National Security

FP's Situation Report: Iran is recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria; Marines felt pressure before Osprey crash 13 years ago; News flash: Shinseki won't resign; 500 DOD workers disciplined for sexual harassment; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

 

Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight for the regime in Syria. The WSJ's Farnaz Fassihi on Page One: "Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, offering $500 a month and Iranian residency to help the Assad regime beat back rebel forces, according to Afghans and Western officials. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, recruits and trains Shiite militias to fight in Syria. Details of their recruitment efforts were posted this week on a blog focused on Afghan refugees in Iran and confirmed by the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli, an Afghan religious leader in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

"A member of the IRGC also confirmed the details. ‘They [IRGC] find a connection to the refugee community and work on convincing our youth to go and fight in Syria,' said the office administrator of Ayatollah Kabuli, reached by telephone in Qom. ‘They give them everything from salary to residency.' Iran is offering the refugees school registration for their children and charity cards in addition to the $500 stipend and residency. Many Afghan young men have written to Ayatollah Kabuli to ask whether fighting in Syria was religiously sanctioned, his office said. He responded only if they were defending Shiite shrines. Lately, his office said he has kept silent and not even attended funerals of Afghans killed in Syria." More here.

Kerry said he's seen 'raw data' indicating the Syrian government has used chlorine gas "in a number of instances" against rebels. Bloomberg's Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Robert Hutton: "...If that's proven, there will be "consequences," Kerry said today in London, although he added, 'We're not going to pin ourselves down to a precise date, time, manner of action.' French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking in Washington on May 13, said France had "credible witnesses" testifying to 14 instances of chemical gas attacks since last October. While France had been prepared to strike Assad's regime in the aftermath of last August's sarin gas attacks that killed more than 1,400 people, the U.K. Parliament and U.S. President Barack Obama decided against attacking, and France couldn't act alone, he said." More here.

Also, Kerry, annoyed that the United Nations can't deliver aid to war victims in Syria, is looking for a workaround. Kerry, quoted by the NYT's Michael Gordon today: "We are open to the idea of providing aid through any means that will get to the people who need it... We are very frustrated with the current process... It is not getting to people. It's going through one gate, one entryway, and it's going through Damascus and/or controlled by the Assad regime. That's unacceptable. We need to be able to get aid more directly, and we're going to work to do that." More here.

Welcome to Friday'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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

The U.S. isn't sure Nigeria has the ability to rescue the schoolgirls. The NYT's Eric Schmitt and Brian Knowlton, on Page One: "Obama administration officials on Thursday questioned whether the Nigerian military is able to rescue, even with international help, more than 260 schoolgirls abducted last month, giving impetus to a social media campaign calling for the United States to do more to free the hostages. That campaign is supported by some members of Congress, but has made the Pentagon increasingly uneasy. Military leaders worry that they might be ordered to send in commandos to undertake a mission they regard as unacceptably risky.

"The administration quickly offered its help to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria in taking on the kidnappers, the extremist group Boko Haram. But the United States has not sent troops, and is unlikely to do so, in part because the girls are not believed to still be in one place, and because of the risks in attempting such a large-scale rescue over a vast expanse."

The White House's Jay Carney yesterday: "At this point, we're not actively considering the deployment of U.S. forces to participate in a combined rescue mission." More here.

Washington is cautious on sharing intel with the Nigerians, the WaPo's Anne Gearan and Greg Miller, here.

How to beat Boko Haram. CFR's Isobel Coleman and Sigrid von Wendel: "...To defeat Boko Haram, the Nigerian government must mount a more effective and professional military operation (rescuing the missing girls would be a good start), but also address the underlying issues that fuel the movement. In a speech in March, Nigerian National Security Adviser Mohammad Sambo Dasuki identified regional poverty, insecurity, unemployment, and a growing youth bulge as main causes behind Boko Haram's rise. His comments give hope that the government is ready to start fixing those problems." More here.

Who's Where When today - Hagel returns today from his five-day trip to the Middle East... Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey delivers the commencement address at 11 a.m. at Virginia Military Institute.

