Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: U.S. Spec Ops forming elite units in Africa; Have the schoolgirls been found?; Shinseki, a quiet professional but maybe for the wrong time; Vets groups strike back at Burr; WH slips name of CIA officer; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

U.S. Special Operations troops are forming elite counterterrorism units in Africa to fight Al Qaeda affiliates. The NYT's Eric Schmitt on Page One: "... The secretive program, financed in part with millions of dollars in classified Pentagon spending and carried out by trainers, including members of the Army's Green Berets and Delta Force, was begun last year to instruct and equip hundreds of handpicked commandos in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali.

"The goal over the next few years is to build homegrown African counterterrorism teams capable of combating fighters like those in Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that abducted nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls last month. American military specialists are helping Nigerian officers in their efforts to rescue the girls.

Mike Sheehan, who advocated the counterterrorism program last year when he was the senior Pentagon official in charge of Special Operations policy: "Training indigenous forces to go after threats in their own country is what we need to be doing."

"Under the new Africa plan, the Pentagon is spending nearly $70 million on training, intelligence-gathering equipment and other support to build a counterterrorism battalion in Niger and a similar unit in nearby Mauritania that are in their 'formative stages,' a senior Defense Department official said. In a cautionary note about operating in that part of Africa, troubled by a chronic shortage of resources and weak regional partners, the effort in Mali has yet to get off the ground as a new civilian government recovers from a military coup last year. In Libya, the most ambitious initial training ended ignominiously last August after a group of armed militia fighters overpowered a small Libyan guard force at a training base outside Tripoli and stole hundreds of American-supplied automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, vehicles and other equipment." Read the rest here.

Nigeria says it has found the missing girls. The WaPo's Pamela Constable: "A top Nigerian military official said Monday that the government knows the whereabouts of several hundred kidnapped girls but cannot reveal their location and cannot use force to rescue them, according to the Web site of the Ogun state television service. Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, the government's chief of defense staff, was quoted as telling a group of visitors at his office in Abuja, the capital, ‘The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you.' He reportedly told the group, ‘just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back.' ... It was difficult to know how specific Badeh intended to be in his statement, which appeared aimed more at reassuring his visitors, a group of Nigerians concerned about security issues, that the military was doing its job but would not use force to try and rescue the girls for fear of endangering their lives." More here.

Gunmen shoot a newspaper editor in Libya. "Gunmen shot dead a newspaper editor who was an outspoken critic of Islamists in Libya's volatile east on Monday, in a targeted killing that came hours after he warned the Islamist-led parliament of a civil war if it didn't bow to widespread demands to disband and allow early elections." More here.

Want to understand the different factions in Libya? Check it out on War on the Rocks, here.

Welcome to Tuesday'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.

Ukraine's next president vows to restore order and mend ties with Russia. The NYT's David Herszenhorn: "The president-elect of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, vowed on Monday to restore order in the country's east, which is besieged by pro-Russian separatist violence, but said he would not negotiate with armed rebels and instead would demand swifter results from a military campaign that has achieved only limited success.

"While Mr. Poroshenko has said that he would push for parliamentary elections before the end of the year, on Monday he said he saw no reason for the removal of Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk and other leaders of the interim government, which has been running Ukraine since the toppling of President Viktor F. Yanukovych in February.

"Mr. Poroshenko also promised to mend ties with the Kremlin, citing his business connections to Russia as well as his personal relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin, who has promised to respect the Ukrainian election results. ‘Most probably the meeting with the Russian leadership will certainly take place in the first half of July,' Mr. Poroshenko said at a Kiev news conference. ‘We should be very ready tactically in approach to this meeting, because first we should create an agenda, we should prepare documents, so that it will not be just to shake hands.'" More here.

The honeymoon's already over in Ukraine reports FP's Jamila Trindle, here.

But yesterday, Ukraine launched an airstrike on pro-Moscow rebels. The AP's Peter Leonard and Nataliya Vasilyeva: "Ukraine's president-elect said Monday he wants to begin talks with Moscow and end a pro-Russia insurgency in the east, but the rebels escalated the conflict by occupying a major airport, and the government in Kiev responded with an airstrike. As darkness fell in Donetsk, a city of about 1 million in eastern Ukraine, it was unclear who was in control of the airport. Hundreds of fighters of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic had been brought by trucks to a wooded area on the fringes of the airport, many of them armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles. At least one warplane streaked over the city, firing flares, and explosions were heard from the direction of the airport.

