Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Militants storm a Pakistani airport; On Bergdahl Deal, where's reconciliation?; Feinstein: no threat to Bergdahl's life; End of a war era: TGIF closed; Square One on VA secretary; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

On the Bergdahl Deal, where's the bigger reconciliation agreement? Among perhaps the most serious criticisms of the Bergdahl swap is the one on whether the swap should have been part of a bigger reconciliation deal with the Taliban - a deal that the administration and the military has said is critical to the end of the war. But while President Obama hinted that he hoped the swap would lead to more such discussions, there is no hint now there is one afoot. The NYT's David Sanger and Matthew Rosenberg on Page A-7 this morning: "The question is why the five were released without any commitments to a larger agreement, under which the Taliban would renounce international terrorism, and begin a process of reconciliation with the government of Afghanistan. That condition had been at the heart of the original discussions with the Taliban about a prisoner swap in 2011 and early 2012. It was abandoned last year, administration officials now say, because the Taliban were no longer interested in a broader deal - probably because the Taliban understood American forces were leaving. Now, both in Afghanistan and in Washington, there are questions about whether the release of the five men gives the Taliban legitimacy, and enhances their power over a weak government in Kabul." More here.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn't see the threat to Bergdahl. Today was the first day since the Bergdahl story broke that there were no Bergdahl stories on the front pages of the NYT, WSJ or WaPo, signifying that while the story will remain big it's moved into a new mode. But there was news over the weekend, including Di-Fi's statement on Bloomberg TV that she isn't sure Bergdahl's life really was in danger - the chief reasoning of the White House for the urgency to get him released. Bloomberg's Kathleen Hunter: "The Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said she's not convinced there was a 'credible threat' against the life of freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl that motivated the White House to keep its plans secret. 'I don't think there was a credible threat,' U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said in an interview yesterday for Bloomberg Television's 'Political Capital with Al Hunt airing this weekend. 'I have no information that there was.' More here.

Both Feinstein and Chambliss had few kind words for the White House yesterday. The WaPo's Josh Hicks: "The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested Sunday that the White House has done a poor job of sharing information with Congress about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his recent release from Taliban captivity. ‘I think this whole sort of deal has been one that the administration has kept very close, and, in the eyes of many of us, too close,' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, said on CBS's ‘Face the Nation.' Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the panel, said on the program that they were surprised by news that Bergdahl may have been held in a small metal cage and tortured. The lawmakers said they first heard about this in a New York Times article on Sunday.

"Chambliss said the Obama administration has ‘acted very strangely' about Bergdahl and the prisoner swap that led to his release. ‘Nobody has made any effort to contact me from the administration, but then, you know, I learned about this [prisoner swap] after the fact,' Chambliss said. ‘Dianne and I were both called on Monday night, after Bergdahl was released on Saturday, and told that it had happened.'" More here.

Kerry said to CNN this weekend about the Bergdahl decision: "It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, do any number of things...We would consciously choose to do that?" More here.

As Bergdahl heals, details of his captivity emerge. On Saturday, there was a Page One story about Bergdahl's captivity and his condition that indicate he's in rough shape. That he hasn't even spoken with his parents yet is a sign of that. The NYT's Eric Schmitt: "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has told medical officials that his captors locked him in a metal cage in total darkness for weeks at a time as punishment for trying to escape, and while military doctors say he now is physically able to travel he is not yet emotionally ready for the pressures of reuniting with his family, according to American officials who have been briefed on his condition.

An American official who has been briefed on the sergeant's condition: "...Physically, he could be put on a plane to the U.S. tomorrow, but there are still a couple of mental criteria to address: the family unification piece and the media exposure piece."

"...He shows few if any signs of the malnourishment and other ailments that Obama administration officials said he was suffering when they saw a video of him that the Taliban made in December and released a month later - a video so alarming, American officials have said, it made his release an urgent priority. As talks for Sergeant Bergdahl's release proceeded after that, his captors may have fed him better, allowed him greater movement and even brought him medical care in preparation for his departure, American officials said." More here.

