National Security

FP's Situation Report: U.S. quietly imposes more sanctions on Russia

Crimea crisis awakens an anemic NATO; Egypt's Gen. Sisi throws his hat in the ring; Petty Officer Mayo was a hero; Why will 1,892 flags to be planted on the Mall today?; and a bit more.

The U.S. has slapped Russia without anyone really knowing about it. FP's Jamila Trindle with this exclusive: "While the Obama administration has touted U.S. efforts to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically, it has quietly found another way to slap Moscow for its annexation of Crimea. Nearly a month ago, with no public notice, a small office in the Commerce Department abruptly stopped approving applications from U.S. firms that want to sell Russia potentially dangerous products.

"The Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) suspended a raft of pending deals with Russia on March 1, just a day after Moscow sent troops streaming into Ukraine. The office didn't disclose the move until this week, when it posted an oblique notice on its website. The suspension has not been previously reported. 'Since March 1, 2014, BIS has placed a hold on the issuance of licenses that would authorize the export or re-export of items to Russia,' the notice says. 'BIS will continue this practice until further notice.'

"In 2013, BIS approved 1,832 export contracts to Russia for so-called dual use products like lasers and explosives, according to the bureau's annual report. The deals were worth roughly $1.5 billion, $800 million of which was for devices cryptically described as 'designed to initiate an energetic charge.'" More here.

Ouch: Obama calls Russia a "regional power" acting out of weakness. The WaPo's Scott Wilson with the President in Brussels: "President Obama acknowledged Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea would be difficult to reverse, but he dismissed Russia as a 'regional power' that did not pose a leading security threat to the United States." Obama: "Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors - not out of strength but out of weakness... They don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States... I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan." More here.

Cuts to NATO makes it ill-prepared to deter Russia. The NYT's Helene Cooper and Steven Erlanger: "President Obama and European leaders pledged Wednesday to bolster the NATO alliance and vowed that Russia would not be allowed to run roughshod over its neighbors. But the military reality on the ground in Europe tells a different story. The United States, by far the most powerful NATO member, has drastically cut back its European forces from a decade ago. European countries, which have always lagged far behind the United States in military might, have struggled and largely failed to come up with additional military spending at a time of economic anemia and budget cuts.

"During the height of the Cold War, United States troops in Europe numbered around 400,000, a combat-ready force designed to quickly deploy and defend Western Europe - particularly what was then West Germany - against a potential Soviet advance.

Today there are about 67,000 American troops in Europe, including 40,000 in Germany, with the rest scattered mostly in Italy and Britain. The Air Force has some 130 fighter jets, 12 refueling planes and 30 cargo aircraft. At the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, it had 800 aircraft in Europe."

But read my lips: "... Even if Russia moves into eastern Ukraine, senior administration officials said, there should be absolutely no expectation that American troops would head to Kiev. 'The American people are not going to war with Russia over Ukraine, full stop,' a senior administration official said, echoing public comments by Mr. Obama. Read the rest of the story here.

Noting - while there have been drawdowns of U.S. troops in Europe in recent years - there were about 100 troops stationed in Europe in 1990 - the current number of about 67,000 isn't expected to drop any further, Situation Report was told. And while the services, in particular the Army, will be shrinking, we were told that shouldn't have any long-term affect on the number of people permanently assigned to U.S. European Command.

Forget the pivot to Asia - now it's the pivot (back) to Europe. John Deni in The National Interest: "...In the meantime, the United States should consider a number of other moves designed to reassure nervous American allies in Eastern Europe, deter the Russians from further adventurism, and signal to authorities in Moscow that the days of accommodating its boorish behavior are over. Augmenting the U.S. contribution to the Baltic air-policing mission and immediately increasing what has been an occasional, short-term U.S. Air Force presence in Poland have been welcome steps along these lines, but Washington and its allies should consider going further." More on that one here.

Is Putin untouchable? Maybe not. US News & World Report's Paul Shinkman: "...some observers question whether the former KGB officer is untouchable. And many prominent national security leaders who forged their careers during the Cold War say the White House's approach is a grave mistake. A group of such officials, including a former director of the CIA and NSA, released an open letter last week calling on Obama to, as they said, "impose real costs on the government of President Vladimir Putin," to include targeted sanctions against the man himself. The current sanctions, levied against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as well as Putin's chief advisers and political allies, freeze overseas bank accounts and restrict travel abroad." More here.