"Early Tuesday, the DPR said on its Twitter account that a truck carrying wounded from the airport area came under fire and that the driver was killed. The rebels, who declared independence for Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region after a hastily called and dubious referendum two weeks ago, regarded Sunday's election of candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko as president to be illegitimate." More here.

Meantime: Quiet professional versus digitally savvy, vocal veterans, or why Ric Shinseki isn't the perfect fit at VA for these wars. The WaPo's Greg Jaffe on Page One: "In other wars, in other eras, Eric K. Shinseki might have been an ideal fit to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs through a crisis. He's run some of Washington's biggest and most complex bureaucracies. He knows what it's like to fight back from life-changing war wounds, having lost half a foot to a land mine in Vietnam. He prefers to stay out of politics and work on problems quietly and in the background. 'He's not a political infighter. That's absolutely not him,' said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a long-time mentor. 'If you asked him to define the perfect public servant, it would be a quiet professional...

"Shinseki also has had to balance the demands of traditionally staid, old-line veterans groups, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with a new generation of digitally savvy and increasingly vocal veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Younger veterans groups have adopted many of the lessons of today's fast-moving, hyper-partisan political campaigns to raise the pressure on Shinseki and the VA.No group exemplifies this shift more clearly than Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is based in New York and has about 270,000 members who have signed up for its e-mail list. IAVA's 45-person staff - most of them younger than 30 - is small compared to the larger, more established veterans organizations. Like the traditional veterans groups, IAVA is nonpartisan." More here.

Veterans groups strike back at Sen. Richard Burr. The NYT's Jonathan Weisman: "An 'open letter' from a senior Republican senator to the nation's veterans in which he castigates the leadership of veterans' organizations prompted a brutal war of words over the Memorial Day weekend, including a promise from the Veterans of Foreign Wars that its 'hat in hand' approach to Congress will turn more combative. The controversy over delayed access to care at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals veered, over the weekend, away from allegations of incompetence at the top of the agency toward a broader fight over resources and the future of government health care for an expanding pool of veterans. The issue carries risk for Republicans because they could be left with a politically difficult effort to privatize at least some veterans' health care or to pump more money into a system covering about 2.8 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an option veterans groups have demanded but Republican leaders have resisted.

"...The open letter, from Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee - and the groups' responses - pushed the conflict into the open. Mr. Burr, angry that only the American Legion has called for the resignation of the veterans affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, accused the groups of being "more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle" than in helping members. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America hit back hard." More here. Read the letter here.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, with ABC's Martha Raddatz this weekend, on what he's thinking on Memorial Day as he walked through Arlington Cemetery: "We're celebrating the sacrifices of them - but them are us - and we gotta remember that." Watch here.

Charlie Mike: How one veteran spent the weekend. For the WaPo, Lt. Col. Mike Jason: "...Many of us will do everything possible to avoid fireworks and crowds; they are just not that much fun anymore. Then, as the evening wears down, there will come that moment when the lump in my throat becomes so large that I cannot breathe anymore. At that moment, I will find a spot far away from everyone. I will tighten the black metal memorial bracelet on my wrist, look up at the stars and cry unashamedly.

"We will wonder whether we could have done more, why it wasn't us and what we could have done differently. Could we have trained better? Could we have gone right and not left? We will beat ourselves up until we have no more questions, no more scenarios to play out. We will wipe our eyes and listen to those friends above, in the stars, tell us, simply and clearly: 'Charlie Mike.' Continue mission. And then I will rejoin my family and friends and, in honor of my fallen battle buddies and their families, get on with it, Charlie Mike, and have a "happy" Memorial Day." Read the rest here.

Would 10,000 troops in Afghanistan even be enough? The Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Josh Rogin: "Pressure is mounting on President Obama to keep at least 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for years to come. Some top intelligence and military officers now fighting that war say the number of troops under consideration by the White House should be just enough to prevent al Qaeda from re-establishing a safe haven. Others aren't so sure that even the 10,000 can keep the terror group and its allies at bay." Read the rest here.

Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan but was mum on a post-2014 presence. FP' Lubold: "White House aides said President Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan Sunday was all about thanking the troops, not politics. But the Memorial Day visit was his first there in two years, and it comes at a time when the commander-in-chief has been openly struggling to decide on the future course of the war and when the administration itself has been battered by a growing controversy over how his Department of Veterans Affairs is taking care of the nation's veterans.
"Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul early Sunday morning in the dark. After receiving briefings from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top American commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador Jim Cunningham, Obama told a crowd of waiting troops that he wanted to honor their service and their families' sacrifices. He told them Americans think of them all the time. And he told them, to applause, that ‘for many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan.'
What he didn't say: "But he didn't tell the troops, part of the 33,000 currently in Afghanistan, how many of them would remain there after the end of the year, when the United States is slated to turn over all security responsibilities to the Afghan government. He did, however, suggest that he planned to leave a small number of American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. The White House had hinted that it was prepared for a full U.S. withdrawal as it grew increasingly frustrated with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai over his refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement, or BSA, that is required to keep American forces deployed in Afghanistan.
"...Beyond the vexing questions about troop levels and missions, Obama still has to find a way of working with Karzai during the Afghan leader's last months in office. Washington and Kabul have abandoned any attempt to hide the frayed relationship between the two leaders. Obama didn't meet with Karzai during his short visit to Afghanistan, and Karzai declined Obama's invitation to join him at Bagram. Karzai's office released a brief statement hinting at the cold relations. ‘The president of Afghanistan said that he was ready to warmly welcome the president of the United States in accordance with Afghan traditions... but had no intention of meeting him at Bagram.'" More here.

Meanwhile, the White House blows the cover of the CIA chief in Afghanistan. FP's Shane Harris: "The Obama administration inadvertently revealed the name of the top CIA officer in Afghanistan to members of the press on Sunday, a rare and embarrassing breach of security procedures meant to shield the identities of U.S. spies working on dangerous missions overseas. The name appeared next to the designation ‘chief of station,' the term for the top CIA officer in a particular country, on a list of 15 officials who participated in a military briefing with President Obama during a surprise visit to Afghanistan over the Memorial Day weekend. The White House gave the list to a Washington Post reporter traveling with the president, who then disseminated it in a standard press pool report to 6,000 journalists, including foreign media organizations, not traveling with Obama.
"...It was unclear how the officer's name was included on a list of other officials meeting with Obama, including prominent ones such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford. The Post reported than when its journalist noticed the CIA officer's name on the list, he inquired with administration officials, since it's not common practice to reveal the identity of CIA officers. The Post reported that White House officials initially raised no concerns, because the names had been supplied by military officials, and presumably vetted for release. But when the White House realized the mistake, officials scrambled to issue a new release without the officer's name." More here.

A scam with a twist: we got this email but didn't respond to the offer. "Hello, I am Sgt. Charles Stanley (currently on tour of duty in Helmand province, Afghanistan). I need your assistance in Re-Profiling some amount of money. I will like to keep it discrete until I am sure about you helping me in this mutually beneficial venture. It is risk free and fails proof. Contact me via my personal email below for further information. I sincerely plead with you; do not reply to my official email as all incoming mails passes through the United States army main security server. That can get me into trouble please. Send to this my private email only."

After returning from Afghanistan, Obama honors the fallen at Arlington on Memorial Day - but the VA scandal looms. The LA Times' Connie Stewart: "Hours after President Obama returned from a surprise visit to American troops in Afghanistan, he paid tribute to the nation's fallen defenders on Memorial Day. During his visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Obama was accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, and several officials, including Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who has been under fire for delays in getting veterans VA medical care. Obama alluded to the controversy, in which some VA hospitals allegedly falsified documents to hide the fact that some veterans had to wait months or even years for care -- contrary to VA policy that requires an appointment within 14 days... ‘We must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they've earned and that they deserve,' the president said." More here.

From POTUS' speech: "...Over that century and a half, in times of war, in times of peace, Americans have come here -- to pay tribute not only to the loved ones who meant the world to them, but to all our heroes, known and unknown.  Here, in perfect military order, lie the patriots who won our freedom and saved the Union.  Here, side-by-side, lie the privates and the generals who defeated fascism and laid the foundation for an American Century.  Here lie the Americans who fought through Vietnam, and those who won a long twilight struggle against communism. And here, in Section 60, lie men and women who gave their lives to keep our homeland safe over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan." Full remarks here.

ICYMI - Phil Klay for the WSJ writes that too many Americans assume that troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan must be traumatized, here.