That story prompted this from the Pentagon over the weekend: Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon pressec: "The Department of Defense does not comment on discussions that?Sergeant Bergdahl is having with the professionals who are providing him?medical and reintegration care. We will respect that process in all regards. As we have noted, the Army will conduct a comprehensive review to learn the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance and captivity. That process, too, needs to be respected. Our focus remains on providing him with the care he needs."

The WaPo's E.J. Dionne on the rancor over Bowe Bergdahl: "...Yes, Obama could certainly have handled the situation better. It's fair to question the optics of the Rose Garden ceremony announcing Bergdahl's freedom, to wonder why the administration did not acknowledge upfront the ambiguities surrounding his tour of duty and to ask why Congress wasn't alerted to the deal the administration was negotiating. But what's truly astounding is how many Republicans raced to turn Obama's commitment to bringing home a POW into an outrage." More here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

A well-coordinated terrorist attack on the Karachi airport kills thirteen. The NYT's Zia Ur-Rehman and Salman Masood in Karachi: "In a ferocious terrorist assault that stretched into Monday morning, suspected Islamist militants infiltrated Pakistan's largest international airport in Karachi, waging an extended firefight against security forces that resulted in 23 deaths and shook the country's already fragile sense of security. Explosions and gunfire rang out across the airport through the night as police and security forces battled with attackers, and passengers waited anxiously in a nearby terminal and in airplanes stranded on the tarmac. Just before 5 a.m., after five hours of siege, the military reported that the last of 10 attackers had been killed.

"The chief minister of Sindh Province, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, told reporters that in addition to the 10 attackers, 13 other people had died, including 10 members of the Airport Security Forces and a flight engineer with Pakistan International Airlines, the state airline. ‘They were well trained,' he said of the assailants. ‘Their plan was very well thought out.' There was no claim of responsibility for the assault, which was the most ambitious of its kind in Pakistan since Islamist militants attacked a navy air base in central Karachi in 2011. Initial suspicions fell on the Pakistani Taliban and related Islamist groups that have become increasingly strong in the past two years in the city, a sprawling megalopolis of 20 million people and a major commercial hub." More here.

And, gunmen destroyed a NATO oil tanker in Pakistan. Agence France-Presse: "Gunmen in restive southwest Pakistan on Sunday fired bullets at an oil tanker carrying fuel bound for NATO troops in Afghanistan, setting the vehicle and a car ablaze, police said. The attack highlights the continuing dangers facing the US-led coalition as it winds down operations in Afghanistan with 51,000 combat troops due to pull out of the country by the year's end. Sunday's incident occurred around 200 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Quetta - the capital of Baluchistan - a province rife with Islamic militancy, sectarian violence and ethnic insurgency. ‘Two gunmen riding a motorcycle intercepted a NATO oil tanker in Dera Murad Jamali city and fired bullets at it,' local police official Ali Gohar Lehri told AFP. ‘The tanker and a car close to it caught flames,' he added. ‘The driver and cleaner of the tanker and all passengers traveling in the car jumped out of their vehicles to save their lives.' The attackers escaped the crime scene. Another police official confirmed the shooting." More here.

If they are hauling off the TGIF from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, you know the Afghanistan war is over. Agence France Presse's Dan DeLuce, on how life 'behind the wire" seems far from the war: "...Home to thousands of soldiers and civilians and round-the-clock military flights, Kandahar and Bagram resemble mini-cities, with strict rules that seem out of place in a war zone. While soldiers must carry their assault rifles around the base, the speed limit is a modest 25 kilometres (16 miles) an hour and seatbelts must be worn at all times. If caught speeding, a soldier or a civilian contractor can expect a session with the provost marshal, who will inform the appropriate senior officer or supervisor."

"...some of the shops and eateries are closing again -- but this time it's because of the imminent departure of most of the NATO force by a year-end deadline. At Bagram, the fried-chicken outlet Popeye's shut down on June 1. And at Kandahar, a pizzeria and a French cafe that sold baguette sandwiches have been torn down. This week a dump truck carted away the remnants of the TGI Friday's restaurant.

One NATO officer to DeLuce: "When they close TGI Friday's, you know the war's over." More here.

