National Security

FP's Situation Report: A Putin pullback?; North Africa increasingly dangerous; Why Shinseki shouldn't be fired; A sting op on sexual predators nets a DOD official; The first day for Maria; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Is Putin really ordering a pullback? Reuters this hour: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered military forces to return to their permanent bases after drills in three regions bordering Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Monday. Putin's office said he had issued the order because the spring maneuvers were over. The move could also be intended to ease tension in Russia's standoff with the West over Ukraine before Kiev holds a presidential election on Sunday."

"In Brussels, however, a NATO military officer said the military alliance had seen no sign of the Russian troops returning to their bases. 'We haven't seen any movement to validate (the report),' the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin had ordered his defense chief to return troops that had been involved in exercises in the border provinces of Rostov, Bryansk and Belgorod to their 'places of permanent deployment.'" More here.

USA Today's Kim Hjelmgaard: "... Russia has about 40,000 troops deployed near the border with Ukraine. On Friday, pro-Russian insurgents retreated from government buildings in the major eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol as steelworkers began citizen patrols. Ukraine is set to go the polls on May 25 to elect a new president. Recent polling cited by the Kiev Post newspaper indicates that businessman Petro Poroshenko, known locally as the 'chocolate king' for his interests in the candy business, is the clear front runner. Moscow has repeatedly said that the results of that election will be illegitimate." More here.

Welcome to Monday'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 - Hagel is back in the building today after his trip to the Middle East... Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey leaves for Brussels this evening, returning Thursday... Air Forces Cyber Commander Maj. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin delivers remarks on "Air Force Operations to Defend and Operate Effectively in the Cyber Domain" at 8:00 a.m. in Colorado Springs... Acting Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright testifies at a Defense Field Hearing on "Immigrant Enlistment: A Force Multiplier for the U.S. Armed Forces" at 9:30 a.m. at Phoenix Military Academy in Chicago... Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia delivers the commencement address to Gulf Shores High School Students at 7:00 p.m in Alabama. 

First day at the new job today - Maria Njoku, whose last day at the Pentagon press office was Friday, starts today as the new executive assistant to the Commandant at National Defense University. Congrats to her.

Col. Steve Warren, who heads the press desk at the Pentagon, on Maria: "During her two years of service at the Pentagon she has become the go-to problem solver for leaders, press officers and reporters.  The sky is the limit for Maria and while we'll miss her talent and her great attitude, we're delighted to see her move on to bigger and better things."

In saying good-bye at the press gaggle Friday, Warren joked: "There are no hugs allowed the Pentagon."

Situation Report corrects - last week, we referred to outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns as "Under Secretary of State." Our B, apologies for the wrong title.

Dempsey will be pushing NATO to up security contributions in the Med. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "... Instability and insurgent network activity across Northern Africa in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Morocco and Tunisia - and the proliferation of that type of activity into and across Europe - has been increasingly worrying security officials in recent years. 'My personal advice to my fellow [chiefs of defense] in NATO is that the southern flank of NATO deserves far more attention than it currently receives from NATO,' Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said May 14 at the Atlantic Council think tank. Dempsey will attend NATO chiefs of defense meetings in Brussels this week with top military leaders from across the alliance. The leaders also plan to discuss NATO force posture in Europe amid the security situation in Ukraine and Russia. Security in southern Europe is primarily conducted by Mediterranean nations, including Portugal, Italy, France, Greece and Spain."

Dempsey: "Yet the issues that are emulating into the southern flank from the Middle East and North Africa could quite profoundly change life inside ... not only southern Europe, but well into Central and Northern Europe." More here.

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, in a statement out Sunday, on violence in Northern Mali: "In recent days, the outbreak of violence in Kidal, Mali, has killed at least one government security official, injured civilians and UN peacekeepers, and resulted in the seizure of government buildings and the taking of hostages. We condemn these acts, which undermine the fragile peace in northern Mali and efforts to bring peace, security, and development to all of its citizens.??We call for the immediate release of all hostages, and urge all parties to refrain from violence and from any acts that place civilians at risk. The way to resolve these issues is through an inclusive and credible negotiation process, not through violence and intimidation."

