National Security

FP's Situation Report: Bergdahl in Texas; ISIS makes more progress; Few good choices for Obama; John Allen: act now; Two drone strikes in Pakistan; A former soldier reflects on Bergdahl's apparent choices; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is in Texas. Bergdahl arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center from a U.S. military medical facility in Germany overnight. So begins the next phase of his "reintegration" process and, presumably, he will be reunited with his family for the first time following his release from his Taliban captors May 31. The DoD statement from Rear Adm. John Kirby at around 3:30am: " Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has arrived at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.  While there, he will continue the next phase of his reintegration process.  There is no timeline for this process.  Our focus remains on his health and well-being.  Secretary Hagel is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl receives the care, time and space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration.?

From the U.S. Army, noting that Bergdahl's care is its primary focus but that it is also continuing its investigations into his disappearance five years ago: The Army "...will ensure Sgt. Bergdahl receives the necessary care, time and space to complete the process. Among other components of this phase, Sgt. Bergdahl will continue to receive medical treatment and debriefings. Following Sgt. Bergdahl's reintegration, the Army will continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity," the Army said in a statement.

Also, read one of the most helpful pieces about Bergdahl from a former American soldier, Stephen Carlson, on why soldiers feel betrayed, below.

Meantime, Islamic militants are making more progress and have taken over more territory. The ISIS (and sometimes called the ISIL)'s fight across Iraq continued overnight and showed no signs of abating as the White House considers the politics, the realities and the efficacy of taking military action in Iraq after taking much pride in ending the war and bringing the troops home. Reuters' Raheem Salman this hour: "Islamist rebel fighters captured two more Iraqi towns overnight in a relentless sweep south towards the capital Baghdad in a campaign to recreate a mediaeval caliphate carved out of fragmenting Iraq and Syria... Thrusting further to the southeast after their lightning seizure of the major Iraqi city of Mosul in the far north and the late dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, ISIL entered two towns in Diyala province bordering Iran.

"Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni Muslim insurgents after government troops fled their positions, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains that have long been a hideout for militants, security sources said. The Iraqi army fired artillery shells at Saadiyah and Jalawla from the nearby town of Muqdadiya, sending dozens of families fleeing towards Khaniqin near the Iranian border." More here.

Iraq is in peril and there's not a lot Washington can do about it. FP's Gordon Lubold and John Hudson: "President Obama said Thursday that the United States was open to using airstrikes to batter the Islamist forces that have conquered broad swaths of Iraq, but the grim reality is that the White House has few good options for preventing a vicious al Qaeda-linked militant group from advancing toward Baghdad three years after the U.S. effectively washed its hands of Iraq's security problems.

"...Still, despite the crisis, there is little likelihood that the American government would consider putting any troops on the ground. That means that airstrikes are the only real option for a potential U.S. military intervention into Iraq as the crisis there continues to grow. That's not a simple endeavor, however. While such a forceful approach might address the political crisis in Washington, it could have very little strategic or even tactical effect -- and it would almost certainly pose enormous risks. For such strikes to be effective, the United States would need ground personnel to provide intelligence and ‘situational awareness' to call in attacks.

"The Iraqi security forces don't have troops capable of relaying detailed targeting information, which would likely require the Pentagon or the CIA to send small numbers of American personnel into Iraq to handle that difficult mission. Without adequate ground intelligence, the United States could run the risk of accidentally killing Iraqi security forces or, even worse, civilians." More here.

The WSJ's Carol Lee, Jay Solomon and Adam Entous: "...Administration and military officials say they are drawing up short- and long-term options to combat the Islamist threat in Iraq. Short-term possibilities include U.S. airstrikes, intelligence-sharing and accelerated delivery of military equipment already in the pipeline. Long-term options include expanded training of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, officials said." More here.

And, the WSJ's Entous and Julian Barnes: U.S. secretly flying drones over Iraq, here.

