Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: $500M for Syrian opposition; Bob Hale on funding the long war; Kim Jong-un's all out war on Hollywood; After more than 30 years, last day for AP's Pauline Jelinek; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

Obama seeks $500 Million to train and equip the Syrian opposition. After more than three years of defending its ambivalence to getting involved in the Syrian conflict in any substantive way, the White House yesterday asked for funding to begin a formal and overt train-and-equip program for the Syrian opposition as the growing Iraq conflict next door threatens Baghdad and shakes stability in the entire region. The proposal will spark a pointed debate in Congress, which must fund it and it's still likely months away. But the White House will find out that the delay will have enormous costs: the opposition has long since lost its momentum, the Assad regime is in a much stronger position than it was, and the vetting of the moderates the U.S. must do before pouring more equipment and training resources into the conflict will be that much harder to do.  The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "The Obama administration asked Congress on Thursday to authorize $500 million in direct U.S. military training and equipment for Syrian opposition fighters, a move that could significantly escalate U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. Money for the assistance, which would expand a CIA covert training program, is included in a $65.8?billion request for the Pentagon's Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO."

"...If Congress approves the funding, it would mark the first direct U.S. military participation in the Syrian conflict. The training would probably take place in neighboring Jordan, where the CIA is currently training Syrian opposition forces, and possibly in Turkey.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement: "While we continue to believe that there is no military solution to this crisis and that the United States should not put American troops into combat in Syria, this request marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against [Assad] regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists .?.?. who find safe-haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels." More here.

Meantime, Syrian warplanes attacked ISIS fighters at a border crossing with Iraq yesterday. Hugh Naylor for The National in the UAE: "There were conflicting claims about whether the attack took place on Iraqi soil. But the incident is a further sign that Mr Al Maliki's Shiite allies - Iran and the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad - are being drawn into the battle against Iraq's Sunni insurgency led by the ISIL militants." More here.

Meantime, Kerry met with the U.S.'s Sunni allies at the U.S. Chief of Mission Residence in Paris yesterday. As the U.S. now pushes for a more active train-and-assist program in Syria and help in Iraq, it seeks the help of allies and neighbors, and the sell is likely to be a difficult one even as the spillover effects of Sunni militant violence forces all the players to come to grips with the new reality in the Middle East. The AP's Lara Jakes: "...U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant reaches beyond the two countries - Iraq and Syria - where it is currently based... He said the talks with foreign ministers from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also would touch on a ‘number of critical issues' - including negotiations about Iran's nuclear program and the stalled peace effort between Israel and Palestinian authorities.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal:  "Of immense importance for our countries... I think with the cooperation between these countries we can affect, hopefully, the situation in a better way"

"...Kerry's meeting with the Arab state diplomats lasted about two hours. Afterward, senior State Department officials said the Sunni diplomats repeated concerns about Iraq's current Shiite-led government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, with whom their states have had longstanding tensions. All sides agreed during the meeting that Iraq's next government - which will begin to form after the new parliament is seated next week in Baghdad - must be more accepting of the country's Sunni and Kurdish population. Sixty percent of Iraqis are Shiite. The Arab diplomats did not commit to sending any military assistance to Baghdad to fight the Sunni insurgency, as the U.S. is doing. In Washington, the Pentagon said Thursday that four teams of Army special forces have arrived in Baghdad, bringing the number of American troops there to 90." More here.

It's time for NATO to get involved in Syria and Iraq, perhaps even putting limited Special Forces troops on the ground. Jim Stavridis (former SACEUR) for FP: "As ISIS consolidates its position across the Syrian and Iraqi divide, NATO must realize that it is only a matter of time before a wave of EU passport-bearing jihadists will be headed back home to wreak havoc. Those AK-toting fundamentalists are a bit busy at the moment destroying two Shiite/Alawite regimes in Iraq and Syria respectively, but the eye of Sunni extremism will inevitably turn its attention to the capitals of Europe. This means NATO must begin now to do all it can to undermine this potential future threat, and the key will be along the Turkish border." More here.

