National Security

FP's Situation Report: U.S. assistance to Syrian rebels to expand; 9,800 troops for Afg, out by 2016; Missile defense for Seoul?; What Washington's sturm and drang is doing to veterans; George Wright departs; and a bit more.


This morning, Obama will use his West Point commencement address to launch a new foreign policy offensive. FP's John Hudson: "Under fire from the left and the right for its handling of foreign policy, the Obama administration is about to go on the attack with a high-profile speech at West Point designed to show that it has plans in place to deal with Islamist militants in Afghanistan, Syria, and Africa.
"The speech Wednesday is unlikely to satisfy hawks in Congress who have pressed the White House to send more weaponry to Syria's beleaguered rebels, provide more military assistance to Ukraine during its standoff with Russia, and leave a larger troop presence in Afghanistan to help prevent an al Qaeda resurgence there. But the new initiatives, which rely heavily on training forces in partner nations, may serve to combat the critique that the White House is doing nothing as the world smolders.
"One of the most significant announcements, expected to be delivered on Wednesday, is a new military program to train and equip moderate elements of the Syrian opposition...

"...But that's not the only initiative the administration is rolling out for reporters ahead of the speech. In North and West Africa, the U.S. is sending Special Forces troops to train elite counterterrorism units in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali. The hope is to establish in-country units that can deal with terror threats, such as the one posed by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, which kidnapped almost 300 Nigerian girls last month. The African fighters will be trained by members of the Army's Green Berets and Delta Force and financed by a classified Pentagon account, according to The New York Times.  Overall, the initiative is in line with the president's goal of avoiding costly land wars in favor of training allies to develop their own counterterrorism capabilities." More here.

"The devil's in the details": The White House is close to authorizing a military training program for Syrian rebels. The WSJ's Adam Entous: "...A new military training program, if implemented, would supplement a small train-and-equip program led by the Central Intelligence Agency that Mr. Obama authorized a year ago. U.S. officials don't discuss the CIA's limited training program because it is covert. In a commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday, officials said Mr. Obama will signal backing for the new training effort by saying he intends to increase support to the armed opposition to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including by providing them with training. Mr. Obama isn't expected to provide details about how, or where, that training would be done.

"... Defense officials said it was unclear when training, which would be undertaken by U.S. special-operations forces, would start. They cited obstacles that include how the Pentagon will vet prospective rebels for the program. Syrian opposition leaders say the program would be a step in the right direction but voiced skepticism that training alone could turn the tide in the civil war. Opposition leaders have been lobbying the U.S. to give moderate fighters access to more powerful weapons, including antiaircraft missile launchers, so they can take out Mr. Assad's helicopters and attack planes.

"Defense officials said it also remains unclear which countries in the region would agree to host such a mission and what criteria would be used to screen rebels to prevent radical Islamists aligned with al Qaeda from taking part.

A senior U.S. military official: "The devil's in the details... a lot of conditions have to be met." Read the whole story here.

More on Syria below.

The president's biggest foreign-policy speech in a year will be showy and ambitious but can't paper over his administration's lack of focus says Stephen Walt. Harvard's Walt for FP: "President Obama will give the commencement address at West Point tomorrow morning. I don't know what he is going to say, of course, but I'm sure he'll say it well.
"...No doubt the speech will offer up the usual list of ‘achievements' (Osama bin Laden is dead, we're out of Iraq, etc.), and rumor has it that he's going to announce a new program of assistance for the Syrian opposition. Given the setting, it is bound to strike a patriotic tone and contain some typically soaring Obamian rhetoric. But what the president really needs to do is provide the strategic coherence that has been lacking ever since he took office in 2009. Although he seems to have recognized from the start that the United States had to reduce its global burdens in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither Obama nor his advisors ever managed to articulate and stick to a set of core strategic principles. The result has been an overly ambitious foreign-policy agenda that kept top officials busy but failed to produce significant positive results." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday's laden 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.

Who's Where When today ­- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is wheels up today for a 12-day, 'round the world trip (details tomorrow)... Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is on his way to Singapore with a stop in the UAE today... Gen. Ray Odierno attends the commencement at West Point... Marine Commandant Jim Amos speaks at the Army War College... Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, National Security Agency, Chief, Central Security Adm. Michael S. Rogers delivers remarks at the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association's (AFCEA) 5th Annual Cross-Agency Cybersecurity Summit at the Capitol Hilton at 1:00 p.m.

