Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Five Americans killed in friendly fire in Afg; VA audit: 100,000 veterans await care; Five questions on Bergdahl for Hagel; Robert Irvine dishes on new Pentagon restaurant; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

A VA audit reveals 100,000 veterans face long waits for care.  A new audit shows that things just got worse at the VA and gives new lift to critics of the White House who believe the problems within the VA require more intellectual capital than the White House has devoted to it thus far. Reuters' David Lawder and Emily Stephenson: "More than 100,000 veterans are experiencing waits of more than 90 days for appointments at medical centers run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to an internal audit released by the troubled agency on Monday. The internal survey revealed that a scandal over cover-ups of long wait times at VA clinics, during which some veterans are alleged to have died, was broader and deeper than initially thought, prompting a new round of recriminations from lawmakers and veterans groups.

"The agency said staff at 76 percent of facilities surveyed reported that they were instructed to misrepresent appointment data at least once. The VA said it found that in mid-May, 57,436 veterans were waiting for appointments that could not be scheduled within 90 days, while about 43,000 had appointments more than 90 days in the future. Over the past 10 years, 63,869 new enrollees in the VA healthcare system had requested appointments that were never scheduled, VA said.

"The agency said it is working to contact all of these people to try to expedite their care. With more than 1,700 clinics, hospitals and other facilities serving some 8.9 million veterans, the VA operates the largest U.S. healthcare system."
FP's own John Hudson: "The controversy over the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap may have knocked the Veterans Affairs Department scandal off the front pages, but a new report issued Monday revealing that more than 100,000 veterans waited excessively for health care put it back in the spotlight -- where it is likely to stay for some time.

"It also makes finding a top-notch replacement for former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki more critical and difficult. Few wanted the job after the first wave of bad news. The report, coupled with the withdrawal of Toby Cosgrove, head of the Cleveland Clinic and considered a front-runner to replace Shinseki, from consideration amid revelations that the Cleveland Clinic had similar problems of its own, could make it impossible. The search for Shinseki's successor is another source of embarrassment for President Barack Obama as Cosgrove's withdrawal has critics and veterans questioning the administration's vetting process.

Benjamin Krause, writing in a blog post on the DisabledVeterans.org Web site: Obama "will need to address the apparent and embarrassing incompetence of his staff regarding its inability to properly vet candidates in [a] timely manner...The second, and most difficult, is that he will need to address the fact that being an executive at VA is a very unpopular career choice in the middle of a major scandal."

Hudson: "...No one expected good news from the internal VA audit unveiled Monday, least of all members of Congress. Even before the audit was released, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee announced it was holding an oversight hearing Monday evening, with an unusual 7:30 p.m. start time, demonstrating how miffed lawmakers are. And also ahead of the report, the House leadership scheduled a Monday evening vote for one of myriad VA reform bills to spring up since news of blatant fraud and dysfunction at a VA facility in Arizona surfaced two months ago.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, in a statement: "Today's report is more disturbing proof that corruption is ingrained in many parts of the VA health care system... The only way to rid the department of this widespread dishonesty and duplicity is to pull it out by the roots." More here.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Paul Rieckhoff: "This audit is absolutely infuriating, and underscores the depth of this scandal. Our vets demand action and answers. IAVA again calls on the President to be out-front in reforming the VA and we also encourage members of Congress and the Administration to implement IAVA's eight-step plan. We would welcome a meeting with the President - the veteran community must hear more from him and be assured that he cares." More here.

Only noting: The VA audit story is on Page One of the WaPo and the WSJ and on the inside pages of the NYT.

BTW, who is George Turek? At the very least, a wealthy man with a mission. Turek took out a full-page ad in the WSJ today, an open letter to Sens. Bernie Sanders and John McCain (as well as Sens. Burr, Casey, Cornyn, Heinrich, Heller, Moran, Reid, Tester, Vitter, and Reps. Brady, Culberson and Miller), in which he raises two issues about the VA - the wait times for treatment and a lesser-known issue - wait times to receive "Compensation and Pension" benefits. He proposes two solutions, including outsourcing all Compensation and Pension medical disability examinations to move things along.