Both Ankara and Arbil want a ‘unity gov't' in Iraq. Hurriyet's Sevil Erkus: "The prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held talks in Ankara on June 26, amid growing unrest in Iraq. Both Nechirvan Barzani and Turkish officials agreed on the need for the establishment of an inclusive Iraqi government as soon as possible. A Turkish official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said after the talks that both sides supported a new government that would ‘embrace all parts of the Iraqi people and aims for fair power and revenue sharing.'" More here.

The U.S. military advisors in Iraq have to be wary of their Iraqi "allies" - who are passing intel to Iran. Jeff Stein for Newsweek, here.

ISIS is recruiting more and more foreign fighters. The WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib, here.

A Twitter analysis of #AllEyesOnISIS by Shiraz Maher and Joseph Carter for War on the Rocks, here.

CSIS' Juan Zarate on CBS News, this morning, on why the U.S. is in the place it is when it comes to Iraq, where the White House removed all but a small group of troops in 2011: "It doesn't mean we're blind and it doesn't mean we've lost all the relationships in [Iraq], militarily, politically, intelligence, or otherwise but ... I think we have to recognize that there were real consequences to that drawdown. Not having the physical imprint of the U.S. troops and intelligence infrastructure there has in some ways blinded us, and now we're playing catch-up." Watch here.

Turns out, there's actually some deep divisions within the U.S. over U.S. foreign policy. We kid, of course there are. But a new study looks at the differences. FP's Elias Groll: "...the Pew Research Center on Thursday released its latest report on American political groupings which attempts to sort Americans into categories based on their ideological affinities. Among other things, that report paints a fascinating portrait of American attitudes on foreign policy and the degree to which the Democratic and Republican parties have a fundamentally different view of America's role in the world. The report could not be more timely.

"Though President Obama entered office with a desire to recalibrate American foreign policy away from the aggressiveness of the Bush administration, the world has refused to comply with his desire to build a world order based more on cooperation than confrontation." More, including a link to the report, here.

Welcome to Friday'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.

Folks, after more than 30 years at AP - and the last (best ones!) in and out of the Pentagon, it's AP's Pauline Jelinek's last day. Pauline joined AP in 1-9-7-9 - as a business reporter who covered commodities futures, moved to D.C. in 1982 and covered Treasury. She and her husband Reid Miller have lived in Costa Rica, Nairobi and Seoul, and the two returned to Washington in 1999 and she moved to AP's nat-sec staff. After 9/11, she came over to the Pentagon to work the early morning shift, and has continued to cover the wars, the military and veterans issues until her final AP day, which will be today at the Pentagon.

From AP's National Security Editor Wendy Benjaminson:?"Pauline Jelinek was instrumental in the AP's war coverage after 9/11, capping a more than 30-year career. She started her day at the crack of dawn at the Pentagon, confirming war reports and covering the U.S. military as it fought first one war, then two. Jelinek broke news, wrote quickly and was always jovial and a pleasure to work with."

From AP's Lita Baldor from the Pentagon: "Of course, for those of us who worked with her every day - we know her more for her good humor, dogged reporting, the smell of her cooking bacon in the microwave every morning, and her crazy Christmas decorations!!"

But it's also Agence France-Presse's Mathieu Rabechault's last day at the Pentagon, too. Mathieu, who began at the Pentagon in November 2010, is now returning to Paris to become an "editor big cheese," as his AFP colleague Dan De Luce told us this morning. When Mathieu started it took him many weeks to get a social security number and a Pentagon building pass, so De Luce had to escort him everywhere. De Luce told us this morning: "On a particularly busy day, not wanting to bother me because I was on deadline, Mathieu went across the hall to use the men's room. An overly vigilant/vigilante DoD employee noticed his badge and demanded to know where his escort was. ... The employee marched Mathieu down to the police at the metro entrance. Then De Luce got a phone call: 'Are you missing someone?'"