Meantime, Nigerian hunters join the effort to find the missing girls. The WSJ's Drew Hinsaw in Nigeria: "After a lifetime of chasing rats and antelope through the woods, several hundred hunters carried their rifles to this city last week to plan their biggest hunt yet: the search for 223 kidnapped schoolgirls. ‘I know the forests. I was born in the forests,' said 70-year-old Dan Baba Kano, a huntsman in a purple frock, who added that he wasn't afraid of dying in the forests: ‘At my age? No.' Armed with homemade rifles and bows and arrows, hunters in these parts of northern Nigeria insist they can penetrate the forests where the army has so far refused to enter. Their campaign is low-tech-especially compared with the surveillance drones now part of the operation. And they have yet to leave their dusty, Maiduguri camp. But their offer exposes the one thing Islamist militancy Boko Haram, for all its ferocious weaponry, increasingly lacks: popular support." More here.

People are turning Michelle Obama's #BringBackOurGirls pic into an anti-drone campaign, on Buzzfeed, here.

Libyan militias led by a former general attack parliament and declare it dissolved. The WaPo's Hassan Morajea and Abigail Hauslohner: "Militias allied with a former Libyan general staged a brazen attack on Libya's parliament on Sunday and declared it dissolved, in some of the worst fighting the capital has seen since the 2011 revolution. By Sunday night, those forces announced that the elected General National Congress was being replaced by an existing constitutional drafting committee. It was far from certain that the order would be observed. But the power grab threatened to send Libya hurtling into a full-blown civil war. Tripoli residents and journalists reported heavy fighting, including rocket attacks and gunfights, in several central neighborhoods. Dozens of vehicles mounted with antiaircraft guns could be seen speeding toward the center of the capital from a southeastern suburb. Plumes of black smoke rose over the city.
"It was unclear whether ex-?general Khalifa Haftar commanded sufficient force to prevail in the showdown in Tripoli - the latest chapter in a struggle for power, land and resources that has raged in this oil-rich country since the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi. The central government has struggled unsuccessfully to rein in scores of militias that emerged from the anti-Gaddafi uprising. ‘In Libya, there really isn't a party on the ground that is more powerful than the other,' said Essam Gheriyani, a prominent businessman." More here.

At the FBI, no change in focus on terrorism. The NYT's Michael Schmidt on Page One: "When James B. Comey was nominated last June to be director of the F.B.I., it seemed to herald the beginning of a new era at the bureau. His predecessor, Robert S. Mueller III, began the job just days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Mr. Mueller's years leading the F.B.I. had one overwhelming focus: fighting terrorism. Mr. Comey was appointed a month after President Obama delivered a sweeping speech on the future of the fight against terrorism and said the United States was at a 'crossroads' and needed to move off its wartime footing... By Mr. Comey's own account, he also brought to the job a belief, based on news media reports, that the threat from Al Qaeda was diminished. But nine months into his tenure as director, Mr. Comey acknowledges that he underestimated the threat the United States still faces from terrorism.

But this is what Comey says now of offshoots of Al Qaeda in Africa and in the Middle East: "I didn't have anywhere near the appreciation I got after I came into this job just how virulent those affiliates had become... There are both many more than I appreciated, and they are stronger than I appreciated." More here.

