The U.K.'s cool new super stealth drone; The Truman eases out of the Gulf; Marine Corps Times is back; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
The Afghan government goes ahead with its plan to release 65 prisoners against the pointed advice of ISAF, the military command in Kabul, and U.S. officials. The NYT's Jawad Sukhanyar and Rod Nordland: "The Afghan government began releasing prisoners Thursday over the objections of the American military, which said they were dangerous insurgents responsible for killing its soldiers. The 65 detainees began emerging from the Bagram Prison in small groups Thursday morning, and were taken away in vehicles belonging to the Afghan National Army military police, who are in charge of the facility. American military guards are also present at the prison but were not in evidence. American military officials have been publicly scathing in their criticism of the releases, which have brought relations between the two allies to a low point at a time when talks on a long-term Western military presence have stalled." Read the NYT story here.
The statement from the ISAF military command in Kabul issued this morning after the prisoner release read in part: "The release of these dangerous individuals poses a threat to U.S., Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces, as well as the Afghan population. Insurgents in the group released today have killed Coalition and Afghan Forces. They have killed Afghan men, women and children. More than two dozen of the individuals released were linked to the production or emplacement of improvised explosive devices, the number one killer of Afghan civilians," adding that some individuals released are believed to have returned to "the fight."
And: "U.S. and Afghan forces risked their lives to ensure the safety of the Afghan people. We call upon the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to consider the potentially lethal effects of today's releases and its impact on the future security of the Afghan people."
Green-on-blue is back: Two U.S. troops were killed in the first insider attack in Afghanistan in months. AP: " Two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack Wednesday by gunmen wearing Afghan security force uniforms in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. defense officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the attack, which is the latest in a string of incidents in which Afghan troops turned their weapons on their supposed allies.
"The officials said four Afghans involved in the attack were killed in the ensuing battle. The frequency of these insider attacks has declined markedly in recent months. At the height of the problem, in 2012, U.S. and coalition troops were more often fighting and training alongside their Afghan partners; the relationship evolved last year with the Afghans taking a lead combat role. That has put the Americans and other coalition troops in a less visible position as advisers." More here.
Meantime, initial results of a survey of veterans of the Afghanistan war by the McCain Institute show that 75 percent of the participants in the survey think they "arrived in Afghanistan with realistic expectations of the environment/situation." And about 70 percent of participants think that "corruption in political institutions remains the most significant issue," according to two data points from the survey provided to Situation Report. Remember, if you're interested in participating in this interesting survey - it's open to anyone who served in Afghanistan in uniform or not - click here. More = merrier.
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Scoopage: Spy agencies are sending Congress bad contractor data, the GAO says. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "Civilian U.S. intelligence agencies have provided unreliable and incomplete reports to Congress since 2011 on the use of private contractors who perform core functions, according to a new congressional audit. The limitations 'hinder the ability to determine the extent' to which eight agencies including the CIA use such outside workers and how much they spend to do so, the Government Accountability Office said in an audit set for release today. Lawmakers said the report raises concerns about the security of intelligence information even though it doesn't deal directly with that subject or with Edward Snowden, who disclosed thousands of pages of top-secret documents after working as a consultant for the military's National Security Agency. Congress needs reliable information "so we know exactly who is managing our nation's secrets and why," Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an e-mailed statement." Read the rest here.
Dempsey made a low key visit to Gitmo. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, took a three-hour tour of the U.S. Navy base and two prison buildings at Guantánamo Bay this week - the first visit by America's highest-ranking officer in six years.
"Dempsey and about 10 members of his staff traveled to the base on Tuesday, a day after he visited the U.S. Southern Command in Doral, according to Air Force Col. Edward W. Thomas Jr., the chairman's spokesman. Thomas called the trip '"a familiarization tour to provide the chairman a richer understanding of the operations and our personnel serving there.' He left the base 'very impressed with the professionalism,' said Thomas and made it back to Washington, D.C., in time to attend the White House state dinner for French President Francois Hollande." More of Rosenberg's story here.
Reuters reports that Chuck Hagel will preview the Pentagon's budget on Feb. 24. Reuters' Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander: "... Hagel is expected to use the announcement to outline the U.S. Defense Department's priorities and challenges in budgeting for the fiscal year that begins on October 1, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly." More here.
