National Security

FP’s Situation Report: ‘Fallujah Three’ will be fought by the Iraqis

By Gordon Lubold

"Fallujah Three" will be fought be the Iraqis, Kerry says. The WaPo's Loveday Morris and Anne Gearan: "Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that the United States is ready to help Iraq in any way possible as that country began a major offensive to wrest control of two cities from al-Qaeda-linked militants. But he made it clear that no American troops would be sent in." The rest here.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces and local tribes have been making gains in Anbar against Sunni militants aligned with al-Qaida. The NYT's Yasir Ghazi and Tim Arango in Baghdad: "...But the insurgents appeared to maintain control of much of Fallujah, another important city in Anbar Province, and had the upper hand in fighting on its outskirts. The government's efforts to retake Fallujah were set back by the apparent defection of some tribal militias, who are now siding with the Qaeda-linked militants, according to officials. The fight in Fallujah is complicated by the widespread disenchantment of Sunnis in Iraq toward the policies of the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Some armed tribesmen with little sympathy for Al Qaeda and its desire to set up a Sunni Islamic state in Iraq have now apparently decided that the government is their greater enemy. ...He said the United States had been in contact with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar and with the Iraqi government, and would ‘do everything that is possible to help them.' But he added: ‘We're not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we're going to help them in their fight.'" More of the NYT story here.

AP on what Anbar means to the Maliki government: "...The overrunning of the cities this week by al-Qaida's Iraqi branch in the Sunni heartland of western Anbar provinces is a blow to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik. His government has been struggling to contain discontent among the Sunni minority over Shiite political domination that has flared into increased violence for the past year. On Friday, al-Qaida gunmen sought to win over the population in Fallujah, one of the cities they swept into on Wednesday. A militant commander appeared among worshippers holding Friday prayers in the main city street, proclaiming that his fighters were there to defend Sunnis from the government, one resident said. ‘We are your brothers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant,' militants circulating through the city in a stolen police car proclaimed through a loudspeaker, using the name of the al-Qaida branch. ‘We are here to protect you from the government. We call on you to cooperate with us.'" More here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we're pumped to be back in the saddle and excited about how the new year will unfold. Thank you so much for reading Situation Report. You make us want to make the doughnuts. If you'd like to sign up to receive 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.  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, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Angered by the administration's policy in the Middle East, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a statement over the weekend that read in part: "While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the Administration cannot escape its share of the blame. When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America's enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever. What's sadder still, the thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain.

"The Administration's failure in Iraq has been compounded by its failed policy in Syria. It has sat by and refused to take any meaningful action, while the conflict has claimed more than 130,000 lives, driven a quarter of the Syrian population from their homes, fueled the resurgence of Al-Qaeda, and devolved into a regional conflict that now threatens our national security interests and the stability of Syria's neighbors, especially Iraq. All of this, too, was predictable."

Circling in Iran: Kerry says Iran might play a role in peace talks with Syria. The NYT's Michael Gordon: "Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Iran might play a role at the peace talks on Syria in Switzerland this month. It was the first time that a senior American official has indicated that Iran might be involved in the session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 22, even if it was not a formal participant. Mr. Kerry said there would be limits on Iran's involvement unless it accepted that the purpose of the conference should be to work out transitional arrangements for governing Syria if opponents of President Bashar al-Assad could persuade him to relinquish power. Iran has provided military and political support to Mr. Assad.

‘Now, could they contribute from the sidelines?' Mr. Kerry said, referring to a situation in which Iran sticks by the Assad government and does not accept that goal. ‘Are there ways for them conceivably to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process?... It may be that there are ways that could happen,' Mr. Kerry added, but he said the question would have to be decided by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations..." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: Why the Tomahawk's limitations took it out of the game when the WH was considering strikes on Syria. Inside Defense's Chris Castelli, with a subscriber only link, here.

FBI is no longer a  "law enforcement" agency first. FP's John Hudson last night: The FBI's creeping advance into the world of counterterrorism is nothing new. But quietly and without notice, the agency has finally decided to make it official in one of its organizational fact sheets. Instead of declaring "law enforcement" as its "primary function," as it has for years, the FBI fact sheet now lists "national security" as its chief mission. The changes largely reflect the FBI reforms put in place after September 11, 2001, which some have criticized for de-prioritizing law enforcement activities. Regardless, with the 9/11 attacks more than a decade in the past, the timing of the edits is baffling some FBI-watchers." More here.