USIP's Robin Wright talked to Iran's nuclear negotiator about the chances for a nuclear agreement in a big new piece called "The Adversary" in The New Yorker that just posted this morning. From The New Yorker: "In his current role, Zarif, formerly Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations, has introduced an unprecedented level of nuclear diplomacy between his volatile government and the world's six mightiest powers-Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Senator Dianne Feinstein tells Wright that Zarif 'wants to help his people and lead them in a di?erent direction.' Many Iranians believe that a nuclear deal would remove the threat of regime change, but also that it may open Iran to the outside world in ways that affect the internal balance of power. Zarif-who, though popular, has been criticized by Iranian politicos for denouncing hard-line positions, and for asserting that the Holocaust was a 'horrifying tragedy' -tells Wright, 'In order to practice dialogue, you need to be able to set aside your assumptions and try to listen more than you want to talk.' ... According to Wright, some American skeptics aren't convinced.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former C.I.A. o?cer and now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tells Wright: "There are worse Islamic revolutionaries out there, but, make no mistake, he's an Islamic revolutionary."

But Ben Rhodes, President Obama's deputy national-security adviser, says: "There is a constituency that now has some degree of power in the Iranian system, that really wants to climb out of this isolation, and is willing to do things that they didn't previously do... We believe that it is real.?.?.?. We are willing to take the risks to get a deal." Find Wright's story at The New Yorker, past all the other pieces about Jill Abramson's firing from the NYT, here

As the U.S. looks at a nuclear deal with Iran, a new book faults the handling of an Iranian defector, by the NYT's Mark Landler yesterday, here.

The South Korean president vowed to disband the Coast Guard. The NYT's Choe Sang-Hun: "President Park Geun-hye of South Korea vowed on Monday to disband her country's Coast Guard, saying that South Korea owed ‘reform and a great transformation' to hundreds of high school students who died in a ferry disaster last month. Bowing deeply, Ms. Park offered a ‘heartfelt apology' for having failed to prevent the sinking of the ferry Sewol on April 16 and for the Coast Guard's bungling of rescue operations. ‘The ultimate responsibility lies with me, the president,' she said. Although she had apologized a few times over the sinking, Ms. Park's nationally televised speech on Monday was her clearest expression of public contrition. As of Monday, 286 people had been confirmed dead, with 18 missing, making the episode one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. It has also developed into Ms. Park's biggest political crisis; over the weekend, the police detained more than 200 people who had tried to march on her office, calling on her to step down." More here.

A DoD official from the Defense Technology and Security Administration was netted in a sting operation targeting sexual predators. The News Leader's Brad Zinn, in Staunton, Va. from Friday: "A mid-level U.S. Department of Defense official is behind bars in Augusta County after Staunton police ensnared the Fairfax man in a covert sting operation targeting online sex predators.

"Dan Haendel, 64, faces charges of attempted indecent liberties with a child and use of electronic means to solicit sex from a child. It appears that Haendel has had a long career with the defense department. According to a DOD press release in November 2012, a man named Dan Haendel was assigned as the director for strategy and long range planning at the Defense Technology Security Administration in Washington. The DOD said Haendel previously served as senior adviser to partnership strategy and stability operations in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Policy). The National War College, where Haendel was a 1988 graduate, also published the DOD press release concerning the appointment...

"A search warrant said Haendel reportedly made online contact with an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old girl, first through email and then through instant messenger. Haendel allegedly asked about the bogus teen's sexual history, suggested watching pornography together and exchanged pictures. He also made arrangements to meet the fake girl at Gypsy Hill Park and then go to her house or a hotel, according to court records. 'He said that he would bring chocolate and vodka,' a police officer wrote in the warrant." More here.

The story of the shadowy world of private arms dealers, Syria, Blackwater, and a former Pentagon official. Dion Nissenbaum's Page One story: "An urgent plea for arms by Syrian rebels last summer posed a quandary for the Obama administration. The rebels were facing setback after setback on the battlefield. The administration backed their goal of unseating the Syrian government, but worried about U.S.-supplied arms making their way to fighters linked to al Qaeda. In the end, the U.S. approved a modest arms-supply effort that was slow to gain traction.

