Frank Kearney: why the Afghan election is important; IAVA: The VA backlog is stalled; Germany ponders military muscle flexing; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
The moment the U.S. should be waiting for: After 12 years of war, the presidential election in Afghanistan is in just more than 60 days. With the bilateral security agreement dominating U.S. policymakers' attention, the Obama administration has generally been quiet about the Afghan presidential election in April in which a successor to President Hamid Karzai would be expected to emerge. For months, the administration has chosen to tread softly on the elections, choosing to work in the shadows - if at all - on a central issue involving a sovereign government. But some think the administration has treaded too softly, and experts and Afghan hands have for the last year or so been pushing the administration to elevate its engagement on this issue. Enter a new group, the Coalition for Afghan Democracy, that is pushing American policymakers to focus on the election as an opportunity that shouldn't be squandered. Hamed Wardak, who helps to fund the initiative, to Situation Report: "[The Coalition hopes to] mobilize and raise the public profile of the election, to bring more engagement and more focus on the significance and importance of it given the fact that it's not just an election but a transition to a new administration."
Here's why Frank Kearney, the retired Special Operations three-star, is also supporting the effort (in an e-mail to Situation Report): "First, I am personally invested in Afghanistan, I have spent a great deal of time there, my son has spent over three years there and my nephew was killed there. Second, the region remains a tinder box of terrorism and nuclear tension when you look at India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and China. It remains a region key to US interests as a result but frankly, the American people are weary of the conflict and may no longer pay attention if a vibrant dialogue and discussion about the importance of this election is ignored in the press and on the national street. Third, I believe promoting an active discussion which is a primary [Coalition] objective is critical to continued United States and other nations investment in the Afghan Army, Government and other ministries. Fourth, a fair election that represents the will of the Afghani people is required to earn the continued investment of US military men and women and the treasure of our people and partners. I remain convinced that it is in our best interest to stay involved and insure the terrorists from the ungoverned spaces of the FATA do not pollute the potential opportunity for the Afghan people and that together we continue to deny terrorists a sanctuary from which to operate." See more about the coalition here.
The Afghanistan election begins. The WaPo's Sayed Salahuddin, in Kabul: "Campaigning officially started Sunday in the crucial election to choose Afghan President Hamid Karzai's successor, amid continuing concerns about attacks by the Taliban and the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and NATO troops starting this year. Eleven men vying to win the April 5 election have just two months to sway voters. Among the front-runners are two technocrats, Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Rassoul, who served in key positions in Karzai's government, which has been in power since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. The election will result in the first peaceful transfer of power through a ballot in the country's history. A former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in the 2009 election, and one of Karzai's brothers, Qayoum Karzai, are also considered leading contenders. Even though his brother is running, the Afghan president has vowed not to take sides in the contest." Read the rest here.
Speaking of Afghanistan, heads up you veterans of the Afghan War: the McCain Institute is doing a survey and wants your input. The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State is developing a database for lessons learned from Afghanistan in the hopes that those lessons learned don't have to be re-learned. The "Afghanistan Data Initiative," as it's called, is described as "a robust, fact-based, data-driven analysis of what happened in Afghanistan," but the Institute is doing it "without imposing any preconceived ideological or political framework." As such, the Institute wants to hear from military and civilian veterans of the Afghan war. "We hope to disseminate this raw, fact-based information, providing a resource for future research and study, allowing others to draw conclusions and make better decisions in the future. In the long-term, we expect that this data set will serve as a resource for future research and academic study." They want military and civilian veterans of the Afghan war to participate in the survey. "Please take part in our survey to help ensure that the experiences and sacrifices of you and thousands of others like you are not lost to history, but recorded and learned from for the future." They want honest answers and won't attribute comments of poll participants to the public arena. It takes about 25 minutes to complete. Click here to take it.