What do Ed Snowden and Jill Kelley have in common? Not much until now. The NYT's Jennifer Steinhauer: "Jill Kelley still glances around for cameras before she leaves her large, six-columned house on Hillsborough Bay, and she rarely goes to the grocery store. Since November 2012, when the government released her name in connection with a scandal that brought down the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Ms. Kelley has yet to return to her children's schools, she said, and could not even summon the courage to go to their holiday plays. Desperate to restore her reputation, resume her old life and, she said, protect others from similar ordeals, Ms. Kelley is, with the help of some of the nation's most renowned and expensive privacy lawyers, suing three federal agencies and a spate of current and former Pentagon and F.B.I. officials. She asserts that they violated her privacy, defamed her and improperly gained access to her email without her consent, all in a way that hurt her reputation and livelihood."

Kelley: "People don't understand what I went through... I am still suffering the consequences from the bad acts and false and untrue headlines. They created a sideshow at my expense."

Steinhauer on Kelley: "Her demeanor vacillated between cheerful, determined and pained; she occasionally wiped away tears." More here.

Life in a van: A former aide to Stan McChrystal can't even get a job as a janitor today. The Philly Inquirer's Julie Zauzmer in King of Prussia, Pa.:  "After a 30-year military career in which he earned three graduate degrees, rose to the rank of colonel, and served as an aide to Pentagon brass, Robert Freniere can guess what people might say when they learn he's unemployed and lives out of his van: Why doesn't this guy get a job as a janitor? Freniere answers his own question: ‘Well, I've tried that.' Freniere, 59, says that his plea for help, to a janitor he once praised when the man was mopping the floors of his Washington office, went unfulfilled. So have dozens of job applications, he says, the ones he has filled out six hours a day, day after day, on public library computers. So Freniere, a man who braved multiple combat zones and was hailed as ‘a leading light' by an admiral, is now fighting a new battle: homelessness. ‘You stay calm. That's what we were trained for when I went through survival training,' he said recently in King of Prussia, where he had parked his blue minivan, the one crammed with all his possessions and held together with duct tape.

"His struggle to find a job after retiring from the Air Force collided with the end of his marriage nearly two years ago. Unable to return to the home he shared with his estranged wife, and faced with expenses including bills for two sons in college and debts that mounted when he maintained a nicer lifestyle, he took up a nomadic existence. Between spells on the couches of friends in multiple states, he sleeps occasionally in motels and other times in the dented blue van. On Veterans Day, he found himself in King of Prussia. He had paid for a motel room the night before, to be near his younger son, Eric, a student at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne... Records show that Freniere moved to the Pentagon in 2000. He said he was there when it was hit by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001. Two years later, he became special assistant to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the vice director of operations of the Joint Staff." Read the rest of this tale here.

Military bennies: trying to undo the inevitable? The WaPo's ed board this morning: "That didn't take long: President Obama's signature on a hard-won House-Senate budget deal was barely dry before members of Congress from both parties began falling all over themselves to undo one of its provisions. We refer to the 1 percentage-point reduction in military pension annual cost-of-living increases, which provides $6 billion in savings over 10 years, intended, in part, to restore badly needed funds for current national defense. Bowing to the powerful military retiree lobby, Senate Democrat Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and House Republicans Martha Roby (Ala.) and Michael G. Fitzpatrick (Pa.) have introduced bills that would replace the pension trim with, respectively, higher corporate tax collections or a reduction in child tax credits for low-income families. Opponents of the provision decry its purported unfairness to those who have served at great risk in the past, and they assert that it will harm recruitment and retention in the future. The facts suggest otherwise. For one thing, the cut is an exceedingly modest one on a pension plan that is already far more generous than private-sector equivalents. For someone who enlisted at age 18 and retired as an Army sergeant first class at 38, lifetime retirement pay would decline from $1.734?million to $1.626 million, according to House Budget Committee staff. And that $1.626 million would still be filled out with generous military health coverage and earnings for working in the civilian sector, which most military retirees do." Read the rest here.

Phew: The deadline for Hagel's compensation commission gets extended. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "The commission that could trigger historic changes to military pay and benefits system was granted an extension and will not conclude its work until February 2015, many months after its original deadline. That means the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is not likely to influence this year's budget negotiations and decision-making on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon. The commission was created by Congress last year and tasked with doing a big-picture review of military pay and benefits and in turn providing formal recommendations to Congress on how to potentially overhaul the current compensation system. With personnel costs coming under growing pressure amid declining defense budgets, the commission's work could lead to major changes to the way the all-volunteer force is paid." More here.