Who's Where When today - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, back Sunday from his 12-day 'round-the-world trip, hosts a welcome ceremony for Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work at the Pentagon... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in Poland visiting senior leaders in the Polish Army and American soldiers from 173rd Airborne Brigade conducting training in Poland.... Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos remains on his trip in Europe.

Back to square one on a Shinseki replacement. The White House appeared to want to tap the head of the Cleveland Clinic to take over the VA after Shinseki's recent departure. If there was ever a job that could inspire someone to serve their country, it is this one. Problem is, no one wants it. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Stephen Koff, in Washington: "Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, has ended speculation that he might become secretary of veterans affairs, telling the White House that he has decided to stay in his current job. President Barack Obama asked Cosgrove last week to consider taking over the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs..."

Cosgrove: "... As a physician, veteran, and hospital chief executive, I have great respect for the care provided to the veteran community and for those who work to care for them... This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, but I have decided to withdraw from consideration from this position and remain at the Cleveland Clinic, due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here." More here.

The VA is skedded to release an audit of its hospital scheduling practices today. More on that bit from the WaPo's Josh Hicks this morning here.

There will be a hearing today on manipulation of records at the VA by the House Veterans Affairs Committee; deets here.

For FP, how history, greed, and nepotism are preventing the continent from securing itself against al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and other threats by Michela Wrong, here.

Wartime weapons are arriving on Main Street. The NYT's Matt Apuzzo in Wisconsin: "...As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America's ‘long season of war,' the former tools of combat - M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more - are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice. During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.

"The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of ‘barbering without a license.'" More here.

Hackers shut down utilities on at least three continents, according to formerly classified report. Inside Cybersecurity's Chris Castelli: "Utilities on at least three continents have been "penetrated or shut down" by hackers and insiders, according to a formerly classified 2008 presidential directive on cybersecurity that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and released today by privacy advocates. The Electronic Privacy Information Center disclosed a redacted 16-page copy of National Security Presidential Directive 54, which former President George W. Bush used to set U.S. 'policy, strategy, guidelines, and implementation actions to secure cyberspace' and to launch the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative." More here.

Israeli military officials caution the political echelon against cutting security ties with the new Palestinian unity government.  Defense News' Barbara Opall-Rome: "...‘We need the PA to be demilitarized, without strategic partners and effective enough to deal with their needs in countering terror,' a top officer on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Staff told Defense News. The officer cited the oft-repeated operational policy of Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff, who supported security ties with the US-funded, Jordanian-trained PA Security Forces. ‘Gabi Ashkenazi said the more they do, the less we do. This is still in effect,' he said." More here.

The U.S. is sending stealth bombers to Europe. Air Force Times' Oriana Pawlyk: "The Air Force has further beefed up its bomber presence in Europe, deploying two B-2 stealth bombers for military exercises in the region. The B-2 deployment is another show of Washington's effort to reassure allies in the region amid Russia's recent bluster. The aircraft are assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing out of Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. On Sunday, they joined three B-52 Stratofortress aircraft already deployed to RAF Fairford, a British air base west of London. All five of the aircraft are capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Adm. Cecil Haney, commander, U.S. Strategic Command in an Air Force, said in a news release: "...‘This deployment of strategic bombers provides an invaluable opportunity to strengthen and improve interoperability with our allies and partners... The training and integration of strategic forces demonstrates to our nation's leaders and our allies that we have the right mix of aircraft and expertise to respond to a variety of potential threats and situations.'" More here.

The US completes a large-scale exercise in the Middle East, even with its amphibious forces stretched. Stripes' Hendrick Simoes in Jordan: "Although officials insisted the annual multinational Eager Lion exercise that ended here Sunday was unrelated to sectarian violence across Jordan's borders, regional tensions nonetheless affected the course of the two-week exercise. Just days after the exercise began, the USS Bataan was ordered to the coast of Libya to be ready for a possible evacuation of U.S. personnel amid escalating fighting there. Officials said the ship's departure had minimal impact on the exercise. ‘Bataan's departure was demonstrative of the inherent flexibility of our amphibious forces,' Brig. Gen. Gregg Olson, commander of Task Force 51/59 and in charge of the amphibious forces deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes." More here.