De Luce on Mathieu: "He brought wit, class, insight and old world charm to the Pentagon press... His smoking buddies in courtyard will miss him too! We will miss Mathieu. Bon voyage."

Who's Where When today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work delivers the keynote address at the retirement ceremony of Capt. Jerry Hendrix (Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command) in the morning.

Also today, there will be a discussion of the 2014 quadrennial homeland security review at CSIS this morning.  DHS's Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Planning, Analysis & Risk Alan Cohn?kicks it off at 9 a.m. Watch here.

Read FP's Shane Harris' Q&A with the director of the new movie called ‘Drones,' which looks at drone wars from the drone pilots' point of view, here.

BTW, we introduced an item yesterday in which Foreign Policy took a look at the Iranian drone program asking "who knew Iran really even had drones?" We aren't necessarily conversant on the Iranian drone program and they haven't been part of the bigger conversation anytime recently, but we didn't mean for folks to take our little headline literally. We got this mean-mail from a vigilant reader under the subject line "Iranian drones:" They've had them since the Iraq/Iran war in the 80's. Why didn't you know that?"

Read Rosa Brooks and John Abizaid's op-ed in the WaPo today - "We Need a Rulebook for Drones" - based on the Stimson study they co-authored that we highlighted yesterday, here.

Meantime, more drones: The Obama administration should limit future proliferation by working with other countries to regulate the sale of armed drones and set standards for their use says a new CFR report. CFR's Micah Zenko and Sarah Kreps lay out several reasons why armed drones are unique in their ability to destabilize relations and intensify conflict. Unmanned aircraft reduce the threshold for authorizing military action by eliminating pilot casualty, potentially increasing the frequency of force deployment. Because there is no onboard pilot, drones are less responsive to warnings that could defuse or prevent a clash. Furthermore, countries may fire on a manned fighter plane, mistaking it for an armed drone, which could increase the likelihood of conflict. Find the report here.

Most coverage of veterans issues and the VA come from reporters who have never served. Not today. Read Army veteran Stephen Carlson's interview with Jeff Miller, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, for Task and Purpose, here.

It's also Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale's last day today, but before he left he talked to Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio, who wrote yesterday that when it comes to budget requests, the Pentagon will likely request money to pay for warfighting that is in addition to its annual defense spending plan, even after the U.S. ends its combat role in Afghanistan.

Capaccio: "'We are refining and broadening' what's considered war spending by including pools of money such as President Barack Obama's proposals for a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative and a $5 billion counterterrorism fund, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said yesterday in an interview. 'So I think there's a reasonable chance that they would last for several years at least," said Hale, who's leaving office tomorrow after five years as comptroller.

"While the defense budget provides funds for weapons and personnel, the cost of fighting wars such as those in Iraq and now Afghanistan has been accounted for separately as 'Overseas Contingency Operations.' While Hale declined to provide specifics of the warfighting request for the coming fiscal year, which the White House is set to release today, it will be about $58.6 billion, according to another government official who asked not to be identified discussing the funding before it's announced." More here.

Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin scored a $1.3 billion contract yesterday for the Combat Rescue Helicopter program. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber, here.

As Pakistan wages an offensive against militants, tensions with Afghanistan rise. The WaPo's Tim Craig and Shaiq Hussain: "Pakistan has evacuated more than 450,000 civilians from a terrorist-plagued district in the northwestern part of the country, but its offensive against the militants there is complicated by fresh tension with neighboring Afghanistan. With the North Waziristan campaign in its second week, officials say most civilians have left the remote, mountainous area that is home to thousands of militants affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban and groups such as the Haqqani network. More than 350 militants have been killed and military commanders say a full-scale ground invasion is imminent. The area's porous border with Afghanistan makes it likely, however, that some militants have escaped. Pakistan says Afghanistan is not doing enough to bolster surveillance of its side of the border. Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah is thought to live in Afghanistan, and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has personally appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to help dislodge him." More here.

