National Security

FP's Situation Report: Did Maliki get the memo?; U.S. troops begin their mission in Iraq; Thomas to JSOC, Votel to SOCOM, Campbell to Kabul; The gunshot wound at Arlington was self-inflicted; Fantasy, pills and sex in al Qaeda country; and a bit more.

 

Did Maliki get the memo? In a speech in Iraq today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for political unity just days after Secretary of State John Kerry told him Iraq needed a multisectarian government - one way or another. The WaPo's Loveday Morris, this morning: "Striking a conciliatory but desperate tone in a televised address to the nation, Maliki urged political parties to lay aside their differences before the first session of Iraq's newly elected parliament, expected to take place next week. 'We desperately need a united national stance to defy terrorism,' said Maliki, who is under pressure from the United States to reach out to those who oppose him.

"His speech, delivered two days after he met with Secretary of State John F. Kerry, contrasted sharply with his public declarations earlier in the crisis, which have appealed to religious motivations and called for citizens to protect the country's Shiite Muslim shrines. It comes amid a period of intense political maneuvering in Baghdad that could result in Maliki's loss of the premiership as the conflict convulsing his country intensifies." More here.

In the meantime, Syria's Assad regime sent warplanes to strike Sunni militants inside Iraq - the very ones the U.S. will begin helping Iraq to hunt down - and underscoring the increasing blur of the border between Syria and Iraq. It's also forcing the U.S. to confront more head on, not only the bloodshed in Iraq but, potentially, in Syria. But for now, the focus for the Pentagon is the troops heading into the new but uncertain mission in Iraq. FP's Gordon Lubold: "American military advisors have started their ‘assessment' mission in Iraq, Pentagon officials said Tuesday, the first step in what could be a sustained U.S. effort to help the battered Iraqi military beat back an onslaught by Islamist fighters. About 130 U.S. military personnel, including approximately 40 special operations troops already in Iraq, will work with Iraqi forces to establish a ‘Joint Operations Center' in Baghdad. Together, they will assess Iraq's current security capabilities and the situation on the ground now that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham fighters have taken over large swaths of the country. Another four teams, for a total of 50 more troops, will soon arrive in Iraq. The White House has authorized as many as 300 troops for the Iraq mission but Pentagon officials said it's not yet clear if that many will be needed there.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby yesterday: "These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces, higher headquarters in Baghdad, and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisors."

"...Although the troops will be armed, the White House stresses that they will not serve in a combat role. Airstrikes against ISIS have also not been ruled out. Eager to avoid stepping into the conflict inside Iraq that is fed by violence across the border in Syria, though, the troops' assessment will at least partially determine whether airstrikes would be effective enough to justify the risk of a broader armed intervention into the region." More here.

Former commandos call Iraq a mission impossible for the American troops. The Daily Beast's Jacob Siegel, here.

Losses to ISIS in Iraq spur the U.S. to rethink its Syria policy. After years of appearing to ignore Syria, and reluctant to enter into that conflict in any substantive way, the administration is now being forced to confront it. But the situation there is now far worse than it was and whatever the White House does it's likely to draw more I-told-you-sos from critics of the administration's non-intervention. The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum and Julian Barnes: "The Sunni militant advance in Iraq has reignited a debate in the Obama administration over its policy toward Syria, increasing pressure on the president to act more aggressively against a growing regional threat, according to current and former government officials. Some argue that any U.S. military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, in Iraq will fall short if it doesn't hit the group's major strongholds in neighboring Syria. ISIS now occupies territory on both sides of the border. Several compared the ability of militants to easily cross from their Syrian sanctuaries into Iraq to that of extremists based in Pakistan who stage attacks on U.S. interests in neighboring Afghanistan.

A senior defense official: "Syria and Iraq are largely a single problem... If we really get into this, you will have to look in to Syria to solve some of these problems."

Julie Smith, a former Biden national security advisor: "There's no question that developments in Iraq are changing the nature of the debate... We're in essence dealing with significant destabilization and the rise of a terrorist group that seems intent not only on taking on the leadership in Baghdad, but also playing a pretty terrifying terrorism role world-wide."

Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria: "I don't see how you confront the Islamic State in Iraq and then stop at the border, especially when the border, de facto doesn't really exist." More here.

Here's some intel: ISIS is amassing weapons and cash. The WaPo's Greg Miller: "The al-Qaeda-inspired insurgent group that has seized a string of cities in Iraq is rapidly gaining strength as it accumulates new weapons, fighters and cash, according to U.S. intelligence assessments disclosed Tuesday by a senior U.S. official. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria 'is the strongest it has been in several years' because of recent gains in both those countries, the senior U.S. intelligence official said, an assessment that suggests the former al-Qaeda affiliate has rebuilt much of the capability it had at the height of the war in Iraq... The U.S. official said that American intelligence agencies had for months provided "strategic warning" that ISIS was growing in strength while the government in Baghdad appeared to be losing its grip on key cities but declined to provide further details." More here.

The Pentagon is sending a message to Iraq by dragging its boots. TIME's Mark Thompson with that interesting angle, here.

The questions rebels use to tell the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. Alissa Rubin for the NYT, here.

Emma Sky in Foreign Affairs on who lost Iraq - and how to get it back: "Republicans and Democrats each share some of the blame for the situation in Iraq -- the former for the way in which the United States entered the country and the latter for the way in which it left. It was only between 2007 and 2009 that the United States had a coherent strategy in Iraq, matched with the right leadership and the necessary resources. The current turmoil dates back to just after that period, to 2010, after Iraq's second post-Saddam national election."

"... The United States has a key role to play in helping broker a new deal among the elites that creates a better balance among Iraq's communities. A new broad-based Iraqi government will need to win back the support of Sunnis against ISIS -- and the Obama administration should be prepared to respond positively to requests for assistance to do so." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

Whycome is no one celebrating the fact that Syria's declared nerve agent is gone? FP's Colum Lynch this morning: "The world's chemical weapons watchdog this week announced a landmark in the fight against weapons of mass destruction: Syria became the first country to voluntarily surrender its entire stockpile of declared chemical weapons agents in the midst of a civil war. So why, then, is the world so reluctant to call it a victory and move on? Even as they applauded the chemical weapons milestone, U.S. and European officials made it clear they would continue to closely monitor Syria's chemical weapons program. 'It should not be lost on anyone that our work is not finished,' Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday." More here.

At long last, the Pentagon's chemical weapons-eating ship jumps into action. The WaPo's Dan Lamothe, here.

Who's Where When today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is back from Afghanistan... Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet delivers remarks at the Atlantic Council Conference on "The U.S. Role in European Security" at 11:30 a.m... then Chollet testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee on "Libya at a Crossroads: A Faltering Transition" at 2 p.m... Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III hosts the Twilight Tattoo, "Salute to the Non-Commissioned Officer: Backbone of the Army" at 7 p.m., Summerall Field, Fort Myer, Va.

A new program to help an estimated 26,000 veterans access employment opportunities and free benefits services will kick off with the first of 65 upcoming events at the DAV RecruitMilitary All Veteran Career Fair at the Redskins' FedEx Field June 26 at 11 a.m. Deets here.

Army Vice Chief of Staff J.C. Campbell is headed to Afghanistan and JSOC's Votel to SOCOM and Tony Thomas is headed to JSOC. Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday three nominations of senior officers in moves that were widely anticipated but nonetheless now official. Campbell has been nom'ed to succeed Gen. Joe Dunford in Kabul, which means that despite the Afghanistan war winding down by the end of the year, the Pentagon will replace one four-star with another four-star. Although that move was expected, some star-watchers are surprised to see that the ISAF command needs a four star, but the ISAF billet likely requires it for now.  Campbell, widely respected and who has reasonably recent Afghanistan command experience, in the dangerous Regional Command-East, would probably get the nod from Congress.
Meantime, Lt. Gen. Joe Votel, now the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, has been nom'ed to become the new commander of Special Operations Command, replacing Adm. Bill McRaven, who himself had been commander of JSOC and has the Bin Laden raid under his belt. We've been told that McRaven was asked not to submit his retirement papers just yet, which means the White House might have further plans for one of the most famous Navy SEALs.