Hagel and the U.K.'s Hammond appeared at the Pentagon yesterday. Hagel: "In my conversations with [Russian Defense] Minister Shoygu last week, I asked him specifically why the Russians were building up their western border and I asked him specifically what the intentions were as to that build up.  He told me that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine.  I told him that we looked forward to the Russians living up to their word, if that was the case.  But the reality is, they continue to build up their forces.  So they need to make sure that they stay committed to what Minister Shoygu told me."

U.K.'s Secretary of State for Defense Hammond, wondering if Russian Defense Minister Shoygu is even in Putin's inner circle: "I think what I said this morning was that all the evidence suggests that the Russian agenda is being very much run by President Putin personally.  And other Russian players, including Minister Shoygu, may express views, but it's a moot point, and we cannot know, we do not know to what extent all of those people are really inside the inner circle in which President Putin is planning this exercise."

Welcome to Thursday'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. 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 do follow us @glubold.

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There's going to be an "economic and stability" summit on Afghanistan's post-2014 transition on Friday at Johns Hopkins' SAIS on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington. The event will include Afghanistan business leaders discussing plans to grow Afghanistan's economy and expand its private sector after the bulk of U.S. and allied troops leave after this year. Deets for the event, which begins at 9am and goes until 3, here; register here.

In the push to curb military suicides, some developments in DC today. IAVA tells us that Sen. John Walsh of Montana will introduce a comprehensive bill that includes the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's top priorities to address many of the gaps in care and access that exist today. Walsh, a Democrat who is one of two combat veterans in the Senate, will introduce the legislation at IAVA's "Day of Action on the Mall" in which vets and other supporters will place 1,892 American flags on the Mall to represent the number of vets who are estimated to have died by suicide to date. The event starts on the Mall today at 10. Deets here.

Petty Officer Mayo was a hero, the Navy says. The Navy identified the sailor in Norfolk who was killed during a shooting aboard the USS Mahan at Pier 1 at Naval Station Norfolk late Monday night. He was Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Mark A. Mayo, 24, who was a Hagerstown, Md. native and enlisted in the Navy in Oct. 2007. But he died a hero, Navy officials said. According to the Navy, the suspect in the shooting "approached the Mahan's quarterdeck and was confronted by the ship's petty officer of the watch. A struggle occurred and the suspect was able to disarm the Sailor.  Mayo, serving as the chief-of-the-guard, rendered assistance after seeing the suspect board the ship.  Mayo put himself between the gunman and the petty officer of the watch and as a result was fatally wounded."

From a statement from Capt. Robert Clark, Jr., commanding officer at Norfolk: "Petty Officer Mayo's actions on Monday evening were nothing less than heroic.  He selflessly gave his own life to ensure the safety of the Sailors on board USS Mahan... Petty Officer Mayo's family has endured a tremendous loss, as have the men and women of Naval Station Norfolk, in the loss of a shipmate and friend."

FYI, the U.S. is losing its edge over China and here's how to get it back. Randy Forbes (the Virginia Republican) and CNAS' Elbridge Colby, writing in The National Interest: "A flurry of recent statements by senior Defense Department officials has thrown a bright but cold light on a reality that Washington has yet to grapple with: that America's edge in military technology and the balance of military power in the Asia-Pacific writ large is under serious and growing pressure from China's military-modernization efforts...We believe Admiral Locklear, Under Secretary Kendall, and General Dempsey should be commended for sounding the alarm because they are right that the military balance in the Asia-Pacific-and especially our edge in technology and its exploitation, the true source of our military advantage in recent decades-is eroding." More here.

Egypt's al-Sisi has announced he's running for president and he may just win. BBC's Orla Guerin in an analysis on the development: "In a widely expected announcement, he said on state TV he was appearing 'in my military uniform for the last time'. Field Marshal Sisi led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July after mass opposition protests. Correspondents say he is likely to win the presidency, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals. "To his supporters, the 59-year-old former army chief is a saviour who can end the political turmoil dogging Egypt since 2011 when a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak's three decades of one-man rule. But his opponents hold him responsible for what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, and fear that he wants a return to authoritarianism." More here.