CAP launches a new report today with an event on climate change, migration, and nontraditional security threats in China. Download the report here. Event deets here.

ICYMI - The UK released its first national strategy for maritime security, here.

Shinseki is digging in his heels. Again. US News & World Report's Paul Shinkman: "Facing a wall of irate senators, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki dug in his heels. Ever the warrior, the retired Army general and Vietnam veteran defended himself against troubling reports from recent weeks that a VA hospital in Phoenix had delayed treatment to some veterans, ultimately causing as many as 40 deaths. And worse, some personnel at the facilities had allegedly tried to manipulate the patient waiting lists to cover up the errors. At the Senate hearing Thursday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also a Vietnam veteran, described a ‘crisis of confidence toward the VA,' on behalf of his fellow retired warriors, adding he is ‘deeply troubled by the allegations of gross mismanagement, fraud and neglect.'
But Dempsey told reporters yesterday: "‘Ric Shinseki has the skills, attributes [and] the concept of duty ... He has never walked away from a fight in his entire life.'"

And to Sen. Heller, Shinseki said he isn't resigning: "‘I came here to make things better for veterans... That was my appointment, by the president. Every day I start out with the intent to, in fact, provide as much care and benefits for the people I went to war with.'" More here.

Meantime, the military fired or disciplined nearly 500 workers for sexual harassment. That's over a 12-month period and nearly 13 percent of the complaints filed involved repeat offenders, according to new data. The AP's Lita Baldor: "...According to the report, there were 1,366 reports of sexual harassment filed in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, involving 496 offenders across the services and National Guard. Officials acknowledged that much like sexual assault complaints, incidents of sexual harassment are vastly underreported, and they said there will be a concerted effort to increase reporting. The report reveals that in the vast majority of the cases the victim was a young, lower-ranking woman and the offender a senior enlisted male service member, often in the same unit. The most frequent location of the harassment was a military base.

"More than half of the complaints involved crude or offensive behavior, and another 40 percent were described as unwanted sexual attention. Most involved verbal behavior." More here.

Jim Amos: The 2000 crash in Marana, Arizona of a V-22 that killed 19 Marines was the result, partly, of "undeniably intense" pressure to demonstrate the Osprey was making progress. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with an exclusive: "The V-22 Osprey's deadliest accident stemmed partly from "undeniably intense" pressure to show progress for the new tilt-rotor aircraft, according to the U.S. Marine Corps commandant... While the accident happened more than 13 years ago, the lessons cited in the December letter, obtained by Bloomberg News under the Freedom of Information Act, may apply to similar pressures the military is under today to prove the value of new weapons such as Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 fighter and the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship in a time of defense budget cuts."

Commandant Jim Amos, in a letter to two lawmakers reflecting on the 2000 Osprey crash that killed 19 Marines: "As I reflect on the mishap I cannot ignore the charged atmosphere into which the pilots flew that night, carrying on their shoulders a critically important program... I believe they were eager to vindicate a revolutionary technology." More here.

Capaccio also had this: "The U.S. Air Force is spending about $60 million and using as many as 100 people to certify billionaire Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for launching military and spy satellites, according to the service's top uniformed acquisition official. 'We've got folks busting their butt to get SpaceX certified despite what everything in the media seems to say,' Lieutenant General Charles Davis said in an interview." Read the rest here.

The U.S. military has repatriated 10 Pakistani prisoners from Bagram, Afghanistan. The NYT, in brief: "... An American official familiar with the matter confirmed Thursday that the transfers had taken place. The military has already transferred to Afghan control the bulk of Afghan prisoners at Bagram but has retained custody of "third country nationals," whom the Afghan government does not want to deal with. The transfers reduce the number of those prisoners to 39, according to the official. More than two dozen of them are Pakistani. Some of those just released will be detained in Pakistan, while others will be released but subject to monitoring, the official said." More here.

