National Security

FP's Situation Report: ISAF rebukes Afg release of detainees

Karzai holds a presser; Tarnishing brass: generals doing the wrong thing again; Are U.S. veterans selfish?; "Fake Admiral Kirby" and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

"A major step backward:" The ISAF command in Kabul is condemning Afghanistan's decision to release 37 "dangerous" detainees from the Parwan Detention Facility. From the strongly-worded ISAF statement issued late last night from Kabul: "United States Forces-Afghanistan has learned that under direction of the Afghan government, the Afghan Review Board, led by Abdul Shakoor Dadras, has ordered the release of the first 37 of 88 dangerous individuals under dispute who are legitimate threats to security and for whom there is strong evidence or investigative leads supporting prosecution or further investigation. This extra-judicial release of detainees is a major step backward in further developing the rule of law in Afghanistan. The ARB is releasing these individuals without referral to an investigative body or the Afghan justice system despite the fact that the U.S. has disputed these 88 cases.

"Of the 88 detainees under dispute, 40 percent have participated in direct attacks wounding or killing 57 Afghan citizens and security force members and 30 percent participated in direct attacks wounding or killing 60 U.S. or coalition force members. The U.S. has provided extensive information and evidence on each of the 88 detainees. The disputed cases contain strong evidence of violations of Afghan law or strong investigative leads requiring review by the Saranwal for prosecution or further investigation by the National Directorate of Security." ABC News story from this morning here.

ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford is reportedly headed to the White House today to talk Afghanistan. Dunford and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Jim Cunningham recently met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, presumably to talk about the bilateral security agreement and other issues in advance of President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech tomorrow night. That speech, long thought to be the vehicle through which Obama would announce his plans for Afghanistan after this year, may or may not contain any major announcements.

After the WSJ reported late last week that the White House was considering a 10,000-or-nothing option and that the idea was to clear all troops out of Afghanistan two years after Obama left office, the LATimes' David Cloud reported over the weekend that Dunford is planning to go to the White House today to make the case. Cloud: "To make the deployment more attractive to a skeptical White House, Dunford says the 10,000 should pull out by 2017, when Obama leaves office, according to two officials, who confirmed a Wall Street Journal report. The Pentagon previously had favored deploying the troops for a decade." More here.

Meanwhile, Karzai held a presser over the weekend after his meeting with Dunford and Cunningham. A few choice bits from a translated transcript provided by ISAF:

Karzai: "We want a close relationship with the U.S. but not at the cost of Afghan life.  In exchange we want security for Afghans; otherwise, they should go.  Our country has a 5,000 year history.  A lot of foreigners have come and gone.  Our country has its own history and honor."

Karzai: "Twelve years ago, we witnessed U.S. forces defeat Al Qaida within a matter of months.  I assure you we want them to be here, but have a honest relationship with us. 

The elections will be held on time.  They tell us that 90% of the election sites are safe and ready to open."

Karzai: (in answer to a question from a reporter): "We have been in contact with US about the BSA.  Some people here say, just "sign the agreement without any conditions," but, if I do this, and then there is bombing in our country, who will get blamed?  Do you think we should sign the BSA? ((asked the reporter))

Reporter: "Yes, because all these years we took aid from foreign countries and we want to establish security in this country."

A senior State Department official told Situation Report Friday at a reporter's roundtable that an abrupt withdrawal is not a good idea. "I think what we're talking about and what the Bilateral Security Agreement is supposed to establish is a long term security partnership and a responsible drawdown progressively over time, rather than an abrupt and total departure."

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. 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.

Counting on the Zero Option: Will the U.S. lose its capabilities to launch drone strikes against al-Qaida if the U.S. pulls completely out of Afghanistan? Intel agencies are scrambling to find an answer. The NYT's David Sanger and Eric Schmitt: "... Until now, the debate here and in Kabul about the size and duration of an American-led allied force in Afghanistan after 2014 had focused on that country's long-term security. But these new concerns also reflect how troop levels in Afghanistan directly affect long-term American security interests in neighboring Pakistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials. The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year." More here.