The Pentagon has "quietly shaved" billions of dollars from troops' total compensation package. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "With no fanfare or controversy, the Pentagon has quietly shaved several billion dollars from troops' total compensation in recent years as the flow of cash benefits known as special pays and incentive pays has slowed dramatically. That decline, which amounts to a collective cut in disposable income for the force, is not the result of a Pentagon policy change or a new law from Congress, but rather is driven by broader changes affecting the military community. For example, fewer wartime deployments mean less hostile fire pay, while a slow economy translates into fewer, and smaller, retention bonuses."

Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association to Tilghman: "We don't feel that the Defense Department looked at this holistically. ... They looked at special pays in a stovepipe. They looked at the commissary in a stovepipe. They looked at health care in a stovepipe... They didn't bother to add up across all of those things, what the actual monetary impact would be on average military families." More here.

The Pentagon's search for "cheap stealth" - hiding war-fighting gear on the sea bottom.  Time's Mark Thompson: " The Navy's endless push to build cheaper ships alarmed Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., at a House hearing Tuesday. 'You mention that we're hitting a cost target,' he told the Navy brass about one class of vessels. 'But if the ship's not survivable, I don't care if I meet my cost target if it's in the bottom of the ocean.' Bingo! That's exactly where the Pentagon is looking to build underwater mini-depots for the U.S. Navy. In fact, only hours after Visclosky grumbled about sunken ships sitting on the bottom of the ocean, the Pentagon said it's moving closer to making that cold and forbidding place a base for U.S. military hardware. It's planning to test the concept in the Western Pacific, conveniently close to China, starting next year." Read the rest of that bit here.

 

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Militants in Syria raise Western fears

Hagel hires an ethics officer; Sub exercises in the Arctic; The North goes ballistic; Snowden scores; Taliban victories overrated; and a bit more.

What keeps them up at night: Dozens of militant fighters have travelled from Pakistan to Syria and could be planning attacks on the U.S. or Europe. The NYT's Eric Schmitt on Page One: "...The extremists who concern [CIA Director John Brennan] are part of a group of Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of American drone strikes. But the fighters still bring a wide range of skills to the battlefield, such as bomb-building, small-arms tactics, logistics, religious indoctrination and planning, though they are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West.

"Syria is an appealing base for these operatives because it offers them the relative sanctuary of extremist-held havens - away from drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan - as well as ready access to about 1,200 American and European Muslims who have gone there to fight and could be potential recruits to carry out attacks when they return home. Senior counterterrorism officials have voiced fears in recent months that these Western fighters could be radicalized by the country's civil war."

"New classified intelligence assessments based on information from electronic intercepts, informers and social media posts conclude that Al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, including Ayman al-Zawahri, is developing a much more systematic, long-term plan than was previously known to create specific cells in Syria that would identify, recruit and train these Westerners."

"...Most of the operatives identified by intelligence officials are now focused on attacking Syrian government troops and occasionally rival rebel factions. But the fact that these kinds of operatives are showing up in Syria indicates to American officials that Mr. Zawahri is also playing a long game - counting on easy access to Iraq and Qaeda support networks there, as well as on the United States' reluctance to carry out drone strikes or other military operations against targets in Syria."

"...The new assessment is not likely to change American policy toward Syria any time soon, but it puts pressure on the Obama administration and its allies because it raises the possibility that Syria could become the next Afghanistan." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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. 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 do follow us @glubold.

Missing SitRep? Please note: If you regularly receive Situation Report but then miss it here and there on some days and wonder why, do please check your junk or spam filters, as that is typically the cause when readers suddenly don't receive it as usual. And thank you much for reading SitRep.

More sabre rattling from the North: Obama brokers Japan, South Korea talks as Pyongyang fires missiles. Reuters' Thomas Escritt and Linda Sieg:  "U.S. President Barack Obama brought together the leaders of Japan and South Korea for their first face-to-face talks as a North Korean ballistic missile launch underscored the need for Washington's two key Asian allies to repair their strained ties. Washington hopes the three-way summit will improve relations between Seoul and Tokyo, which are clouded by the legacy of Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula and Seoul's concerns that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to rewrite Japan's wartime past with a less apologetic tone.

"...In what appeared to be a show of defiance, North Korea fired two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the sea at 2:35 a.m. Japan and Korea time, both Tokyo and Seoul said. That was precisely when Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye were sitting down with Obama in The Hague for their first meeting since Abe took office in December 2012." Read the rest here.