It's a rainy post-game Monday and welcome to a very tardy edition of Situation Report. Apologies to Broncos fans who are crying in their Honey Nut Cheerios right now. It was a bad night altogether - even most of the ads didn't play well. Anyway, the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman is what is really making us sad. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Red Tape Alert: The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will release a new report this morning about the backlog and why reducing it has stalled. The USA Today's Greg Zoroya: "The government's effort to cut a backlog of pending compensation claims for veterans has stalled at about 400,000 cases, and steps are needed to understand what is and isn't working to solve the problem, says a group representing recent war veterans. In a report to be released Monday, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) group recommends several ways it says will speed up claim processing, many of the ideas already supported and sought by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA called the report part of its continued collaboration with veterans groups and said it continues working aggressively to try to end the backlog in 2015."
IAVA's Jacqueline Maffucci, in a statement provided to Situation Report this morning: "In the State of the Union address, President Obama re-affirmed the VA disability claims backlog as a national priority... The VA has made progress since March to reform the system and bring the numbers down, but 400,000 veterans are still waiting and much work remains left to be done. It is not just about bringing the backlog to zero, but keeping it there. The Red Tape Report is vital to understanding how the system left so many disabled veterans waiting for so long - and ensuring that it won't happen again." More here later this morning.
Scoopage: a new investigation into the Marine Corps and the urination video. FP's Dan Lamothe: "An investigation into whether senior Marine Corps officers attempted to cover up their own misconduct while prosecuting war crimes in Afghanistan has suddenly roared back to life, with a top civilian official now looking into whether the Marine brass unlawfully concealed crucial evidence in the cases, Foreign Policy has learned. "[Maj. James Weirick's] whistle-blower complaint received widespread media coverage last year. It did not, however, appear to get much traction with the Defense Department's inspector general, and it seemed like Amos and other top Marines were out of the woods. In the last few days, however, Weirick's charges have received new attention from a powerful civilian official, John Fitzgerald, the director of the U.S. Information Security Oversight Office in Washington. Fitzgerald's interest in the case, which hasn't previously been reported, means that the probe is far from complete and could yet ensnare top Marine brass.
Weirick, according to letters obtained by FP, met with Fitzgerald on Jan. 22. Fitzgerald and his office aren't widely known among the general public, but he is the top authority on whether evidence like the urination videos should have been classified. In the letter, Weirick thanked Fitzpatrick for the meeting and urged him to hold Amos and other Marine officials accountable for their actions." More here.
Meantime, did these two Marine generals abuse their authority - or were they just a bit careless? Marine Maj. Gen. Angie Salinas really wanted to have an aide with an aiguillette - even though she didn't rate one at the time. And Marine Maj. Gen. Michael Regner was accused of looking the other way when his subordinates did personal tasks for him - like shining his shoes or washing his car. Both are the subjects of DOD Inspector General complaints, the Marine Corps Times reports. Marine Corps Times' Gina Harkins: "To hear at least one Marine describe it, Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas was obsessed with having a subordinate who was readily recognizable as her aide. Specifically, she wanted the individual accompanying her to speaking engagements and other public events to wear an aiguillette, the braided cord worn across one's shoulder to denote he or she is acting as a general's aide-de-camp... The request was denied because, in her role, Salinas did not rate an aide-de-camp. She asked instead if the command's organizational table could be amended so she could have one. No, she was told again. But Salinas bought an aiguillette anyway and authorized the Marine to wear it at one event. That prompted an anonymous complaint to the Defense Department Inspector General's Office in December 2011, which turned over the matter to the Marine Corps IG a month later. A months-long investigation would conclude that Salinas, who retired last year after a trailblazing 39-year military career, inappropriately encouraged the Marine to violate the Marine Corps' uniform policy and that she used subordinates for her personal errands."
And, Harkins continues with Regner: "In April 2012, a similar complaint was filed with the command inspector general for Marine Corps Forces Pacific against Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, then the top Marine in Korea. It, too, was referred to the Marine Corps IG. Among other things, Regner was accused of looking the other way when his subordinates would do personal tasks for him, like shining his shoes and washing his car - claims the IG would substantiate. Regner was the subject of a Marine Corps Times cover story published in October after a 29-year enlisted Marine, Sgt. Maj. Jayme Winders, filed an inspector general complaint alleging he was victimized by the Marine Corps' top leaders after accusing Regner of wrongdoing. In July, the two-star was named staff director for Headquarters Marine Corps, where he continues to serve." Read the rest here.