Tarnished brass: A spate of general officers behaving badly is a headscratcher for the Pentagon - or maybe it isn't. According to a Page Oner by the WaPo's Craig Whitlock this morning, a commander at the 82nd Airborne, Martin Schweitzer, met a member of Congress and then couldn't resist zipping out an e-mail after the meeting referring to her as "smoking hot" and referring to explicit sexual acts. Another lectured his troops about having a "zero tolerance" for sexual assault but Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts himself was under investigation over allegations that he had physically assaulted one of his mistresses on multiple occasions [italics ours].

Whitlock has more:  "The embarrassing episodes are described in previously undisclosed files of military investigations into personal misconduct by U.S. generals and admirals. Along with about two dozen other cases obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, the investigations add to a litany of revelations about misbehaving brass that have dogged the Pentagon over the past 15 months and tarnished the reputation of U.S. military leadership. Since November 2012, when an adulterous affair felled David H. Petraeus, the CIA director and most renowned Army general of his generation, the armed forces have struggled to cope with tawdry disclosures about high-ranking commanders... The subject is painfully sensitive inside the Pentagon, where many generals and admirals say they are appalled but reluctant to openly criticize their peers.

Said an Army brigadier to Whitlock, commenting on the spate of cases: "It's just offensive when you see people do some of the things we've seen. It's just completely offensive...As officers, we ought to be held to a higher standard. Some of this stuff you're seeing with folks is just completely unacceptable."

Read the report on Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts here.

Read the report on Brig. Gen. Martin Schweitzer here.

Read the report on Brig Gen. David Uhrich here.   

First in SitRep: The Institute for the Study of War is publishing a paper by Valerie Szybala this morning titled "Assad Strikes Damascus" about the regime's attempts to re-take its own capital last year and how the rebel offensives in July and August of last year threatened the regime's control of Damascus. From ISW's Kim Kagan: "Szybala also demonstrates how America's failure to respond to the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus fundamentally undermined the Free Syrian Army and the gains the opposition had made inside of Damascus over the summer 2013. And she describes the regime's campaign design and execution in Damascus to implement its starvation into submission plans. Despite these advantages, the regime is not able to defeat the opposition decisively in Damascus. Assad is playing a longer game, aimed at legitimizing his rule in international eyes through presidential elections in June 2014."

The Syrian regime, running out of options: "...Earlier in the war, the strength of the Syrian military was at a low point and it demonstrated that it did not have the manpower to hold one major city and attack another at the same time. By the fall of 2013 it was maintaining successful operations simultaneously in Aleppo and Damascus, a clear indication of how much the regime's forces have actually been strengthened. Yet even as these augmented forces continue to attack, the regime is showing signs of its limitations. Neither side in Damascus is currently positioned for a decisive victory on the ground.

"It is likely that the violence and destruction will continue well into 2014. There are a number of conceivable actions that could change this trajectory and hasten the end of the war in Syria. A serious effort - most likely by Saudi Arabia - to arm the rebels with heavy weapons and train them in significant numbers could allow the rebels to finally gain the upper hand..."The Syrian regime's longer-term strategy for retaining power is focused on holding elections in June 2014. Presidential elections are held every seven years in Syria, and Bashar al Assad has given clear signals that he intends to run in the Syrian presidential election this summer." Read the whole report at ISW's web site this morning here.

FP's James Traub asks, if American nation building is dead, what nation remains at home? Traub: "I have spent the last three weeks teaching a class on nation-building (with Bruce Jones, director of the Center on International Cooperation at NYU). Our students, who had come to Washington from NYU Abu Dhabi, were very enthusiastic about the subject. I, however, am having my doubts. My chief conclusion from the experience is that the American experiment in state-building, to use the less jingoistic name for the subject, which began 20 years ago in Haiti and the Balkans, has come to an end. We may soon look back upon it with mingled awe and dread, as the British do upon the Raj." Read the rest here.