"For one group of Americans, that wasn't enough. On their own, the Americans offered to provide 70,000 Russian-made assault rifles and 21 million rounds of ammunition to the Free Syrian Army, a major infusion they said could be a game changer. With a tentative nod from the rebels, the group set about arranging a weapons shipment from Eastern Europe, to be paid for by a Saudi prince. The weapons never made it to Syria. As the private group worked to complete its deal, a surprise showdown in Jordan forced it to put its plan on hold.

"The story of the aborted weapons-supply effort, confirmed by people directly involved, provides a peek inside the normally hidden world of private arms contracting. This one involves an unusual protagonist: a former high-ranking official at the U.S. Defense Department. And waiting in the wings was the founder of the controversial security firm Blackwater Worldwide." Read the rest here.

Ross Douthat on Obama's foreign policy: "nothing is... working out." Douthat, in Sunday's NYT: "Second terms are often a time when presidents, balked by domestic opposition, turn to the world stage to secure their legacy - opening doors to China, closing out the Cold War, chasing Middle Eastern peace. But the global stage hasn't been a second-term refuge for President Obama; it's been an arena of setbacks, crises and defeats. His foreign policy looked modestly successful when he was running for re-election. Now it stinks of failure. Failure is a relative term, to be sure. His predecessor's invasion of Iraq still looms as the largest American blunder of the post-Vietnam era. None of Obama's difficulties have rivaled that debacle. And many of the sweeping conservative critiques of his foreign policy - that Obama has weakened America's position in the world, that he's too chary about using military force - lack perspective on how much damage the Iraq war did to American interests, and how many current problems can be traced back to errors made in 2003. But the absence of an Iraq-scale fiasco is not identical to success, and history shouldn't grade this president on a curve set by Donald Rumsfeld. Obama is responsible for the initiatives he's pursued, the strategies he's blessed and the priorities he's set. And almost nothing on that list is working out." More here.

There's growing evidence of systemic problems in the VA healthcare system. The Los Angeles Times' David Zucchino, Cindy Carcamo and Alan Zarembo: "... The Phoenix VA Health Care System is under a federal Justice Department investigation for reports that it maintained a secret waiting list to conceal the extent of its patient delays, in part because of complaints such as Laird's. But there are now clear signs that veterans' health centers across the U.S. are juggling appointments and sometimes manipulating wait lists to disguise long delays for primary and follow-up appointments, according to federal reports, congressional investigators and interviews with VA employees and patients. The growing evidence suggests a VA system with overworked physicians, high turnover and schedulers who are often hiding the extent to which patients are forced to wait for medical care." More here.

Swimming upstream: Max Cleland on why Shinseki shouldn't be fired in Politico magazine: "...A man at the center of the controversy is the head of the VA, Eric Shinseki, himself a wounded veteran of the Vietnam War. I've known Shinseki for over a decade. He is a truth teller to power. How do I know that? Because he testified, in his previous position as the Army chief of staff, before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee upon which I sat and said that if we went to war in Iraq it would take "hundreds of thousands" of troops, not the small investment Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was talking about. As a result, Rumsfeld announced Shinseki's replacement a year earlier than normal.

The commander of the American Legion, an organization of which I am a member, has called for Shinseki's resignation. This is ill-advised and misguided. We veterans need facts, not a firing."

Things accomplished with Shinseki at the helm of the VA, according to Cleland: "Veterans' homelessness has been reduced by 24 percent; The VA health-care system has enrolled 2 million additional veterans. These are veterans who choose to receive VA health care; The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an independent customer service survey, ranks the VA's customer satisfaction among veteran patients to be the very best in the nation and equal or better then private-sector hospitals." More here.

Task and Purpose's Ethan Rocke on why Shinseki should stay: "...I hope that Americans will refuse to settle for a changing of the guard at the VA - as if that will solve the organization's systemic deficiencies in the healthcare it provides for those who sacrifice so much to preserve our way of life. I hope more Americans will start being honest with themselves about the fact that fighting long, protracted wars, and even small dirty wars, is a costly business, not just fiscally, but physically and spiritually. I hope America will begin to understand that advocating an aggressive foreign policy while demanding fiscal austerity in the domestic sphere is a contradictory position and one that heightens our economic instability. Most of all, I hope that if you count yourself among the support-the-troops crowd in America, you start thinking a bit more deeply about what that really means in practice. The burden of leadership at this moment in our history lies with you, America." More here.