Hagel also announced that Adm. Bill Gortney, now the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, had been nominated to become head of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, replacing Gen. Charles Jacoby.

Also, Situation Report is told that Lt. Gen. Tony Thomas, who last year was the top special operations bubba in Afghanistan, will head to Joint Special Operations Command to replace Votel. We're told it's expected but also not a done deal - as things that have yet to be officially announced tend to be. Stay tuned.

This sad thing has apparently never happened before at Arlington. Army Times' Jeff Schogol and Stephen Losey: "A man found dead of a gunshot wound Friday at Arlington National Cemetery has been identified as retired Air Force Col. Robert Stanton Terrill, 92, of Falls Church, Va. ... Terrill's neighbors confirmed that his late wife, Helen, who died in 2009, is buried at Arlington. The cemetery's online grave finder lists Helen Terrill as being buried in Section 64, where Terrill was found dead." More here.

The Pentagon's war budget to be submitted tomorrow, Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio and Holly Rosenkrantz report. "The White House will submit on Thursday its war-funding request for 2015, according to two officials." More here. 

Gee-Whiz: FP's new Fragile States Index (it's interactive!) Iran is up, America is down and North Korea ain't as bad as you might think. A look at what the number of a country's stability rating really means, here.

Lockheed wins a $1.9 billion deal for U.S. missile-warning satellites. Reuters with the scoop, here.

The bizarre tale of a former Green Beret known as "Lawrence of Afghanistan," a former Pentagon reporter for the WaPo, and pills, sex and the Taliban. An ABC news bit out yesterday tells the story of how Green Beret Jim Gant was relieved of command two years ago. ABC's James Gordon Meek, Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross: "A legendary Special Forces commander was quietly forced to leave the U.S. Army after he admitted to a love affair with a Washington Post war correspondent, who quit her job to secretly live with him for almost a year in one of the most dangerous combat outposts in Afghanistan. U.S. Army Special Operations Command never publicly disclosed that highly-decorated Green Beret Major Jim Gant was relieved of command at the end of a harrowing 22 months in combat in March 2012.

"His commanders charged in confidential files that he had "indulged in a self-created fantasy world" of booze, pain pills and sex in a tribal village deep in Taliban and al Qaeda country with his "wife," journalist Ann Scott Tyson."

"...But it was a long, hard fall for a visionary still called "Lawrence of Afghanistan" by two of the war's now retired top commanders, Army Gen. David Petraeus and Navy SEAL Adm. Eric Olson, in honor of the British officer T.E. Lawrence who led the Arab Revolt a century ago. Gant, who idolizes Lawrence, said he's honored by the comparison. Ann Scott Tyson and Jim Gant, who married last year, have come forward to tell their tale in her new book, 'American Spartan: The Promise, The Mission And The Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant.' Read the rest here.

We're told the Taliban carried out a big attack against government forces in Sangin province in Helmand, Afghanistan last night. From "SitRep reporters" Dan Seckman and Matt Trevithick, on the ground in Afghanistan, who wrote us this morning: "Hundreds of Taliban fighters swarmed government posts in the district capital, overrunning checkpoints, killing 24 Afghan Army soldiers and Afghan police officers, and causing more than 3,000 residents to flee, according to a statement from Abdul Qader Chopan, the provincial police spokesman. Government forces responded quickly, retaking all lost territory and killing just over 100 Taliban fighters within 24 hours.  Quick to allay fears, Chopan indicated this was local politics at work, not the return of the Taliban... Familiar territory to US Marines stationed in Helmand, the last of whom left the district just last month, Sangin was one of the bloodiest areas in the struggle to clear terrain from the Taliban in the south. More than 50 Marines were killed after taking over from the British in 2010.

Provincial police spokesman Chopan on the Taliban's interest in overrunning checkpoints for weapons and equipment to Seckman: "This was about drugs and also their need for weapons." We'll keep our eye out for more on this.