Al-Qaida goes corporate. The NYT's Ben Hubbard: "The letter bore the corporate tone of a C.E.O. resolving a turf dispute between two middle managers. In formal prose and numbered lists, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, directed one of the group's affiliates in Syria to withdraw to Iraq and leave operations in Syria to someone else. The response was unequivocal. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, declared that his fighters would remain in Syria 'as long as we have a vein that pumps and an eye that blinks.' It was the first time in the history of the world's most notorious terrorist organization that one of the affiliates had publicly broken with the international leadership, and the news sent shock waves through the online forums where jihadists meet. In no uncertain terms, ISIS had gone rogue." More here.

Time's Mark Thompson asked the question a lot of people are thinking but not sure they want to ask out loud: Are veterans selfish? Thompson: "It's an impudent question, but one that naturally surfaces given the outrage rolling in from assorted veterans' groups as Congress and the Pentagon seek ways to trim government spending that sometimes affects those who have volunteered to fight America's wars. It's also the predictable downside to enlisting only 1% of the nation's citizens to fight, and possibly die, to strive to achieve national goals. When presidents and congresses insist on waging war with no shared sacrifice, it should come as scant surprise that those who have done all the sacrificing squawk when their expected benefits end up on the chopping block.

Thompson: "...But it is disquieting. It suggests that the nation is developing a military caste, separate and apart from the nation. It seems the military is in danger of becoming just another special interest group." Do read the rest here.

Meanwhile, the "100,000 Jobs Mission" reached its goal seven years early, we're told this morning - companies hired 117,439 military veterans. We're told that the coalition, of which J.P. Morgan Chase is the founder, has grown to 131 companies. Maureen Casey, director of Military and Veterans Affairs at JPMorgan Chase: "Reaching this important milestone is great news for veterans and employers alike... We have been able to make a difference in the lives of so many of our nation's veterans, and those veterans bring tremendous skills and experience to the workplace." Situation Report reported late last year that the coalition announced it will double its original hiring goal to a total of 200,000 U.S. military veterans by 2020. More info here.

It's getting real: a fake Twitter handle for Pentagon Pressec John Kirby. There is now a "Fake Admiral Kirby" Twitter handle for Pentagon Presssec Rear Adm. John Kirby, which means he's totally arrived. Choice tweets by @zorching over the last several days: "Missed opportunity. Hagel should have said we are zorching those ships to the black sea...Hey why is @matrabechault [French reporter for Agence France-Presse Mathieu Rabechault] get called on by the French MOD? He is one of ours. That will make this a 3+1. He is ruining everything...Mental note: Got to get Hagel to keep answers under 15 minutes!... I am not going to call on you @lbaldor [AP's Lita Baldor] at 2+2 news conferences if you do not ask at least one relevant question to country/topic at hand!... And our favorite, but we swear we are not "Fake Admiral Kirby:" Why is this SecDef always late for press conferences? Adm. Mullen, he was always on time. Did I say that out loud?"

Ima let you finish: In case you missed it the other day, NBC's Andrea Mitchell interrupted Jane Harman during an interview about the NSA when she had to stop her mid-sentence to break the news: Justin Bieber had been arrested in Miami. Mitchell: "Uh, Congresswoman Harman, let me interrupt you, Congresswoman, let me interrupt you just for a moment, we have some breaking news out of Miami... Justin Bieber has been arrested on a number of charges..." HuffPo's Jack Mirkinson: "We would LOVE to know what was going on in Andrea Mitchell's head when she was forced to cut off a discussion about the NSA for breaking news about Justin Bieber's arrest." Video here.

Speaking of public affairs, the Air Force announced a replacement for the retiring Col. Les Kodlick. Her name is Col. Kathleen Cook, Air Force Space Command Public Affairs Director, and she will replace Kodlick on February 28, when Kodlick retires. Kodlick, in his e-mail to "PA Professionals:" Colonel Cook is a superlative PA who is well respected around the Air Force and across the career field; her leadership and command experience are downright impressive.  She has led at the Joint, MAJCOM, and Wing levels and commanded at the group and squadron.  Many of you also will be interested to know she started her career as an enlisted Airman Musician trumpet player; how cool is that!... She's smart, astute, direct and most importantly she cares deeply about Airmen and our profession.  You'll know what's on her mind, and she'll challenge you to be your best. Congratulations Kathleen, I am proud of you.  As Carol and I transition, I do so knowing our career field is in great hands! Keep charging and God Bless! Les A. Kodlick."