Not amused by Seth Rogen's newest movie, Kim Jong-un vows "all out war." CS Monitor's Howard LaFranchi: "North Korea's Kim Jong-un is about to become a Hollywood hit - and the pop-culture-loving dictator is so furious about it he's threatening "all-out war" on the United States... Apparently Kim sees nothing funny about a plot line that has a bumbling American talk-show host and his producer, played by James Franco and Seth Rogen, accepting a CIA proposal to turn their trip to North Korea to interview Kim into a hit, so to speak." More here.

China looks to gain by joining big U.S.-led Pacific naval drills. Reuters' David Brunnstrom and David Alexander: "A giant U.S.-led naval exercise began off Hawaii on Thursday with China joining its Asia-Pacific rivals for the first time, but analysts doubted the drills will ease tensions over Chinese maritime claims and some said Beijing could use them to strengthen its navy. Washington and its allies hope China's participation in the five-week Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, involving 55 vessels, more than 200 aircraft and some 25,000 personnel from 22 countries, will build trust and help avert misunderstandings on the high seas that could escalate into crisis. But analysts say the maneuvers may only help Beijing strengthen its growing naval capability by observing the forces of the United States and its allies.

Roger Cliff, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, said China will gain more than it gives up: "They will ... learn from observing us and the other participants, and they will not only learn about our capabilities, they will also learn how to perform things more efficiently or effectively, whereas they probably don't have much to teach us in that regard... So they probably will learn more than we do." More here.

The U.S. is freezing the Thai junta out of military exercises. TIME's Charlie Campbell: "Thailand has been uninvited from the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) in Hawaii - the world's largest international maritime-warfare exercise - this week, in response to spiraling human-rights abuses in the wake of last month's military coup. The ban only affects the two or three Thai military observers slated to attend the exercise, nonetheless, in diplomatic terms the snub - to America's oldest treaty partner in Asia - is a very pointed one." More here.

Berlin has terminated a contract with Verizon over concerns about the security of its systems. The FT's Jeevan Vasagar in Berlin: "The German interior ministry said the cancellation was linked to the ‘relationship between foreign intelligence agencies and companies' that the rogue National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden exposed last year. The revelation of surveillance by US government agencies, and the complicity of some US companies, provoked particular outrage in Germany. Among the revelations, it emerged that Verizon was required by a court order to hand over information about telephone calls on its network to the NSA on an "ongoing, daily" basis. The order barred the company from publicly disclosing the existence of the request. The metadata collected by the NSA included the number calling, being called, and the location and length of the call." More here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Iranian drones over Iraq; Obama WH needs more accountability over their own drones; Hagel to meet with leaders; No RIMPAC for Thailand; There's a new Baghdad Bob; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

Drones from Iran have been secretly flying over Iraq. Iraq is bringing together strange bedfellows. Earlier this week, Syria's Assad regime sent jet fighters to strike at Sunni militants wreaking havoc inside Iraq. Now, Iranian drones are flying overhead in Iraq alongside American drones, providing reconnaissance to counter the threat from the Sunni group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, everybody's new common enemy in what signals a clear widening of the conflict in Iraq. But it doesn't yet mean anyone is standing closer together. The NYT's Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: " Iran is directing surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is supplying Iraqi forces with tons of military equipment and other supplies, according to American officials.

"The secret Iranian programs are a rare instance in which Iran and the United States share a near-term goal: countering the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Sunni militants who have seized towns and cities in a blitzkrieg across western and northern Iraq. But even as the two nations provide military support to the embattled government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, they are watching each other's actions warily as they jostle for influence in the region. Senior American officials emphasized that the parallel efforts were not coordinated, and in an appearance at NATO headquarters here on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted some of the potential risks.