John Allen thinks the U.S. needs to do something about ISIS and fast. John Allen, the retired Marine four-star who cut his teeth as a warfighter in Anbar province in western Iraq as a one-star and helped lead the "Anbar Awakening" which turned the tide of war in Iraq by the time he left in 2008, spoke to Defense One's Stephanie Gaskell about the situation there. We're guessing it pains him to see what Iraq has become. He thinks it's time for the U.S. to act. Allen, to Gaskell: "I vote for sooner and we must strike them with a hard blow... The U.S. will have to act to stop this onslaught. After all we've invested in Iraq's stability, including nearly 4,500 American lives, we have an obligation, and indeed we have the capability, to help now... We did not ask for this emergency, but it is upon us, and this is a moment for U.S. strategic leadership. The Iraqis badly need our help, and our friends and partners in the region are, once again, turning to the U.S. for leadership and decisive action." Read her whole story here.

Meantime, U.S. spies were caught flat-footed in Iraq as jihadists seized two cities. FP's own Shane Harris: "United States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized two major Iraqi cities this week and sent Iraqi defense forces fleeing, current and former U.S. officials said Thursday. With U.S. troops long gone from the country, Washington didn't have the spies on the ground or the surveillance gear in the skies necessary to predict when and where the jihadist group would strike.
"The speed and ease with which well-armed and highly trained ISIS fighters took over Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, have raised significant doubts about the ability of American intelligence agencies to know when ISIS might strike next, a troubling sign as the Islamist group advances steadily closer to Baghdad. And it harkened back to another recent intelligence miscue, in February, when U.S. spy agencies failed to predict the Russian invasion of Crimea.

"...The CIA maintains a presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but the agency has largely stopped running networks of spies inside the country since U.S. forces left Iraq in December 2011, current and former U.S. officials said. That's in part because the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command had actually taken the lead on hunting down Iraq's militants. With the JSOC commandos gone, the intelligence agencies have been forced to try to track groups like ISIS through satellite imagery and communications intercepts -- methods that have proven practically useless because the militants relay messages using human couriers, rather than phone and email conversations, and move around in such small groups that they easily blend into the civilian population." More here.

Iraq War vets are distraught over what's happening 'over there.' The news of how deeply and somehow suddenly Iraq has found itself in peril naturally strikes a chord with the men and women who fought there and paid so much for it. Unbelievably and probably not typically, some would go back if they could. Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "Veterans of the Iraq War and their families are watching with dismay and alarm as Sunni insurgents overrun large swaths of Iraq, including cities like Mosul, where hundreds of U.S. troops died.

Former Army Sgt. Kenneth Mancanares to Schogol: "I completely disagreed with the decision to walk away from Iraq... Now, to be honest, I'm trying to think if there's even a way I could get back out there. I'm sure there are a lot of guys feeling that way. I really wish that I could sign up on something tomorrow and join a volunteer group that's going there to stand up for these people." More here.

Who is the ISIS really? The WaPo's Terrence McCoy: "... in terms of impact, the acts of terror have been wildly successful. From beheadings to summary executions to amputations to crucifixions, the terrorist group has become the most feared organization in the Middle East. That fear, evidenced in fleeing Iraqi soldiers and 500,000 Mosul residents, has played a vital role in the group's march toward Baghdad. In many cases, police and soldiers literally ran, shedding their uniforms as they went, abandoning large caches of weapons." More here.

As ISIS rolls toward Baghdad, the Kurds are gaining oil, ground, and power. FP's Keith Johnson: "Amid the rubble left in Iraq by the rampage of Islamist insurgents, one group seems poised to benefit: the Kurds. Baghdad's flailing response to the offensive launched by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham opens the door to greater geographical reach for the Kurdish region, greater leverage over the central government, and a stronger possibility of becoming a big energy exporter in its own right." More here.

