USAID contractor announces a hunger strike in Havana; Another is arrested in Afg; Gun control an issue at the DoD; What do artists, bug splats and the drone war have in common?; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel
A hawkish State Department clashes with a more
circumspect Pentagon over Syria policy, but both sides agree on the need for an
expanded train-and-equip program for moderates. The WSJ's
Adam Entous and Julian Barnes on Page One: "Frustrated by the
stalemate in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing for the U.S.
military to be more aggressive in supporting the country's rebel forces.
Opposition has come from the institution that would spearhead any such effort:
"Mr. Kerry and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power have advocated options that range from an American military intervention to weaken the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to using U.S. special operations forces to train and equip a large number of rebel fighters. Such moves would go far beyond the U.S.'s current engagement.
"In recent White House meetings, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have pushed back against military intervention, said senior officials. They say the risk is high of being dragged into an open-ended foreign entanglement. Both sides have agreed on the need to create an expanded program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. But the Pentagon worries the Assad regime would halt cooperation on the removal of chemical weapons if the military training starts now. Officials said Mr. Kerry has now agreed to a delay.
"The disagreement between a hawkish State Department and a dovish Pentagon, the officials from both sides said, is the latest chapter in an agonizing three-year administration debate over Syria. Current and former State Department officials see the Pentagon's objections as a way of killing proposals without explicitly saying no. Pentagon officials say they are trying to prevent the U.S. from getting sucked into another messy Mideast conflict, a concern that also helps explain President Barack Obama's reluctance to engage more directly in Syria." More here.
Hezbollah's deepening involvement in Syria is one of "the most important factors" in the conflict, argues ISW's Marisa Sullivan in a new report out this morning and provided early to Situation Report. Sullivan: "...Hezbollah fighters have operated openly and in significant numbers across the border alongside their Syrian and Iraqi counterparts. They have enabled the regime to regain control of rebel-held areas in central Syria and have improved the effectiveness of pro-regime forces. The impact of Hezbollah's involvement in Syria has been felt not just on the battlefield, where the regime now has momentum in many areas, but also in Lebanon where growing sectarian tensions have undermined security and stability. The war in Syria presents a significant threat to the strategic alliance of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.
"The Syrian government, the vital conduit between Iran and Hezbollah, is in danger of being overthrown. Iran cannot afford to lose its most important foothold in the Levant, and Hezbollah cannot risk losing its access to critical Iranian and Syrian support. Syria's importance to Hezbollah, however, is not limited to its role as a conduit for financial and material support; the Assad regime has provided safe haven for Hezbollah training camps and weapons storage. It is through this relationship that Hezbollah has therefore entered the conflict as a key player." Read the whole report here.
The Syrian rebels are seen using missile launchers in new videos. FP's Shane Harris: "A new video posted on YouTube earlier this week appears to show a Syrian rebel fighter launching a U.S.-made anti-tank missile at what is said to be an enemy tank, raising new questions about whether Washington has begun to supply powerful weapons to groups trying to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the TOW missile system were supplied by the United States -- and analysts cautioned Monday that its pedigree was unclear -- it would signal a dramatic change in the Obama administration's policy towards arming Syrian rebels.
The U.S. government has been reluctant to supply heavy weapons such as anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, which could be used to shoot down military or civilian aircraft, for fear they'll fall into the hands of religious extremists. The fighter in the video appears to be a member of Harakat Hazm, said two analysts, which is part of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group generally seen as more moderate than some of the Islamist fighters who are also trying to overthrow Assad." More here.
A take on the videos of TOW missiles from Jack Mulcaire on War on the Rocks, here.
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As USAID's Rajiv Shah goes to the Hill today, Alan Gross, in a Havana prison, announces he's on a hunger strike over his "shameful ordeal." Gross, a USAID subcontractor, has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than four years. This morning, Gross, through his attorneys, announced that he wants both the U.S. and Cuba to "resolve this shameful ordeal" so he can return home and says he's been on a hunger strike since last week. Gross, in a statement provided to media last night, embargoed for this morning: " I began a fast on April 3rd in protest of the treatment to which I am subjected by the governments of Cuba and the United States. I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal. Once again, I am calling on President Obama to get personally involved in ending this stand-off so that I can return home to my wife and daughters."
