Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: A ground invasion of Gaza looking more likely; Pakistanis tell Obama: rethink drawdown in Afg.; Russians are firing rockets in Ukraine; Dunford to the Hill today; Fixing the VA could cost billions; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Israeli officials say that an invasion of Gaza is likely. A ceasefire the U.N. is negotiating between Israel and Hamas doesn't appear to be preventing potential plans for Israel to mount a ground invasion of Gaza and could have implications for that region for months to come. The NYT's Jodi Rudoren: "...Though Israel initially set limited goals of halting the rocket assaults against it and degrading Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates Gaza, the group's tenacity and surprisingly deep arsenal have led to widespread calls to expand the mission. The military official said only ‘boots on the ground' could eradicate terrorism from Gaza and indicated that Israel was even considering a long-term reoccupation of the coastal territory." More here.

AP's Ian Phillips and Maggie Michae on Egypt's role: "Egypt's foreign minister said Thursday that his country's proposal for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas is gaining momentum, calling it the only viable way to stop an 'intolerable humanitarian situation' in Gaza. He also expressed frustration that 'Palestinian factions' - a clear reference to Hamas - did not share what he described as Egypt's 'desire ... to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza' by agreeing to the initiative. 'The only way to protect the people and to avoid additional bloodshed is acceptance of the plan,' Sameh Shukri said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press." More here.

Obama, in a statement at the White House yesterday: "...Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people. There's no country on earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets. And I'm proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel develop and fund has saved many Israeli lives."

"...We're going to continue to encourage diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire. And we support Egypt's continued efforts to bring this about. Over the next 24 hours, we'll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region. And we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire."

The five-hour humanitarian truce gave Gaza residents a brief respite from the violence. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem this morning: "Palestinians rushed to shops and banks on Thursday as a five-hour humanitarian truce agreed by Israel and Hamas came into force, hours after the Israeli military said it had fought off gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza. During the ceasefire, air raid sirens went off briefly in southern Israel and the military said three mortars landed in open areas, but the truce appeared to be generally holding. No group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the mortar fire and there were no reports of Israeli retaliation." More here.

The IDF released footage of a foiled Hamas infiltration near Kibbutz Sufa along the Gaza border on Thursday morning. See the video at the Times of Israel, here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Concerning violence in Afghanistan has the Pakistani government worried in the extreme about Obama's drawdown plans in Afghanistan. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The Pakistani government is delivering a harsh new message to the Obama administration: The current chaos in Afghanistan means that the White House urgently needs to re-evaluate its plan to withdraw all American troops from the country by the end of 2016.

"...Despite the warming ties, however, a senior Pakistani official said Wednesday that his government was worried that the Obama administration would destabilize Afghanistan if it carried through with its drawdown plans, which would send at least 1.5 million refugees -- including unknown numbers of militants -- streaming across the border into Pakistan. The official said the administration had based its withdrawal plans on three conditions, none of which have yet been met: free and fair elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power; the quick signing of a bilateral security arrangement allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country; and building an Afghan army capable of taking responsibility for securing their country as the U.S. footprint shrinks." More here.

Airstrikes in Pakistan killed at least 50 people. Reuters: " The Pakistani military said its jets killed 35 suspected militants on Wednesday as part of an anti-Taliban offensive hours after another explosion nearby, which officials initially said was a U.S. drone strike, killed up to 20 people." Read that here.

Militants killed after the "audacious attack" on the Kabul airport. Reuters this morning, here.

This is how Kabul's most popular cop is trying to keep Afghans safe against the Taliban: An FP Slideshow here.

Meantime, Congress is deeply skeptical of funding for Syrian rebels. FP's John Hudson: "...The White House last month announced plans to provide moderate members of the Syrian opposition with $500 million worth of weapons, equipment, and training. Freeing up the money requires authorization from Congress, but after classified meetings this week, key lawmakers speaking to Foreign Policy -- including many Democrats -- remain deeply skeptical of the White House's plan.