The two senior Marine officers aren't alone, as we journos are fond of writing. Ethical lapses are beginning once again to flood the inboxes of senior Pentagon leaders and it has, once again, become the 25-meter target for the Pentagon. The issue has "the full attention" of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, who initiated an ethical review effort last year. He sat down with the WSJ's Julian Barnes. Barnes: "The U.S. military is intensifying its focus on ethics training in the wake of a series of investigations of military brass, the Pentagon's top uniformed officer said. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that as part of this new emphasis, the military needs to place more importance on officers' character when weighing promotions."
Dempsey to Barnes: "The Joint Chiefs and I are concerned and committed to ensuring that our military leaders of all ranks uphold the trust that we've established with the American people...This has my full attention."
Barnes: The military has been rocked in recent months by a wide-ranging Navy contracting scandal, involving allegations of bribes, as well as by high-profile sexual assault cases and other probes. Last week, the Air Force announced that a test-cheating scandal involving nuclear missile crews was more widespread than previously thought, with 92 junior officers suspended in connection with cheating allegations. In the interview, Gen. Dempsey said he and the military service chiefs were working together on a series of initiatives that will place a renewed focus on military ethics." Read the rest here.
More Marines could be based in Africa. Marine Corps Times' Gina Harkins again: "Marine units that specialize in crisis response could be based in Africa in coming years as military leaders work with host nations that have shown interest in the U.S. posturing troops in their countries, according to a top general in the region. Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, deputy to the commander for military operations in U.S. Africa Command, said these units would likely be similar to the Special-Purpose Marine-Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response based at Morón Air Base in Spain, which stood up in 2013." Hummer to Harkins: "There's quite a reach from Morón to get to [certain African countries], depending on the operational aircraft... As we look at the future of the environment around the world, and the fiscal challenges impeding the number of ships we would like to have, there's a balancing act we have to achieve between MAGTFs aboard ships and MAGTFs ashore, where they can respond to indications and warnings." Read the rest here.
Hagel returned from the Munich Security Conference over the weekend after appearing with Secretary of State John Kerry. WaPo's Craig Whitlock on the joint appearance: "[Kerry and Hagel] told European allies Saturday that Washington would depend more heavily on them to tackle a litany of political and security crises, even as the two pushed back against concerns that the Obama administration was abdicating leadership on the same issues." More here.
Kerry: "This narrative, which has frankly been pushed by some people who have an interest in saying the United States is on a different track, I will tell you it is flat wrong."
Hagel: "In the face of budget constraints here on the continent, as well as in the United States, we must all invest more strategically to protect military capability and readiness. The question is not just how much we spend, but how we spend together."
And the NYT's Erlanger and Shanker on Munich: "Hagel, sitting alongside Mr. Kerry, sought to reassure Europeans that the United States was not abandoning the Continent as it rebalanced its interests - diplomatic, military and economic - to Asia after more than a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.
Meantime, Germany is thinking about building more military muscle mass. The NYT's Alison Smale: "German leaders are pushing a vigorous new case that it is time for their nation to find a more muscular voice in foreign affairs, even suggesting that Germany should no longer reflexively avoid some military deployments, as it did in Libya almost three years ago... Germany's Nazi and Communist pasts are no excuse for ducking international duties, [German President Joachim Gauck] said. He argued that the current Germany - "the best we have ever known," he said - was well established as a democracy and as a reliable partner and ally, and that it should step out "earlier, more decisively and more substantially" on the world stage.
The president has no power to make policy under Germany's Constitution, but is expected to guide debate. Günther Nonnenmacher, co-publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a center-right newspaper, wrote after the speech that Mr. Gauck 'may well have spoken the authoritative word in the debate over German foreign and security policy.'" More here.