What the ISIS takeover in Iraq says about American policy in Afghanistan. Ryan Evans for War on the Rocks: "...As Obama and his national security team watch Iraq crumble, they would do well to reconsider their unconditional 2016 deadline. It would not be unreasonable for the United States to leave behind a small footprint of less than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future to focus on counter-terrorism, security force assistance, and the continued provision of air support to the Afghan National Security Forces. Even after 2016, Washington needs to ensure that the Taliban does not give shelter and aid to terrorists with transnational ambitions. Indeed, this gets more urgent by the day as the group reclaims parts of Afghanistan's rural south and east. For a number of reasons, a small but capable troop presence is the best means of doing this. It provides political leverage, deterrence, and a hammer. And as my friend Tom Lynch explains, there might be other benefits to having troops in the region." More here.

Hamid Karzai "hobbled the warlords, protected personal freedom and helped heal a shattered country," writes Mujib Masahal in a profile of Karzai for the Atlantic: "...He also winked at corruption and ruled like a tribal chief. His successor will inherit a country that's in better shape than you might think-and a government with little power to keep it that way." More here.

"Literally bad English" - We got an email from a SitRep reader who took issue with a modifier we should never have used yesterday in our story about Iraqi security forces: "Iraqi troops have literally melted away rather than fight..." The reader wrote: "I really like your writing, and your synopses of the issues, but no one actually ("literally") melted away, a la the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Overused/misused/abused word." We couldn't agree more - not sure what we were thinking. Thanks for the smack.

National Journal's Sara Sorcher is headed to the Christian Science Monitor.  Sorcher is going to the Christian Science Monitor (one of our former stomping grounds) to be the deputy editor of a new cybersecurity and technology section launching this fall. Sorcher: "I'll be covering cyber from Washington and helping to shape this exciting new feature, which intersects with national security, business, economic and privacy issues...It's been great working with you these past four years covering national security at National Journal. Thanks for all the news tips and feedback. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me in August when I start my new beat." Congrats to Sara.

A federal judge rules that the no-fly list doesn't fly. Reuters' Dan Whitcomb: "The U.S. government's no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights violates their constitutional rights because it gives them no meaningful way to contest that decision, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, ruling on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Oregon by 13 Muslim Americans who were branded with the no-fly status, ordered the government to come up with new procedures that allow people on the no-fly list to challenge that designation. ‘The court concludes international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society,' Brown wrote in her 65-page ruling." More here.

Check out the Texas air base where NATO fighter pilots are made. From Popular Mechanics: "With tensions rising in the Middle East and Russia, a global cadre of NATO pilots is once again poised on the edge of geopolitical hotspots. So, where do these fighter pilots come from? One answer: an internationally run training center in North Texas." Popular Mechanics' Joe Pappalardo, here.

 

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Polls drop for Obama forpol; What happened to Iraqi army?; A "diplomatic memo" saves the day; A WH memo justifies Awlaki killing; Syrian chems out; and a bit more.

 

After his stop in Baghdad, John Kerry arrived this morning in Erbil, in the Kurdish region of Iraq - the first SecState to visit there since Condi Rice in 2006. Kerry is jetting around the country to help Iraq's Shiite-dominated government to come together, pushing it to recognize that it has little alternative but to do so as Sunni militants continue their aggressive march - and staged an attack of a police convoy not far from Baghdad last night. Kerry has already visited top Sunni leaders and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and today he's in Erbil to talk with Kurdish leaders, where the president of the autonomous Kurdish region described Kerry's challenge as building a multisectarian government and "a new Iraq." At the same time, Kerry indicated that U.S. military action against the Sunni militant group ISIS could come sooner than expected. The NYT's Michael Gordon in Baghdad in the last 24 hours: "Winding up a day of crisis talks with Iraqi leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that the Sunni militants seizing territory in Iraq had become such a threat that the United States might not wait for Iraqi politicians to form a new government before taking military action.

Kerry on ISIS: "They do pose a threat... They cannot be given safe haven anywhere... That's why, again, I reiterate the president will not be hampered if he deems it necessary if the formation is not complete."

"... American officials, drawn increasingly back into a struggle that President Obama had sought to end, do not want to be seen as taking sides in a sectarian conflict. They have stressed in recent days that the establishment of an cross-sectarian Iraqi government would make it easier for the United States to provide military support for Iraq, including airstrikes.