"...At issue is the degree to which the United States should try to aid Syria's beleaguered rebels. The CIA is currently providing training and small arms to rebels in Jordan who have been vetted for potential ties to extremists while Washington allows Persian Gulf countries to provide anti-tank missiles. The new Pentagon program would supplement or replace the CIA program, which has been criticized as too modest to make an impact on the battlefield, where Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad has been steadily reclaiming lost territory. The money for the new program is contained in a supplement to the administration's ‘overseas contingency operations' (OCO) budget request. That money has long been used to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.

At the same time, the scope of the training mission Washington is envisioning for the Syrian opposition is pretty small. After years of what critics would say was ambivalence coupled with indecision, the White House is gearing up a concept to begin training and advising moderate Syrian rebels. It's never been thought to be an easy task. But the package, still essentially under wraps, is smaller than expected and won't offer any quick support to fighters. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "...President Barack Obama promised in May to work with Congress to raise support for the moderates. But critics inside and outside the administration say the limited steps he is taking are too modest to make a difference on the battlefield, reflecting his own and the Pentagon's reluctance to get entrenched in another Middle East conflict.

"Military officials told congressional committees in closed-door briefings last week that the $500 million program could be used to train a 2,300-man force-less than the size of a single brigade-over an 18-month period that probably wouldn't begin until next year, said meeting participants.

"Pentagon officials said the small size of the training effort reflects the difficulty the Pentagon anticipates it will have finding moderate fighters in sufficient numbers that would be able to clear a U.S. screening process designed to weed out hard-line Islamists. "Fewer people are going to qualify and it's going to be a painstaking process," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the Pentagon's latest planning for the initiative." Read the rest of that here.

The Daily Star in Lebanon blasted the U.S.'s paralyzed Syria policy this week. "...Washington has been consistently and resolutely stuck to a policy of moving the goalposts - backward - when it comes to the Syrian conflict..." More here.?

Former Pentagon official and senior Hill staffer Roger Zakheim writes in defense of war funding for the Weekly Standard, here.

Snowdenfreude: An American crypto-company is making a killing off German anger about U.S. spying. FP's Shane Harris: "...Silent Circle, which sells encrypted mobile phone service that shields users' conversation from eavesdroppers, has seen a surge in sales to German customers since July 4, when Berlin announced the arrest of a 31-year-old intelligence service employee for allegedly passing secret documents to the United States....Silent Circle's sudden jump in sales suggests that German citizens, corporations, and government agencies are taking steps to keep their conversations away from the prying ears of American intelligence agencies. And, paradoxically, they're turning to an American firm to help them. The company was founded in 2012 by Janke, a former Navy SEAL, and Phil Zimmermann, who developed Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), one of the first widely available encryption programs to help average Internet users protect their personal information." More here.

The U.S. has badly underestimated how much anger there is in Germany over spying and it could get worse in the long run if the problem festers. AFP's Dan De Luce: "...Germany's dramatic decision last week to throw out the CIA station chief in Berlin took the Americans by surprise and conveyed a deep frustration with Washington, which has mounted for months since revelations of US eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

"...The Germans have a valid complaint to say 'this is too much, you've gone too far, you need to back off,' said [James] Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The alleged spying raised questions about whether the White House was keeping a close eye on what its intelligence agencies were up to inside an allied country, and whether it was worth the political cost, experts said." More here.

Our pick-up of FP's Kate Brannen's story on Israel's Iron Dome and how Congress is expanding funding for it prompted someone to email us this analysis of the anti-missile system. A look back at Peter Dombrowski, Catherine Kelleher and Eric Auner's analysis of the Iron Dome's strategic implications last summer for the National Interest, here.

Brannen's story on FP from this week, here.

Who's Where When today - Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos attends the II MEF change of command at Camp Lejeune, NC... Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work provides testimony at a House Budget Committee hearing about the budget/overseas contingency operations.

Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA), Chairman of the HASC Subcommittee on Readiness, delivers remarks about how the Defense Department and Congress can maintain military readiness in a time of fiscal constraint at CSIS this morning. Deets and livestream here.

And Joe Dunford visits the Senate Armed Services Committee today for his confirmation hearing to be the Marine Corps' next top Marine. Gen. Joe Dunford, the former ISAF commander, is back from Kabul and is preparing to take over as Commandant of the Marine Corps if the Senate gives him the nod. He appears before the SASC at 9:30 a.m. today in Dirksen G-50.

Read Politico's Phil Ewing's story this week about how Dunford will inherit a "Corps in Flux." Read that bit here.