The Pentagon's Derek Chollet pushed the Italians to spring for the F-35. From the remarks of Assistant Secretary of Defense Chollet: "...I am aware of the significant debate here surrounding Italy's procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  In times of economic austerity, it is natural for government leaders to look at large expenditures to determine if possible savings can be found, either by cutting the program or by restructuring it in some way.  The United States is going through this difficult scenario as well, as we face our own budgetary challenges.
"As the Italian government and Parliament review their options, and as the government drafts its ‘White Paper on Defense,' I ask that the investment in the F-35 be considered from two perspectives -- what the F-35 brings to Italy in terms of capability; and what the aircraft gives Italy in terms of return on its economic investment.  

"First, to be among our most capable NATO Allies, and to be prepared to respond to emerging and future security threats -- including those in Italy's back yard -- Italy needs to invest in top-tier capabilities that are interoperable with other NATO Allies, including the United States.  The F-35 provides a next generation- power projection capability and ensures our joint and coalition partners can operate shoulder-to-shoulder' in future conflicts." More here.

The U.S. Navy reported Saturday that two American warships had rescued nearly 300 people from boats in the Mediterranean Sea after one of the small craft began to sink.  The LA Times' Roger Ainsley: "...The amphibious assault ship Bataan and guided missile frigate Elrod responded after receiving a report from an Italian military aircraft that had sighted six small vessels, the Navy said in a statement... It was not immediately clear who the people were. However, refugees by the tens of thousands, many from sub-Saharan Africa, have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in recent years, often in craft that are dangerously overcrowded and not seaworthy. More than 100 migrants died early last month when three boats sank in the Mediterranean." More here.

Egypt's Sisi takes office to a cool reception from the West. Reuters' Yasmine Saleh and Maggie Fick: "Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised to rule Egypt in an inclusive manner after he was sworn in as president on Sunday but gave no indication he would reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood movement he removed from power nearly a year ago. In an inauguration ceremony with low-key attendance by Western allies concerned by a crackdown on dissent, the former army chief called for hard work and the development of freedom ‘in a responsible framework away from chaos.'

"... Security in Cairo was extra tight, with armored personnel carriers and tanks positioned in strategic locations. Sisi said combating terrorism would be his top priority for the time being, a reference to Islamist foes he describes as a threat to national security. ‘As for those who shed the blood of the innocents, there will be no place for them in this path,' Sisi said in his first speech to the nation. ‘And I say it loud and clear, there will be no soft stand with anyone who resorts to violence or whoever wants to delay our march towards the future that we want for our children.'"

 

 

 

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: What Bob Gates thought; The Taliban might have killed Bergdahl; Was there a cash exchange?; SF-ers suffer in silence; Breedlove remembers D-Day and the Picauvillais; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Bob Gates has been noticeably absent from the commentary on the decision to release Bergdahl - unlike others, he has not weighed in. It's not clear what Gates would have done today as Defense Secretary if he sat in that seat today, but his past views give a hint. A former senior defense official confirmed to Situation Report that Gates opposed such a deal when he was secretary, in part because of his "fundamental belief" that the U.S. shouldn't negotiate with terrorists or hostage-takers.

"At the end of the day, he just does not believe in negotiating with terrorists," the former senior official told Situation Report. "When the prospect of doing a deal with Bergdahl was raised in the past, he was opposed to it," the official said. And while the U.S. has long thought that reconciliation with the Taliban was the likeliest way to end the war in Afghanistan, Gates always believed that such wars always will end based on negotiations in which the U.S. negotiates "from a position of strength."

Meantime, the administration told senators it didn't notify Congress about the prisoners swap because of intelligence that the Taliban might kill Bergdahl if the deal was made public. As the administration scrambles to defend widening criticism of the Bergdahl deal and why it didn't notify Congress of what it would do with the detainees at Gitmo in advance, it said yesterday that not only was Bergdahl's condition worsening - he might also have been killed. The AP's Ken Dilanian and Deb Riechmann: "...That fear - not just the stated concerns that Bergdahl's health might be failing - drove the administration to quickly make the deal to rescue him, bypassing the law that lawmakers be notified when detainees are released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, congressional and administration officials said Thursday. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Since Bergdahl's release on Saturday, administration officials including President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice have said publicly that the key reason for the secret prisoner swap was evidence that Bergdahl's physical health was deteriorating after five years in captivity. But on Wednesday night, administration officials told senators in a closed session that the primary concern was the death risk if the deal collapsed." More here.