Also today, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia,  Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett, and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory will kick off the Navy's 4th Annual Wounded Warrior and Veteran Hiring Conference in Raleigh in what is the first year the Navy has staged such an event outside a "Fleet Concentration Center." But in Raleigh, the three will leverage the proximity of the Marine Wounded Warrior Transition Unit at Camp Lejeune, with the industry opportunity of the famed "Research Triangle" in Raleigh-Durham. So far, more than 60 local companies and firms have registered to participate in the two-day employment workshop. In fiscal 2012, the Navy hired 11,000 veterans - 59 percent of all the service's new hires - with 10 percent of those wounded warriors, according to the Navy. More deets here.  

And also today, get your missile-defense fix today at the Atlantic Council's daylong conference.  James A. Winnefeld, Jr., Vice Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff delivers the keynote at 9:15 a.m. Watch online here.

And by the way, Washington is considering the deployment of a missile-defense system in South Korea. The WSJ's Julian Barnes: "The U.S. is weighing a plan to deploy an advanced missile-defense system in South Korea, as the Pentagon begins a new push this week to expand cooperation in Asia to counter the threat of North Korean missiles, defense officials said. The U.S. has conducted a site survey in South Korea for possible locations for a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, or Thaad, but no final decisions have been made to deploy the system, the officials said. The system is designed to intercept short, medium and intermediate missiles. Last year, in the face of provocations from North Korea, the U.S. deployed one such system to Guam to protect U.S. bases there.
"Deploying a Thaad system to South Korea could represent an important incentive to encourage Seoul to cooperate more fully with the U.S. and Japan in a planned regional missile defense system. South Korean officials have long indicated they don't want to participate in a U.S.-Japanese missile defense system, preferring instead to develop their own defenses. South Korean official reiterated that position on Tuesday. The U.S. could deploy its own Thaad system to South Korea temporarily, and then, in time, replace it with a system purchased by Seoul, a defense official said. Or it could allow South Korea to purchase its own, and jump ahead in the queue for the system, the official said." More here.

Obama plays it down the middle on Afghanistan - giving the military most of what it wants in force size, but announces that almost all of those troops will come out by 2016. FP's Lubold: President Obama announced Tuesday that he will keep 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014 for "two narrow missions" - training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda - but will draw all of them down by the time he prepares to leave office at the end of 2016. The announcement ends months of speculation about what the commander-in-chief would do in Afghanistan, where about 32,000 American troops remain in the 13th year of what has become a deeply unpopular war. On Wednesday, Obama - who just returned from his first trip to Afghanistan in two years -- will give what aides describe as a major speech at West Point outlining his broader foreign policy views as well as his specific policies on Syria, Afghanistan, and other nations.

But Obama's decision to announce a timeline for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan that squares with his own last two years in office led several critics to charge that a political agenda was driving a major policy decision.

"To arbitrarily end this with a date that is set by a domestic American political timetable ignores the realities on the ground and ignores the sacrifices our men and women have made in Afghanistan," said Marc Chretien, who most recently served as the chief political adviser to Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan until early last year.

Michele Flournoy thinks the announcement is a positive development because it "stops the narrative that we're going to zero," but hopes that the U.S. manages the drawdown based on conditions on the ground: "The truth is that nobody knows if this plan is just right, too fast, or too slow."

Lindsey Graham tweets: "Doing the same thing he did in Iraq and expecting different results is the definition of insanity."

Former ISAF commander John Allen: "I am very attentive to a deadline for the training mission at the end of 2016, and will be very interested in understanding this aspect of the announcement."

CNAS' Fontaine says that the Afghanistan announcement is one step forward, two steps back. From Fontaine's statement: "... his announcement of a rigid deadline for withdrawal of those troops may well mark two steps back. It is clear today that the Afghan national security forces are not yet fully capable of handling the array of security challenges facing their country, and an enduring component of nearly 10,000 American troops - supplemented by diplomats, intelligence personnel and contractors - can go a long way toward helping those forces succeed.  And yet the President's withdrawal timeline appears based on the administration's clock, rather than conditions on the ground." More here.

Dempsey tells Reuters' Phil Stewart that a 2016 U.S. pullout gives time to build Afghan force. Stewart: "...General Martin Dempsey... said Afghan army Chief of Staff General Sher Mohammad Karimi said the decision would allow his country to ‘feel as though we can get about the business of governing ourselves' secure in the knowledge of continued U.S. support. ‘My Pakistani counterpart, the first words out his mouth was that he was deeply relieved. He too felt that the certainty was important, not only for Afghanistan but for the region,' Dempsey said, referring to Pakistan's General Rashad Mahmood." More here.