Also today, Grover Norquist and some members of Congress, including Reps. Lee, Burgess and Schakowsky, will call for an audit of the Pentagon. From a press release sent to SitRep: "Additionally, Members of Congress will discuss a new bill to encourage greater fiscal accountability and transparency at the Pentagon by imposing a 0.5% penalty for unauditable units while protection funding for personnel and critical national security needs. Representatives Burgess, Benishek, Lee and Schakowsky will introduce the bill on Thursday." That happens this morning at 9am at the House Triangle.

As the U.S. slaps additional sanctions on Moscow and Donetsk separatists, new evidence emerges that short-range rockets are being launched from Russia into Ukraine. If confirmed, the videos posted today could be the smoking guns that directly connect the Russian military with the weapons being used against the Ukrainian military on the other side of the border.  Michael Weiss and James Miller for FP, here.

Oomph. Fixing the problems at the VA that led to the waiting-list scandal will cost $18 billion over three years. And the fix will require hiring about 1,500 doctors and 8,500 nurses and other clinicians, the acting secretary of the VA told Congress yesterday. The NYT's Richard Oppel: "...The acting secretary, Sloan D. Gibson, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the money was necessary to "meet current demand" for medical care for veterans by addressing problems that included "shortfalls in clinical staff" as well as not having enough space in clinics and hospitals to see patients on time.

"His dollar estimate drew immediate skepticism from leading Republicans, including Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, who is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Miller: "Given that this figure seems to have magically fallen out of the sky today - after years of assertions from V.A. leaders at all levels that they had nearly every dollar and every person necessary to accomplish V.A.'s mission - it would be an act of budgetary malpractice to blindly sign off on this request." More here.

Hagel secretly told Congress that six Gitmo detainees are headed to Uruguay. The NYT's Charlie Savage: "...Mr. Hagel's formal determination that the transfer would be in the national security interest of the United States breaks a bureaucratic paralysis over a deal that has been waiting for his approval since March, but that stalled amid the political uproar over a prisoner exchange deal that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from insurgents in the Afghanistan war.

"...The six detainees bound for Uruguay include a Syrian man who has brought a high-profile court challenge to the Pentagon's procedures for forcibly feeding detainees who are on a hunger strike. His transfer would most likely render that lawsuit moot, although there are several similar challenges.

"...Amid the political fallout, Mr. Hagel and his top military advisers had signaled reluctance to move forward with the Uruguay deal, along with another proposal to repatriate four low-level Afghan detainees that has been awaiting his approval since February, according to people familiar with the deliberations." More here.

Meantime: Political challenges arise with China's participation in the U.S.-led Rimpac exercises. The WSJ's Jeremy Page: "An unusual experiment in military diplomacy is under way in the waters off Hawaii, as the U.S. incorporates China into the world's biggest naval drills for the first time. The U.S.-led Rimpac drills-involving 22 nations this year-are always a huge logistical task. But with China joining, even as it tries to enforce maritime claims in Asia, organizers faced additional political and legal challenges.

"Among them: Would China allow its ships to be under Japanese command? Would the U.S. allow China to stage a commando raid on a ship? And could Chinese ships legally fire on an inflatable red target known as a ‘killer tomato'?

"...Including China was controversial partly because the drills also involve Japan and the Philippines, two U.S. treaty allies whose territorial disputes with China have threatened to flare into military clashes in the past two years. Then there is U.S. law, principally the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, which forbids cooperation with China's armed forces that could give away U.S. military know-how. Nonetheless, China isn't just attending Rimpac-something it has sought since 2012 to enhance its naval skills and prestige, military experts say. It is also contributing the largest force after the U.S.: four navy ships, two helicopters, and 1,100 personnel, including divers." More here.

China suddenly withdrew its controversial oil rig from Vietnamese waters ahead of schedule. Beijing says the rig did its job -- and it may have, in more ways than one. FP's Keith Johnson, here.