Tunisia approved a new Constitution. Members of Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve the country's new Constitution on Sunday night, finally completing a two-year drafting process and opening the way to a new democratic era three years after the uprising that set off the Arab Spring.

The constitution passed with 200 votes of the 216 members present in the assembly, easily obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority needed for ratification. Legislators rose to their feet, greeting the result with applause, victory signs and some tears.

The assembly had already voted for the charter's individual articles during sessions over the past three weeks, with some intense bargaining between the main political groups over last amendments. A final reading and vote on the entire document was needed to complete the process. 'Some did not get what they wanted but it was a constitution of consensus,' the assembly speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, said ahead of the vote. In the end, only 12 assembly members voted against the charter and four abstained." The rest here.

 

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Hagel turns up the heat on nukes

Two warships to the Black Sea for Sochi; Locklear says Pacific is the most "militarized zone;" U.S. contractors work for the Iraqis now; Who's not pro-Israel enough for AIPAC?; and a bit more.  

 

By Gordon Lubold 

Hagel is turning up the heat on nukes. After a series of new lapses that have triggered new concerns about the health of the force manning the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is summoning senior defense leaders to Washington, demanding a new report on issues within the force and also preparing to launch a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby announced yesterday. The master of nuke coverage, AP's Bob Burns: "It began with his brief mention last fall of 'troubling lapses' in the nuclear force. Weeks later Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel turned up the heat a notch by paying a rare visit to a nuclear missile base. And on Thursday he dropped his bombshell: a demand for quick answers to what ails this most sensitive of military missions. 'Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure,' Hagel wrote in unusually pointed language to a dozen top officials. Hagel ordered immediate actions to define the depth of trouble inside the nuclear force, particularly the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security... Hagel summoned top military officials to a Pentagon conference, to be held within two weeks, to 'raise and address' any personnel problems infesting the nuclear force, and he ordered an 'action plan' be written within 60 days to explore nuclear force personnel issues, identify remedies and put those fixes into place quickly. Hagel said he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will host the nuclear summit.

"The Pentagon chief also said he would assemble a small group of outsiders with expertise in the nuclear field to conduct a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, with a focus on personnel issues, and to recommend changes "that would help ensure the continued safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear forces." More here.

Is Hagel in a firing mood? Unclear as of yet. While former Defense Secretary Bob Gates had little problem firing people, that has not as yet defined Hagel's style. Hagel has said in the past (in the context of the sexual assault crisis facing DoD) that he has no problem firing people to demand accountability, but that rolling heads isn't always the best way to fix a problem.

Kirby, who credited Associated Press' coverage of the nuclear issues as one of the triggers to Hagel's rising concerns, said Hagel's not at the point where he thinks firing people over problems within the force will solve the problem. Kirby, at the Pentagon yesterday: "To the degree that -- that leaders need to be held to account, he will hold them to account.  We're just not there right now... we're just trying to unpack this issue and this problem and try to get our arms around it.  That's why he's having a review team put together. That's why he's bringing the leaders into the building.  And I think we've got a lot of work to do to better understand the scope of the problem before we get to the point where, you know, we're firing people. And I don't think -- Secretary Hagel doesn't want to set that as the -- as the goal.  I don't think he wants to set that as the bar for success by how many get -- you know, lose their jobs over this.  His -- what he's setting as the bar and his measure of success is making sure that we've addressed whatever personnel -- systemic personnel problems there may be inside the nuclear force and fixing them."