A warm relationship between the Obama administration and the International Criminal Court is in danger over new inquiries about U.S. detainee abuse. FP's David Bosco: "Last spring, U.S. officials got a rude surprise from the Netherlands. It came in the form of a letter from Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The subject was Afghanistan, and the letter described evidence that U.S. personnel had abused more than two dozen detainees held in that country, mostly between 2003 and 2006. The prosecutor invited the U.S. government to provide information to the court about those cases and its broader detention practices in Afghanistan.
"The correspondence from The Hague set off alarm bells in Washington. With thousands of troops deployed in Afghanistan, neither Washington nor its leading NATO allies have had any desire to see the court involved there. A few diplomats from NATO states discouraged the prosecutor from pursuing a full investigation, but most simply hoped that the court inquiry wouldn't move forward. U.S. officials had good reason for confidence that it would not.
"One former U.S. official who spoke about Afghanistan with the then-prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, in 2009 and 2010 got the impression that the court's inquiry was a ‘box-checking exercise' -- designed in part to show that an institution often criticized for its exclusive focus on Africa was at least interested in situations outside the continent." More here.

The McLean-based ACSOR-Surveys released Afghan election polling results. Their surveys showed "a virtual dead heat" in the presidential runoff election between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, with sharp ethnic and regional differences among likely voters. But the poll also finds opportunity for substantial acceptance of the eventual outcome, with more than seven in 10 Afghans saying they'll see whichever candidates wins as the country's legitimate leader." More here.

Taliban fighters kill a top enlisted man in Afghanistan. Military Times: "The senior enlisted soldier for 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment has died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan, the Defense Department announced Thursday. Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Barreras, 49, of Tucson, Arizona, died Tuesday at San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas. He died from wounds suffered on May 6 in Herat province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire, according to information released by DoD.

Barreras became the top enlisted soldier for 2nd Battalion in March 2013. The unit is part of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Edward Brady, on Barreras: "Command Sgt. Maj. Barreras was my friend and battle buddy... I've spent more time with him than my wife since I've taken command. I believe that I was the luckiest battalion commander in the Army to have him as my command sergeant major... While every soldier in this formation is extremely saddened by his loss, his Bobcats are doing exactly what he would expect of us: continuing on with the mission and taking the fight to the enemy. This man would do absolutely anything and everything to ensure his soldiers came home safely."

Military Times: Barreras joined the Army in 1988 after serving in the Marine Corps for five years, according to information from the division." More here.

Workers seize a city in eastern Ukraine from separatists. The NYT's Andrew Kramer: "Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power, dealing a setback to Russia and possibly reversing the momentum in eastern Ukraine.

"By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk. They had not, however, become the dominant force there that they were in Mariupol, the region's second-largest city and the site last week of a bloody confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants. While it was still far too early to say the tide had turned in eastern Ukraine, the day's events were a blow to separatists who recently seized control here and in a dozen or so other cities and who held a referendum on independence on Sunday. Backed by the Russian propaganda machine and by 40,000 Russian troops just over the border, their grip on power seemed to be tightening every day." More here.

Intel officials and Congress clash over granting Israelis access to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. FP's John Hudson: "U.S. intelligence officials have a blunt warning for lawmakers, including California Democrat Brad Sherman: allowing Israelis to enter the United States without visas could make it easier for Jerusalem to spy on American soil. Sherman says Israel should be allowed into a visa waiver program anyway. ‘I support it,' said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) in an interview. ‘And I'm knowledgeable about all the arguments on either side.' For years, Israel has requested entrance into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows the citizens of foreign nations to enter the United States and stay for 90 days without having to secure a visa at a U.S. consulate. The request had been held up due to a number of concerns, including statistics showing that Israel bars significant numbers of American -- especially those of Arab descent -- from entering the country. More here.

Hagel said he is not aware of Israel spying on the United States. Reuters' Dan Williams and Missy Ryan: "U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Thursday he was unaware of any truth to a media report that Israel has been spying on the United States... Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who responded to the espionage question in English, said: ‘As former head of (Israeli military) intelligence, I wasn't allowed to spy in the United States whatsoever. And as defense minister I don't allow to spy in the United States whatsoever.'" More here.