"The solution outlined above provides an immediate win-win for both our veterans and the VA. Let's not delay any further in providing our veterans timely access to the medical treatment and benefits they so justly deserve. Thank you for listening." We're told this morning that such an ad could have cost about $20,000 if it's just the DC market.

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.

An apparent friendly fire incident in Afghanistan has killed five American troops.  The Pentagon issued a statement within the past half-hour indicating that a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan has killed five American troops. From the Pentagon: "Five American troops were killed yesterday during a security operation in southern Afghanistan. Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen."

The WSJ's Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil: "Five U.S.-led coalition troops were killed in an apparent friendly-fire incident in southern Afghanistan, Afghan and coalition officials said Tuesday, in one of the worst such episodes in recent years. 'The casualties occurred during a security operation when their unit came into contact with enemy forces,' the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement. 'Tragically, there is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved. The incident is under investigation.' The military typically doesn't release the nationalities or names of casualties until families are notified. As the coalition's mandate comes to an end in December, combat operations by U.S. and other foreign troops in Afghanistan are increasingly rare, and usually involve the Special Operations forces. The killings occurred Monday, the coalition said.

"An aide to the governor of southern Zabul province said five coalition troops, their Afghan interpreter and one Afghan National Army soldier were killed mistakenly by a coalition aircraft in the Gaza area of Arghandab District of Zabul province on Monday. 'After an operation, the troops were on the way back to their base when they were ambushed by the Taliban,' the governor's aide said. 'They called on an airstrike and the strike mistakenly killed them.' The incident was the largest loss of life for international troops in Afghanistan since five coalition service members were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan April 26." More on this story here.

The Pakistani Taliban staged another attack this morning. Reuters' Syed Raza Hassan this hour: "Pakistan's Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for an attack on a security academy at Karachi's airport on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after an all-night siege by Taliban gunmen at Pakistan's busiest airport that killed more than 30 people. 'We accept responsibility for another successful attack against the government,' Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told Reuters. 'We are successfully achieving all our targets and we will go on carrying on many more such attacks.' Two days earlier, 10 militants disguised as security force members and armed with rocket-propelled grenades stormed the airport, one of the most brazen attacks in a long-running Pakistani Taliban insurgency." More here.

The Taliban's attack in Karachi two days ago demonstrates its lasting strength.  The NYT's Declan Walsh in London: "Only a week ago, the Pakistani Taliban appeared to be on the ropes. Violent rivalries had split the insurgency in two. Peace talks with the government had collapsed. Military jets had pounded militant hideouts in the tribal belt. Then on Sunday, the Taliban hit back.

The Taliban "...has kept a reach far beyond its tribal redoubt along the Afghan border, with an ability to penetrate the country's busiest airport in the largest city. And the discovery that Uzbek jihadis were among the attackers underscores how, even in splinters, the Taliban can draw on an international militant network to conduct sophisticated attacks on high-profile targets - which means trouble not just for Pakistan's government and military, but for American interests in Afghanistan. The determined attack seems to bear out earlier warnings by counterterrorism experts that the Taliban split two weeks ago was unlikely to erode the group's capacity for mayhem.

Najmuddin Shaikh, a retired head of Pakistan's foreign service:  "...It's become a hydra-headed monster... They had limited success in Karachi, but maybe that was just our good luck."

"...For Pakistan's leaders, who for months have been wavering between talking and fighting, the Taliban's robustness is likely to inform their next step. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is due to meet with the army leadership in the next two days, Pakistani officials said, to discuss a possible military response to the Karachi attack." More here.

