National Security

FP’s Situation Report: The Pentagon touches the third rail (military benefits); Is the U.N. giving Assad a pass?; A new task force for the Philippines; A training mission for Libya to form?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Is the U.N. giving Assad a pass? Humanitarian workers who chronicle the suffering in Syria are keeping from the public key details on just who is at fault, FP's Colum Lynch reports. Lynch: "During the past year, the United Nations' chief relief agency has routinely withheld from the public vital details of the Bashar al-Assad regime's systematic campaign to block humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians. This silence has infuriated human rights advocates, who believe that greater public exposure of Assad's actions would increase political pressure on the Syrian government to allow the international community to help hundreds of thousands of ordinary Syrians who are trapped in the line of fire.

"Instead, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) -- which oversees international relief efforts in Syria -- has relied on low-key, behind-the-scenes diplomacy to quietly persuade the Syrian regime to open the aid floodgates. So far, critics say, the strategy has been ineffective. Worse, it provides a measure of political cover to the Assad regime as it carries out mass starvation and slaughter, these critics contend. The U.N. ‘should be much more willing to point the finger at the Syrian government when they are responsible for vast blockages of aid. They haven't said enough about who is responsible for violations and the character of those violations,' said Peggy Hicks, the head of advocacy for Human Rights Watch. ‘There is always a balancing act, but we have been concerned that the U.N. has been reluctant to recognize the limits of working behind the scenes.'" Read the rest here.

The WaPo's Liz Sly, in Beirut: "A new Syrian offensive in the mountainous terrain bordering Lebanon has triggered a fresh exodus of thousands of Syrians into a country already burdened by the largest number of refugees in the region, U.N. officials said Sunday. A thousand families sought shelter between Friday and Sunday in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal after government forces attacked their villages in Syria, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees." The rest here.

Will Hagel and Dempsey touch the third rail of Pentagon politics - benefits and compensation? The WSJ's Julian Barnes sketches in broad brushstrokes the notion that the Pentagon has come up with a plan to cut military pay and benefits after years of growth - but we won't know anything for awhile. Still, it's an issue few want to discuss because no one - not members of Congress, and not even the four stars who run the Pentagon - necessarily want to be seen as cutting benefits from the military after years of sacrifice in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But the cost of military personnel could soon balloon to 60 percent, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey told Barnes at the Reagan Defense Forum in California over the weekend and that is unsustainable. Barnes: "...Military officials haven't revealed details of the plan, which still must be approved by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Barack Obama before it is sent to Congress for approval. Gen. Dempsey said the chiefs would unveil the changes when the proposed military budget is released in February. He said the new plan wouldn't immediately cut the benefits received by service members or retirees. Over the past nine months, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been analyzing military compensation-from pay and health benefits to housing allowances to the discounted prices at base commissaries.

"Previous efforts to curb benefits have met stiff opposition from veterans groups and lawmakers. Gen. Dempsey said the military's previous efforts to change compensation were flawed because they were one-year fixes. The new approach would offer a multiyear plan to slow the growth of military compensation... The Pentagon will make a persuasive argument to lawmakers that the changes are needed to balance the budget and fair to troops," Dempsey told Barnes.

Dempsey: "We have the analytic tools that potentially we didn't have before," he said. "We have a body of knowledge that has convinced us doing it once is the right answer." Read the rest here.

Also at the forum, McCraven says the U.S. mil is looking at a training mission in Libya to create a force of 5-7k conventional soldiers with a separate more specialized unit for C-T. The NYT's Thom Shanker: "McRaven said no final decisions had been made about a training mission to support Libya, where militia violence has increased in recent days. It has not been decided which nations would be involved or where the training would take place, officials said, but the overall mission would be organized by the military's Africa Command." McCraven: "There is probably some risk that some of the people we will be training with do not have the most clean record...At the end of the day, it is the best solution we can find to train them to deal with their own problems." More here.

Libya's deputy intel chief kidnapped outside the Tripoli airport. Reuters: "Mustafa Noah, the head of agency's espionage unit, was pulled into a vehicle in the carpark, and had no bodyguards with him at the time, one of the sources said, without going into further details on the attackers or their motives." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report and thanks to FP's outstanding Dan Lamothe for filling in part of last week. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. 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 us @glubold.

PACOM activated a new task force last night to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Philippines. From the press release overnight: "Lt. Gen. John Wissler, United States Marine Corps, commanding general, III Marine Expeditionary Force, was designated as the JTF-505 commander...  JTF-505 follows the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade's Force... JTF-505 headquarters will be located at Camp Aguinaldo, near Manila, and will coordinate U.S. military relief efforts. The task force will work closely with senior representatives from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other U.S. agencies to ensure continued, timely and swift responses to requests from our allied partner, the Government of the Philippines."