The New Yorker posted Philip Gourevitch's foreword to Bedrooms of the Fallen, by Ashley Gilbertson. Gourevitch: "Imagine Chicago empty. Picture the city perfectly intact, and nobody in it. Not a soul, we say, to describe such abandonment. Empty, we say, deserted. And yes, there would be nobody there-no bodies to be seen-but the souls of the missing people would permeate the place they'd left behind. All those buildings full of rooms, all those rooms full of stuff-and the rooms and the stuff brimming with the presence of absent life. You would have to visit everybody's room to feel the enormity of the loss, an impossible mission, and an impossible feeling. Chicago is a city of 2.7 million people, and that is why I'm asking you to imagine all of them gone-because 2.7 million is the number of men and women in America's military services who have died in our wars since the country took up arms to win its independence on the battlefield." More here.

Gen. John Kelly has taken aim at an amorphous ‘chattering class' within the Pentagon and beyond who've questioned the mettle of today's Marines. Marine Corps Times' Andrew deGrandpre: "...It's become a mission, the general told Marine Corps Times, one fueled by the loss of his Marine son more than three years ago in Afghanistan; the obligation he feels to comfort and reassure others who've also lost friends or loved ones; and a firm desire to mute the criticism he's heard directed at so-called millenials, a loose title assigned to those born during the 1980s and '90s. Such disparagement is not only unwarranted, Kelly said, it's utterly baseless.

"‘I can't count the number of times that I saw them in firefights, in Fallujah and Ramadi and other places, and I would just stand there in wonderment, thinking to myself: ‘There's absolutely no reason on this earth why any human being would do what they're doing,'' Kelly said. ‘Every human being naturally would want to protect themselves, crawl in a hole, get down. And they don't.' That's how Iwo Jima was taken. Guadalcanal. The Chosin Reservoir. If the Marines today are doing exactly the same thing their dads did in Vietnam, and their granddads did in Korea and World War II, then how in the hell can we say that they're not as good?'" More here.

Reading Pincus: In the game of fiscal football, the National Guard Association is dancing in the endzone. The WaPo's Walter Pincus: "If congressional approval of the fiscal 2015 defense budget were a football game, the first quarter ended Thursday when the House passed its version of next year's authorization bill. Although three quarters remain, the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) has already done a lot of dancing in the end zone. When it comes to lobbying, most in the news media are focused on corporations and other contractors and their campaign contributions to legislators. NGAUS and veterans groups show their significant clout in pressing for opposition to many of the cuts sought by the White House, top Pentagon officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff." More here.

Tech giants spend billions more than defense firms on R&D. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "Tech giants Microsoft, Google and Apple invested more than five times the amount spent by five of the largest US defense companies on research-and-development (R&D) projects in 2013, according to data compiled by a noted defense analyst. But the five defense companies - Boeing Defense, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, all of which were in the top 10 of the 2013 Defense News Top 100 defense companies list - collectively spent about $800 million more on internal R&D in 2013 than they did in 2012, according to the data. In all, the three big tech companies spent $18.8 billion more than the defense companies on these R&D projects in 2013, according to data compiled by Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners. Over the same time frame the five defense companies spent a total of $4.1 billion on R&D projects, while Google spent $8 billion, Apple $4.5 billion and Microsoft $10.4 billion." More here.

Thai general says the coup has the King's backing. The NYT's Thomas Fuller: "Thailand's military junta said Monday that it would stay in power ‘indefinitely' and that its rule had been endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the monarch for nearly seven decades who has semi-divine status in the country. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who overthrew the elected government on Thursday, said during a news conference that the military would create a ‘genuine democracy' but gave no time frame for doing so. ‘It will depend on the situation,' he said, before hastily leaving a podium as he was questioned by reporters." More here. 

Flight 370 likely ran out of fuel and crashed in the Indian Ocean. The NYT's Keith Bradsher and Michelle Innis: "Raw satellite transmission data from the vanished Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, released on Tuesday by the Malaysian government, provided further evidence that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after flying south and running out of fuel. Malaysia and Inmarsat, the global satellite communications company, released the data after weeks of pressure from relatives of the mostly Chinese passengers and from the Chinese government itself. The Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation released the data as the country's prime minister, Najib Razak, was on his way to China for an official visit. The final satellite transmission was an automated request from the aircraft for another so-called electronic handshake. 'This is consistent with satellite communication equipment on the aircraft powering up following a power interruption,' the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a separate statement. 'The interruption in electrical supply may have been caused by fuel exhaustion." More here.