BTW, Iraq isn't about to fall.  Douglas Ollivant for FP, his BLUF "...The news from Iraq is bad. There is no candy-coating that stubborn fact. But before lapsing into talk about Iraq's imminent collapse, it might be prudent to let the situation develop for a week or so." More here.
U.S. companies are pulling contractors from Iraqi bases as the security situation crumbles, and the WaPo's Dan Lamothe has a few extra details on them, here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we're on the road, literally, (but not actually driving) and are thankful in the extreme for our little Internet-in-a-box. Still, sorry for the lateness this morning. 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 American drone hits Pakistan for the second time in 12 hours. After a lull of several months, the U.S. is using drones to hit targets inside Pakistan and these two are targeting the Haqqani network, which had been holding Bergdahl. The NYT's Declan Walsh and Ismail Khan: "An American drone struck a militant compound in Pakistan's tribal belt for the second time in 12 hours on Thursday, killing at least 10 suspected members of the Haqqani network in a suddenly intense resurgence of the C.I.A. offensive in Pakistan.

"The American drone strikes, after an almost six-month lull in the operations while Pakistani officials tried and failed to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, come as Pakistan is mulling a new offensive of its own against militants in the northwestern tribal belt. But early news reports on Thursday offered conflicting comments about whether the Pakistani authorities might have approved the drone strikes or worked in tandem with the Americans - a politically caustic idea in a country where the C.I.A. program is widely hated.

"The strikes, both of which were reported to have killed Haqqani operatives, also came two weeks after the release of the American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a hostage of the Haqqanis for five years. A former American military commander has suggested that Sergeant Bergdahl's safety will give the United States more freedom to strike at the Haqqanis, who are fighting to overthrow the American-backed civilian government in Afghanistan." More here.

Who's Where When today - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel welcomes Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Pentagon at 10 a.m... Assistant Secretary of the Air Force William A. LaPlante delivers remarks on "The Role of Industry in Air Force Acquisition" at the Atlantic Council at 10:30 a.m... Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall III and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley will conduct a press briefing at 11:30 a.m. in the Pentagon Press briefing room to talk about the Performance of the Defense Acquisition System Report, a Better Buying Power update and the Superior Supplier Incentive Program... Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is traveling domestically... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in New York celebrating the Army's 239th birthday.

Also today, from 10-10:30am, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosts a Twitter conversation on the fast-moving situation in Iraq with members of their Syria and Iraq programs. You can join the discussion and tweet your questions @USIP with #USIPIraq. Deets here.

Afghans are still pretty pumped about tomorrow's vote. The U.S. Institute of Peace's Shahmahmood Miakhel for FP, here.

And at 9 a.m. this morning, presidential contender Dr. Ashraf Ghani will address the Center for National Policy on the eve of the Afghan elections. Last minute RSVP here.

For CFR, Stimson's Mona Yacoubian describes conceivable contingencies stemming from the civil war in Syria that pose serious threats to Lebanon's stability. Given the United States' strategic interests in precluding the further spread of regional instability, protecting the security of Israel, and denying jihadists ungoverned territory from which they could threaten the U.S. homeland, she argues that the United States should take steps to lessen the likelihood of renewed conflict in Lebanon. Among other measures, Yacoubian recommends that the United States deepen intelligence sharing so as to have better insight into Lebanon's internal politics, intensify diplomacy to tamp down sectarian tensions and promote reconciliation in Lebanon, address Lebanon's mounting socioeconomic ills with greater resources and strong coordination with regional allies, and bolster support for the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, with special focus on the needs of children. Read the report here.

Lockheed Martin's F-35 aircraft has not yet demonstrated sufficient reliability improvements, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, tells reporters after an F-35 management conf. by Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio and Laura Curtis, here.

If you missed this last week in the WaPo, you should read it. If you didn't miss it, maybe read it again. A former Army officer is reading the writing on the wall on military benefits and makes a courageous point. Tom Slear for the WaPo in "I'm an Army Veteran and my Benefits are Too Generous:"  "... Though I spent more than five years on active duty during the 1970s as an Army infantry officer and an additional 23 years in the Reserves, I never fired a weapon other than in training, and I spent no time in a combat zone. I returned to active duty for five months in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, but I was assigned to the Pentagon. My hazardous duty consisted of a daily drive on New York Avenue before its upgrade.

"Despite the extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly half of the 4.5 million active-duty service members and reservists over the past decade were never deployed overseas. Among those who were, many never experienced combat. It's a fact of warfare called the logistical tail.