Meanwhile, who knew Iran even really had drones? FP's Elias Groll: Iran's first drone, the Mohajer, was developed by the country's armed forces during the Iran-Iraq war to provide surveillance and intelligence. With Iranian forces sustaining heavy losses against their Iraqi opponents, the drone was developed to reduce casualties and prevent Iranian troops from walking into ambushes. The drone was at one point reportedly equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, which would make it one of the first weaponized drones. A variation of the early model reportedly is still in use. This 2012 video shows what is believed to be a Mohajer-variant operating in the skies over Syria. More on that here.

It feels like 2007. The tide of the Iraq war turned between 2006 and 2007 starting in western Iraq's Anbar province when moderate Sunnis rose up against their militant brothers in al-Qaida. Now there's talk of how to make that magic happen again and for a White House that likes diplomacy over kinetics, this is likely to set a tone over the next days and weeks. AP's Lara Jakes and Sameer Yacoub, from Baghdad: "They were known as the Sahwa, or the Awakening Councils - Sunni militiamen who took extraordinary risks to side with U.S. troops in the fight against al-Qaida during the Iraq War...Now, the Obama administration is looking at the Sahwa, which still exist in smaller form, as a model for how to unite Sunni fighters against the rampant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that has swept across most of the nation's north. Also known as the Sons of Iraq - "sahwa" is Arabic for "awakening" - U.S. officials say they hope Sunnis will be similarly stirred to fight back against the new insurgency." More here.

There's more on this theme from a new report for New America from Derek Harvey and Michael Pregent: "As the United States considers its options against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we should start by reviewing our earlier war against ISIS's previous incarnation, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and remember what worked and what did not. The air power and special operations that many in Washington are now discussing can be an important component of a counterinsurgency or counterterrorism campaign, but our history with AQI/ISIS shows that by themselves they are not sufficient to put an end to the threat." More here.

Shiite violence traps Sunnis in Baghdad. The NYT's Alissa Rubin and Rod Nordland on Page One, here.

Tara Sonenshine, State's former undersec for public diplomacy and public affairs, argues it's time that Obama lowered the bar for success in Iraq. Sonenshine in Defense One, here.

The Iraqi ex-mayor who is trying to keep the peace in Iraq - from Virginia. The WaPo's Greg Jaffe, here.

An industry insider tells the international Arabic paper Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraq's oil infrastructure was subjected to repeated sabotage and theft in the months before the fall of Mosul. Read it here.

ISIS tries to grab its own Air Force. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Josh Rogin: "The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is threatening to take control of Balad Airbase, Iraq's largest airfield and one of America's most important military outposts during its occupation of the country." More here.

Who's rooting for Iran in Tel Aviv? The WSJ's Joshua Mitnick, here.

Iraq's Lt. Gen. Qassim Atta is the new "Baghdad Bob." We all remember Baghdad Bob from the days of the Iraq invasion of 2003 - the spokesman for the Iraqi government who confidently asserted facts that were counter to reality. Now, apparently, Iraq has a new spinner. The WaPo's Loveday Morris: "Each afternoon, the meticulously groomed Lt. Gen. Qassim Atta stands in front of a cluster of microphones in a palatial meeting room in Baghdad's Green Zone to update the nation on the latest military developments... However, it is a spin on the day's developments that often starkly conflicts with reports from the field... A few days earlier, the loss of three border towns to militants, strengthening their run from Syria into Iraq, was framed as a 'tactical' withdrawal, in order to reinforce troops elsewhere. 'Everything is going very well, and the leadership has full command and control,' he declared." 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.

Diving into the debate over security and privacy, the Supreme Court shields cell phone data. FP's Shane Harris: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that police officers need to obtain warrants before searching through the cellphones of people that they arrest, a potentially far-reaching decision that comes at a moment when courts across the United States are considering how to adapt laws on privacy to an age where staggering amounts of personal information reside on ever-growing numbers of electronic devices. The Supreme Court's ruling pertains to criminal law and doesn't affect the laws governing warrantless surveillance and data collection that have been at the heart of the controversy over intelligence-gathering by the National Security Agency.