Japan's Abe lays out an assertive foreign policy agenda. The WSJ's Gerard Baker and Jacob Schlesinger: "Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out an assertive foreign policy agenda, saying he hoped to accelerate maritime aid to Vietnam amid its territorial standoff with China and host Vladimir Putin this year despite the Russian president's isolation from the West. Beijing's ‘unilateral drilling activities' for oil in waters claimed also by Hanoi have led to ‘heightening of tensions,' Mr. Abe told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Friday. ‘We will never tolerate the change of status quo by force or coercion,' added the Japanese leader, who has assiduously courted Southeast Asian leaders during the past year and offered himself as a counterweight to China's muscle-flexing. As part of his broader strategy to rearrange the region's power balance, Mr. Abe also signaled a desire to keep alive his diplomatic overtures to Russia." More here.

Today marks 100 days to go until the NATO summit in Wales. From a Situation Report reader: "This September 4-5, Wales will host the largest gathering of international leaders ever to take place in Britain as the UK hosts the biennial NATO summit. President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, and President Hollande are expected to attend along with leaders and senior ministers from around 60 other countries.  This will be the first NATO Summit since Chicago in 2012, and the first NATO summit in the United Kingdom since Margaret Thatcher welcomed NATO leaders to London in 1990. For more on the Summit, visit here and here. Follow us on twitter @NATOWales."

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Video emerges of a chlorine attack in Syria; The coup in Thailand; DOD wants drone disclosure; On Colbert, Bush's memo to Obama on the VA; Everything you need to know about Irvine's new restaurant in the Pgon; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

In Thailand, it's a coup.  Reuters' David Brunnstrom and Arshad Mohammed: "The military takeover in Thailand drew swift international condemnation on Thursday, with the United States saying it was reviewing its military aid and other dealings with its closest ally in Southeast Asia. Thailand's army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized control of the government two days after he declared martial law, saying the military had to restore order and push through reforms after six months of turmoil. The military declared a curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., suspended the constitution and detained some politicians. Rival protest camps were ordered to disperse."

Kerry said bluntly yesterday: "‘There is no justification for this military coup... This act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military. We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with U.S. law.'

And, joint US-Thai military exercises are in question: "...The Pentagon said it was reviewing its military cooperation, including an ongoing joint exercise in Thailand involving some 700 U.S. Marines and sailors. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that as much as about $10 million in annual bilateral aid could be cut. For the fiscal year beginning October 1, the White House has asked Congress to give Thailand $5 million in development aid, $1.9 million for anti-drug and law enforcement programs, $2.1 million for military training and $900,000 for arms sales. Only funds going to the government would be affected, not those for non-governmental groups and democracy promotion." More here.

It's the second coup in a decade, but this one looks different. The NYT's Thomas Fuller: "...The coup was at least the 12th military takeover since Thailand abandoned the absolute monarchy in 1932. But unlike many previous coups, which involved infighting among generals, Thursday's military takeover had as a subtext the political awakening among rural Thais who have loyally supported Mr. Thaksin and benefited from patronage and policies such as universal health care and microloans. Critics of Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon who lives in self-imposed exile abroad, say he also took corruption to a new level.
"...The military and Bangkok establishment now face the question of either retaining the power gained from the coup or returning the country to democracy - with the likelihood that Mr. Thaksin and his proven political machine would again return to power in elections. The coup in 2006 unseated Mr. Thaksin, but his backers came back to win at the polls, leading to his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, becoming prime minister in 2011." More here.

The strange elite politics behind the coup. FP's Elias Groll: "...The current political stand-off centers on the enduring political divide between the country's elite and a political movement led by the Shinawatra clan and with its powerbase in rural areas. Shinawatra's populist political movement has redistributed power in Thailand away from the elite networks that dominate the capital, and this has made the country's army officers, judges, monarchists, and bureaucrats profoundly worried. The only problem is that Bangkok's elites are completely incapable of cobbling together an electoral coalition capable of winning a national election." More here.