"...These jobs are important. Battles are won based on logistics just as much as tactics. But these support jobs aren't particularly hazardous. Police officers, firefighters and construction workers face more danger than Army public affairs specialists, Air Force mechanics, Marine Corps legal assistants, Navy finance clerks or headquarters staff officers. And yet, the benefits flow lavishly. While on active duty, I received medical care without any premiums or co-pays, a substantial housing allowance, a small stipend for food, and a base salary that by today's pay scale would be $5,168 a month."

He concludes: "...budget deficits are tilting America toward financial malaise. Our elected representatives will have to summon the courage to confront the costs of benefits and entitlements and make hard choices. Some "no" votes when it comes to our service members and, in particular, military retirees will be necessary. We can afford it." More here.

A former soldier who's not being coaxed by Republican strategists writes genuinely about what it feels like when another soldier wonders off. Stephen Carlson on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for Task & Purpose: "...From titanic battles that shaped world events for generations, to patrolling a dusty, mountainous border in central Asia, every soldier is going to ask themselves, ‘What the hell am I doing here?' This was as true at Gettysburg and Normandy as it was in Paktika province, when Bergdahl took a stroll off his outpost in 2009.

"...It is hard to keep any ideals or hope in the face of appalling waste, wanton brutality, and bureaucratic and political idiocy, even if at heart I really did want to help the Afghans, just as Bergdahl apparently did. My unit in 2006-2007 was more concerned with racking up a high Taliban body count on the border than any development or reconstruction, but even our half-hearted efforts at helping the locals were usually for naught. A freshly built school, little more than a couple of retrofitted shipping containers, was blown up overnight. Solar-powered street lights in the local bazaar were shot out one by one. Roads, the eternal lack in Afghanistan, were turned into IED crater-riddled death traps. The list goes on.

"...Bergdahl was fed up, pissed off, and ready to leave, which made him about as exclusive as Walmart. If he was done, so be it. He could have refused to patrol, and they would have sent him to the rear on make-work until they could discharge him. He could have walked into the command post smoking a joint, and ditto. He could have shot himself in the foot and been at Walter Reed in a matter of days. He could have gone on leave and pulled his disappearing act at home.

"Bergdahl could have done all these things, and that would have been the end of the matter. Instead, he took the most asinine, selfish, and borderline treasonous course of action possible. He simply sent his personal effects home and wandered off, leaving his unit to hold the bag.

"What the Golden Rule is to Christianity, ‘Don't be a Buddy Fucker' is to the military. If you can't be motivated to make things better for the people stuck in the same dirt pile you are in, then at the very least, don't make things worse. This is the glue that binds a platoon of disparate individuals from all walks of life together, and it is the only thing that makes life in the infantry bearable. Don't Fuck Your Buddy. A simple rule." More here.

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Sunni insurgents advance toward Baghdad, Iraqis want help U.S. may not give; John Kerry's cousin talks Bergdahl; Why Jordan is in the heart of darkness; Powwowing on the F-35; Turner to the WH; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Militants are pushing toward Baghdad, as the Iraqis signal openness to American airstrikes.  As tens of thousands of Iraqis flee Mosul in the north and insurgents push toward the Iraqi capital, there is a renewed push from the Iraqis for American assistance. But for the White House, which maintains a robust foreign military sales program with Iraq, there is little interest in getting substantively involved thus far. The NYT's Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: "As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

"But Iraq's appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

"The swift capture of Mosul by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has underscored how the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have converged into one widening regional insurgency with fighters coursing back and forth through the porous border between the two countries. But it has also called attention to the limits the White House has imposed on the use of American power in an increasingly violent and volatile region.

"A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, declined to comment on Mr. Maliki's requests. "We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions," she said in a statement. "The current focus of our discussions with the government of Iraq and our policy considerations is to build the capacity of the Iraqis to successfully confront" the Islamic extremists."