"That may change, however, with the high court recently signaling that it may be prepared to reconsider the rules around that kind of data-gathering as well. More specifically, the court would likely examine whether so-called metadata, such as the phone records that the NSA has been routinely collecting for years, should be afforded greater legal protection against government search and seizure." More here.

Who's Where When today ­- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is meeting with all his combatant commanders, like Gen. Lloyd Austin from Central Command, Phil Breedlove from European Command and Gen. David Rodriguez from Africa Command and others, as well as his service secretaries and chiefs for what was described as a "previously scheduled" Senior Leadership Council meeting. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday that the agenda will, "of course, be current events around the world, but they are also expected to discuss our global force posture going forward, budget issues, innovation concepts, and better business practices."

Also today, the White House will ask Congress for $60 billion to fund military operations in Afghanistan and other global contingencies. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "...The Pentagon would receive about $58.5 billion through the 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request. A separate $1.5 billion budget amendment is being requested for State Department contingency funding, according to a source with knowledge of the spending plan... The Defense Department and the State Department will also request $5 billion, part of a new counterterrorism fund, which President Barack Obama said he would include in the OCO budget during his commencement address at West Point in May. Of that, $4 billion would go toward DoD and $1 billion toward State. The spending plan that will go to Capitol Hill Thursday will include very few details about how DoD and State would spend that money, the source said." More here.

Former national security folks take a stern look at U.S. drone policy and issue a new major report from Stimson that calls for more accountability. A major Stimson Center report provided early to Situation Report looks at the concerning future of U.S. drone policy and war. A task force co-chaired by General John P. Abizaid (US Army, Ret.), former Commander of US Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, former Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, offers a response to Obama's 2103 NDU speech, in which he pledged to "review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress."

Unlike other reports on drone warfare from human rights groups and others, this report comes from a number of heavy-hitters from the nat-sec community and may mean the Obama administration takes it all the more seriously.

While the report acknowledges the advantages drones offer the military, it explores the strategic and legal risks they create.  Of the seven recommendations, #1 is: "Conduct a rigorous strategic review and cost-benefit analysis of the role of lethal UAVs in targeted counterterrorism strikes to evaluate the impact of past UAV strikes on terrorist organizations, affected communities, public opinion, litigation, defense policy and government cooperation with allies and partner nations."

Rosa Brooks, on the report: "The rapid evolution of UAV technologies has enabled the US to engage in what amounts to a thirteen-year-long covert war, fought far away from traditional territorial battlefields and largely in secret. The Stimson Task Force found that the current US policy of using drones for such targeted killings is both strategically questionable and hard to square with our national commitment to the rule of law.

"On several occasions, President Obama has expressed a commitment to making America's use of such targeted strikes more transparent and accountable, and to making sure US targeted strikes don't end up inadvertently undermining our longterm national security goals. This report outlines a number of concrete, detailed recommendations designed to do just that -- and there's no time like the present!" The report launches with a 9:30 a.m. event today at the National Press Club. Deets here. 

The Arms Control Association releases a report on the Iran nuclear negotiations at a 10 a.m. briefing. Deets here.

Meantime, the Enough Project and Satellite Sentinel Project issue a report this morning on Sudan's new army of war criminals: "One decade after Darfur's Janjaweed militiamen earned global infamy as "devils on horseback," Sudan is experiencing a wave of atrocities at the hands of their new incarnation as an official military entity, the "Rapid Support Forces" (RSF). " The report, here.

Two VA officials step down as the White House struggles to right the ship and fix veteran care. The NYT's Richard Oppel, here.

ICYMI: By a voice vote, the Pentagon's Jamie Morin and Jess Wright were confirmed, Morin as director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office and Wright as head of the Pentagon's personnel shop.