Chinese Gen. Fang and Dempsey spared in a Pentagon presser - but also announced steps towards deeper U.S.-China military cooperation. CNN's Jim Sciutto: "The United States and China put on sharp display Thursday their continuing differences over territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, disputes that are now boiling over into violence. In a joint news conference at the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, described their private discussions as ‘refreshingly frank' and ‘constructive' before expressing opposing views of who is to blame for the broadening tensions. China and Vietnam are currently locked in a standoff after China installed an oil rig on an island in the Paracel chain (jointly claimed by the two countries), sparking protests in Vietnam, including violent attacks on Chinese and ethnic Chinese residents.
"Fang said, ‘We do not make trouble but we are not afraid of trouble,' adding ‘in matters of territory, our attitude is firm. We won't give an inch.'
"Dempsey countered, ‘We have to acknowledge there are territorial disputes,' including ‘what exactly is the status quo and who is seeking to change it.'
"...Despite the differences that exist over these issues, Dempsey announced that China would participate in the bi-annual Rim of Pacific naval exercise that takes place in Hawaii. Dempsey also announced a secure video conference link between him and Fang will be established later this year." More here.

Japan seeks military muscle, and scale back restrictions on its use of military power since WWII. The NYT's Martin Fackler: "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be about to take one of his biggest steps yet to nudge Japan away from its postwar pacifism after a government advisory panel recommended Thursday that constitutional restrictions on the military be eased to allow Japanese forces to come to the aid of allied nations under attack.

The panel, which was appointed by the Abe government, called on Japan to adopt a new legal interpretation of its war-renouncing Constitution that would permit an expanded role for its military, the Self-Defense Forces. Those forces have been strictly limited to protecting Japan's own territory and people since they were created soon after World War II.

"The reinterpretation would allow Japanese armed forces to act in limited cases even when Japan is not at risk, such as by shooting down a North Korean missile headed toward the United States, something it cannot legally do now. The proposed change would also allow Japanese forces to play a larger role in United Nations peacekeeping operations, the panel said. Though Japan has sent troops to peacekeeping operations since 1992, they act under severe constraints. If accepted, it would represent a fundamental shift in the stance of Japan's military." More here.

Meantime, ICYMI: Kim Jong-un has an Air Force One. From Chosun Ilbo earlier this week: "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju traveled in Kim's own airplane to an air base to watch a combat flight contest, the official Rodong Sinmun daily reported on Saturday. The daily carried photos showing the Kims arriving at the base, the first time that the dictator's aircraft has been shown in public. The plane is a Russian-made IL-62 emblazoned with the North's official name and flag and a big star symbolizing Kim on its tail wing."

The joke around the Pentagon: Does the North Korean president called it "Air Force Un?"

Meantime, sorry, we can't quite shake the zombies yet. The zombie story we did the other day nearly broke our Internet machine. But Lt. Col. Dan Ward had a great piece in 2012 for Breaking Defense about how the Pentagon should prepare its acquisition practices for the zombie apocalypse, here.

Why Washington and Silicon Valley must work together to truly understand the world. Kalev Leetaru: "One of the most striking revelations of the Edward Snowden disclosures has been the single-minded focus of the U.S. intelligence community on collection: on hoovering up all global communications, but with the concept of analysis -- of what to actually do with all those communications -- relegated to an afterthought. Gleeful bragging and schoolboy taunts of hacking coups permeate the disclosed documents, but discussion of how the captured data can actually be used is far more mundane and subdued. The thrill clearly lies in the chase of new data, rather than in the actual analysis of the material obtained. In fact, an image emerges of a community struggling merely to read its highest-priority intercepts, let alone assess their contents." More here.

And, for the National Interest, Josh Kerbel also asks if the IC can keep up with the changing game, here.

What will ENLIST Act do to the defense bill? Defense News' John Bennett: "An influential conservative political organization is urging Republican members to vote down a House Pentagon policy bill if it includes an immigration measure. In a blast memo released Wednesday, Heritage Action -- the political arm of the Heritage Foundation think tank -- urged GOP members to kill the chamber's 2015 national defense authorization bill if the so-called ‘ENLIST Act' is attached. That measure would give young, undocumented non-US citizens a green card if they enlist in the US military. Some hawks like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon support it, but want it to move separately and under the auspices of the Judiciary Committee. But there is speculation it might be offered as an amendment to the NDAA, which sources say could hit the House floor next week." More here.