For FP, New America's Douglas Ollivant reviews two books on the Pashtuns and the Taliban, here.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram has apparently kidnapped 20 more Nigerian girls. From the BBC this morning: "Suspected Boko Haram militants have abducted at least 20 women close to where 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in northern Nigeria, eyewitnesses say. The women were loaded on to vans at gunpoint and driven away to an unknown location in Borno state, they add. The army has not commented on the incident, which occurred on the nomadic Garkin Fulani settlement on Thursday. The Nigerian military has faced mounting criticism for failing to stop militant attacks in the north-east. Despite a state of emergency in place in the region, residents say the army is largely inactive or even absent, allowing the Boko Haram militants to continue their attacks. The group has waged an increasingly bloody insurgency since 2009 in an attempt to create an Islamic state in Nigeria - and thousands of people have died in their attacks and the subsequent security crackdown. More here.

Who's Where When today - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is preparing for testimony on Bergdahl tomorrow... Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is in London for the UK/US Staff Talks... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is in Finland as part of a multi-nation trip, meeting with government and military officials on maritime and regional security... Andrew Hunter, director, Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell delivers remarks at Brookings at 1:30 p.m... Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is meeting today with his Joint Chiefs of Staff counterparts in London at the Ministry of Defense. Dempsey: "We share a remarkably close relationship--not just as nations but as militaries. It's one founded on our history, our values and genuine friendships. Whether we're deployed in combat operations or in London addressing common priorities, our combined strength and experience make us better."

Did the US give up too much for a likely deserter, and the four other questions House lawmakers will ask Hagel during Wednesday's Bergdahl hearing. FP's John Hudson, Shane Harris and Lubold: "...On Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will have his turn in the hot seat when he appears before the House Armed Services Committee along with the Pentagon's top lawyer, Stephen Preston. Here are five questions skeptical lawmakers are likely to ask Hagel as the Bergdahl controversy continues to heat up, including: do you believe that Bergdahl was a deserter? If so, will he be punished by the Army for leaving his post?; Why wasn't the Hill notified that the administration was trading five Guantánamo Bay detainees for Bergdahl? Was his health really in danger, and was the Taliban really so close to killing him?; Why did you sign off on the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo, and how did you determine that they were not at risk of returning to the battlefield?; Doesn't this deal set a precedent for negotiating with terrorists?; Did any money change hands over the prisoner swap? Full story here.

Also, Politico's Phil Ewing answers the question about whether there was a payment made in connection with the Bergdahl deal - the answer is no, said Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby here.

The White House says the Taliban Five aren't as bad as you think. Hudson: "Facing growing skepticism on Capitol Hill about its decision to swap five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the White House told lawmakers at a classified briefing late Monday night that some of the freed militants were political figures, not hardened soldiers, according to lawmakers who attended the session.

"In the past several days, the administration has rolled out a number of reasons to justify swapping Bergdahl, a potential deserter, for the five Taliban officials. White House officials said they had concerns about Berdgahl's health, felt an obligation to never leave a soldier on the battlefield, and feared the militants were preparing to kill the missing soldier. But House lawmakers exiting a late Monday briefing said the administration was now shifting to a new defense that emphasized the lack of threat posed by the individuals that were released as part of the deal." More here.

But the Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Kimberly Dozier quote U.S. intelligence officials who say 4 of the 5 prisoners swapped for Bergdahl are dangerous and will fight again, here.

Bowe Bergdahl had questions about the mission in Afghanistan and so the Christian Science Monitor's Anna Mulrine looks at what happens when a soldier's sense or right and wrong is shaken. Mulrine: "...Still, a number of reports strongly indicate that Bergdahl deserted his unit, a crime with serious consequences under US military justice. Is there any defense for that?  When Sgt. Robert Bales was taken into custody in 2012 for killing 16 Afghans, including women and children, one of the first questions analysts tended to ask was whether his actions were the result of post-traumatic stress. That was also the (ultimately unsuccessful) basis of Bales' criminal defense. He was sentenced last August to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.

"Most troops will never intentionally kill innocent civilians, as Sergeant Bales did, but war will cause some to grapple mightily with their decision to become soldiers. It is hard to know how even the most psychologically healthy troops will respond to their experience of war, military psychologist say, which is why it is so important to weigh carefully the consequences of waging it.