"Mr. Kerry flew in a C-17 military aircraft to Iraq on Monday from Amman, Jordan, to try to hasten that political process. He began his day with a meeting with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and some of his top security aides, which lasted 100 minutes. Mr. Kerry then met in rapid succession with Ammar al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite political party that is a rival of Mr. Maliki's State of Law political coalition, and with Osama al-Nujaifi, the Sunni speaker of Iraq's Parliament. Mr. Kerry also met with Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurd who serves as Iraq's foreign minister." More here.

Where was the "diplomatic note" in 2011? In the meanwhile, the Pentagon is giving the green light to sending 300 troops to Iraq now that the administration yesterday got the assurances it needed that those troops would have legal immunity - a prerequisite for such a deployment - inside Iraq. But the very issue that drove American troops out of Iraq in 2011 - the lack of a security agreement that would protect them from prosecution under the Iraqi judicial system if they got in hot water - became an issue once again this past week as the U.S. scrambled to get the Iraqis to agree to legal protections for those U.S. troops headed there now. After first saying it wasn't an issue, then saying it was, and that no American troops would go there until the proper assurances were granted, the White House yesterday said that it had the "diplomatic note" it needed. But the legalistic jockeying showed to critics that had the administration really wanted such an agreement three years ago, maybe it could have gotten one.

Meantime, what happened to Iraqi security forces? The U.S. thought the Iraqi security forces were GTG in 2011, or at least American officials convinced themselves they were. Of course, most in the military who had spent years training the ISF and fought alongside them, knew better. But the war was over, there was no security agreement that would allow even a small contingent of U.S. troops to stay and advise and three years later, he force that might have been able to mitigate the current crisis isn't strong. Lubold's story: "When the United States left Iraq in 2011, the Pentagon said the Iraqi security forces it had spent tens of billions of dollars training were more than up to the job of securing the country's borders and preventing extremists from reigniting the kind of civil war that devastated the country during the long U.S. occupation. Top American commanders conceded that the Iraqi forces didn't have a strong air force and that there were legitimate concerns about how the army would maintain its equipment or handle a sectarian crisis, for example, or plan and execute missions based on its own intelligence capabilities. Still, U.S. officials confidently proclaimed that the Iraqi security forces were on the right track as they bid the Iraqis adieu.

"...Those optimistic assessments were catastrophically wrong. Iraqi troops have literally melted away rather than fight militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, abandoning their uniforms and enormous amounts of American-supplied vehicles, weaponry, and ammunition as they fled south.

"...In late 2011, James Dubik, the retired three-star American general who led training of Iraqi forces until 2008, noted that the country's military still needed to hone its counterinsurgency training, wasn't capable of deterring external threats, and didn't have the capabilities required to sustain itself in a long-term fight. Indeed, today some believe the Iraqi army has become a "checkpoint military" -- good at static security, but flawed when it comes to actually fighting militants on the battlefield.

"...To Dubik, the best analogy to describe the condition in which the United States left Iraqi forces in 2011 is in the form of a spear: American forces had successfully created the 'tippy end' for Iraq, but the rest of the spear -- the maintenance of equipment, the logistics skills required to conduct operations, medical capabilities, and the like -- were still on the "to do" list.

'We left before we were done,' he said. More of our story here.

This is how a Sunni taxi driver from Mosul sees the world with ISIS - and Maliki's government. SPIEGEL Staff: "Masoud Ali, a tall, friendly man with a beard and green eyes, was a taxi driver in Mosul until a few days ago. He likes the desert, and he loves his wife and his yellow Nissan. He never paid much attention to politics until now... But then fighters with the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,' or ISIS, overran the city of two million. An evening curfew has been in force in Mosul since last Monday, says Ali. He and his family heard gunshots near their apartment on Tuesday, and when Ali looked outside, he saw a dead body lying on the street.

"...A day later, Masoud Ali loaded his family into his car and stepped on the gas. As they drove away, they could see police uniforms and abandoned military vehicles in the ditch. Government troops, most of them Sunnis, had surrendered to the Sunni ISIS fighters. Ali, like most residents of Mosul, is also a Sunni. He had heard the mayor calling for the citizens of Mosul to defend themselves against ISIS.