"Thanks for your service, but y'all are WAY over compensated!" J.S. Bateman on why folks willing to cut military bennies just don't get it.  "...What drives me insane about every one of them is the complete absence of any sense that they understand what military life is like.  I mean, it's one thing to declare yourself a ‘defense expert' because you and your journalism degree trot around the Pentagon and Congress interviewing people for shallow articles on stuff you know nothing about.  I'm not saying a journalist (or a member of Congress for that matter) has to have served in the military themselves to speak about it with credibility.  But what they DO need for credibility is to make a serious attempt to understand the sacrifices of the actual people defending the country.  These people work in places they call Squadrons, Companies, and aboard ships.  Some of them are unlucky and get plucked away to work in Washington, but they know who is really doing the grunt work - the grunts are! So when these journalists and pundits say we are overcompensated - being paid pensions in the prime of our lives with medical care premiums "wildly outside the norm," it becomes really evident to me that they never talk to the actual people they write about.  They either compare military personnel to federal employees or to the population at large. I worked with federal employees my whole military career. In fact, for a couple years, I was a federal civilian employee.  I like them.  They contribute a LOT to the defense of the nation.  But they are NOT asked to make the same sacrifices military personnel make, not even close." More here.

 

National Security

FP’s Situation Report: More U.S. personnel pulled from South Sudan

By Dan Lamothe

The U.S. just announced it is pulling more personnel from the U.S. embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as the security situation there continues to deteriorate. New this morning from the State Department: "Due to the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan, today the United States has further drawn down staffing at our Embassy in Juba. We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel... The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya will provide consular services for U.S. citizens in South Sudan until further notice. We continue to strongly recommend that U.S. citizens in South Sudan depart immediately."

Here's how U.S. troops on the ground are handling it. A spokesman with U.S. Africa Command, Thomas Saunders, tells Situation Report this morning that two KC-130J aircraft assigned to the Marine Corps' crisis-response force have responded from Entebbe, Uganda, where they were positioned in recent days to be close to the mess in South Sudan. U.S. soldiers from the East Africa Response Force, or EARF, "will continue to provide security reinforcement to the U.S. embassy in Juba."

Meet your new likely public affairs flack in the Pentagon: Brent Colburn. Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News broke the news on Twitter last night (@ACapaccio) that the current chief of staff at the Housing and Urban Development Department will become an assistant for public affairs to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Colburn worked on both of President Obama's presidential campaigns and also was previously a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. Colburn himself is on Twitter at @cbrentcolburn. He will join Rear Adm. John Kirby, who is the newly-installed Pentagon press secretary. Colburn is expected to be in charge of the Department's massive public affairs apparatus while Kirby will focus on press operations for the Department and for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Welcome to Friday's snowy edition of Situation Report. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I'm filling again today for Gordon Lubold, your resident Situation Report ninja. If you'd like to sign up for the newsletter, 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 on Twitter at @DanLamothe, and Gordon at @glubold.

Two of the Iraqi cities America fought the hardest for are falling apart. That depressing news today comes from the New York Times, which reports that Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province are on the verge of being in the control of Al Qaeda. From Yasir Ghazi and Tim Arango, reporting from Baghdad: "Radical Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda threatened Thursday to seize control of Falluja and Ramadi, two of the most important cities in Iraq, setting fire to police stations, freeing prisoners from jail and occupying mosques, as the government rushed troop reinforcements to the areas. Dressed in black and waving the flag of Al Qaeda, the militants commandeered mosque loudspeakers to call for supporters to join their struggle in both cities in the western province of Anbar, which have increasingly become centers of Sunni extremism since American forces withdrew from the country at the end of 2011."

A little more salt in the wounds - and how this affects the Syrian civil war to the west. More from the New York Times: "The violence in Ramadi and Falluja had implications beyond Anbar's borders, as the Sunni militants fought beneath the same banner as the most hard-line jihadists they have inspired in Syria - the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. That fighting, and a deadly bombing in the Beirut area on Thursday, provided the latest evidence that the Syrian civil war was helping breed bloodshed and sectarian violence around the region, further destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq while fueling a resurgence of radical Islamist fighters." More here.

Things in Afghanistan, meanwhile, aren't quite so bad. The Wall Street Journal has a surprisingly optimistic report out of Helmand province this morning about the security situation there. Michael M. Phillips, who has spent as much time embedded with Marines there as anyone, reports that "Afghan security forces have come out on top in a key province that for years cost the U.S. and its allies dearly." And his reporting comes from violent Sangin district, which a number of recent news reports had suggested was under heavy Taliban influence. From Phillips' story: "Now, as U.S. and allied forces depart and leave the local army and police in charge of security, the Afghans have emerged from the warm-weather fighting season in nominal control of every heavily populated district of Helmand-a result that U.S. and Afghan commanders say should inject optimism into the often-gloomy debate over the country's future. It is too early to declare victory in Helmand, says Col. B.J. Fitzpatrick, chief of staff for U.S. Marine forces in the province. But ‘what I will tell you,' he says, is that in 2013, ‘the Afghans took lead responsibility.'"

