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.
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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.