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Concerns over Libya, Marines move in; What was Petraeus' role in Swenson's lost MOH file?; Dempsey: Syrian opp not ready for prime time; The fight to save the A-10; Afghanistan needs a runoff; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The U.S. is moving troops from Spain to Sicily over Libyan security concerns. Reuters' Phil Stewart: "The Pentagon said on Wednesday it has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily from their base in Spain as a precaution due to concerns about unrest in North Africa, bolstering the U.S. ability to respond to any crisis. The Pentagon declined to single out any countries but two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American concerns were centered squarely on Libya, where armed groups and Islamists refused to disarm after the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
"The Marines are part of a crisis response unit focused on embassy security created after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"...We're doing this as a contingency because we believe that the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a point where there could be threats,' said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
"...Warren said the Pentagon's decision to move the forces, along with six aircraft, followed a request from the U.S. State Department. Warren stressed that while the Marines were ‘unquestionably' focused on the protection of embassies, he did not rule out the possibility they could be called upon for a different mission." More here.

A dangerous tit for tat situation is developing in Libya. From the Economist: "The release on May 13th of the Jordanian ambassador to Libya, who was abducted in Tripoli in April, may have set a dangerous precedent. To secure the release of Fawaz al-Itan, the government in Amman reportedly agreed to return a Libyan militant serving a life sentence in Jordan. Mr Itan, who was held hostage for 28 days after gunmen ambushed his vehicle and shot his driver, described the abduction as an "isolated incident" linked to efforts to obtain the release of Mohammed al-Drissi, who was convicted in 2007 of plotting to blow up the airport in Amman. Jordanian officials say Mr Drissi's family, well-known among Benghazi's militants, was involved in the kidnapping.
"The exchange is likely to further embolden Libya's many armed groups, who have resorted to hostage-taking either for ransom or to secure the release of associates at home or abroad. Diplomats have been increasingly targeted. Since the start of the year, five Egyptian diplomats, two Tunisian embassy staff and a South Korean trade official have been kidnapped in the Libyan capital. The Tunisians are still being held. In a video aired in April, one of the Tunisians implored his government to negotiate with his kidnappers who are demanding the release of Libyan jihadists jailed in Tunis.
"Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser al-Judeh, played down suggestions of a deal over Mr Drissi, insisting that the two governments had only ‘expedited' negotiations already underway for his transfer under the Riyadh Convention, which allows prisoners to serve out sentences in their home country. Libyan officials confirmed that Mr Drissi was returned to Libya, but would not comment on whether he was in custody or free." More here.

Meantime, the U.S. is using drones to search for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria.  The WSJ's Adam Entous and Colleen McCain Nelson: "The U.S. has deployed unmanned aircraft in the search for more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted last month by members of a militant group with links to al Qaeda, officials said Wednesday, as the search was stepped up. The American drones will be flying over Nigeria along with a piloted U.S. reconnaissance plane as part of an effort that also includes more than two dozen specialists sent by Washington to aid the Nigerian government in the search... The U.S. decision to use unmanned aircraft was revealed Wednesday by the White House and by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel." More here.

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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

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Who's Where When today - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is in Israel, where he is meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Bogie Ya'alon at the Ministry of Defense and then he's going to Hatzor Air Force Base with the defense minister to meet with U.S. and Israeli troops in Israel who are participating in a ballistic missile defense exercise called Juniper Cobra.

Meantime, China's Army Chief of Staff is at the Pentagon today: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Marty Dempsey will host a full honors arrival ceremony for Chinese Army Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui at the Pentagon at 10:30 a.m.... Following the arrival ceremony and their bilateral meeting, Gen. Dempsey and Gen. Fang will conduct a press briefing at 1:40 p.m. in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room...Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel D. Cox delivers remarks on Air Force personnel issues at 7 a.m., in the Capital View Ballroom.