Masoud Ali: "But why should I have defended myself?... For the Shiite government? For Prime Minister Maliki, who oppresses the Sunnis?...The conflict has escalated because people in Iraq don't like the government anymore." More here.

Iraq's Kurds sold their first tanker full of oil to Israel last week, moving closer to independence by Forbes' Christopher Helman, here.

Survey says: A new poll shows deep dissatisfaction with Obama's foreign policy among the GOP and Dems. There may be some irony in the fact that President Obama has been accused of conducting foreign policy based on poll numbers, ending unpopular wars and trying to stay out of world conflicts. But now those decisions seem to be coming back to haunt him. The NYT's Michael Shear and Dalia Sussman on the new NYT/CBS News poll: "...The survey suggests that most Americans back some of Mr. Obama's approaches to the crisis in Iraq, including majority support for the possibility of drone strikes. But the poll documents an increasing lack of faith in the president and his leadership, and shows deep concern that further intervention by the United States in Iraq could lead to another long and costly involvement there.  The poll found that 58 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Mr. Obama is handling foreign policy, a jump of 10 points in the last month to the highest level since Mr. Obama took office in 2009. The spike in disapproval is especially striking among Democrats, nearly a third of whom said they did not approve of his handling of foreign policy." More here.

The first thing you do to right the ship? Admit you were steering it in the wrong direction in the first place. FP's David Rothkopf: "If there was a turning point in the presidency of George W. Bush, it came when he and his team finally accepted that their strategy in Iraq was not working and embraced the idea of the ‘surge.' It prompted them to admit they were wrong and to adapt.

"...We are at a moment ripe for such a realization and a manifestation of flexibility for President Barack Obama...The events are not unrelated, of course. Reasonable analysts are pointing out that the roots of the instability that wracks Iraq today can be traced not only to the Bush-era invasion of Iraq but also to the only-temporary benefits won by the surge and the failure of both Bush and Obama to address the deep political flaws in the Iraqi system earlier. But the current events in Iraq are not just a flashback. They are much more dangerous than the insurgency the Bush team eventually, and reluctantly, admitted had been gaining ground through 2005 and 2006." More here.

Dexter Filkins for the New Yorker on unfinished business in Iraq, here.

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

Remember the VA? The Office of Special Council offers a sharp criticism of it. The NYT's Richard Oppel: "In a blistering letter sent to President Obama on Monday, the head of the agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints in the federal government criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for not digging deeper into widespread allegations made by its own employees of poor or severely delayed patient care for veterans. In the letter, Carolyn N. Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, asserted that Veterans Affairs officials consistently have used a ‘harmless error' defense to dismiss as trivial numerous claims of shoddy patient care or long waiting times made by department employees in recent years. Ms. Lerner criticized the department, along with its Office of the Medical Inspector, for a longstanding pattern of refusing to use whistle-blower complaints to fix serious medical problems." More here.

A federal court released the memo justifying the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen killed in Yemen in 2011.

The NYT's Charlie Savage: "...Mr. Obama's decision to authorize the military and the C.I.A. to hunt down and kill Mr. Awlaki was an extraordinary step that created an important precedent for executive power, civil liberties and the rule of law. Intelligence officials had concluded that Mr. Awlaki was an operational terrorist leader who had gone overseas, become part of Al Qaeda or an associated force, and was "engaged in continual planning and direction of attacks" on Americans. His capture was not feasible, the memo said." More here.

Read the actual memo with FP's Elias Groll, here.

Part III of the WaPo's jinormous package on drones, "Hazard Above," with @craigmwhitlock at the joystick, here.

Lawmakers in House and Senate are proposing an overhaul of aid to Egypt following convictions of two Al Jazeera English journalists. FP's John Hudson: "In an embarrassing setback for the Obama administration, the Egyptian government stepped up its crackdown on freedom of the press and political dissent just one day after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo, raising new questions about the White House's support for an increasingly repressive regime.

"During the Sunday visit, Kerry vowed to resume hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Cairo and clear the way for the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters -- assistance that is now coming under withering criticism following the conviction of three journalists on charges of spreading false news and conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. In Washington, members of Congress, including some Democrats, condemned the convictions and called for an overhaul of U.S. funding to Egypt, exposing a disconnect between the president, members of his own party, and Egyptian activists.