ISIL extends its gains in Iraq and takes Turkish diplomats hostage. Bloomberg's Donna Abu-Nasr and Mahmoud Habboush: "Militants from a breakaway al-Qaeda group extended their control over a swath of Iraq, advancing toward Baghdad after capturing the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, as the U.S. continued to weigh an Iraqi request for air strikes.

"After seizing Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city, fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant moved yesterday into Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Noureddin Qablan, vice chairman of the Nineveh provincial council, said by phone. In Mosul, ISIL took dozens of people hostage at the Turkish consulate, as hundreds of thousands of residents fled the city. More here.

Iraqi Kurds took control of Kirkuk. Reuters this hour: "Iraqi Kurds took control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Thursday after government forces abandoned their posts in the face of a sweeping Sunni Islamist rebel push towards Baghdad that threatens Iraq's future as a unified state. Peshmerga fighters, the security forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish north, swept into bases in Kirkuk vacated by the army, a peshmerga spokesman said." More here.

The drama unfolding in Iraq is catching the U.S. off guard. Within the White House, the Iraqi box seemed to be checked years ago and to some critics it was politically convenient for the administration to move past worrying about the dynamics on the ground. But today those are hard to ignore. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "At a closed-door gathering of Gulf states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Arab counterparts all signaled agreement on one thing for the first time: Islamist forces seizing territory in Syria and Iraq had become a regionwide menace that can't be ignored. What they didn't agree on was what to do about it, U.S. officials said. The fall this week of the Iraqi cities Mosul and Tikrit to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham rebel group shows how the insurgent threat is outpacing the response and posing a challenge to President Barack Obama's approach of limiting U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts." More here.

The White House's statement on Iraq, late last night: "The United States strongly condemns the recent attacks in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)... ISIL's recent actions in Mosul and surrounding areas demonstrate once again that these extremists seek nothing but death and destruction.  The United States will stand with Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum as they forge the national unity necessary to succeed in the fight against ISIL.  We will work with Congress to support the new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, which will provide flexibility and resources to help Iraq respond to emerging needs as the terrorist threat from ISIL continues to evolve.  Under the Strategic Framework Agreement, we will also continue to provide, and as required increase, assistance to the Government of Iraq to help build Iraq's capacity to effectively and sustainably stop ISIL's efforts to wreak havoc in Iraq and the region." 

In case you were wondering, Americans might have forgotten about the Iraq war, but they're about to feel it at the gas pump. FP's Keith Johnson is here with the good news: "Oil markets are finally rattling after militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took over a series of key Iraqi cities Tuesday and Wednesday, including the country's second largest, and reportedly surrounded Iraq's biggest oil refinery. The insurgent drive poses little immediate threat to oil production or exports from OPEC's second-largest producer, which explains why oil prices haven't exploded. But Iraq's disarray, coupled with a series of stubborn crude-supply outages in Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, and ongoing sanctions on Iranian exports, portends a summer of high oil prices with potentially dire effects on the global economy." More here.

Welcome to Thursday'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.

Exclusive in SitRep: ‘Jordan in the eye of the storm,' the third installment of the Center for American Progress' four-part series on Islamists in the Middle East series launches this morning. The report, authored by Brian Katulis, Hardin Lang and Mokhtar Awad and provided early to the Situation Report, draws from interviews with a wide range of leaders within the government and actors involved in political movements and civil society, including those in Islamist movements.  The three key findings include that the current Jordanian system will endure, but pressure from external threats?is mounting and putting a strain on the fragile body politic; and also that the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is recalibrating its strategy with an eye toward building coalitions in the face of a regional tide against Islamists. Jordan's Salafi landscape is slowly evolving, but Salafi jihadists are emerging as the most imminent strategic and security threat to the current system of government.

CAP's Brian Katulis: "Jordan is a country sitting at the heart of regional turmoil - as witnessed in this week's events with a terrorist organization's takeover of a major city in Iraq."

The report also offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers: Continued support for Jordan in response to the Syria conflict, increased intelligence cooperation on the evolving nature of Islamist ideologies to counter violent extremism, and support for inclusive political and economic reform. Download it here.