"These issues have sparked a relatively new area of research among military ethicists known as "moral injury." It emerges from experiences when "you apply your judgment of right and wrong to an experience and find that your expectations of ‘what is right' clash jarringly with reality," writes Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, who presented what has become a widely-discussed paper on the topic last month at the US Army's Command and General Staff College Ethics Symposium." More here.

A TMZ reporter snags a few questions with Robert Irvine about his new restaurant in the Pentagon. The new eatery isn't government funded and "everyone's gotta pay" - even the president and his cabinet members, says Irvine.  The TMZ newsroom has some suggestions for the menu: covert dogs, a waterboarding desert and a Don't Ask Don't Tell pie because you don't know what's inside. Watch it (or don't) here.

McClatchy's Nancy Youssef is back at the Pentagon from Egypt. Youssef returned to work in Washington about a month ago but returned to came back to reporting out of the Pentagon when "they finally let me back in," as she said. The colorful Youssef, to Situation Report: "Covering Libya and Egypt for the last two years could not replicate the turmoil of Washington and military reporting. Tahrir Square has nothing on the morning gaggle." BP.

For Defense One, CNAS' Michele Flournoy and Richard Fontaine on how to rebuild a bipartisan consensus on national security. From the op-ed: "Politics, despite the saying, has never really stopped at the water's edge. But these days, it seems, policymakers cannot even get to the beach before the sniping begins. The increasing polarization of American politics and the hardening of positions on issues foreign and domestic have led to deep dysfunction, as last year's government shutdown demonstrated so dramatically. National security is by no means immune, and the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on key issues has resulted in irrational defense budgeting, unfinished trade agreements and the elevation of personal attacks over policy impacts. It's time to do better." More here. 

NATO launches fresh war games near the Russian border. Agence France-Presse: "NATO on Monday launched one of its largest military maneuvers in the Baltic states since tensions spiked with neighboring Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Around 4,700 troops and 800 military vehicles from 10 countries including Britain, Canada and the United States are participating in the Sabre Strike exercises near the Latvian capital Riga. Russia has voiced its objections to the maneuvers, which move to neighboring Lithuania on Tuesday." More here.

Westboro Baptist Church members protested outside the Pentagon on Monday, again claiming that the deaths of U.S. troops is God's punishment for America's acceptance of gays and lesbians. The Pentagon had granted permission for an organized protest outside the building's Metro entrance yesterday. Stripes' Jon Harper: "Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting at military funerals, came to the Pentagon on Monday to spread their anti-gay message. said Katherine Hockenbarger, one of its members. ‘This nation fights to shove down the rest of this world's throat the fact that they say it's OK to be gay. And it's not OK to be gay." More here.

Is the U.N.'s new human rights chief up to the job? Suzanne Nossel for FP, here.

Lockheed Martin said Monday that it was banking on international and non-defense orders to offset a drop in U.S. military spending, by Reuters' Andrea Shalal, here.

What's missing from Hillary's Iraq apology. Peter Beinart for the Atlantic: "Among the biggest news from Hillary Clinton's largely newsless new book is her blunt apology for voting to authorize war in Iraq. ‘I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had,' she writes "And I wasn't alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong.' This represents a change. In 2008, her advisors feared that if she called her Iraq vote a mistake, Republicans would savage her for flip-flopping, as they had done to John Kerry four years earlier. So even after John Edwards apologized for his Iraq vote, she refused to. In their book, Her Way, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. quote Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, as insisting that, ‘It's important for all Democrats to keep the word ‘mistake' firmly on the Republicans.'" More here.

Yesterday at a leading defense think tank in Sweden, Sec. Mabus talked about the importance of naval presence, of our partnerships around the world, and why energy, and energy security, must be understood as a national security concern. From his remarks: "...It is true that America's defense planning calls for a new focus on the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.  But that same strategy also calls for renewing our partnerships around and world, and therefore our commitment to Europe.  President Obama announced our new initiative to bolster our military presence and security here in Europe.  This will mean more pre-positioned equipment to respond to crises, more exercises, and increased support for our partners.  We are taking these steps not as a threat to anyone, but instead to defend the security and democracy of ourselves and our friends." Watch it here.

 

 

 

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.'"