Eventually, Bergdahl will meet the press, and what he says could make matters far worse for the White House. FP's Harris, Groll, Hudson and Lubold: "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is receiving medical treatment at a military hospital in Germany after five years in captivity with the Taliban. So far, his parents have been speaking on his behalf. But eventually -- and perhaps soon -- Bergdahl will speak for himself, and depending on what he says, the former prisoner of war will either give the White House a badly needed public relations boost or dig it an even deeper hole.

"Bergdahl could easily come forth and thank his rescuers, stress his relief at being back in the United States, and then say he's prepared to cooperate with the coming military inquiry into the circumstances of his capture that Pentagon officials have promised because of persistent rumors that he deserted his base before falling into Taliban hands. But there's good reason for the White House to fret that Bergdahl might wind up saying something else entirely -- sympathize with the Taliban or even mildly criticize the war -- and that his comments, which would attract enormous media attention, would make it even harder for the administration to justify the prisoner swap." More here.

Bergdahl remains at the U.S. military's medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany and continues to recover after his release over the weekend. Pentagon officials said Thursday that he remains in stable condition and his doctors believe his health has been improving daily. "Sergeant Bergdahl is conversing with medical staff and becoming more engaged in his treatment care plan," Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told Situation Report. "He is getting better and showing signs of improvement."

Bergdahl, who has yet to speak with his parents, Robert and Jani, remains in what the military terms "phase two" of his reintegration from captivity, which can last between a few days and a few weeks or more. There's no way yet to know when Bergdahl would be released from the facility in Germany. Ultimately, he'll be transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where he would be expected to reunite with his family and begin the "third phase" of his reintegration treatment. Six years ago, three American civilians rescued from the Colombian jungle after years of captivity with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, spent several weeks at Brooke after they were rescued.

Was there more to the deal than just the five detainees? Rep. Duncan Hunter wants more answers from McRaven, Brennan and Comey. Hunter, the California Republican, suspects that there might be more to the Bergdahl-for-five-detainee swap, that a payment might have also been made, and wants answers. The White House has said any such notion is "completely false," and indeed it sounds far-fetched. But as the onion is peeled back on the deal, there remains a question about what the Haqqani network got out of it. In a letter Hunter sent yesterday to SOCOM's McCraven, the CIA's Brennan and the FBI's Comey and obtained exclusively late yesterday by Situation Report: "...As you know, Bergdahl, throughout his five years in captivity, was in the custody of the Haqqani network, even though the Taliban, due to its relationship with Haqqani, negotiated Bergdahl's release. It is my understanding that a transfer occurred that possibly included payment to Haqqani from the Taliban for the receipt of Bergdahl."

FYI: As it becomes clearer that Bergdahl deserted his unit - and in fact had wondered off before - here's a look at the number of troops who have gone AWOL - Absent Without Official Leave - or deserted over the years. Keep in mind that troops don't typically desert from a warzone. Nonetheless, in 2012, there were 466; in 2011, 548; in 2010, 625; in 2009, 647; in 2008, 1,513; in 2007, 1,571; in 2006, 1,575; in 2005, 948; in 2004, 1,866; in 2003,  1,295; in 2002, 1,698; and in 2001, there were 1,898 troops who went AWOL or deserted their unit. All told between 2001 and 2012 - 14,650 people.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where anniversaries are usually not a big deal. But think for a minute that 70 years ago today, in a far-off place, American troops engaged in what today would be astonishing. From the Army's D-Day Website, to help us remember: "On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, "we will accept nothing less than full victory." More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day's end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolph Hitler's crack troops." More on that here. More on D-Day, including a speech by Gen. Phil Breedlove, below.