Speaking of nukes, a new three-year study by the Pentagon concluded U.S. intel agencies can't foresee when foreign powers are developing nuclear weapons. The NYT's David Sanger and William Broad: "... The study, a 100-page report by the Defense Science Board, contends that the detection abilities needed in cases like Iran - including finding 'undeclared facilities and/or covert operations' - are 'either inadequate, or more often, do not exist.'

"The report is circulating just two months before President Obama will attend his third nuclear security summit meeting, set for March in The Hague, an effort he began in order to lock down loose nuclear materials and, eventually, reduce the number of countries that could build nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama's efforts to sweep up the materials have largely been considered a success. But the report concluded that potential new nuclear states are 'emerging in numbers not seen since the early days of the Cold War,' and that "monitoring for proliferation should be a top national security objective - but one for which the nation is not yet organized or fully equipped to address... A former senior intelligence official familiar with the report, which was commissioned by Ashton B. Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense who resigned late last year, said the effort was to focus the government's efforts on the global dimensions of the atomic threat.

The former senior intel official familiar with the report, to the Times: "One of the highest priorities of successive administrations is countering proliferation... But there's little coherence on what agencies do to move that interest forward." Read the rest of this here.

Welcome to the Friday edition of Situation Report. 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.

Ghosts of Baghdad: U.S. contractors didn't go anywhere - they just work for the Iraqi government now. FP's own Dan Lamothe: " The Pentagon says the last of its defense contractors left Iraq in December, just weeks before portions of the increasingly violent country were conquered al-Qaeda. There's a catch, however: While the number of Iraq contractors on U.S. payrolls has plummeted, some of those same individuals are still there, working directly for the Iraqi government.

The change is part of the United States' evolving relationship with Baghdad. The last Defense Department contract with Iraq was transferred to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration in December, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman. That leaves the Defense Department's number of contractors in Iraq at 0, down 6,624 in October, according to a quarterly report released at the time. Of those 6,624 contractors, 1,626 were U.S. citizens, 2,807 were civilians of another country, and 2,191 were Iraqi citizens from Iraq, the report said.

"... One example of a company staying in Iraq despite the change in who pays its bill is Triple Canopy, the behemoth defense firm based in Herndon, VA. It has made a fortune as one of Washington's primary security providers in war zones, and is one of eight companies with a piece of the State Department's five-year, $10.8 billion Worldwide Protective Services contract, which was signed in 2010 and lays out the terms by which contractors provide security to U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel across the world. But Triple Canopy also had a variety of smaller contracts with the Pentagon for other work in Iraq, and intends to continue working there now." More here.

Mo' money! A little budget guidance for the Pentagon from the White House. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: " The White House this week gave the Defense Department budget guidance through 2019 that calls for more money after 2015 than congressional budget caps allow, according to U.S. officials. The Office of Management and Budget guidance, known as the 'pass-back,' also includes for the first time an 'investment fund' for programs the White House has approved to receive additional funds should they become available, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the directive hasn't been made public.

"As part of its budget submission to Congress, the Pentagon is expected to present the OMB investment fund to lawmakers to demonstrate where more money would be added to that allocated in last year's bipartisan budget deal, one of the officials said. The federal budget, including the Pentagon blueprint, is due to be released on about March 4, the officials said. The fiscal 2015 total for base defense spending excluding war operations is about $498 billion, or the same amount called for in last month's agreement, and includes $9 billion in relief from the caps called for in the 2011 Budget Control Act. That's still $44 billion less than the $542 billion the Pentagon last year said it would request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1." More here.

A blast at a security headquarters in Cairo has killed at least five. The WaPo's Abigail Hauslohner and Erin Cunningham: "A powerful car bomb shattered the facade of a security headquarters in downtown Cairo at dawn on Friday, the highest profile attack on Egypt's military-backed government since last summer's ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. At least five people were killed, and more than 50 were injured, the health ministry said... The interior ministry said a suicide bomber drove a vehicle laden with explosives into a barricade outside the building at 6:30 a.m., causing a thundering blast that was heard across a wide swath of the capital, and leaving a gaping crater. Cairo's 19th-century Islamic Art museum, which is located across the street, was badly damaged. Two smaller explosions in other districts of the city on Friday had little impact." More here.