The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "... Gross was arrested in 2009 for distributing Internet and other communications materials in Cuba under a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the Cuban state and is said to be in poor health. His case moved back into the limelight last week following revelations about a separate USAID program to undermine Cuba's communist government with a Twitter-like network designed to build an audience among Cuban youth and push them toward anti-government dissent. While unclassified, administration officials have described the program as 'discreet.' The 'Cuban Twitter' program, discontinued in 2012, caused an uproar among U.S. lawmakers who charged they had never approved spending for it. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who heads the appropriations subcommittee in charge of the USAID budget, called the program 'dumb, dumb, dumb.'" WaPo story here.
In Afghanistan last week, a former DAI employee, a USAID contractor, was arrested for embezzling $539,000. Situation Report has learned that the employee, Abdul Khalil Qadery, was arrested by Afghan authorities after officials discovered he had allegedly stolen approximately $539,000 from the Afghan government's Agricultural Development Fund, which helps farmers across the country. DAI had been supporting a USAID-funded project as part of the ADF called the Agricultural Credit Enhancement Program, to which DAI was providing management assistance. Qadery, who is no longer employed by DAI, disappeared with the money last year after allegedly siphoning funds for the program to himself. He resurfaced in Mazar-i-Sharif, where he was arrested by Afghan authorities last week. The money was stolen from a private bank, according to Steven O'Connor, a spokesman for DAI, the large international development consulting firm who has worked with USAID for decades. A USAID official told Situation Report the money allegedly stolen by Qadery was repaid to the fund through a DAI insurance settlement.
Ukrainian police move against pro-Russian demonstrators. The WaPo's Kathy Lally: "Police began removing the pro-Russian demonstrators occupying eastern Ukrainian government buildings early Tuesday after a tense night of confrontation that officials here accused Moscow of provoking to seek a pretext for invasion. Protesters were cleared from the regional administration in Kharkiv, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said, although they remained entrenched Tuesday in similar government offices in Donetsk, where protesters erected a barricade of tires and barbed wire." More here.
Iran wants to get moving on a deal. Reuters' Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna: "Iran said it hopes enough progress will be made with major powers this week to enable negotiators to start drafting by mid-May a final accord to settle a long-running dispute over its nuclear program. The Islamic Republic and six world powers will hold a new round of talks in Vienna on Tuesday and Wednesday intended to reach a comprehensive agreement by July 20 on how to resolve a decade-old standoff that has stirred fears of a Middle East war... So far, officials say, they have largely focused on what issues should form part of a long-term deal. ‘We will finish all discussions and issues this time to pave the ground for starting to draft the final draft in Ordibehesht (an Iranian month that begins in two weeks),' Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said upon arrival in Vienna. A U.S. official gave a similar timetable last week, voicing hope that the drafting of an agreement could begin in May." More here.
Hagel tours China's newest aircraft carrier. The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum in China, traveling with Hagel: "China's military opened its doors on Monday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, offering America's top defense official a rare look at its new aircraft carrier. The two-hour visit was the first China has granted to a foreign official seeking a close view of the Liaoning, a refurbished Ukrainian ship that is the centerpiece of the county's naval ambitions.
"The U.S. ambassador to China, former Sen. Max Baucus, and top Pentagon officials joined Mr. Hagel on the tour during the defense secretary's first visit to China since taking command at the Pentagon a year ago. The visit provided American officials with a rare opportunity to assess the capabilities of the Liaoning and Chinese military development. Chinese officials compared their carrier development to the beginning of the American carrier fleet in the early 1900s, U.S. officials said. ‘They know they have a long way to go in naval aviation,' said one defense official traveling with Mr. Hagel. The official praised China for allowing Mr. Hagel to visit the ship as a milestone in military openness." More here.
What does Seal Team Six need $11 million for? A new "human performance center." Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio this morning: "The elite Navy SEAL team may have killed Osama Bin Laden and inspired Hollywood, but it could use an extra $11.1 million for a 'Human Performance Center.' The request is among $400 million in unfunded priorities that the U.S. Special Operations Command submitted to Congress on April 1 as part of a $36 billion wish list from the military services and combat commands. Admiral William McRaven, who directed the May 2011 Bin Laden raid in Pakistan and now heads the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, wrote that the new facility would be built at Dam Neck, Virginia, where the elite unit formally known as Devgru, or the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, is based." More here.