Snowden dances in the end zone. FP's Shane Harris: "Score one for Edward Snowden -- and for the NSA. On Monday, the Obama administration began unveiling its plan to end the spy agency's collection of millions of Americans' phone records. That will effectively close out the most controversial NSA spying program that Snowden had exposed, and the former contractor wasted little time claiming credit.

Snowden, in a statement issued through the ACLU: "I believed that if the NSA's unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans was known, it would not survive the scrutiny of the courts, the Congress, and the people...This is a turning point, and it marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public's seat at the table of government."

Harris: "Had Snowden not disclosed the program's existence, it would almost certainly be going strong today. The plan to end the collection of telephone metadata "is yet further vindication for Edward Snowden in particular, and for transparency more generally," David Cole, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, wrote on the blog Just Security. 'The only reason the president is proposing this change is because, once the program became public, it was unsustainable in its current form.' More here.

Back to the future: U.S. holds submarine exercises in the Arctic Ocean in a show of force amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine. The WSJ's Julian Barnes: "Five hundred feet below the Arctic ice cap, the USS New Mexico's crew filled two torpedo tubes. "Match sonar bearings and shoot," ordered the skipper, Cmdr. Todd Moore. The air pressure rose sharply as a simulated torpedo headed toward its simulated target: a Russian Akula-class submarine.

"The Arctic exercise, one of two over this past weekend, was intended as a show of U.S. force for the benefit of America's allies, defense officials said. The drills were arranged before Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea province, these people said, but have taken on new geopolitical significance as tensions soar between East and West. The simulated attack came amid a new era of increasingly cold U.S. relations with Moscow. U.S.-Russian cooperation in the Arctic came to a sudden halt after the U.S. recently canceled a joint naval exercise in the northern waters and a bilateral meeting on Coast Guard Arctic operations. The U.S. also put on hold work on an Arctic submarine rescue ship."

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, to Barnes: "If our allies and friends are reassured, that is a deterrent... It is about being able to get to any area of the world and people understanding that we can." Read the story here.

Read In the Loop's Al Kamen's take on the Navy's trip to the Arctic, which included Sen. Angus King, Rep. Steve Pearce, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, here.

Harry Reid drops IMF reform from Ukraine bill. FP's John Harris: "In the face of staunch Republican opposition in the House of Representatives, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped a provision to reform the International Monetary Fund as part of an urgent rescue package to Ukraine's cash-strapped government. Dropping the contentious IMF language clears the way for swift passage of legislation giving Kiev $1 billion in loan guarantees and hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance for election monitoring, civil society and security. Beyond the money itself, lawmakers believe the aid influx would provide a morale boost of sorts for Ukraine's beleaguered new leaders in the wake of Russia's conquest and annexation of Crimea." More here.

Move it or Lose it: If Putin wants to make another move, he needs to do it soon, argues Pavel Felgenhauer on FP. Read that here.

Hagel just hired a new ethics officer to work directly for him. It seemed to take several weeks to find just the right one, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced by e-mail yesterday that he had tapped Rear Adm. Margaret "Peg" Klein to serve as his "senior advisor for Military Professionalism." Klein will not be assigned to the Joint Staff, but report directly to Hagel on all issues relating to military ethics, character, and leadership.

Hagel: "I appreciate Rear Admiral Klein's willingness to take on this new assignment. She brings to the position a wealth of operational and leadership experience, including command responsibilities at various levels throughout the Navy community. Having served as the 82nd Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, she knows that ethics and character are absolute values that must be constantly reinforced.

"Rear Admiral Klein will coordinate the actions of the Joint Staff, the Combatant Commands, and each of the military services - working directly with the Service Secretaries and the Service Chiefs - on DoD's focus on ethics, character, and competence in all activities at every level of command with an uncompromising culture of accountability. This will continue to be a top priority for DoD's senior leadership," Hagel's statement said. The Defense Department has been rocked by a combination of ethical scandals involving senior officers as well as lower-ranking service members. At the same time, Hagel is grappling with how best to address sexual assault across the military - a reminder of which came in the last week with the poster boy for the sexual assault problem in the military, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, getting a plea deal with no jail time, an outcome that is raising the likelihood that Congress will act to blunt the military's own authority on sexual assault cases.