No official choice has been made for George Little's job. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not yet selected a replacement for Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, whose last day was Friday, we're told. Meantime, Bryan Whitman will be the acting Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs and Carl Woog, the deputy press secretary, will be acting as Hagel's spokesman until a more permanent arrangement can be worked out.

Are talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan at an impasse? NYT's Rod Nordland and Matthew Rosenberg: "Despite recent optimism about talks over a future American military presence here, two senior Afghan officials said on Sunday that the negotiations were at a profound impasse, days before an Afghan grand council is scheduled to meet to seek popular support for a deal. The officials said both sides had refused to budge on American negotiators' insistence that United States troops retain the right, at least in some form, to enter Afghan homes - something President Hamid Karzai has openly opposed for years. A senior American official in Washington said he ‘would not characterize remaining differences as an impasse.' He emphasized that the talks were continuing and that it was normal for such negotiations to run until the last moment. ‘Not only Karzai but a broad section of Afghanistan's political leadership want to reach an agreement,' said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate negotiations." The rest here.

Meanwhile, in a sign of growing confidence in the government in Pakistan, Shaiq Hussain and Tim Craig in Islamabad:  "The Pakistani government announced Sunday that it intends to try former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for ‘high treason,' a dramatic escalation of the charges he has faced since he returned from exile this year. Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the government will name a special prosecutor on Monday to try Musharraf for invoking emergency rule during his 1999-2008 dictatorship... The news signals the growing confidence of Pakistan's civilian government after decades of political upheaval, including three coups. But the decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government could fuel new discord in the country, where some residents still look back at Musharraf's tenure as one of relative security and economic stability." Read the rest here.

Page One: Afghanistan clinic forced to close. As funding fades, the U.S. is pulling the plug on a clinic that served as a model. The WaPo's Kevin Sieff: "By next month, there will be no more doctors at the clinic once deemed a model for Afghanistan. The shelves of the pharmacy are already empty. The modern X-ray and dialysis machines, rarities in one of the world's poorest countries, sit unused in a building that was inaugurated by a top U.S. general. The project, launched by the Pentagon in 2007, is closing - its funding depleted and the Afghan government unable to provide support. Earlier this month, a patient came to see a doctor but found the clinic nearly abandoned." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: Pressure mounts for Hagel to remove Patton as sexual assault chief Gary Patton for his role in connection with whistleblowers in Afghanistan. Military.com's Michael Hoffman:  "Pressure is mounting on U.S. military leaders to remove the Army two-star general in charge of overseeing the Pentagon's sexual assault policy after he was accused of intimidating whistleblowers in Afghanistan. A government watchdog -- the Project on Government Oversight -- sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to remove Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton from his command of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Pentagon. The letter cites a report by the Department of Defense Inspector General which found Patton, who was then the deputy commander of an Afghan training mission, had ‘restricted subordinates from communicating with IG investigators.'" More here.

What's going on here? Bloomberg's David Lerman and Tony Capaccio: "A U.S. military investigation found no wrongdoing in a decision to keep building a $25 million regional headquarters in Afghanistan that local commanders said they didn't need or want. The 64,000-square-foot command headquarters in Helmand province, approved as part of a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2009, has a war room, a briefing theater and enough office space for 1,500 people. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, criticized the project in July, saying he was ‘deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped.'" Read the rest here.

Tom Ricks' rules for thriving in Washington. The first one is, treat people decently - and, Ricks writes, "the less power they have, the more conscious you should be of this." Another one is: "Enjoy the game, the passing pageant of life you are lucky enough to witness." Read the rest of Ricks Rules, here.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps approved plans to adopt the male dress and service cap as the universal dress and service cap for all Marines. Remember that crazy story about how President Barack Obama was ordering changes to the Marine Corps uniform? Wasn't true. But what was true was Commandant Jim Amos' plan to make some changes... Survey information from all Marines provided critical feedback for this decision. The uniform board study showed that 91 percent of all Marines were in favor of selecting the current male version as a universal cover over the so-called Dan Daly version. From the Corps' Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, president of the Marine Corps Uniform Board: "The decision to adopt the male dress and service cap as the universal dress and service cap for all Marines was primarily driven by the inability of the current manufacturer of the approved female dress and service cap to continue to produce it for our women."

 

 

 

National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Soldier charged with killings in Iraq following investigation; Hagel hires Wendy Anderson; The sad story of an American rotting in a Cuban jail; Dan rather knocks CBS on Benghazi gaffe; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe

  1. A U.S. soldier has been charged with the killing of unarmed youths in Iraq in 2007. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Carl Prine and Jim Wilhelm: "An Army small-kill team leader is charged by military investigators with two counts of murder in the fatal shootings of two deaf, unarmed Iraqi youths in March 2007, an incident first made public in a Tribune-Review investigative report last year. Then-Staff Sgt. Michael Barbera is accused of killing Ahmad Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, and his brother Abbas, 14, as they tended to cattle in a palm grove near As Sadah, an Iraqi village about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad."