A US Senate panel is calling on Hagel to reassess the value of an alternate power plant for the F-35 joint strike fighter. Defense News' John Bennett: "In the wake of an engine fire that grounded the F-35 fleet, a US Senate subcommittee wants senior Pentagon officials to consider reviving an effort to develop a second power plant. In 2011, the Pentagon ordered GE and Rolls-Royce to stop work on a second F-35 fighter engine, with the Obama administration calling it an example of wasteful defense spending. The department, in announcing a stop-work order three years ago, dubbed the F136 power plant program a ‘waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities.'" More here.

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Congress funds Iron Dome big time; Amos steps into the breach; In Vienna, progress but still work to be done; A legendary Marine major, outted; No-fly for the F-35; and a bit more.

 

Congress ups Israel's Iron Dome funding. Iron Dome, the anti-missile system that is seen as so successful at preventing Hamas' rocket attacks from being effective that it is credited, in part, for having kept Israeli troops from mounting a ground invasion of Gaza, is getting major new funding from Congress. The infusion of cash will radically bolster the program even if can't guarantee peace in the region - even in the short term. FP's Kate Brannen: "...The additional money for Iron Dome cleared one of its final hurdles Tuesday, when a key Senate appropriations subcommittee unanimously voted to double the Pentagon's $175 million request for fiscal year 2015. The full committee will consider the defense appropriations bill on Thursday. Meanwhile, three other panels have already signed off on the funding expansion, making it all but certain the additional money will be provided. Iron Dome has received $720 million in American funding since 2011, when the United States became directly involved in the program."

"...Israel is reporting that Iron Dome has had a 90 percent success rate, though it has only been used against 27 percent of the Hamas rockets. Because of the high cost of each interceptor -- which the Washington Post pegs at roughly $20,000 a piece -- Israel only uses the system when its radars indicate that a rocket seems likely to hit a populated area. The Hamas rockets are thought to cost less than $800 each.

"The system isn't perfect -- on Tuesday, a rocket attack caused the first Israeli death since the eight-day military confrontation began -- but it has kept Tel Aviv and other major cities from being hit by Hamas. Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza, by contrast, have killed close to 200 Palestinians." More here.

And despite Iron Dome's success, Israel is pondering if a ground invasion is now necessary. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams this hour: "Israel urged the evacuation on Wednesday of several Gaza Strip areas where more than 100,000 people live, threatening ground operations after briefly holding fire under an Egyptian truce proposal that failed to stop Palestinian rocket salvoes. Authorised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet to escalate an eight-day-old offensive, the military said it had sent out evacuation warnings in northeastern Gaza." More here.

The International Crisis Group urges Israel to break the violent impasse by changing its policy toward Hamas in a new report. Israel must recognize how much its own stability depends on the stability of Gaza, the new report argues. The report assesses that a return to the "destructive status quo" is the most likely outcome in Gaza.  But, there is an opportunity to pursue a more sustainable cessation of violence.  The report recommends that Israel allow the reconciliation agreement signed in April by Hamas and the PLO a chance to work.  The argument goes that if reconciliation is implemented, it offers the best chance of alleviating Gaza's misery and therefore reducing Hamas's incentives to fight.

Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Analyst for Israel/Palestine, told Situation Report's Sobel yesterday: "The report frames the structural reasons that led to the fighting: even before the kidnappings, the stage had been set by Hamas's inability to pay salaries and the water, energy and sanitation crisis in the Gaza Strip.  Within this context, quiet-for-quiet cannot work since Hamas will continue to pry open Gaza.  Merely ending violence is insufficient for lasting calm."

Nathan Thrall, Middle East Senior Analyst, added: "The biggest challenge in resolving this crisis is that there is no mediator both Israel and Hamas feel they can trust. The souring of relations between Egypt and Hamas since Sisi took power in July 2013 is the root cause of Hamas's isolation and Gaza's dire economic predicament. Egypt doesn't want to give concessions to Hamas in order to stop the fighting, and Hamas doesn't trust that any commitments Egypt makes will be honored."

Hamas' rejection of the cease-fire deal was a foregone conclusion. Ha'aretz's Amira Hass, here.

Why Israel is winning this war. CFR's Elliott Abrams for the Weekly Standard, here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

As the Pentagon ponders an assessment of Iraqi security forces that now sits on the desks of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, there is some progress on the political front in Baghdad, even if the heavy lift that still needs to occur has yet to begin.