But no China report out this week. The Pentagon's annual "China Report" was expected out by now but it's unlikely it will appear until after Hagel returns from overseas.

A New CNAS report argues that the NDP should highlight six critical issues that the QDR did not sufficiently address: assessing the risks of defense cuts; restructuring the relationship between the active and reserve components; rapidly regenerating ground forces; reforming the defense enterprise; engaging with U.S. partners and allies; and ensuring U.S. technological superiority. Download it here.

At the Wilson Center this morning, Ambassador Lamberto Zannier, Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will discuss the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. Deets here.

Could Tony Blinken replace Bill Burns as Undersec of State? In the Loop's Al Kamen, here.

Hagel is wheels down in Israel - Iran and American-Israeli security cooperation are at the top of the agenda. The Jerusalem Post's Yaakov Lappin and Reuters: "US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel on Wednesday and is due to meet Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon for bilateral defense talks on strategic and Middle East regional security issues. The two are expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, as well as Israeli-American military cooperation, which remains close. Hagel is to meet with Ya'alon at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning, where he is set to be welcomed with a guard of honor. The two will then hold a joint press conference. On Thursday afternoon, Hagel will visit Hatzor air force base near Ashdod." More here.

Yesterday in Jordan, Hagel met with Prince Faisal bin Al-Hussein, the Regent as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mashal al-Zaban. The meeting follows Hagel's discussions with King Abdullah II in February and with General Al-Zaban in March of this year. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby in a readout of the meeting: "The leaders discussed regional security issues and noted the strength and importance of the U.S.-Jordan partnership. As a result, both sides have reached an agreement in principle to enhance Jordan's border security, especially against weapons of mass destruction."

The Saudi King reshuffled his defense posts. From Agence France-Presse: "Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Wednesday reshuffled top defense posts, removing the deputy minister and the chief of staff, state news agency SPA reported. He also appointed his son Prince Turki as governor of Riyadh region, SPA said. Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz was removed from his post as deputy defense minister "upon his request," SPA said, citing a royal decree.

"He was replaced by Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Riyadh. The outgoing deputy minister is a son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, who served as a defense minister for nearly five decades. SPA said the king also removed the chief of staff, General Hussein al-Qabeel, who was retiring, and replaced him with his deputy. General Fayad al-Rawyli. The defense overhaul came a month after the king removed the oil-rich Gulf state's powerful intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan." More here.

Back in Washington, the VA's embattled secretary, Eric Shinseki, is on the hot seat today, where he faces an impatient Congress over ongoing problems at the VA. TIME's Mark Thompson: "There's a sword of Damocles hanging by a hair over Veterans Administration chief Eric Shinseki as he heads to Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify on the VA's expanding secret wait-list mess. It's an apt place for the retired four-star Army general, himself a veteran wounded in Vietnam. He finds himself in the tightest spot in his five years as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, dealing with the downstream costs of two of the nation's longest wars. Charges-and confirmations-about VA double bookkeeping when measuring how long veterans have to wait for appointments are nothing new. But what has given the latest stories more impact are the deaths allegedly linked to the delays, the secret lists designed to hide them, and charges that the secret lists were a way for VA executives to mask shortcomings and thereby maximize their cash bonuses." More here.

Another runoff is needed in Afghanistan. With only two remaining candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election still in the running, there was a chance that the results from the election, announced today in Afghanistan, could select a winner. The seating of the new president has a lot to do with when the U.S. announces its intentions post 2014, when certain people begin to return to the U.S., and a number of other things. But alas, the results did not show a clear winner.  The NYT's Alissa Rubin: "The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan announced the final results of the 2014 presidential election on Thursday, making minor adjustments to its earlier estimates and calling for a runoff between the two top vote getters to determine the country's next president. The commission set the runoff date for June 14, setting the stage for a new cycle of intense campaigning. 'After reviewing the decision of the Electoral Complaint Commission, it became clear to us that none of the candidates secured 51 percent of the votes and the elections will go to a runoff,' said Mohammed Yousuf Nuristani, the chairman of the commission. The commission said the front-runner, Abdullah Abdullah, won 45 percent of the votes and that the second-highest recipient of votes was Ashraf Ghani, with 31.6 percent. The third-ranking candidate was Zalmay Rassoul with 11.4 percent. Mr. Rassoul announced that he would support Mr. Abdullah's candidacy in the second round." More here.