  2. Barbera will be arraigned soon. More from the Tribune-Review: "Barbera, 31, who was later promoted to sergeant first class, also is charged with lying to his commanders, directing fellow soldiers to lie to military investigators and making a threatening phone call to a civilian in an effort to keep what happened from becoming public. He was charged on Wednesday at Alaska's Fort Richardson and is in the process of being flown to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, where he will undergo a formal arraignment - called an Article 32 hearing in the military. Defense attorneys at Lewis-McChord could not comment on the charges, which were confirmed by military officials and Maj. Barbara Junius, an Army spokeswoman. No date has been scheduled for Barbera's hearing, but it likely will convene early next year." More here.

    Hagel makes a hire for his front office. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has hired Wendy Anderson, currently serving as Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's right hand, to be his deputy chief of staff, Situation Report has learned. Anderson will join Hagel's front office Dec. 4, immediately after Carter departs the building. "Wendy is well known in the Pentagon as a driving force in solving some of the most complicated management challenges facing the Department and has earned the trust and respect of the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership alike," outgoing Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement to Situation Report. "She brings to the office deep experience in defense policy, intelligence oversight and management." Anderson will serve with Hagel's current chief of staff, Mark Lippert. Anderson has apparently known and worked with Hagel for almost a decade. She has served Sen. Barbara Mikulski's intelligence liaison to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where Hagel was a member. Hagel and Anderson also were on the Council on Foreign Relations' Afghanistan and Pakistan task force in 2009.

    Little, con't: "Wendy has strong working relationships with senior White House officials, members of Congress, and defense industry leaders, and will play a critical role in helping Secretary Hagel manage many of the fundamental strategic and budgetary challenges the Pentagon is presently facing."

    Today is George Little's last day as Pentagon press secretary. No replacement for him has been announced. Wishing him good Lego days with his kids. 

    Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I'm again filling in for Gordon Lubold, your usual Situation Report ninja. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send Gordon a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com 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.

    Why is Washington letting an America rot in a prison in Cuba? FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Four years ago, Cuban security agents arrested an American subcontractor named Alan Gross, accused him of spying for the U.S., and sentenced him to 15 years in a Havana prison. Gross has been languishing there ever since, a victim of Obama administration inaction, Congressional meddling, and the difficulties of negotiating with a regime as mercurial and opaque as the government of Cuban strongman Raúl Castro. The story of Gross's continuing imprisonment -- his sentence is set to run for 11 more years -- offers a case study of Cuba's potency as a political issue on Capitol Hill, where powerful lawmakers have helped block at least one deal that could have brought the contractor home. The White House, for its part, has shown little interest in substantive negotiations with the Cubans, in part because Havana's demands have shifted considerably over the years." More here.

    What's up with Congress and James Comey? The new FBI director's first time testifying on Capitol Hill was surprisingly easy. Foreign Policy's Shane Harris: "James Comey's first appearance before a congressional committee as the new director of the FBI was a walk in the park. The hearing Thursday, on threats to the U.S. homeland, was notable not for what Comey said, so much as what he didn't say, and what he wasn't asked. After telling members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he thinks cyber attacks and homegrown extremists are the biggest threats to U.S. national security, Comey, who was sworn in on September 4, was asked only a few questions about the role of government surveillance in monitoring those threats. And the questions were not about the FBI's activities, but the National Security Agency's. Which is a shame. While the leaks of the last five months have mostly been about the NSA's snooping, it's the bureau that actually serves surveillance orders on telephone companies, e-mail and Internet service providers, and other corporations in the United States whose data the government wants to analyze." More here.

    Dan Rather blames CBS's corporate culture for their Benghazi gaffe. The former news anchor for the network was asked about CBS News' recent "60 Minutes" report, which gave security contractor Dylan Davies a pass on his account of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, even though it conflicted with what he had previously told the FBI. From Politico's Hadas Gold: "Veteran newsman Dan Rather has finally weighed in on the "60 Minutes" Benghazi report, one week after vowing not to comment on the controversy. Speaking to Joe Madison's radio show ‘The Black Eagle,' Rather said that the corporate hierarchy at CBS News - which he described as ‘not so much our friends' - share at least as much as the blame as any correspondent for the flawed report. ‘There is a tendency when these kind of things happen to blame the correspondent whose voice and face was on the story, but whatever happened and however it happened, people in the corporate hierarchy of CBS News and leaders of the news division share at least as much of whatever blame there is to be as the correspondent, but they try to make it appear their fingerprints aren't on it,' Rather said."

    Watch video of the interview here.