Some would say that Obama confronts foreign policy with the world he wants, not the one he has. The WaPo's lead editorial, "The Retreat Continues," on Obama's Afghanistan policy, which ends with this kicker: "Ending wars." "Nation-building at home." The "pivot to Asia." These are popular and attractive slogans, and they make a lot of sense in the abstract. But they don't necessarily bring peace to a dangerous world, and a president can't always safely choose which dangers he would rather confront." Read it here.

Meantime, a Pakistani woman was stoned to death by her family in broad daylight. The Guardian's Jon Boone: "The 'honor killing' happened in front of a large crowd of witnesses outside Lahore's grand high court building where Farzana Parveen, 25, had been due to appear in a case brought by her family. The attack began when one of Parveen's brothers attempted to shoot her before he and other male family members attacked her with bricks and blunt instruments. Throughout the deadly assault her father simply looked on while no members of the public outside the busy court complex came forward to intervene despite her cries for help. Some reports said policemen watched the incident - and all of the attackers managed to escape, although her father was arrested. The affluent city of Lahore likes to think of itself as Pakistan's 'cultural capital', far removed from the country's rural hinterland where killings to protect family 'honor' are more common. More here.

But: an Afghan woman who set her husband on fire is receiving support from others who are tired of enduring lives of abuse. The NYT's Alissa Rubin: "Zahra said a neighbor raped her in her home on Friday. It was the most humiliating event in her unremittingly painful life, and the next day she begged her husband, Najibullah, to move their family so the man could not attack her again. He refused. On Sunday afternoon, she poured kerosene over Najibullah and lit him on fire. 'I stepped back and watched him burn,' Zahra said. 'I thought, ‘Someone is going to die, and it is going to be him or it is going to be me.'' More here.

The Israeli government has agreed to spend more than half the funds the Pentagon provides for its Iron Dome system in the U.S. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "... Funds going to U.S. contractors for components of the Israeli-built, Pentagon-funded system will jump to 30 percent this year and 55 percent next year from 3 percent previously, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency report to Congress obtained by Bloomberg News. That amounts to at least $97 million of $176 million requested by the Defense Department for the coming fiscal year... While that performance bolstered Iron Dome's popularity in the U.S. as a way to aid the nation's closest ally in the Mideast, lawmakers have been pushing for more of the Defense Department's funds for the program to be spent on American contractors in a time of declining defense spending." More here.

An American solar panel company wondered why Chinese firms kept undercutting their prices - then the FBI knocked on their door. FP's Shane Harris with an exclusive: "SolarWorld was fighting a losing battle. The U.S. subsidiary of the German solar panel manufacturer knew that its Chinese competitors, backed by generous government subsidies, were flooding the American market with steeply discounted solar panels and equipment, making it practically impossible for U.S. firms to compete. What SolarWorld didn't know, however, was that at the same time it was pleading its case with U.S. trade officials, Chinese military hackers were breaking into the company's computers and stealing private information that would give Chinese solar firms an even bigger unfair advantage, including the company's pricing and marketing strategies." More here.

The White House's top lawyer will look into how the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan leaked. USA Today's David Jackson: "White House Counsel Neil Eggleston will develop a report ‘with recommendations on how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again,' said Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the National Security Agency. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough asked Eggleston to conduct the review and report back to him, Hayden said." More here.

Al-Monitor's Edward Dark reports from Aleppo on how war profiteers are plundering in Syria, here.

The NYT's Anne Barnard documents a Syria's fractured railroad, here.

U.S.-Saudi relations are still strained by Syria. The WaPo's Liz Sly in Riyadh: "The worst rupture in 40 years in U.S.-Saudi relations has been eased - but not healed - by a series of measures aimed at restoring damaged trust. In a sign of the significance of the relationship, both governments have made strenuous efforts to repair the rift, which emerged after President Obama stepped back last summer from his ‘red line' on any use of chemical weapons by Syria and declined to launch airstrikes against its government... ‘Obama has no political will at all, not only in Syria but everywhere,' said Abdullah al-Askar, head of the foreign affairs committee in the kingdom's advisory Shura Council, reflecting the widespread perception that the United States has lost interest in the Middle East. ‘The disappointment with him is felt all over the Arab world.' Obama's visit with Abdullah in March, intended to reassure Saudis of the U.S. commitment to the relationship, has been followed by a flurry of U.S. delegations from various branches of government. Among the visitors was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who this month asserted the United States' determination to remain engaged in a region that produces most of the world's oil." More here.