Also, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jim Dobbins is in Afghanistan to meet with Afghan and "international stakeholders" in support of the troubled electoral process. From State: "Ambassador Dobbins will reiterate our position that the future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to determine. He will also note that we look forward to a productive relationship with President Karzai's successor. Ambassador Dobbins will hold meetings with Afghan election authorities, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and a variety of Afghan officials and political leaders.

But in addition to the issues around the election, there is also a concerning security issue in southern Afghanistan. As we reported yesterday with the help of American University in Afghanistan's Matt Trevithick and Dan Seckman, the Taliban is making some noise.

From today's WSJ by Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil: "...Much of the fighting, Afghan and coalition officials said, was concentrated in Sangin district, on the eastern edge of the province. Last summer, the Taliban pushed to take control of Sangin, taking over several police checkpoints before Afghan security forces recaptured them. 'Based on the intelligence information we have, there are more than 1,000 fighters,' said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior. 'Taking over Sangin has become a matter of honor for them, and that's why they keep launching large-scale attacks there.' More here.

Meantime, wanna crack open a book at the beach this summer? Check the War on the Rock fiction list here. 

There's also news from Asia, where the big military exercise RIMPAC begins today. But Thailand's coup means that Evite to the exercise was recalled. William Cole for the Honolulu Star Advertiser: "Thailand is being refused participation in the big U.S. Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise following a May 22 military coup, the suspension of more than $4.7 million in U.S. security-related assistance, and cancellation of a military exercise and visits with the Southeast Asian nation, U.S. defense officials said. 'Thailand will not be here for RIMPAC, and that was a decision that was made by (the State Department),' U.S. Pacific Command said Wednesday. On Tuesday, Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the coup and "post-coup repression" have "made it impossible for our relationship with Thailand to go on with 'business as usual.'" More here.

22 nations, including China, are set to begin RIMPAC.  The Navy Times' Lance Bacon: "The world's largest multination naval exercise kicks off Thursday, and this year includes an unusual player: for the first time, the Chinese navy. China is dispatching four ships to the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise held around Hawaii, joining 22 other nations in maritime training slated to involve 47 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 sailors, 3rd Fleet said in a news release in the run-up to the event. The Chinese inclusion recognizes their growing naval might and comes amid territorial disputes with neighbors and some recent run-ins between warships, including those of the U.S. Navy.

"China is sending 1,100 officers and sailors aboard the destroyer Haikou, frigate Yueyang, supply ship Qiandaohu and hospital ship Peace Ark, along with two helicopters, a commando unit and a diving squad, according to the nation's official Xinhua news service." More here.

The Wall Street Journal has selected 100 legacies from World War I that continue to shape our lives today, here.

Bergdahl hasn't admitted to any wrongdoing, but he hasn't been questioned about his disappearance, Army officials said Wednesday. The Army put two officials out yesterday to update the press on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's situation. He continues to recover from his five years of captivity, and an investigation is underway. Stripes' Chris Carroll: "...[But] Because the priority is recovery, he has not been questioned about the circumstances of his 2009 disappearance from a remote outpost in Afghanistan's Paktika province, officials said." More here. But an unanswered question is what will happen to Bergdahl. Regardless of whether he is found to have deserted his unit and gets into hot water with the Army or not, what becomes of him after? Will he need security once he is free to begin living apart from the Army? Who would provide it? 

In Nigeria, villagers frustrated with the lack of protection from militants are forming their own militias. The WSJ's Drew Hinshaw in Nigeria: "Many people in northern Nigeria, frustrated by a five-year insurgency and what they call a lack of military protection, are ordering what passes for bulletproof clothing, buying homemade muskets and organizing ragtag militias. The move toward self protection-born of years of suicide attacks, shooting rampages and mass abductions of girls and boys-underscores what limited headway the military has made against Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist insurgency whose war against the government has left more than 14,000 people dead in the past three years, according to New York's Council on Foreign Relations." More here.