Did you hear the story about one of the most pro-Israel Congressmen who isn't pro-Israel enough for AIPAC? We thought so. So here's FP's own John Hudson: " A recent letter attacking Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing an internal brouhaha at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The Cable has learned. The powerful lobbying outfit, known for its disciplined non-partisan advocacy for Israel, recently issued an action alert about the Florida congresswoman's waffling on Iran sanctions legislation. The letter urged members to contact Wasserman Schultz and cited a disparaging article about her in a conservative website founded by a prominent Republican political operative. That AIPAC was driving hard for new Iran sanctions legislation surprised no one. But its use of a right-wing blog to target a well-connected Jewish Democrat with a long history of support for Israel raised eyebrows among some current and former AIPAC officials. It also raised concerns that AIPAC's open revolt against the White House's Iran diplomacy could fray its relations with liberal Democrats on the Hill.

Said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC's former chief lobbyist: "In the 40 years I've been involved with AIPAC, this is the first time I've seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship." More here.

The secret history to a secret CIA prison in Poland. The WaPo's Adam Goldman: "...The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture. Much about the creation and operation of the CIA's prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA's interrogation program is about to be revisited.

"The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program...

"The story of a Polish villa that became the site of one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history began in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad with the capture of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in March 2002. The CIA needed a place to stash its first "high-value" detainee, a man who was thought to be closely tied to the al-Qaeda leadership and might know of follow-on plots. Cambodia and Thailand offered to help the CIA. Cambodia turned out to be the less desirable of the two. Agency officers told superiors that a proposed site was infested with snakes. So the agency flew Abu Zubaida to Thailand, housing him at a remote location at least an hour's drive from Bangkok." Read the rest here.

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian at CSIS this morning in Washington at 9:30 am. He'll be talking France's role in NATO and the recent security challenges in Mali and the Central African Republic and anything else if you go and ask a really good question. Note CSIS' new office is at 1616 Rhode Island Ave., NW. Event runs an hour.

The Pentagon is sending two warships to the Black Sea in anticipation of Sochi. NBC News' Erin McClam: "A catastrophic terrorist strike at the Sochi Winter Olympics would present the United States with a logistically mind-boggling and diplomatically delicate challenge: How to get more than 200 American athletes safely out of Russia. U.S. military officials have described plans to use two warships in the Black Sea and planes already on standby in Europe to evacuate Americans if the worst fears of security experts come true. But these are the Olympics of President Vladimir Putin, who is spending a reported $50 billion on the games, including a purportedly impenetrable "ring of steel" around the Olympic city, and who sees the games through a prism of national pride." Read the rest here.

So now the U.S. is investigating Dennis Rodman for whether he violated U.S. sanctions after bringing thousands of dollars of luxury gifts to his BFF, Kim Jong Un. The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin: "Dennis Rodman was already having a rotten month, between the trip to rehab and the global condemnation for cozying up to a dictator. Now things may be about to get much worse. The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating whether he violated the law that prohibits the importing of luxury goods into North Korea. On his third and most recent trip to Pyongyang this month, Rodman reportedly brought several gifts for the young Kim's 31st birthday. They allegedly included hundreds of dollars' worth of Irish Jameson whiskey, European crystal, an Italian suit, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag for Kim's wife, Ri Sol-ju. But these gifts, reportedly worth more than $10,000, may not have been all. Michael Spavor, a Beijing-based consultant who facilitated and joined Rodman's trip, tweeted a photo of Rodman apparently displaying several bottles of his own brand "Bad Ass Vodka" for Kim Jong Un and his wife." Read the rest here.