Warlord politics isn't always so bad for democracy in Afghanistan, in the WaPo's The Monkey Cage, here.

A "roof on the world:" From the intro to a National Geographic slideshow from Afghanistan: "Afghanistan's Kyrgyz nomads survive in one of the most remote, high-altitude, bewitching landscapes on Earth. It's a heavenly life-and a living hell." See these awesome images here.

Dempsey says that the Syrian opposition is not yet ready for the big leagues. FP's John Hudson: "One day after the resignation of the United Nations' Syria envoy, America's top military officer added to the growing pessimism about the country's future by warning that a succession of smaller-scale conflicts were likely to erupt there even if the Assad regime was ousted from power. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Atlantic Council that even if the beleaguered Syrian opposition somehow ousted President Bashar al-Assad, a development that appears increasingly unlikely, the country would still be consumed with terror, chaos and starvation. ‘If Assad took his family and all of his cronies and departed Syria today, how does that country ... articulate itself?' he asked.

"Dempsey noted that the Syrian opposition maintains no governance structure to provide goods, services and security; no force capable of holding ground to administer aid and wage attacks against the regime; and no counterterrorism capability to root out al Qaeda-affiliated groups in the country. ‘And we're not on a path currently to provide that,' he said." More here.

Petraeus had it last: A Defense Department Inspector General report obtained by Military Times sheds new light on the missing Swenson Medal of Honor file. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "When Army Capt. William Swenson received the Medal of Honor last year - the first living officer to earn one since Vietnam - he received more than the traditional accolades. He also got an apology. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered the highly unusual mea culpa at the official Pentagon Hall of Hero's induction ceremony Oct. 16. Speaking directly to Swenson, Hagel said: ‘We're sorry you and your family had to endure through that.' That was a reference to Swenson's botched nomination packet, which got lost within U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan amid a whirlwind of politics, controversy and scandalous intrigue. The details of how Swenson's packet got lost were detailed for the first time in a Defense Department Inspector General report released to Military Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

"The original packet was last seen after it left now-retired Army Gen. David Petraeus' desk, when the powerful four-star commander recommended that the honor be downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross, according the IG. Why Petraeus made that recommendation is unclear; he told IG investigators that he had no recollection of Swenson's nomination package. However, the IG concluded that other evidence "outweighed Gen. Petraeus' testimony" and that he had, in fact, endorsed the packet with a downgrade.

"While Petraeus' memory may have been fuzzy, he acknowledged to the IG that he knew about Swenson and the controversy the young captain helped fuel. Swenson criticized Army commanders for denying a request for airstrikes Sept. 8, 2009, when his unit was ambushed and Swenson repeatedly ran in and out of a kill zone to retrieve fellow soldiers, both wounded and dead. More here.

The Air Force intends to cut more than 20 percent of its HQ staffs within a year, Debbie Lee James told Gannett Government Media, owner of Military Times. Federal News' Steve Watkins: "[Air Force Secretary Debbie Lee James] said the move responds to a directive issued last summer by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all military services trim their headquarters staffs by 20 percent over five years by 2019. 'You're going to see the Air Force do a bit better than 20 percent, a little bit more than 20 percent, and we're going to try to do it in one year, not five years,' James told an editorial board meeting at Gannett Government Media Corp., which publishes Federal Times, C4ISR&Networks, Defense News and the Military Times publications. Those headquarters staff reductions will affect active-duty, civilian and contractor personnel, and the bulk of those cuts will occur in fiscal 2015, she said."

James on the cuts: "So this is, again, in the theme of - to the extent that we can - get this done more quickly rather than slowly... I think it is better for people, number one. And number two, it allows us to harvest the savings more early on so we can plow it back into readiness and some of the key modernizations." More here.