Israel is tending to wounded Syrian rebels. FP's Colum Lynch with this exclusive: "Israel is quietly cultivating ties with moderate Syrian rebel groups operating along the country's U.N.-monitored cease-fire line with Syria, providing medical care and other unidentified supplies to the insurgents while potentially extracting a valuable vein of intelligence on the activities of President Bashar al-Assad's army as well as extremist opposition forces within Syria. In the past three months, battle-hardened Syrian rebels have transported scores of wounded Syrians across a cease-fire line that has separated Israel from Syria since 1974, according to a 15-page report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the work of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). Once in Israel, they receive medical treatment in a field clinic before being sent back to Syria, where, presumably, some will return to carry on the fight." More here.

The Pentagon's Matt Spence, deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs for the Middle East, spoke earlier this week at the Herzliya Conference, a gathering of Middle East national security experts in Israel in which he told the group that three threats were challenging stability in the region: "unprecedented momentum behind sectarianism,"  "increasing public dissatisfaction from the lack of political representation" and "competition for influence" in region. He argued that the DoD and the American government should see these issues as fundamental reasons why the U.S. is and will continue to focus in that region.

Who's Where When today - Navy Secretary Ray Mabus continues his multi-nation tour, wrapping up meetings in Romania and beginning a visit in Africa... Adm. Michael Rogers delivers the keynote address for the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare's "Army Networks and Cyber Security in Force 2025" forum at 8 a.m...Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld delivers remarks at the National Defense University Graduation at 10 a.m... U.S. Army Cyber Command Commander Lt. Gen. Edward  Cardon participates in a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare's "Army Networks and Cyber Security in Force 2025" forum at 11 a.m... Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy Maj. Gen. John Davis delivers remarks at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare's "Army Networks and Cyber Security in Force 2025" at 1:30 p.m.

Also today: The Senate is expected this morning to consider the confirmation of Mike McCord to be the Pentagon's new comptroller.

Also today, version 2.0: The Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall is in Florida for the 18th annual review of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The two-day conference brings together military leaders, officials from the F-35 program office and eight international partners and industry leadership "to discuss progress over the past year as well as future priorities."

The Pentagon noted to SitRep that there has been "recent significant progress," to include "international partners continuing to commit to the JSF program, Luke Air Force Base in Arizona preparing to train international JSF pilots, and the continuing trend towards future lowered costs per JSF." We're also told that "although the program still has numerous wrinkles to iron out, the conference marks a big milestone for progress in a program that has come under increased fiscal and programmatic scrutiny by DOD senior leaders."

Who else is going? Air Force Secretary Debbie James, AT&L's Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Katrina McFarland, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley and JSF head Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan.

A new report says that the F-35's single engine is too dangerous for the Canadian military, here.

Shawn Turner is headed to the White House. Turner, the former director of public affairs at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - ODNI - will become the new deputy White House press secretary. The White House hasn't announced it formally - though Politico's Mike Allen did run it yesterday in Playbook. DNI Jim Clapper called him "a visionary" who "unified and strengthened public affairs partnerships across the intelligence community," and in thanking Turner said he had "set a high bar for poise and professionalism" through one of the "toughest years in IC history." Clapper also said: "I will miss Shawn's calm demeanor, but I know he will continue to do great things for our nation."  We knew him when - he was a Marine. Congrats. Btw, Turner will be replaced by Brian Hale, former assistant director of the office of public affairs at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.

Update to our story - Yesterday we brought you some details in a broader story about the Pentagon, the White House and the rollout of Bergdahl and how, in the rush of that moment, not everyone was in the loop. The Afghanistan war commander, Gen. Joe Dunford, for example, was left in the dark up until the last moments before Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released. We were told Gen. Lloyd Austin of U.S. Central Command, was too. The mission was so secretive, that even inside the Pentagon's front office, there was little communication. We now know, as we were told yesterday by the same defense officials, that Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, Hagel's senior military assistant, had secretly talked to both Dunford and Austin a few days before Bergdahl was released about the notion that something could happen. But that was a little known fact within the Pentagon's front office. By the time the mission went down, Austin was dialed in and watched the mission unfold in real-time. But as our story said, the mission was so fast-moving that the Afghanistan war commander, Dunford, was left in the dark up until the final moments before the mission was executed.