And, ICYMI, FP's Shane Harris had this great exclusive yesterday on an American lawyer's discovery of evidence of one of WWII's most notorious war crimes. It's a great read, here.

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.

Sen. John McCain, on the compromise legislation to cut wait times for veterans seeking medical care while also holding officials accountable for systemic problems at the VA. McCain in a statement: "This legislation empowers our veterans with more flexibility to choose the health care they've earned while bringing much-needed accountability to VA operations, including the ability to immediately fire poor-performing employees with no pay during the appeals process. Compromise can be difficult, but addressing the most pressing challenges raised by this crisis in veterans' care requires it." More here.

From Sanders' office: "Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today reached a bipartisan agreement to improve veterans' access to health care and address serious problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs. ‘While this is not the bill that I would have written, we have taken a significant step forward with this agreement,' said Sanders. At a time when VA medical facilities in parts of the country have waiting lists that are too long, this legislation would give veterans access to  private doctors, community health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities and facilities funded by the Indian Health Service. The bill would provide for the immediate firing of incompetent high-level officials but also includes an expedited appeals process to prevent the new authority from being abused for political purposes or other reasons." More here.

And from IAVA: "Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America today praised Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle for their bipartisan work on addressing critical access issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Earlier, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of two combat veterans in the Senate, announced a bipartisan deal that would address access and care issues for veterans within the VA system." More here.

Change your Outlook's auto-fill: IAVA's Zach Goldberg is leaving today for a new, "outstanding opportunity." He'll be replaced by Gretchen Andersen, who Zach said this morning has been "working like crazy and doing a terrific job." Good luck to Zach and thanks for all his help.

McCain accuses the NYT of purposely editing his words to misrepresent his position on the Bergdahl exchange. From McCain's office last night: "In an editorial published this evening and apparently set to run in tomorrow's paper, The New York Times purposely edits Senator McCain's statement from a February 2014 CNN interview to omit the phrase "obviously I'd have to know the details" to make it appear - falsely - that he expressed unqualified support for a prisoner exchange involving Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and five Taliban leaders. More here.

Keeping it in the family: Special Forces' troops are all the more hesitant to get help and yet are all the more likely to need it. As the U.S. military seeks to rely more and more on U.S. Special Forces to conduct precision strikes, rescues and other operations around the world in lieu of larger scale deployments, the NYT today looks at a growing problem within the ranks. The NYT's Thom Shanker and Richard Oppel on Page One: "After his fourth combat tour, to Afghanistan in 2011, Sgt. First Class Michael B. Lube, a proud member of the Army Special Forces, came home alienated and angry. Once a rock-solid sergeant and devoted husband, he became sullen, took to drinking, got in trouble with his commanders and started beating his wife.

'He would put this mask on, but behind it was a shattered version of the man I knew,' said his wife, Susan Ullman. She begged him to get help, but he refused, telling her: 'I'll lose my security clearance. I'll get thrown out.' When she quietly reached out to his superior officers for guidance, she said, she was told: 'Keep it in the family. Deal with it.'

"And so he did. Last summer, just days after his 36th birthday, Sergeant Lube put on his Green Beret uniform and scribbled a note, saying, "I'm so goddamn tired of holding it together." Then he placed a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. To a growing number of medical experts and the Special Operations Command itself, suicides by soldiers like Sergeant Lube tell a troubling story about the toll of war on the nation's elite troops... for all their well-known resilience, an emerging body of research suggests that Special Operations forces have experienced, often in silence, significant traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both conditions have been linked in research to depression and, sometimes, suicidal behavior.

"Absent other data, suicide has emerged as the clearest indicator of the problem: In the past two and a half years, 49 Special Operations members have killed themselves, more than in the preceding five years. While suicides for the rest of the active-duty military have started to decline, after years of steady increases, they have risen for the nation's commandos."

Dr. Geoffrey Ling, a leading brain-trauma expert at DARPA: "The numbers are shocking." More here.

