unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks. A keen observer of the foreign policy and national security scene. I'm abrasive and bring the snark." 

Like a sniper in his hide, NatSecWonk delivered blows from his or her darkened perch. Anyone in the media, government or think tank world was fair game. But within the Beltway, NatSecWonk  was considered a valuable source of information. Earlier this summer, for example, the Atlantic's Steve Clemons wrote that he called the White House about Obama's approach to the G20 summit based on a NatSecWonk tweet. And if NatSecWonk liked what he or she saw, it was considered high praise. But it was the snark for which NatSecWonk was known. Read the rest here or look for a link @glubold.

The Navy is hog wild for a stealth battleship strike force.  War is Boring's David Axe, writing on FP: "The Navy's newest warships are hard to detect on radar, heavily armed with super-accurate guns and missiles ... and gigantic. Six hundred feet long and displacing 15,000 tons of water, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class ships are designated as destroyers but are actually as big as some World War I battleships.The lead ship in the class is slated to launch any day now -- a milestone briefly delayed by the recent government shutdown. The Navy is building three of the Zumwalts over the next five years and deploying them to the Pacific to counter China's fast-improving military. That's assuming the $7-billion-apiece Zumwalts don't simply capsize the first time a powerful wave strikes them from behind. The high-tech battleships feature a novel, downward-sloping "tumblehome" hull that's optimized for stealth not stability -- and lacks the wave-resisting qualities of traditional ships with upward-flaring hulls...Even if they don't sink in heavy seas, the Zumwalts are controversial vessels. Besides being by far the biggest and most expensive surface combatants in memory, the Zumwalts are actually inferior to older, smaller ships in certain key stats, in particular radar performance and missile capacity.

"But what they lack in weapons and sensors, the new battleships make up for with other enhancements, including space for their own robotic air forces plus massive electrical output that, in the near future, could support powerful laser weapons." Read the rest here.

Jon Greenert argues for an advantage under the sea. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, writing on DefenseOne: "Unrest around the world and budget constraints at home have many Americans concerned about the ability of our military to influence events abroad. It is clearly getting harder to remain preeminent in all "domains" -- air, land, maritime, undersea and in the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace -- as technology and geography combine to challenge our ability to counter threats in key regions around the world. One domain in which our superiority is assumed, however, is under the sea. Yet even this long-standing advantage is not guaranteed. Military and commercial activity under the ocean is rapidly increasing, which could detect or conflict with our forces' operations or create new threats to our interests. Other nations are fielding increasingly capable and longer-range submarines while companies and scientists are sending unmanned vehicles and sensors throughout the ocean to find everything from fish stocks to oil deposits." Read the rest here.

Rush Limbaugh calls troops "welfare queens" and "moochers." The Duffel Blog: "From the upscale Palm Beach corporate headquarters of his Excellence in Broadcasting Network, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh unloaded on America's men and women in uniform, insinuating their motives as less than pure." Limbaugh: "You see, Master Sergeant," began Limbaugh, rubbing his hands together, "you have exposed yourself. I thank you for the call - and I thank you for your service, I really do - but you've exposed yourself. Of course you like the idea of the government putting a Band-Aid on every little boo-boo you get, wiping your nose for you, giving you free prescription Advil when you could buy it at the drug store like the taxpayer, so on and so forth. You like that idea because you've lived with that your whole life. You said you joined the Army at 18. My guess is that before that, before you enlisted, you were on welfare. When you joined, you were essentially on welfare, because whether or not you ever go to war, you get free medicine, free food, free place to sleep, even free clothes to wear to work every day. The taxpayer even gives you years-long paid vacations to exotic foreign lands. I'm not saying you're not appreciative, but when you're used to people giving you free ice cream for forty years, if you suddenly have to pay for your own ice cream, you'll understandably be upset." More here.

National Security

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.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at and we'll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Know someone who's missing The Bird? Send ‘em our way - we'll put them on the distro for Situation Report - we know a guy. [Note to all of you who ask - the Early Bird is the Pentagon's daily compendium of news stories distributed to DOD personnel only; it remains on hiatus for now.]

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.