The Truman eases away from the Persian Gulf. The Hill's Kristina Wong: "The U.S. Navy has reduced its carrier presence in the Persian Gulf as the Obama administration seeks to complete a nuclear deal with Iran. The Navy denies it has reduced its strength in the strategically vital waterway, let alone done so to help diplomatic efforts, and it points to an increase in the number of smaller ships that are regularly patrolling at close quarters with Iranian vessels. But records show that the U.S.S. Harry Truman, now the sole aircraft carrier in the region, has spent more time outside the Persian Gulf in the last six months than inside it. Just a year ago, the Navy had placed two carriers in the region. In addition, a Navy source familiar with the issue said the Truman isn't spending as much time in the Persian Gulf as its predecessors, and that this is intended to give space for negotiators to work on the nuclear deal."
Retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO of the United States Naval Institute, to Wong on it being reasonable to think the Navy is sending a signal: "A carrier is an effective symbol and instrument of national power. Its mere presence is a deterrence to bad actors and bad behavior, and if necessary, it is an instrument of force... That's true in the Gulf and that's true anywhere in the world." Read the rest here.
Levin's plan to bring more oversight to drones runs aground. The LATimes' Ken Dilanian: "An effort by a powerful U.S. senator to broaden congressional oversight of lethal drone strikes overseas fell apart last week after the White House refused to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert CIA operations, according to senior U.S. officials. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, held a joint classified hearing Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA and military drone strikes against suspected terrorists. But the White House did not allow CIA officials to attend, so military counter-terrorism commanders testified on their own. Levin's plan ran aground on the Washington shoals of secrecy and turf, according to congressional aides and other U.S. officials, none of whom would be quoted by name discussing classified oversight matters." More here.
Great Britain unveils a super stealth new drone and it's got the coolest name: Taranis. For FP, Zach Rosenberg: "A new video released by aerospace giant BAE shows a bat-shaped drone zipping down a runway, taking off smoothly, and then coasting over an empty expanse of mountains and valleys before landing back at the empty airstrip. The next-generation unmanned aerial vehicle is outfitted with stealth technology and designed to fly - and theoretically fire at targets on the ground -- without a human controller. The United States has been working on similar drones for years. But the Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, isn't being built for the U.S. military. It's being built for the British one, and it showcases both a remarkable high-tech achievement and just how slow Britain's military can be to adapt to what is virtually certain to be the future of warfare. Read all about it here.
Fascinating: FP has discovered how a Swiss commodities giant used shell companies to make an Angolan general known as "General Dino" $750 million. For FP, Michael Weiss: "Revolutionary communist regimes have a strange habit of transforming themselves into corrupt crony capitalist ones and Angola -- with its massive oil reserves and budding crop of billionaires -- has proved no exception. In 2010, Trafigura, the world's third-largest private oil and metals trader based in Switzerland, sold an 18.75-percent stake in one of its major energy subsidiaries to a high-ranking and influential Angolan general, Foreign Policy has discovered. The sale, which amounted to $213 million, appears on the 2012 audit of the annual financial statements of a Singapore-registered company, which is wholly owned by Gen. Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento. Details of the sale and purchaser are also buried within a prospectus document of the sold company which was uploaded to the Luxembourg Stock Exchange within the last week. 'General Dino,' as he's more commonly called in Angola, purchased the 18.75 percent stake not in any minor bauble, but in a $5 billion multinational oil company called Puma Energy International. By 2011, his shares were diluted to 15 percent; but that's still quite a hefty prize: his stake in the company is today valued at around $750 million." Read this tale here.
As you were: Marine Corps Times is back on the newsstand near the checkouts in base PXes pending "a review." Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "Marine Corps Times will be returned to its usual newsstand location at base exchange stores after an abrupt decision to move the independent newspaper away from checkout lines proved unpopular and raised questions about motive. The Marine Corps said the move was meant to 'professionalize' the front of exchange stores, but its timing generated strong reaction from Marines and media outlets who questioned whether it was related to the newspaper's critical reporting about Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos."
Jay Paxton, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps on the Corps' Facebook page: "Reaction to the Marine Corps Times' relocation demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of intent; therefore, the product will return to its original location pending the outcome and communication of a more comprehensive, purposeful plan based on our Commandant's intent as it relates to an emphasis on professionalism within our Corps." More on this here.
FP's Tom Ricks on how Marine Corps' HQ "makes jihad" on Marine Corps Times, here. Ricks' two-line post on the matter: "I think public institutions always look bad when they try to suppress or punish publications that have been critical of them -- in this case, Marine Corps leaders vs. the Marine Corps Times. It makes it look like the Marine Corps commandant can't take the heat."
The Duffel Blog's headline this morning: "Marine Commandant Hosts Book Burning at 8th and I," here.
Maybe overkill: Walt Jones calls for a hearing over the Marine Corps Times newsstand issue. Military Times' Lance Bacon's story, here.