Iraq's parliament broke two weeks of political deadlock, electing a speaker, and taking a major first step toward forming a new government. Still on the to-do list? Find a new prime minister. The WaPo's Abigail Hoslohner: "...The election of a new speaker appeared to bring Iraq one step closer to forming a government led by someone other than Nouri al-Maliki, the controversial prime minister. Widespread opposition to Maliki, a Shiite Arab, among Iraq's Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities, as well as some Shiite lawmakers, has been the main reason for the deadlock. 'There is no chance for Maliki,' Jawad al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the Shiite al-Ahrar party, said Tuesday night. 'All of the political blocs and the [Shiite] religious authority are telling him to leave.'" More here.

Into the (political) breach: Outgoing Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos says that the chaos in Iraq shows the costs of withdrawal. FP's Kate Brannen: "Stepping into an intensifying political debate, the head of the Marine Corps said the United States doesn't have the luxury of isolationism and said Iraq's deterioration may have been prevented if Washington had maintained a larger U.S. presence there. The comments from Gen. James Amos, the outgoing commandant of the Marine Corps., come amid sharp divides over who bears responsibility for the takeover of much of Iraq by Islamist militants and whether the United States should pull back from its leadership role on the world stage." More here.

The WaPo's summer intern just outted Marine Maj. Doug Zembiec, killed in Iraq in 2007, who was really working for the CIA at the time. Read that Page Oner by former Marine-turned-journo Thomas Gibbons-Neff, here.

And, in Afghanistan: A huge bomb goes off in a marketplace, killing as many as 42 in Paktika province. The BBC this hour, here.

Meantime: so are there positive developments coming out of the nuclear talks in Vienna - or not? We suggested yesterday that what Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had agreed to in principle - to freeze its ability to produce nuclear fuel - was a positive sign in the nuclear talks even if the U.S. wasn't yet getting near what it wanted. Still, Zarif's public comments indicated there was some new traction. A scan of the headlines this morning suggest there are still differences between the U.S. and Iran - and over how today's stories frame the issue.

The WaPo's Anne Gearan: " The Obama administration is reassessing whether a nuclear deal with Iran is possible despite wide differences over key issues and may seek to postpone a deadline looming Sunday to either complete an agreement or walk away from the landmark effort." More here.

The WSJ's Laurence Norman's lede: "Nuclear talks between Iran and six powers were set to extend past the July 20 target date as Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif cited significant progress Tuesday, while saying much work remains." More here.

The NYT's Michael Gordon and David Sanger: "... Mr. Kerry said that 'very real gaps' remained, but his tone - and his acknowledgment that Iran had complied with all of its commitments under a temporary agreement that took effect in January - left little doubt he wanted to extend the talks by weeks or months."

"...American officials are concerned about several major elements of Mr. Zarif's proposal. While it would essentially freeze Iran's capacity to produce enriched uranium for several years, Iran would be free to keep up research and development of highly sophisticated centrifuges, and put them in place after the agreement would expire. Mr. Zarif wants a short agreement of three to seven years. The United States and its allies insist on limitations on Iran for at least a decade, preferably longer." More here.

A light bulb moment: The NYTs gets an idea to rethink the military from Foreign Policy. From the NYT's "Room for Debate": "An article in Foreign Policy magazine argued that if we 'were starting fresh,' today's United States armed forces would look very different. It's an interesting thought, so Room for Debate asked other experts: What would the U.S. military look like if we could start from scratch?" With input from John Nagl, Todd Harrison, Tom Donnelly, Caitlin Talmadge and Kori Schake, here.

Here is Foreign Policy's "Control-Alt-Delete" piece on "Resetting America's Military" by Shawn Brimley and Peter Scharre, with a series of engaging, charts, graphs and other nifty-isms, from last month, here.

The F-35 won't go to Farnborough. Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, yesterday: "I can confirm that the Department of Defense in concert with our partners in the U.K. has decided not to send Marine Corps and U.K. F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough air show. This decision was reached after a consultation with senior leaders and airworthiness authorities, despite the decision by airworthiness authorities to clear the aircraft to return to flight -- to limited flight." Read the transcript here.

Who's Where When today - Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. go to Capitol Hill to provide testimony at a HASC hearing about the budget/overseas contingency operations.