But there are still a lot of catches in Helmand. As we've reported previously, just because the Afghan military has control of the district centers there doesn't mean the Taliban doesn't cause problems. Phillips has that, too, along with an updating on ongoing logistically problems Afghan forces face. More from his story: "The Afghan military still struggles with some basic elements of warfare, including evacuation of casualties and resupply of vital materiel, U.S. and Afghan military officials say. In one incident, Afghan units desperate for truck batteries received steering wheels from Kabul instead, a U.S. military official says. Afghan Army Maj. Gen. Afzal Aman, the chief of operations at Afghanistan's defense ministry, acknowledges the Afghan dependence on the 49-nation coalition for logistics and intelligence support." More here.

And Afghan insurgents are being put back out on the street. Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham sounded the alarm Thursday that dozens of Afghan insurgents have apparently been released, despite histories in which they killed coalition service members. From The Washington Post's Kevin Sieff: "In March, the United States transferred control of the Parwan prison next to Bagram air base - with its roughly 3,000 detainees - to the Afghan government. Since then, Graham said, the Afghans have released 560 detainees without trial, and ‘some of those have gone back to the fight.' The Afghan government is now considering releasing 88 detainees who are of particular concern to the United States. Collectively, Graham said, they killed 60 members of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)." More here.

NOM NOM NOM, chemical weapons. FP was on the scene yesterday in Portsmouth, Va., as the Pentagon sought to demonstrate its new, portable chemical weapons-eating capability on the MV Cape Ray. The ship is expected to leave soon to pick up chemical weapons coming out of Syria -- a creative solution, considering the risks. From my story: "Long before forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad launched a massive chemical weapons strike that nearly dragged the U.S. into Syria's civil war, the American government was trying to figure out a way to neutralize Assad's stockpile of nerve gas and other illicit weapons. No country seemed inclined to allow the work to be done on its own soil, and breaking them down in Syria in the middle of an ongoing civil war seemed fraught with potential nightmares. The world is about to see a possible solution: In the next few weeks, the United States expects to deploy the 648-foot, 22,000-ton MV Cape Ray with technology aboard that can break down the chemical agents used to make sarin and mustard gases. The steel-gray ship's personnel will pick up the chemicals in a port somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea - reportedly in Italy -- and then process them in international waters, where there are far fewer diplomatic and political issues than doing the work on land." More here.

Why pain rays and stun grenades were barely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a busy day for your humble Situation Report correspondent yesterday. FP also published a new piece about the U.S. military's non-lethal weapons program. From my story: "Brian Long, the Active Denial System's program manager, told Foreign Policy that in the last few years, officials with the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program have ‘found kind of dichotomy' in the military. On one hand, commanders want to reduce civilian casualties, and want them quickly after they are requested. On the other hand, many units have been unwilling to spend the time training their troops to use them, even for situations where they hypothetically could help. ‘What we kind of realized was that despite the fielding, there was a sense that these things weren't really useful,' Long said in an interview at Quantico, Va., where the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is based. ‘There was a general unfamiliarity with these things.'" More here.

Bob Gates got hurt pretty badly after taking a spill. The former Pentagon chief's office released this statement yesterday: "Dr. Gates accidentally fell at his home in Washington State Wednesday evening and fractured his first vertebrae. He was treated at hospitals in Mount Vernon and Seattle and is now back at home with his family resting comfortably. He is expected to make a full recovery and thanks the medical staffs of both hospitals for the excellent care they provided him. He looks forward to the release of his new memoir ‘Duty' on January 14th, which he will be promoting wearing a neck brace." We wish him well.

More military catch-phrases? Why not. Geoffrey Ingersoll of Business Insider shares with us today "31 Phrases that Only People in the Military Will Understand." Among our favorites: "Mandofun" -- short for "mandatory fun," and "Gear adrift, is a gift." More on that latter phrase from Ingersoll: "Conversely, someone who takes unattended gear has not stolen it, they've ‘tactically acquired' it. Needless to say, if they get caught, it's still larceny under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Tactical acquisition is taught in boot camp, where recruits from one platoon will prey on another possibly less-aware platoon in order to get supplies and bragging rights." Read the rest here.