Fighting Joe Dunford was picked to be the next Marine Corps commandant yesterday. Everyone knew this would happen, it just wasn't clear when since he already has a job - in Afghanistan. But now that the White House's post-2014 plans are out there, and Afghanistan is close to having a new president, it's time to bring him home. Dunford, who used to be the Marine Corps' No. 2, is thought to be able to slide right into the top job without much of a learning curve. Then, if the stars align, pun intended, he may move to the Pentagon's E-Ring on the second deck - as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Gen. Marty Dempsey retires in a year. We'll see. Marine Corps Times' Hope Hodge Seck: "...While Dunford has avoided stirring controversy on some of the pressing legal and political issues, he did help to oversee the launch of integrated infantry training for female Marine officers during his time as assistant commandant, in keeping with a mandate from the secretary of Defense. He also worked to ensure alcohol-abuse treatment for Marines charged with DUIs and issued orders cracking down on hazing and targeting ‘high-risk behavior' in Marine units in order to shore up unit cohesion."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Dunford: "I am delighted that President Obama accepted my recommendation to nominate General Joe Dunford to serve as the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Joe is an extraordinary leader who has always been faithful to his country and his Marines during more than 35 years in uniform.  The President and I have greatly relied on Joe's steady leadership as the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan... No one is better suited to write the next chapter in Marine Corps history than Joe Dunford, and I look forward to working with him in his new role upon his confirmation by the U.S. Senate."

Marine Corps commandant Gen. Jim Amos in a statement on Dunford: "‘...Joe is one of the most knowledgeable and talented leaders and thinkers in the military today. He has commanded and excelled at every level... His tenure as commander of [ISAF] and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan over the past 18 months has been extraordinary, and is testament to the full measure of the man.'" More here.

Hagel, still in Europe, says the U.S. will beef up its presence in the Black Sea after the Crimea crisis. Reuters' David Brunnstrom in Romania: "The United States will strengthen its presence in the Black Sea region using part of a $1 billion fund promised to NATO allies on Russia's borders, and will continue to send warships to the area, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Romania on Thursday. Hagel is the latest high-ranking American official to visit Europe since Russia's annexation of Crimea, as Washington looks to reassure allies jittery about Moscow's intentions in its former Cold War backyard. The tour coincides with a visit by President Barack Obama to Poland this week, when he promised to increase military support for eastern European NATO members, including a $1 billion fund to support and train the armed forces of NATO states. Formerly a secretive Communist state, Romania is now a member both of NATO and the European Union. Bucharest has been among the staunchest supporters of Western sanctions against Russia, has hosted joint military exercises with U.S. forces on its soil and participated in navy drills in the Black Sea." More here.

Next Wednesday is the eighth annual CNAS national security conference. It'll include: Michèle Flournoy, Julie Smith, Judy Woodruff, Wolfgang Ischinger, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Ben FitzGerald, William J. Lynn III, Admiral James Stavridis, General James E. Cartwright, Roger Zakheim, Dr. Patrick Cronin, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, Dr. David F. Gordon, Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Vikram J. Singh, General James D. Thurman, Ambassador Susan Rice, Phillip Carter, Shawn Brimley, Paul Scharre, Dr. Colin Kahl, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Stephen J. Hadley, Dennis Ross and Richard Fontaine. More here.

And at the CNAS conference, the Pentagon's former No. 2, Bill Lynn, and former Supreme Allied Commander Jim Stavridis will launch a new report on the massive changes coming to the defense industry thanks to globalization, here.

The Pentagon lays out the challenge posed by China's growing military might. The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum: "China's rapidly growing military spending is paving the way for the country to expand its sphere of influence and challenge the U.S. across the globe, the Pentagon said, in a report laying out challenges facing America as it steps up involvement in Asia. While U.S. military spending is in decline, China is spending billions of dollars to develop stealth fighters, cyberweaponry, armed drones and a growing naval fleet that has repeatedly squared off with its Asian neighbors, according to the Defense Department's annual report to Congress.
"Release of the report comes days after top Chinese and U.S. military officials clashed at an Asian security forum in Singapore. During the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, a top Chinese official warned that U.S. actions in Asia were threatening to transform China into an adversary. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accused China of taking ‘destabilizing, unilateral actions' against its neighbors in the region. The tensions have clouded efforts by political leaders to create stronger ties as Washington increases its military and political involvement in Asia." More here.