Sam Locklear: the Asia-Pacific is becoming "the most militarized region in the world." Carlo Munoz, writing for USNI News: "American allies and potential adversaries in the Pacific are busily amassing formidable stockpiles of advanced military hardware, just as American commanders are doubling down on U.S. presence in the region. Aside from China's aggressive efforts to buildup its military arsenal, countries like Japan, Australia and Singapore are quickly following suit, Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear said Thursday. As a result, the seas and skies of the Asia-Pacific is rapidly evolving into "the most militarized region in the world," the four-star admiral told reporters at the Pentagon. The ongoing weapons buildup in the Pacific could, at some point, lead to several regional powers superseding the United States as the dominant military force in Asia, Locklear warned." More here.

Locklear II: Kim Jong Un is a problem. U.S. News & World Report's Paul Shinkman: "Last year was scarred by instability and threats in the Pacific region, particularly from North Korea and China, at a time when the U.S. is ramping up its presence and rhetoric there in President Barack Obama's notorious "rebalance." At the top of the worst offenders list sits North Korea's Kim Jong Un. The young dynastic ruler thrust the hermetic kingdom into top headline space in 2013 following a string of visits by professional eccentric and one-time NBA superstar Dennis Rodman, and continued saber rattling over its nuclear and military programs. America's top officer in the region expressed grave concerns Thursday about how the U.S. charts a path toward the untested and reclusive despot. 'The young leader, for me...is unpredictable,' said Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command. 'His behavior, at least in the way it's reported and the way we see it in sense, would make me wonder whether or not he is always in the rational decision making mode or not. And this is a problem.'" Read the rest here.

Read the full transcript of what Locklear said at the Pentagon yesterday here.

No Nonanka Takashi, we just don't believe that you are the head of the Internal Audit Group, Deputy President, Executive Officer and Director of the Mizuho Trust & Banking Co., Ltd., or at least we have our doubts. But it is an impressive-sounding title. Furthermore, we're dubious about the "lucrative business proposal of mutual interest" that you mention in your e-mail this morning. Color us skeptical.

Yesterday, Mark Milley, the head of the operational command in Afghanistan, held a briefing for reporters in the Pentagon from Kabul. Here's what he said in part about the Afghan National Security Forces: Lt. Gen. Mark Milley: "Well, yeah, let me -- as I said, they did very well tactically.  So we are transitioning right now from combat advising to functional advising.  And what does that mean?  So it's -- it's our assessment that the Afghan combat units, kandaks, battalions, companies, really do not need, with very few exceptions, tactical advisers with them on combat operations on a day in and day out basis. 

"We know that the Afghan battalions and companies can fight.  We know they can shoot, move, communicate.  They can conduct combined arms operations. We know that all of the maneuver brigades and -- all 24 of them -- are either partially capable, capable, or fully capable.  We know that the corps can conduct, plan, coordinate, synchronize, and execute combined arms operation.  That's important.

"But tactics an army does not make.  They have to be more than that.  They have to be more than tactics.  You have to have -- in order to sustain yourself over time, you have to have institutional systems that are in place where they can, in fact, replenish their forces, they can do personnel management, they can budgeting, they can do intelligence operations, infuse all types of intelligence, where they can train pilots and conduct rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations. 

"They've got to be able to sustain themselves logistically.  They've got to be able to get spare parts and run entire distribution systems, so vehicles and weapons systems and other pieces of equipment don't break down.  We've got to get their special operations capabilities, which are very good, but get them up to a very high level.  You've got to develop a ministerial-level capability in order to do budgeting and planning and programming and those sorts of things. 

"...We want to improve their fires.  We anticipate that it will be some years before they have a full-fledged capability for counterinsurgency fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, so we want them to have the capability to retain tactical overmatch through the use of indirect fires, through the use of mortars and artillery, and they made a lot of progress on that this past year. 

"...So right now, they're doing very well at like -- things like basic training and some small unit tactics.  But we've got to also work with them to support and build a training management system that works over time without foreign help. 

"So the big ones -- aviation, ministerial development, special ops, intelligence, medical, C-IED [counter-improvised explosive device], fires -- those piece parts, those systems, those functions we want to shore up here in the next year or so.  Some of them may take longer than a year. I think most of them -- medical, counter-IED, fires -- we'll be able to get that progressed pretty well during this year." Full transcript here.