The Pentagon pushes to allow Manning to transfer to a civilian prison for gender treatment. USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook and Kevin Johnson: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved an Army request to transfer national-security secrets leaker Pvt. Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison that could provide her treatment to transition to a woman, Pentagon officials say. Manning's lawyer blasted the announcement, saying it was a ‘strong-arm' attempt to force Manning into dropping her request for the treatment. ‘The Secretary approved a request by Army leadership to evaluate potential treatment options for inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria,' Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. The soldier, formerly named Bradley Manning, was convicted of sending classified documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence and is eligible for parole in seven years." More here.

The Daily Beast's Brandy Zadrozny blasts FOX's coverage of the Manning transfer, here.

The NYT's Editorial: stop discrimination in the military: "Three years after the demise of 'don't ask, don't tell,' an estimated 15,000 members of the military still must lie about themselves in order to go on risking their lives for their country. When Congress eliminated the law against gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, the Pentagon left in place an equally unfounded prohibition on transgender people... [last graf]: Addressing issues like privacy and housing is not rocket science. It happens in civilian workplaces all the time. With the right leadership, outbreaks of intolerance can be minimized. If Mr. Hagel is still trying to make up his mind, his boss, President Obama, can make it up for him. The question is how fast can the armed forces join the modern world on this issue, not whether they should. The time for lame excuses is long past." More here.

Senators gear up to preserve A-10 in FY15 defense budget. Stars and Stripes' Travis Tritten: "Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Brandenburg says he probably never would have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan if not for the A-10 Warthog. The Silver Star recipient and former joint terminal attack controller stood beside powerful Senate lawmakers Wednesday and urged the Air Force to back off a proposed retirement of the aircraft, saying it is uniquely capable of providing close air support, saving the lives of American troops on the battlefield. The news conference, which included Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was the most recent push by lawmakers on Capitol Hill to block the Air Force 2015 budget proposal to phase out the hard-fighting aircraft, known for the belch of its massive Gatling gun and its ability to fly slow and low to support of infantry on the ground." More here.

Pakistan is only now beginning to learn how to collect evidence needed to track and prosecute the terrorists in its midst. Sara Sorcher's second dispatch from Pakistan for the National Journal: "When he first heard gunshots, Raza Rumi, a prominent Pakistani TV anchor and columnist, was checking Twitter. He thought the pops were celebrations at a nearby wedding, until he looked up from his cell phone to see the telltale flash of a submachine gun. ‘I said, 'Oh shit, they've come for me.' The vocal critic of religious extremist groups, who frequently went on air to decry the killing of Shiite Muslims in the predominantly Sunni country, narrowly escaped his would-be assassination in Lahore. His driver did not. ‘We all have to die one day,' Rumi tweeted that day, March 28. ‘But my brave driver, a sole breadwinner of his family, was sprayed with bullets meant for me. Why? Why?'  Rumi and the victims of other terrorist attacks and targeting killings in Pakistan might finally start getting some of those answers.
"Inside the first state-of-the-art forensics lab in Pakistan, experts helped local authorities match the empty bullet casings from the crime scene with the Kalashnikov rifles and guns used by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The evidence linked militants from the group, which targets Shiite Muslims, to the attack on Rumi's car-and to a string of 19 other shootings in the Punjab province. The gunmen were arrested, and, faced with tangible forensic evidence, they confessed." More here.

Court papers show that the phone companies pushed back against the NSA. The NYT's Charlie Savage: "In 2009 and early 2010, a telephone company raised questions about the legality of the then-secret National Security Agency program that is systematically collecting records of Americans' calling habits, according to court documents declassified on Wednesday. The disclosure reveals for the first time that a phone company pushed back against the bulk collection of its customers' calling records, adding a new chapter in public understanding of the secret history of the program. The episode also calls into question a statement by Judge Claire Eagan of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The statement, made in an August 2013 opinion, left the impression that no one had raised any legal concerns about the program. Just two months earlier, the program's existence had become public after leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden. Judge Eagan's opinion did not just conclude that the program was lawful, it also suggested in an aside that no company had ever balked." More here.