And here's an interesting little bit, FWIW. Secretary of State John Kerry visited relatives recently, after the Bergdahl release, and the French newspaper Le Figaro interviewed a cousin following the visit in which Kerry supposedly remarks privately about his thinking on the Bergdahl release. The story was pointed out to Situation Report. According to the piece in Le Figaro, the cousin of Kerry's paraphrased a conversation he said he had with Kerry about Bergdahl in which the cousin said Kerry didn't think the Bergdahl swap was a good idea.

Translated from French - and thanks to FP's own Hanna Kozlowska for the help:

Kerry's cousin, according to the account, to Kerry: "Are you aware of the negative message that you sent releasing five Taliban terrorists in exchange for an American prisoner, on the eve of the Afghan election?"

Kerry, to cousin, paraphrased by the cousin, according to Le Figaro: "I agree, I was against it, it was Chuck Hagel's decision."

The cousin, paraphrased by Le Figaro: "You have to always keep in mind that Americans don't speak with one voice concluded the cousin."

As one might imagine, State pushed back on what it said was a false narrative. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, to Situation Report: "Any report that Secretary Kerry did not support the deal to release Bowe Bergdahl would be inaccurate. In this case, the attribution is especially confusing." Here's the story here.

Hagel defended the Bergdahl trade as part of the ‘dirty business' of war. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got reasonably high marks yesterday for holding his own before the cantankerous House Armed Services Committee - and even had a couple Hillary Clinton Benghazi moments when she testified last year ("what difference does it make") - when he got hot over the tone of Rep. Jeff Miller's questioning about why Bergdahl hadn't already been returned to the U.S. But for the former senator whose performances on Capitol Hill have sometimes fallen flat, most people thought he did well even if they didn't agree with the White House's policy decision.

HASC Chairman Buck McKeon, to CNN's Wolf Blitzer yesterday: "I think that he did a good job, I think he has a very tough job, he is kind of the point man for the administration right now to take the brunt for some of the things that we're finding." Still, McKeon went on to say that the White House "dealt with terrorists" and therefore he believes the U.S. is "less safe" than it was a few weeks ago.

The NYT's Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage: "A defiant Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday defended the prisoner exchange that brought the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after years of captivity with the Taliban, telling skeptical lawmakers that the operation had needed to be kept secret from Congress to ensure that the soldier was not killed by his captors in the days leading up to the swap.

"In the first public testimony before Congress by a senior member of the Obama administration since Sergeant Bergdahl's release, Mr. Hagel described the exchange as a ‘military operation' that was in doubt until the very end. He called prisoner swaps part of the "dirty business" of war.

"...Mr. Hagel showed brief flashes of contrition, acknowledging the complaints of lawmakers' ‘great frustration' that they were kept in the dark about the operation and admitting that the Obama administration ‘could have done a better job' keeping lawmakers informed. A statute signed by President Obama requires that the administration give Congress 30 days notice before it transfers a Guantánamo detainee. Mr. Obama issued a signing statement asserting that he could lawfully bypass the notice requirement under certain circumstances.

"But Mr. Hagel did not give ground about the necessity of the prisoner swap, in which Sergeant Bergdahl was exchanged for five senior Taliban detainees being held at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba." More here.

Congress wants to know: Did we talk to terrorists? The WSJ's Elizabeth Williamson, here.

Why the ‘Black Hawk Down" prisoner release is different than Bowe Bergdahl's, by the WaPo's Dan Lamothe, here.

Bergdahl's writings reveal a fragile young man. A Bergdahl journal obtained by the WaPo, shows a look into the man - but also may lay the groundwork for what happens to him after he reintegrates into the U.S. - supposedly soon - at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Despite external pressure to pursue legal action against him, the journal may be his best defense of a troubled man who may not deserve punishment. The WaPo's Stephanie McCrummen in a splashy piece on Page One: "Before he became a Taliban prisoner, before he wrote in his journal ‘I am the lone wolf of deadly nothingness,' before he joined the Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was discharged from the Coast Guard for psychological reasons, said close friends who were worried about his emotional health at the time.