Meantime in Syria, opposition activists have posted a video of what they say is chlorine gas - the first such footage of what they say is a chemical weapon campaign by Assad. Reuters this hour: "...The village of Kfar Zeita, in the central province of Hama 125 miles north of Damascus, has been the epicenter of what activists and medics call a two-month-old assault in which chlorine gas canisters have been dropped out of helicopters. Damascus denies that forces loyal to Assad have used chlorine or other more poisonous gases and blames all chemical attacks on rebels fighting them in a three-year-old uprising." More here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report - have a spectacularly great long weekend, see you Tuesday. 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.

Who's Where When today ­- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will give the commencement address at the graduation and commissioning ceremony at the United States Naval Academy at 10 a.m... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Commandant Gen. Jim Amos will also attend the graduation... Tomorrow, Greenert will head to Japan and Korea for the week to meet with counterparts and talk to sailors across the fleet... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno will be at the GI Film Festival tonight in Old Town Alexandria, Va., where they are honoring the late actor James Gandolfini for his work on film and in documentaries on veterans and the military. Odierno is expected to be joined by Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, a quadruple amputee, and the actor Gary Sinise, who is active in the military community.

At the Academy today, Hagel will speak to midshipmen about leadership, specifically small unit leadership and about the expectations young sailors and Marines harbor of their junior officers. He'll talk about the "importance of personal connections, understanding and humility" - and, we're told, he'll talk about the importance of accountability. An excerpt of what Hagel will say: "We're all accountable. From new recruits to four-star admirals and generals, from second lieutenants to the Secretary of Defense, we all have to step up and take action when we see something that hurts our people and our values."

Want to watch the Academy graduation? Click here at 10 a.m. this morning.

Wanna see Ray Mabus on Colbert last night? Watch it here.

Jon Stewart isn't the only one riffing on the VA. Colbert last night highlighted a memo the Bush White House provided to the incoming Obama administration in 2009 that described the problems veterans were having obtaining timely healthcare. Colbert: "There was a memo. It warned them. Bush even personalized it [cut to shot of doctored memo with Bush 43's handwritten note scrawled across the bottom, Colbert reads]: "p.s. VA totally f-ed up. See ya, wouldn't wannna be ya! Smiley face." More here.

Sen. Bernie Sanders defended Shinseki "without pause" and said he should keep his job. Defense One's Kevin Baron this morning, here.

The U.S. military pushes for more disclosure on drone strikes in an effort to counter criticism.  The WSJ's Julian Barnes and Siobhan Gorman on Page One: "Top military officials are pressing for permission to publicly defend American drone strikes against criticism in the U.S. and abroad, defense officials said. The issue has come to a head after the military concluded last year that long-standing U.S. secrecy surrounding drone operations has bolstered support for al Qaeda in places like Yemen. In coming days, a proposal calling for more transparency, beginning with Yemen, is set to be presented to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, according to senior defense officials. If Mr. Hagel approves the policy, it would be sent to the White House National Security Council.

"...Any significant U.S. policy shift would need to take into account the views of allies. While the Yemeni government has grown more open to discussing the drone program and its partnership with the U.S., defense officials said, other regional allies prefer to avoid attention to their cooperation with the U.S. Officials have yet to decide what kind of information or documentation would be provided on future drone strikes." More here.

Meantime, some Russian troops step back off the border with Ukraine but NATO says a big force remains.  Reuters' Thomas Grove and Adrian Croft: "Russia said on Thursday it was moving troops and military equipment from border regions near Ukraine, but NATO said a large ‘coercive force' remained in place. A withdrawal of forces from the border regions could ease tensions before Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday, which the United States and EU hope will strengthen the embattled central government.
"...A NATO general said on Thursday that Russia was moving troops, though he said the size of the movement was unclear and that forces near the border remained a potential threat. ‘The force that remains on the border is very large and it's very capable and remains in a very coercive posture,' U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told a news conference. NATO had previously put the number of Russian troops on the border at 40,000 but Breedlove said it was too early to classify their current size.
"Russia's defense ministry said on Thursday 15 transport planes and 20 trains carrying personnel and military equipment had been moved out of the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk provinces bordering Ukraine after completing military exercises there. It did not say how many troops were being moved or how many were staying behind." More here.

Meanwhile, violence and doubts about credibility loom as Sunday's election in Ukraine approaches. The NYT's Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Roth: "...As Ukraine hurtles toward a presidential election on Sunday, the first national vote since an uprising toppled the elected government this year, Ukraine's troubled east has emerged as the most serious risk to the vote and the country's future. A new burst of violence, some of the worst in months, left at least 16 Ukrainian soldiers dead on Thursday, giving new life to what had appeared to be a waning conflict just three days before the critical vote, which Western governments hope will lift the country out of violent upheaval into the relative safety of politics." More here.