Reading Pincus: Federal prosecutors have made strong arguments about why they need the testimony of New York Times reporter James Risen in the criminal trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, here.

Obama, with Europe's support, sets an ultimatum for Putin. The NYT's Peter Baker: "With the backing of other world leaders, President Obama effectively set a one-month deadline for Moscow to reverse its intervention in Ukraine and help quash a pro-Russian separatist uprising or else he said it would face international sanctions far more severe than anything it had endured so far. Mr. Obama and other leaders of seven major democracies meeting here demanded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia recognize and negotiate directly with the newly elected leader of Ukraine, stop the flow of fighters and arms across the border and press separatists to disarm, relinquish seized public buildings and join talks with the central authorities in Kiev."

Obama said alongside Cameron: "...Russia continues to have a responsibility to convince them to end their violence, lay down their weapons and enter into a dialogue with the Ukrainian government... On the other hand, if Russia's provocations continue, it's clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia." More here.

The U.S. Directorate of Defense Trade Controls just issued its first debarment for a foreign individual today, for Carlos Dominguez and his affiliated companies. From a State Department official to Situation Report: "The U.S. Department of State has issued an order administratively debarring Carlos Dominguez and his associated companies from participating in any defense trade activities as a result of 366 violations of the Arms Export Controls (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). This administrative debarment is the Department's first ever administrative proceeding against a foreign individual.  These actions are in response to 1) the unauthorized re-export and retransfer of hundreds of night vision devices and related technical data, and 2) for conspiracy to, and causing of, the re-export and retransfer of defense articles without authorization, among other charges. While the Department's review indicated no direct harm to U.S. foreign policy or national security occurred, this incident highlights the range of potential penalties that may be imposed by the Department for ITAR violations, including those committed by foreign individuals and entities." More here.

Why the memory of the liberation of Europe is still a battlefield. FP's Robert Zaretsky: "War is politics by other means and so is its commemoration. World leaders will gather on the beaches of Normandy on June 6 to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and they will bring their political and historic baggage with them. Though the Battle of Normandy is over, the war over its significance continues and the day's events will represent the latest in a long series of conflicts over the ever-shifting meaning of one of the most decisive days in modern European history. Among the presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors in attendance, only the group's lone constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is old enough to remember the war. The other leaders will probably experience a certain kind of nostalgia for an age when choices were clear and wars were good. But clarity and goodness are as much inventions of each nation's postwar narrative as they were part of the actual past." More here.

World leaders and dignitaries will gather to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day veterans who risked and gave their lives to defeat Hitler. The AP's Greg Keller in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France: "Ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day are drawing thousands of visitors to the cemeteries, beaches and stone-walled villages of Normandy this week, including some of the few remaining survivors of the largest sea-borne invasion ever mounted... For many visitors, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, with its 9,387 white marble tombstones on a bluff overlooking the site of the battle's bloodiest fighting at Omaha Beach, is the emotional centerpiece of pilgrimages to honor the tens of thousands of men killed on D-Day and the months of fighting afterward. D-Day veteran Clair Martin, 93, said he's come back to Omaha Beach three times in the last 70 years - ‘four if you count the time they were shooting at me.'" More here.

European Command Commander and Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Phil Breedlove spoke at Picauville at Normandy yesterday. He said, in part: "...The determination of this community to retain the memory of the American soldiers and pilots who fought for their liberty is evident in the face of every person I have met from Picauville today, and your commitment is beautifully embodied in this monument. I am most impressed by the way you have included your children into the ceremony.  It is evident you are passing on the responsibility to remember, and respect, the actions of the brave young men and women who contributed to the success of the greatest endeavor ever undertaken in the name of liberty. From the blood spilled on this ground a proud legacy has grown.  Those men saved our way of life.  They defeated tyranny.  They ensured the existence of our society.

"We honor their memory by recognizing how far we have come as a community and continuing to move forward together, striving for a Europe whole, free, and at peace... May God bless you... may God bless the souls of those whose final resting place is in and around Picauville... and may God bless the peoples of our nations.

Thank you and Merci Beaucoup."