    More Marines to the Philippines. The service announced late last night in a news release that about 1,000 more Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, Japan, will deploy to help with typhoon relief. That comes one week after the killer storm Haiyan roared over the island nation, killing thousands and leveling much of the country. About 900 Marines will board the amphibious ships Germantown and Ashland and deploy, Marine official said. Another 100 personnel will travel to the region by aircraft. They'll join thousands of other service members in the effort, now that the aircraft carrier George Washington and other Navy ships are in the region.

    The Philippine people, meanwhile, are dealing with tetanus and a variety of other diseases. From the New York Times' Rick Gladstone: "Medical aid groups on the ground in Tacloban, the city of 220,000 that was flattened when the storm made landfall a week ago and that only began to bury its dead on Thursday, have already expressed alarm over the risk of widespread tetanus infections among survivors wounded by shards of corrugated metal and splintered wood. Some aid groups have already reported exhausting their initial supplies of vaccine to thwart tetanus, a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause painful muscle contractions, the inability to swallow and the locking of the jaw." More here .

    The Army may be dumping its effort to develop new camouflage. The Washington Post reports today that one reason is that Congress appears to be ready to address the military's expensive penchant of letting each service develop its own pattern. The Post's David A. Fahrenthold: "In 2002, the military had just two camouflage patterns. By this year, after a series of duplicative efforts documented by the Government Accountability Office, there were 10. And many of them have problems: the Air Force issued an "Airman Battle Uniform" - and then decreed that airmen in Afghanistan should not use it in battle. The Navy puzzled sailors by issuing them blue camouflage uniforms, which would camouflage them best if they fell overboard." More here.

    The issue has been controversial in the services. Army Times' take last week put it bluntly. The newspaper's Lance M. Bacon: "To identify a new camouflage pattern the Army has invested three years, an estimated $10 million and a detailed evaluation by nearly a thousand soldiers rating camo performance in dozens of terrains. The result as of now, months after the originally anticipated production date? Nothing. Getting the new camo approved and into the field simply is ‘not a priority at this time,' Army officials said." More here.

    The Marines, meanwhile, want to keep their distinctive pattern, known as MARPAT. The service once was vocal about its opposition to letting other services wearing it, but its leaders have eased their rhetoric this year. Nevertheless, they don't want to give it up, either. Commandant Gen. James Amos addressed the issue in June. From Marine Corps Times' Battle Rattle blog: "Amos has so far been quiet regarding the proposed changes, even as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has come out in support of a common camouflage - or at least a reduction from the ten-plus patterns now being utilized across the services. But on July 15 he had some folksy fighting words regarding a change for troops aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. ‘We are on it like a hobo on a ham sandwich,' Amos said, according to a Marine Corps news release. ‘I love the hell out of this uniform and I don't have any intention of changing it.'" More here.

    The brass will be in California this weekend. Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and others will participate in the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The event also will include remarks by Army Secretary John McHugh; Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. And tickets are steep: $499 per person, according to the Reagan foundation's website.

    Plenty of other movers and shakers will be there, too. Other active-duty officers expected to attend include Gen. Michael Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, and Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. They'll be joined by a slew of current and former civilian leaders in the Defense Department - including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Navy Secretary John Lehman - and about a dozen officials holding office on Capitol Hill. More details here.

    Speaking of Hagel, he'll attend a change-of-command ceremony today that won't be typical. The defense secretary will head to his home state of Nebraska, where he'll preside over the change of commanders at U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear war fighting, in Omaha. But it might not be pretty. In the wake of lapses this fall, Hagel is expected to make a point about moral and ethical challenges facing the senior officer corps. The former deputy commander of STRATCOM, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, was relieved in October and knocked down to the two-star rank. An investigation continues into alleged wrongdoing focused on gambling. At about the same time, an Air Force Gen. Michael Carey was relieved of command at 20th Air Force, responsible for the stock of about 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, in connection to alleged alcohol abuse. "While it's customary for change of commands to praise outgoing leaders, expect the Secretary to take the opportunity to address the recent lapses within STRATCOM head on and make clear his expectations for the future," officials said.

    Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force Chief of Staff, addressed the changes this week. AP's Bob Burns: "The Air Force has decided it must "add more vigor" to its screening of candidates for senior nuclear command, adding closer looks at health records and Internet searches for potentially damaging personal information about candidates who also have long military careers, the Air Force's top general said Wednesday. Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that the change was initiated as the Air Force searched for a successor to Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was fired in October as commander of 20th Air Force, which is responsible for all 450 of the Air Force's Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles. Carey was fired for behavior that officials have said is linked to alcohol abuse. Until now the selection process had focused on a candidate's professional background, including job skills and prior assignments. Using that approach ‘someone would quickly (emerge as) the obvious choice,' Welsh said.

    ‘Just assuming an obvious choice in this business is probably dangerous,' he added. ‘So let's take a little bit deeper look.' More here.