The place it's hardest for veterans to get a job? On Capitol Hill. Military Times' Leo Shane III: "What's the worst federal agency for hiring veterans? Try Congress. Despite numerous efforts by lawmakers in recent years to spur veterans employment in the private sector, few congressional offices have followed suit. A new survey estimates that fewer than 180 veterans are employed as Capitol Hill staff, a mere 3 percent of the 6,000-plus employees there. For comparison, in fiscal 2012 nearly half of all Defense Department employees were veterans. One in three Veterans Affairs and Transportation Department workers were veterans that year, and the Education Department - one of the lowest veteran hiring rates among federal agencies - had just under 10 percent. Now, a network of veterans working in Congress is hoping to change that. HillVets, formed less than a year ago to connect and assist former military personnel working in the legislative branch, this month announced plans to double the number of veterans in those jobs by the start of the next legislative session, in January 2016." More here.
Who's Where When today: Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Gen. Frank Grass and U.S. Army Reserve Command Commanding General/Chief of the Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on "Army Active and Reserve force mix in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2015 and the Future Years Defense Program" at 9:30 a.m., in room SD-G50, Dirksen Senate Office Building.
In a new report, CSIS's Maren Leed and Ariel Robinson examine the current state of the soldier/squad system and how it might be best advanced in the face of constrained budgets, here.
The administration's nominee for the Pentagon's No. 2 post thinks strategy before weapons. For the Daily Beast, Bill Sweetman: "...What makes [Bob] Work an unusual nominee at his level is that he arrives with a record of thinking about strategy, in the sense of matching goals to resources. In his time at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), before his four years as deputy Navy secretary, and his tenure as head of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Work led and supported studies that came to specific conclusions about new opportunities and challenges for the U.S. and its allies. One area where his views could have an early effect is on the battle over the Navy's next-generation drone, the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS), should look like. It pits the advocates of a stealthy and offensive aircraft against those who support something that poses less of a threat, whether to well-defended adversaries or their own pet programs. More here.
Fort Hood Sparks Gun Control Fight Between Republicans and Pentagon. FP's John Hudson: "Hawkish Republicans and the senior leadership of the Pentagon typically see eye-to-eye on most things, but the deadly shooting at Fort Hood last week has exposed a rift on a highly-charged issue: Gun control. After U.S. Army Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez killed three troops and wounded 16 others last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill began calling for new legislation to allow servicemembers to carry concealed weapons on U.S. bases. The measures are strongly opposed by the Pentagon, which says they would be costly and do nothing to improve security at bases." Full story here.
It took Specialist Ivan Lopez eight minutes to fire at least 35 rounds, injure 16 and kill three. The Army released a detailed account of how the shooting at Fort Hood unfolded. The NYT's Manny Fernandez and Alan Blinder: "...Lopez, 34, stayed on the move throughout the rampage, driving in his own vehicle to three buildings - including his transportation unit's headquarters and another office where he worked - shooting and killing a soldier in each. As he drove from building to building, he also fired at soldiers on the street and in a passing car, wounding several, before he was confronted by a police officer, put his gun to his head and took his own life, the official said.
"Specialist Lopez's assault started at about 4 p.m. inside the administrative office of his unit, the 49th Transportation Battalion, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, the lead agency investigating the shooting. Investigators have not yet established a clear motive, but the catalyst appeared to be an argument Specialist Lopez had with soldiers from his unit about his request for a leave of absence to attend to family matters. In that argument, he expressed anger over the processing of the request, officials said. One of the soldiers in that meeting, Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook, described the specialist as "irate."
The Pentagon's reliance on Europe is ‘wishful thinking.' RAND's Michael Shurkin and Chris Pernin for Defense One: "The Pentagon's latest four-year strategy guide, called the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, is for the most part an admirably sober proposal for meeting current and anticipated defense requirements in light of growing fiscal austerity. The bottom line is that the U.S. military must do more with less, perhaps even a lot less. One area where it lapses into a bit of wishful thinking, however, is with the expressed desire that the United States better coordinate with its European allies toward the shared objective of strengthening NATO military capability. This is one area that deserves another look." More here.
Making "bug splats" into art: artists assault on drone warfare. FP's Elias Groll: "In 2012, the journalist Michael Hastings revealed to the wider world that American drone operators had adopted a morbid term to describe those killed by one of their missiles: "bug splats." The term, Hastings explained, had become popular "since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed."
That phrase seems to sum-up the problems that have plagued the American drone war, which has left thousands of civilians dead and has been beset by criticism that the use of such weapons has inaugurated a new era of impersonal, video game-like warfare.
"An art collective is now trying to turn the term 'bug splats' on its head with a provocative new installation in a remote area of Pakistan that features a giant portrait of a survivor of an American drone strike that killed much of her family. The collective, whose members live in the United States, France, and Pakistan, printed the image on the kind of vinyl tarp found in most Pakistani villages and unfurled it about two weeks ago, though they won't say where." More here.