FP’s Situation Report: A new task force for the Philippines; More misconduct alleged in the Secret Service; Gen. James Amos’ Heritage Brief used to acquit a Marine?; Mark Wahlberg loses his ‘sh-t’ while discussing Navy SEALs; and a bit more.
By Dan Lamothe
It's getting uglier in parts of the Philippines, even as relief workers arrive in the typhoon-ravaged nation. Reports from the ground suggest that while U.S. forces and humanitarian organizations move in earnest to help the Philippine people, desperation has set in nearly a week after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated entire cities and towns. Keith Bradsher and Rick Gladstone, writing for the New York Times: "The paralysis was epitomized by the first attempt in Tacloban to conduct a mass burial of typhoon victims, whose corpses had been putrefying for days on the streets and under piles of debris. The attempt ended in failure as trucks carrying more than 200 corpses were forced to turn back when they faced gunfire at the city limits. The identities of the gunmen were not clear. Covered with black plastic tarpaulin, the bodies were returned to a makeshift outdoor morgue at the foot of the hill topped by City Hall, where they emitted a powerful odor in the tropical heat." More here.
The official death toll, as of daybreak in the Philippines on Thursday: 2,357, according to multiple published reports. That's well below the 10,000 initially feared dead, but it's expected that number will rise as rubble is searched for bodies.
U.S. forces will create a new task force to handle the relief effort. U.S. Pacific Command just announced that Adm. Samuel Locklear has designated Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler to lead Joint Task Force 505 as it performs Operation Damayan, the relief effort. The word roughly means "help in time of need" in Tagalog. Wissler is the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, with headquarters in Okinawa, Japan. The majority of the U.S. forces on the ground in the Philippines initially came from III MEF.
Beefed-up command and control: "Lt. Gen. Wissler and his staff will depart Okinawa in the coming days as the command and control element for U.S. military support to disaster relief efforts in the Philippines," Marine officials said in the news release. The move signals that additional U.S. troops will deploy to the Philippines in coming days, as humanitarian assistance continues. The relief effort has been led by Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, who arrived in the Philippines on Sunday.
The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, meanwhile, has assembled a 15-person team that is using high-tech mapping to help in the Philippines. Breaking Defense's Colin Clark: "Formed right after the storm made landfall, the team is ‘providing damage assessments of key infrastructure, roads and communication networks destroyed in the storm,' Don Kerr, NGA spokesman said [Wednesday] evening in an email. A senior Marine Corps official described NGA's efforts yesterday as "key" to the military's planning for and subsequent response to the disaster. More here.
Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I'll be filling in for Gordon Lubold, your Situation Report Jedi, for the rest of the week. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send Gordon a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll add you. And if you like what you see, tell a friend. Register free for Situation Report and other FP products here. As always, 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, you gotta say something -- to Situation Report. One more thing: please follow me at @DanLamothe, and Gordon at @glubold. Attention readers with yahoo addresses: we're working on the issue that delays the arrival of Situation Report each day.
Two agents have been cut from the Secret Service. The Washington Post reports this morning that they were dumped following an investigation into an incident last spring in Washington's landmark Hay-Adams hotel. From the Post's Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura: "The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service's most elite assignment - the president's security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman's room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported. In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said."
It's not the first time the Secret Service is in the spotlight for misbehavior. Remember Cartagena? More from the Post: "The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses. The service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, seven months ago, and an extensive inspector general report on the agency's culture launched in the wake of the Cartagena scandal is expected to be released in coming weeks." More here.
What's next with Iran? Almost a week after discussions between Iranian officials and Western powers to reduce the country's nuclear program broke down, finger-pointing is still en vogue. A new New York Times story examines the situation from Tehran, where Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has laid the majority of the blame on the French. From the Times' Thomas Erdbrink: "Following Mr. Zarif's lead, Iranian politicians, clerics, commanders and state news media outlets have been criticizing France. Students are threatening to occupy the French Embassy in Tehran and politicians are calling for a boycott of French products - not that there are very many because of the sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear program. ‘France is playing a silly role, pushing the world away from peace, in order to represent some timid and cunning Arab and regional countries who are afraid to face Iran themselves,' said Amir Mohebbian, an adviser close to the Iranian leadership." More here.
FP's The Cable examined France's role in the breakdown last weekend. In case you missed it, it's here.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry took a beating on Iran from Republicans on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The Cable's John Hudson: "Although the purpose of the briefing was to convey how new sanctions could derail the delicate negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, Republicans stormed out of the closed-door session in opposition to the Obama administration's message. At the same time, top Democrats remained silent or refused to comment as they exited the Capitol. ‘It was solely an emotional appeal,' Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters after the briefing. ‘I am stunned that in a classified setting, when you're trying to talk with the very folks that would be originating legislation relative to sanctions, there would be such a lack of specificity.'" More here.