NSA reform passed in the House yesterday. FP's John Hudson: "On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the most comprehensive reform legislation of U.S. intelligence activities in a decade after a series of last-minute concessions by privacy advocates and civil libertarians. The USA Freedom Act, which passed in a 303-121 vote, limits the National Security Agency's ability to collect the communications data of Americans en masse. It also adds transparency and oversight safeguards to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the judicial body that oversees the NSA's surveillance activities... But some early backers of the bill in Congress and the civil liberties community questioned how the NSA in practice might interpret the law, and they withdrew their support for the bill." More here.

The Obama administration is drawing a line between stealing the secrets of companies and nations. FP's Shane Harris: "...On Thursday, the Justice Department's top national security official launched a new front in that rhetorical campaign and sought to draw a bright line between the kind of spying the United States does on foreign corporations and the spying that foreign countries do on U.S. firms.

"John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for the department's National Security Division, said alleged espionage by five Chinese military officials against American companies and a labor union is an act of criminal ‘theft' meant to give Chinese companies an unfair advantage over their American competitors. And unlike nations spying on each other for strategic or national security purposes, which Carlin defended, economic espionage meant to benefit one company or industry over another is something that governments know to be so far over that line that none are willing to defend it, he argued." More here.

The House has its own ideas for Hagel's Pentagon budget. FP's Lubold: "House lawmakers from both parties voted Thursday for a $601 billion defense budget that amounts to a wholesale rejection of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's proposed Pentagon budget, setting up what will likely be months of heated sparring over military benefits and the future of an array of big-ticket weapons programs."
A look at what's inside: "The House budget bill would provide $496 for the Defense Department's baseline budget, another $79 billion for Afghanistan and other war operations and another $18 billion for energy programs, but the 325-98 vote restores funding to a number of programs, for the A-10 Warthog close air support plane, for example, and the U-2 spy plane that first began flying during the Cold War. It also provides more funding for troop pay, housing, healthcare and other programs that the Pentagon had sought, under its own proposal, to reduce. The House version of the budget passed Thursday also restored funding for the Navy's Ticonderoga-class cruisers and other programs the Pentagon said it didn't need.
The House and the Pentagon disagree over what needs to be cut: "Although the budget bill the House passed meets Congressionally-mandated budget caps, it requires the Pentagon to fund certain programs that it had planned to cut. As a result, the Pentagon will now have to find additional savings, perhaps in acquisition and other troop ‘readiness' programs, to keep the baseline budget at the $496 billion limit. Top generals routinely warn that such cuts could leave the military ill-prepared to fight an unexpected conflict in a place like Yemen or Syria." More here.

CFR's Micah Zenko for FP, ten things about the forever war that have hardly budged at all by, here.

Take a look at this immersive look at Arlington National Cemetery, featuring lots of video and photos, an interactive map, and a handful of cinemagraphs by the Military Times' Mike Morones. From the intro: "Among the rows of headstones blanketing Arlington's rolling hills, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees one common theme. ‘There is a continuity of sacrifice of generation after generation doing their part to protect our country, to hold it together and to protect our people,' he says. ‘... I think it's this sense of historical longevity and the fact of, because of its size, because of its location, it's the one great military cemetery where all Americans can identify with patriotism and with sacrifice.' ??

"Since the first military burial here May 13, 1864, Arlington National Cemetery has become the final resting place for more than 400,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families. Those who on Sept. 11, 2001, died only a few hundred yards away at the Pentagon are buried here, as are the Challenger astronauts. Fifteen thousand soldiers from the Civil War - Union and Confederate - rest in Section 27 and Section 13, known as the Field of the Dead. Four thousand freed slaves, many identified only as ‘Citizen,' and two presidents also are buried at Arlington. ??

"Up to 30 burials are conducted at Arlington every weekday. Mercifully, the number of casualties from America's most recent wars is dwindling, but the pace of operations - about 7,000 burials per year - remains steady as veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam pass away." Find it here.