Ukrainian billionaire Petro Poroshenko won the election - but can he win over the people? David Patrikarakos for FP: "...The truth is, Poroshenko takes office facing both military and political problems. He may have won by a comfortable margin, but the electorate also made its dissatisfaction with the main candidates clear. In an election characterized by predictability, the one surprise was the strength of support for Oleh Lyashko, a former journalist and leader of Ukraine's Radical Party, who received almost 8 percent of the vote." More here.

The continuing political struggle over VA chief's fate risks distorting the public's view of those who fought. TIME's Mark Thompson: "Washington relishes nothing more than dumping someone's career into a centrifuge and punching ‘puree'-it separates the good from the bad, and leaves Americans, with plenty of help from the media, to focus on the bad. Regardless of what happens to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the sturm und drang surrounding his VA tenure is doing little to help the U.S. public understand the nation's veterans at a time when such insight is desperately needed. The high-profile attention on ailing vets can only exacerbate, in the public's mind, that most of them are coming home broken one way or another.
Mattis, a three-star Marine general who retired in 2013, warned yesterday: "We are telling these guys they are somehow damaged... Only about 15% have ever been in close combat, so when the biggest danger is getting their foot run over by a dessert cart at a [forward operating base] is somehow translated into us giving people money who said `I had to stand on a ramp when a dead guy was put on the airplane.' Now don't get me wrong-I respected every one of them-but hey man, this isn't as bad as Iwo Jima, and those guys came home and raised healthy families, they ran universities, they developed corporations that made America competitive in the world.'" More here.

In the wake of the VA scandal, Chuck Hagel's Pentagon announced a review of the military health system late yesterday. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby provided the following statement: "Today, Secretary Hagel ordered a comprehensive review of the military health system to begin immediately. Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), will lead the review which will focus on access to care and an assessment of the safety and quality of health care, both in the military treatment facilities and healthcare that the department purchases from civilian healthcare providers. The review, which is expected to last for 90 days, will examine whether current access to care meets the department's standards. It will also examine the safety and quality of the care provided to all DoD beneficiaries." More here.

Meantime, the Army ousted the leader of Fort Bragg's hospital. The NYT's Sharon LaFraniere: "The Army ousted the commander of one of its busiest hospitals and suspended three top deputies on Tuesday after two patients in their 20s unexpectedly died in the past 10 days, shortly after they sought treatment at the hospital's emergency room. The shake-up at the hospital, Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., came at a moment of heightened sensitivity about health care in the military community, stirred by the furor over treatment delays in the separate medical system serving the nation's veterans. 
"...Pentagon data shows that Womack, which performs more than 14,000 inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures a year, had a higher-than-expected rate of surgical complications from January 2010 to July 2013, the latest data available. In March, the hospital suspended all elective surgery for two days after inspectors from the Joint Commission found fault with surgical infection control procedures. The hospital has remained fully accredited.
"Less than three weeks ago, the Army's surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, met with hospital staff members to discuss concerns, including worries over the inspection results. Hospital workers have also privately complained that the patient population has grown while staff has shrunk. One worker said General Horoho had been asked: ‘Where do you draw the line between quality of care and your budget?'" More here.

For the Daily Beast, Jacob Siegel explores a dysfunctional VA hospital in Texas, here.

Once more with feeling: Want to understand the different factions in Libya? Check it out on War on the Rocks, here (broken link yesterday). 

An Army institution departs today. George Wright, famed Army public affairs officer, is heading home. He's joining his wife who is in Louisville to take care of her mother. "While I'd planned to stay until January 2016, the separation and long winter took their toll, so I'm joining the ranks of those who 'leave Washington to spend more time with their family.' My last day is [today], and I'll be home for supper on Friday. The good news is that I'll still be part of the Army family, and I'll start work on June 2 as Chief of Internal Information at ROTC Cadet Command at Fort Knox, a short 45-mile drive from my house in Louisville.  SHAMELESS PLUG: I'll run the Press Center for ROTC Summer Camp from June 7 - August 12, so y'all come. In all sincerity, though, as I'm cleaning out my office today, I remember how proud I was to take this duty almost three years ago, and to have been able to return to serve on active duty as a PAO here for three years in 2006. Each of you has touched my life in some way, and I'm grateful for our good work together, and what I hope may be an enduring professional and personal relationship. Please accept my warmest, most sincere gratitude for your good work and friendship."

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."