The Pentagon and a shady Russian arms dealer are breaking up. The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday it will no longer buy Mi-17 helicopters used to outfit the Afghan air force from Rosoboronexport. The corporation has come under a firestorm of criticism this year for selling weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is accused of using them to commit atrocities. My story for FP: "For years, it has been one of the world's stranger -- and uglier -- arms deals, blasted by good governance advocates and human rights activists on three continents. Now, the Pentagon and Russia's premier weapons dealer are finally breaking up, amid pressure from Capitol Hill and a possible criminal probe into the Army's controversial program to buy Russian helicopters for the Afghan air force." More here.
Four Marines were killed in an explosion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and it appears it occurred while they were sweeping a range for ordnance. From U-T San Diego's Gretel C. Kovach: "They were explosive ordnance disposal technicians who died in an explosion during a range sweep for unexploded munitions, a Marine official told U-T San Diego. The cause of the accident about 11 a.m. in the Zulu impact area in the center of the Marine base adjoining Oceanside is under investigation." More here.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos' tough talk on misbehavior may have just helped a Marine beat criminal charges. His "Heritage Brief," a series of speeches he gave last year blasting sexual assault and other misbehavior, was cited by a lawyer who helped his client, a staff sergeant, beat criminal charges. He had been accused of embezzlement, domestic abuse and other misdeeds. From Marine Corps Times' Hope Hodge Seck: "The criminal case against Staff Sgt. Anthony Rios Jr., 38, is significant because his legal team tied the aggressive effort to prosecute him to a presentation delivered last year to thousands of Marines around the world from the service's commandant, Gen. Jim Amos. Amos' so-called Heritage Brief took aim at what he saw as a rash of misbehavior in the ranks - everything from sex assault and hazing to monkey business in the war zone - and called for Marines to hold one another accountable when they screw up."
But the command for Rios, a wounded warrior, took it pretty far, cracking down on the Marine after the commandant began delivering the Heritage Brief. From the story: "Documents obtained by Marine Corps Times indicate Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, then the head of Marine Forces Reserve, along with Lt. Col. Eric Kleis, the staff judge advocate in the case, signed off on prosecuting the domestic-violence charges despite the investigating officer's recommendation otherwise. The IO said the charges were baseless. Rios said the jury asked to see him after the Nov. 1 acquittal and offered him a formal apology for what he had been through." More here.
More to come? The commandant's spokesman, Lt. Col. Dave Nevers, told Situation Report that it's his understanding the Heritage Brief wasn't the reason Rios was acquitted, however. He was seeking additional information about the case this morning.
Remember the Air Force officer accused of sexual assault? You know, the one who led the service's sexual assault prevention branch at the time he was charged? He was acquitted on lesser assault charges on Wednesday in court in Arlington, Va. From Kristin Davis and Brian Everstine of Air Force Times: "A jury of five men and two women found the former chief of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office not guilty of assault and battery related to allegations he groped a woman's buttocks in Arlington, Va., in May. Jurors deliberated for about one hour and 15 minutes Wednesday before clearing Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 42, of the misdemeanor charge. Krusinski was at first expressionless when the verdict was read, but within seconds he was smiling and talking with his attorney. He exited the Arlington County courthouse without commenting on the two-day trial's verdict. ‘I just want to say I love my children,' he said.
Nevertheless, another form of punishment Krusinski received came up in court Wednesday. Krusinski's alleged victim hit him multiple times in the face outside Freddie's Beach Bar in Crystal City, Va., witnesses said. More from Air Force Times: "The defense focused on discrepancies over the number of times the woman hit Krusinski in the face and whether she hit him with the hand that held her cell phone or her other hand. The woman said she hit him three times. Multiple witnesses who said they saw the altercation testified it was far more than that. Vaughn Coleman, an employee at Freddies, said she witnessed Krusinski being hit repeatedly for about 15 seconds. Coleman, who is transsexual, also said Krusinski grabbed her earlier that night with both hands and said, ‘I have a penis, you have a penis. It's OK. You can come home with me.'" More here.
Mark Wahlberg blasted Hollywood privilege and praised the military at the premiere for "Lone Survivor," his new movie about Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. He reportedly was asked about the rigorous training he received to play the part of Luttrell, a Navy Cross recipient who was the only member of his team to make it out of a July 2005 mission in Afghanistan. His passionate response was filled with profanity, and went on for almost five minutes straight. From Entertainment Tonight: "Wahlberg looked visibly pained by the question and started on what would become an almost five-minute monologue. "For actors to sit there and talk about ‘oh I went to SEAL training'? I don't give a f-ck what you did. You don't do what these guys did. For somebody to sit there and say my job was as difficult as being in the military? How f-cking dare you, while you sit in a makeup chair for two hours," Wahlberg said.
"I'm sorry for losing my sh-t. Don't ask any more questions tonight." That's how the actor concluded his rant. More here.
Wahlberg has played a number of service members in movies, including a Marine sniper in 2007's "Shooter" and a soldier in 1994's "Renaissance Man." It's worth noting that many Marines love "Shooter," in which he plays Gunnery Sgt. Bobby Lee Swaggart, who refuses to give up after he is framed for an assassination attempt on the president. When a platoon of infantry Marines in Marjah, Afghanistan, learned in 2010 that your fill-in Situation Report correspondent had not seen the movie, they screened it that very evening, using a dusty projector and a white sheet hung from a wall in the decrepit schoolhouse they called home at the time.