"The 2006 discharge and a trove of Bergdahl's writing - his handwritten journal along with essays, stories and e-mails provided to The Washington Post - paint a portrait of a deeply complicated and fragile young man who was by his own account struggling to maintain his mental stability from the start of basic training until the moment he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.

From a journal entry Bergdahl wrote before he deployed: "I'm worried... The closer I get to ship day, the calmer the voices are. I'm reverting. I'm getting colder. My feelings are being flushed with the frozen logic and the training, all the unfeeling cold judgment of the darkness."

"...Harrison said she decided to share the journal and computer files with The Post because she is concerned about the portrayal of Bergdahl as a calculating deserter, a characterization she says is at odds with her understanding of him as sensitive and vulnerable." More here.

For War on the Rocks, Butch Bracknell offers a playbook of sequenced action designed to ensure accountability while celebrating Sergeant Berghdahl's return for the SecDef, here.

After 2014, there won't be any more NATO medevacs for wounded Afghans. Medical evacuation is one of the key capabilities the Afghans have lacked - and something the country has relied on U.S. and allied capability to provide. But that will change. AFP's Dan De Luce, reporting from Forward Operating Base Shank, after describing a recent evacuation: "...The evacuation -- ordered at a moment's notice -- is a routine event for US-led forces in Afghanistan. But after this year, wounded Afghans will no longer be able to rely on Western troops for an evacuation by plane or helicopter. The vast majority of the 51,000 troops in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year, and they are taking most of their aviation medical squadrons with them.

"After 2014, the Afghans will have "sole responsibility for their security and for medical evacuations", said ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Belcher. In the meantime, American advisers are trying to help the Afghans build up their own capacity using ambulances and Russian-made helicopters." More here. Tomorrow, presidential contender Dr. Ashraf Ghani will address the Center for National Policy on the eve of the Afghan elections. RSVP here.

Meantime, the FBI jumps into the investigation into VA wait times. The National Journal's Jordain Carney: "Another day, another development on the Veterans Affairs Department wait-list scandal. FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the bureau's Phoenix office has opened an investigation. The FBI is looking into allegations that VA staffers at its Phoenix facility lied about veterans' wait times for medical care so they could receive a bonus.

Comey, on questions of whether the FBI will expand the investigation: "We will follow wherever the facts take us. The Phoenix office is where we opened it, because that was the primary locus of the original allegations. We are working with the VA IG." More here.

But speaking of veterans, we mentioned a week or so back the Navy's Annual Wounded Warrior and Veteran Hiring conference in Raleigh, in which the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia and the Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett, along with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory kicked off the event to bring local companies from the Raleigh-Durham area to meet with wounded veterans. So here were the results thus far: there were 46 job offers accepted the day of the event, there are now 172 job offers pending and what we're told are "dozens of follow up interviews scheduled." We're also told that hundreds of the veterans attending the conference took advantage of the workshops offered during the conference on "veteran skills translation" to private industry as well as courses on military licensing, credentialing and spouse employment. In fiscal 2012, the Navy hired 11,000 veterans - 59 percent of whom were new hires - and 10 percent of whom were wounded warriors. Want more deets on Navy wounded warrior employment? Click here.

Scoopage: the Pentagon set June 22 for a next test of whether its $34 billion ground-based defense system can intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile.  Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "...The effort to hit and destroy a dummy missile will be attempted with an improved Raytheon Co. warhead fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California against a target launched from a Pacific test range, the Missile Defense Agency's congressional liaison office said in an e-mail yesterday to Senate and House defense committees. The newest version of the warhead will carry a redesigned inertial navigation unit and software upgrades, according to the e-mail. The Pentagon hasn't conducted a successful interception using the ground-based system since 2008. Two 2010 tests failed, as did one last July that used the older warhead that's on 20 of the 30 interceptors based in silos at Vandenberg and Fort Greely, Alaska." More here.