"...The statements of outrage aren't just talk. Schiff, a California Democrat, will propose an amendment on Tuesday that would cut and restructure American aid to Egypt, chopping off almost a third of security assistance funding to Cairo and putting the savings into economic assistance programs related to education, democracy and civil society. Egypt, Schiff said, ‘is too important to the region and to the world for the United States to stand idly by.'" More here.

Funny thing: when the U.S. military helps foreign leaders, their nations seem to shrink. TIME's Mark Thompson: "For years, despite the massive investment of U.S. lives and treasure in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been derided as the 'major of Kabul,' given his central government's impotence elsewhere in the country. For days, despite an even greater of U.S. blood and treasure in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now being referred to in some quarters as the ‘mayor of Baghdad.' (And, according to military author Tom Ricks, even that overstates the real estate he rules.) This is a not a good outcome for Washington, which provided the security and built the infrastructure that enabled elections to put both men in charge. It's the realpolitik that is keeping U.S. firepower largely sidelined in Iraq: if great swaths of such countries don't care if their purported leader is relegated to a bürgermeister in his own land, why should the U.S. do even more to let him retain his hold on the government's reins?" More here.

Who's Where When today - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon to welcome Norway's Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Soreide to the Pentagon at 2:30 p.m... Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is in Afghanistan, where he'll visit today Bagram Airfield as part of a series of meetings with troops and senior leadership... Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos delivers remarks at the American Enterprise Institute at 10:30 a.m. Watch it here. ... Deputy Under Secretary of Defense of Intelligence for Joint and Coalition Warfighter Support, Lt. Gen Raymond P. Palumbo delivers remarks at the Future of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Symposium in Arlington...Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, National Security Agency, Chief, Central Security Adm. Mike Rogers delivers the keynote address at the Armed Forces Communication and Electronic Association Cyber Symposium.

Tomorrow, the Center for National Policy is hosting a panel of Egyptian business leaders for a public discussion of US-Egypt trade and the economic situation in the country post-election. Deets here.

The International Crisis Group's latest report looks at the state of education in Pakistan and calls on the government to reverse decades of neglect, poor standards, and under-funding in order to reduce the risk of sectarianism and religious extremism. Download it here.

Deadline met?: The removal of chemical weapons from Syria is completed. The WSJ's Naftali Bendavid: "All the dangerous substances from Syria's chemical weapons program, including sulfur mustard and precursors of sarin, have now been removed from the country after a monthslong process, a Hague-based watchdog agency said Monday. The announcement marks a diplomatic and logistical milestone. Never before has a country's entire chemical arsenal been removed from its borders, and now the most lethal chemicals are set to be destroyed aboard a U.S. ship at sea. Still, some clouds hang over the announcement. Under a U.S.-Russian agreement reached last year, all 1,290 metric tons of chemicals were to be destroyed by June 30. With the final batch removed only Monday, that final destruction could take four additional months. Potentially more challenging for the international community are reports of recent chlorine attacks within Syria, which opposition forces blame on the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Assad government denies responsibility." More here.

China and the U.S. dance around the containment question.  Joseph Bosco for the National Interest: "...At each phase of the evolving rebalancing, Washington has strived to mollify Chinese concerns that it is pursuing a China containment policy rather than serving some broader purpose peaceful purpose-unwisely conceding the rhetorical point that the former is separate from, and inconsistent with, the latter. As the president said in Manila, ‘Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of international disputes.' For years, US officials danced around the dragon in the room, avoiding mention of the powerful state that is violating those rules and norms and posing the second-most serious threat to Asian peace and security after North Korea, China's dependent ally.  That has finally begun to change." More here.

A US Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter caught fire when attempting to take off from a Florida Air Force base Monday morning. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber and Aaron Mehta: "...The plane, which is assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, the unit that trains F-35 pilots for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and international militaries, experienced a fire in the aft end of the aircraft, according to an Air Force statement. The pilot successfully shut down the plane and escaped unharmed, an F-35 program spokeswoman said. The fire was extinguished with foam by a ground crew. Officials were assessing the damage and looking for the cause of the fire, the spokeswoman said." More here.