"My hat is off to the VA": A gay widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan has been told from the VA that she will receive the same benefits that heterosexual widows and widowers receive. The Military Times' Karen Jowers: "...It's even more significant, said Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice Johnson, because the benefits will be retroactive, dating back to her wife's death in October 2012. That was before the Supreme Court's ruling in the summer of 2013 overturning parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. 'My hat's off to the VA,' Johnson said. 'It was a long, drawn-out process, but at the end of the day, hearts and minds prevailed.' Among the benefits are the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, generally paid to spouses and children and some parents of those who died while on active duty. The rate for DIC in 2014 is $1,233.23 a month; Johnson will receive that retroactively to the date of her wife's death. Johnson, who changed her name legally after her wife died, will also receive medical, education and other benefits." More here.

24 countries will take part in wargames in Jordan next week.  From Agence France-Presse: "More than 13,000 troops from 24 countries are to take part in the annual ‘Eager Lion' military exercise in Jordan, state news agency Petra said Sunday. It said ‘ground, air and naval forces comprising a total of more than 13,000' troops are to be deployed during the May 25-June 10 wargames, with ‘around 24 countries' taking part. The maneuvers are ‘aimed at tackling terrorism and insurrection' and to prepare armies to ‘develop their capacity to plan and carry out joint operations,' the agency added. Some 8,000 troops from 19 countries including the United States, Britain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia took part in last year's ‘Eager Lion' exercises in the kingdom." More here.

The Army is fielding a laser target designator that incorporates its own GPS to determine its location, along with a digital compass, thermal imager and camera. Stars and Stripes' Seth Robson: "Dismounted troops soon will be able to use a lightweight laser target designator to call for accurate hits by GPS-guided rockets, mortars and artillery. ‘They call this system the ‘Eye of God,'' Scott McClellan, fire support branch chief at Fort Sill, Oklahoma's Fires Center of Excellence, said of the newly fielded Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder (LLDR) 2H. So-called ‘smart' munitions - which use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to guide themselves directly onto targets - have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan and are credited with saving the lives of civilians on the battlefield by reducing collateral damage. However, the high-tech rockets, shells and bombs require precise information about their targets. Until now, portable laser target designators weren't accurate enough. Troops often have had to ‘talk fire' onto a target by providing updated coordinates after the first rounds land. ‘The new system with the improved accuracy you can get first-round effects,' McClellan said. ‘You don't have to keep bracketing and say: ‘Drop 50, right 400.' You can get an accurate target location first time.'" More here.

Laos declares days of mourning after the fatal plane crash on Saturday that killed Defense Minister Douangchay Phichit. The WSJ's Nopparat Chaichaleammongkol: "...The cause of the accident is under investigation, the government statement said. It didn't specify the number of passengers aboard the Antonov 74TK-300 aircraft or details about other casualties. The news agency has published several photos of the accident. Landlocked Laos is one of Asia's most secretive countries and remains under the heavy hand of communist rule, which was enforced by some of the people aboard the plane. The regime deals harshly with dissent and doesn't face a visibly large and organized opposition, though ethnic groups with ties outside the country are repeatedly accused of trying to foment unrest." More here.

Hagel's statement on the passing of Laos Defense Minister Phichit who was killed, along with his wife, in a plane crash May 17.  From the Pentagon: "...We had the pleasure of hosting Minister Douangchay and Madam Thanda Phichit at the U.S.-ASEAN defense forum last month in Hawaii. I appreciated the opportunity to work with the minister to help advance our two countries' emerging defense relationship, and to strengthen the U.S.-ASEAN partnership.'" More here.

 

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.