Actually, (Senate hopeful) Shane Osborn did "exactly the right thing" as commander of the EP3 plane in 2001, writes a retired Navy admiral in Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, here.

The U.K.'s Hammond is in town this week and meeting with Hagel. The United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond will speak at the Heritage Foundation today at 1:30. While he's in town, he will meet with Hagel and with senior members from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees before travelling Thursday to Kings Bay and Jacksonville, according to the British embassy here in D.C. From an embassy statement previewing the Heritage speech today: " He will also reflect on British defence reforms that have already been enacted and how these policies are complementary to those of the U.S. - a strong and like-minded partner.  As the United States re-balances to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, Secretary Hammond will examine the need for Europe to realize its responsibilities in its own backyard - including the crisis in the Ukraine - and how these and future events do, and will, require deeper and closer collaboration between close allies."

Hammond and Hagel will brief reporters at the Pentagon today at 11:30 a.m.

More objects spotted in search of Flight 370, in the NYT, here.

Going all in: If you're one of the people who think CNN went a little heavy on Flight 370 coverage (maybe just a little?) click here for FP's cartoonist Matt Bors' take, CNN In the Age of MH370: how to report on nothing, with graphics.

U.S. Special Ops planning for action in the globe's 'dark areas.' Time's Mark Thompson: "The U.S. military is always busy planning for war pretty much everywhere, but some places are tougher nuts to crack than others. That's why the U.S. Special Operations Command is seeking 'Geospatial Data on Countries of Interest for Which There is a Critical Need But Non-Existent Data.' Just who might those countries be? According to a USSCOM announcement posted Monday, the 'initial dataset' consists of 'Jordan, Djibouti, Burma, Honduras, Iran, Morocco, Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago, Burkina Faso, S. Sudan, N. Korea, and China (Guangdong).'"

Attacks by the Taliban are raising security concerns ahead of next month's election in Afghanistan. The NYT's Azem Ahmed: With security concerns already mounting before the Afghan presidential vote next week, a Taliban assault team on Tuesday turned election offices in eastern Kabul into a scene of carnage, in a new and brutal statement of the group's intent to derail the voting. Bombers' body parts and victims' blood covered the street and courtyard where five Taliban militants blasted their way into the regional offices of the Independent Election Commission and waged a four-hour battle with Afghan security forces. Afterward, five victims lay dead and the Afghan capital had again been proved vulnerable.

"The front of the elections building was a bombed-out shell, with bullets pockmarking the facade and the doors and windows blown off their hinges. Election workers who survived described hiding in empty rooms and the building's basement as gunfire and explosions rocked the compound, which is just a stone's throw from the home of a leading presidential candidate." Read the rest here.

Let's not be so quick to assume the Taliban will win post 2014 argues the AAN's Borhan Osman. Despite the doomsday scenarios, there's less evidence to suggest a Taliban win argues the Afghanistan Analyst's Network Osman: "Obviously, the withdrawal of foreign forces are already leading to major changes in the war, but are the Taleban really strong enough to pose an existential threat to the Afghan state or force the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to crumble? As AAN recently wrote, with more casualties among members of the ANSF, Afghan civilians and, it seems, the Taleban, (1) the statistics certainly mark out 2013 as a particularly violent year. However, although body counts tell us much about the nature of the conflict (it is now overwhelmingly Afghan versus Afghan), they do not, necessarily, say much about how strong the insurgency is." Read the rest here.

Duncan Hunter: take a look at all the Marines who jumped on grenades. The Marine Corps Times' Hope Hodge Seck: "In light of the news that Marine veteran Kyle Carpenter will receive the Medal of Honor for shielding his friend from a live grenade in Afghanistan, a California congressman is petitioning Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to take a closer look at the awards for two Marines who reportedly committed similar acts of heroism. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a letter to Hagel Tuesday asking that he reconsider the awards for Marine Sgt. Maj. Bradley Kasal and the late Sgt. Rafael Peralta, both of whom received the Navy Cross for maneuvering to absorb the brunt of a grenade blast to shield a comrade. Hunter has waged an aggressive multiyear campaign seeking a medal upgrade for Peralta, whose family resides in his district. In February, Hagel became the third defense secretary to decline to seek the higher award in Peralta's case, citing a lack of conclusive evidence of the action to meet the medal's 'beyond a reasonable doubt' standard." More here.