After 35 years in uniform Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger says he will explain where the U.S.'s war strategy failed. TIME's Mark Thompson: "... recently retired Army lieutenant general Daniel Bolger, who played key roles in Afghanistan and Iraq in his 35-year career, wasn't coy when it came time to titling his upcoming book Why We Lost... There was a belief in some quarters of the U.S. government that Washington and its allies were going to remake that troubled part of the world. ‘Don't be so arrogant and think you're going to reshape the Middle East,' Bolger says. ‘We've basically installed authoritarian dictators.' The U.S. wanted to keep about 10,000 troops in Iraq post-2011 (the two sides couldn't agree on legal protections for U.S. troops, so none remain) and a similar sized force is being debated for Afghanistan once the U.S. combat role formally ends at the end of 2014. ‘You could have gone to that plan in 2002 in Afghanistan, and 2003 or '04 in Iraq, and you wouldn't have had an outcome much worse than what we've had,' Bolger says." More here. Buy the book here.

Bob Gates is kind, clean and reverent. And now the proud Eagle Scout is the head of the Boy Scouts: But will Gates, who oversaw the preliminary lifting of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military, open the BSA to gay leaders? The NYT's Timothy Williams: "...Mr. Gates, an Eagle Scout, had been serving as the Boy Scouts' president-elect since his approval by the national executive board in October. On Thursday, he was formally elected by the organization's national council at its annual meeting in Nashville. Mr. Gates is taking the helm of an organization that has experienced a decline in membership for years as it seeks new ways to compete for attention in a culture far removed from the one Mr. Gates grew up in during the 1950s in Wichita, Kan.

Bob Gates, in a statement: "The Boy Scouts of America had a profound influence on my childhood and helped form the foundation of my career in public service...I've had tremendous opportunities in my life, but I can say without hesitation that my memories of scouting are every bit as vivid and meaningful as what came later. I believe every boy deserves an opportunity to experience what scouting offers."

Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay rights organization Glaad, who said that Mr. Gates was aware of the risks of continuing to forbid gays from Boy Scout leadership roles: "If anyone knows that gay and lesbian people can strengthen an institution, it is Secretary Gates," he said. "He saw that the military was left stronger and that all the doomsday fallacies didn't come true." More here.

ICYMI - Bob Gates talked about China, Russia, Afghanistan, and lessons from his career on CFR's HBO History Makers series, here.

Jerry Boykin is in trouble again. The WaPo's Dan Lamothe: "When retired Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, the former commander of the U.S. Army's elite and secretive Delta Force, published a book in 2008, it detailed some of the Pentagon's most sensitive operations of the 20th century...Retired military personnel who write about such sensitive issues commonly submit their works to the Pentagon for advance review to ensure that they don't divulge classified information. But Boykin declined to do so, forging ahead with publication of "Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom."

"The Army struck back last year, quietly issuing him a scathing reprimand following a criminal investigation that concluded he had wrongfully released classified information, according to an Army document obtained by The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request. More here.

Citing failures in Congress, lags at the Pentagon, the California National Guard could have new rules for assault trials. U.S. News and World Report's Paul D. Shinkman: "A new initiative in California may succeed where the federal government has so far failed in reforming military sexual assaults. The state is taking another crack at fixing what critics consider an inherent bias among military commanders forced to pass judgment against their own subordinates in these sensitive cases. California State Senate Bill 1422 would turn over some sexual assault cases involving members of its National Guard to the civilian military justice system, removing commanders from overseeing the process. The bill, introduced by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday and now awaits the State Assembly for consideration." More here.

Do you work in the Pentagon? Going to work in the Pentagon? Then you care about this: Celeb chef Robert Irvine will open a "Fresh Kitchen" casual dining eatery in the Pentagon in the winter of 2015. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren, to reporters yesterday: "We expect Mr. Irvine's restaurant will augment and improve an already impressive array of name-brand dining choices available to the 23 thousand employees that work in the Pentagon. It is expected to take the space currently occupied by the Market Basket, which will move into the space formerly occupied by the Pentagon Dining room."

Warren added to Situation Report: "The dates for construction to begin on the Fresh Kitchen concept have not yet been determined.  Design of the space is underway at present and is expected to be completed by the July/August timeframe. Once Market Basket has moved to the renovated Pentagon Dining Room space (late July/August 2014), construction on the Fresh Kitchen (former Market Basket space) will begin.  A winter 2015 opening for the Fresh Kitchen concept is expected.  Fresh Kitchen will offer both counter-service as well as table-service."