Also today, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) and Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) will host an event on Capitol Hill, "Geopolitical Flashpoints in Oil Producing Countries: Implications for U.S. National and Energy Security." Reps. Gene Green (D-TX) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) will deliver remarks on energy security around the globe. They will be followed by a panel that includes Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and John Hannah, Former National Security Advisor to the Vice President. Steve Mufson of The Washington Post will moderate the discussion. http://bit.ly/1tvJDfQ

Does this story mean Hagel Chief of Staff Mark Lippert has a longer wait? Lippert, nominated to be the next top diplomat in Seoul, is awaiting confirmation, but there's no sign it's happening anytime soon. There's a NYT story today on the logjam of ambassador confirmations that focuses initially on U.S. ambassadors awaiting confirmation to African countries - just weeks before the big African summit in D.C. - but the issue applies to other ambassador noms, as well. Read the NYT's Andrew Siddons' piece here.

That bit is an excuse to put FP in re-run: here's our story from last week about how the White House might be bungling the historic African summit in early August. Read Lubold's story here.

Speaking of which, we got a note from a friend to Situation Report yesterday noting that Congress was holding a hearing today that is an example of how the U.S. sends the wrong signal to African countries: "Not to belabor a point, but one really can't make this stuff up! Two weeks before the start of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, instead of a hearing about trade with the continent, renewing the [African Growth and Opportunity Act], or other such, the House holds a hearing on the 'growing crisis of African orphans'"...

That 2 p.m. hearing today is the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on orphans. Deets here.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's return to active duty raised a couple quick questions at yesterday's Pentagon presser - namely: are there any restrictions on him as the Army continues investigating the circumstances under which he disappeared from a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan in 2009, leading to his capture by the Taliban?

Reporter question: "Are there any restrictions on his movements, given the ongoing investigation?

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. Kirby: "No. I mean, he's an active-duty Army soldier. And just like any active-duty Army soldier, he's free to leave base. He's -- I mean, he's not under any particular restrictions. And I would remind you -- I mean, he's not been charged with anything."

Read the Onion's "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Recaptured By Taliban After Wandering Off Texas Base," here.

Hackers, shooters, and storms threaten the U.S. power grid, a study says. FP's Shane Harris: "The United States' electrical grid is vulnerable to disruptive attacks by computer hackers that could shut off power to vital sectors of the economy and key public utilities, giving potential adversaries a new way of hitting the United States, according to a new study by a Washington think tank. The report by the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill consider legislation that would beef up cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure like the power grid while also encouraging the government and private sector to share more information about cyberthreats and thwarted attacks. That legislation has been in the works for years but has been blocked by business interests that see mandatory security standards as an improper attempt by Washington to dictate how companies manage privately owned facilities in industries ranging from telecommunications to the financial and transportation sectors." More here.

On the WSJ op-ed page today, Patrick Cronin and Richard Fontaine argue in favor of a broader American security relationship with Vietnam, including arms sales, in light of growing Chinese assertiveness: "...How should the U.S. respond to China's coercive efforts in an effective and measured way? One answer lies in relations with Vietnam. Vietnam's capacity to resist creeping assertions of sovereignty is outmatched by Beijing's superior might. While Washington and Hanoi have taken modest steps to normalize military relations through joint exercises and strategic dialogue, the U.S. should take additional steps to bolster Vietnam's ability to defend itself. Most importantly, the U.S. should lift the existing ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam." More here.

Also today, there's a big House hearing on Capitol Hill about the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike program. Ahead of the hearing, Rep. Randy Forbes argues in National Interest that UCLASS and Naval projection go hand-in-hand: "...I believe the future air wing must comprise a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft that provide extended-range operations, persistence, stealth, payload, and electronic warfare. Central to this mix is the Navy's unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) system." More here.

Deets on the Subcomm hearing today at 2, here.

A Canadian killed in battle becomes a pitchman for Syrian jihadis. The NYT's Michael Schmidt: "Shortly after the video begins, a man in his 20s dressed in camouflage appears on screen and begins a recruitment speech. His pitch is fairly straightforward: Come join the fight - you don't need to be a radical to be a jihadi. He says he was just a normal teenager growing up in Canada, fishing and watching hockey, before he left it all for the battlefields of Syria... But while the young man in the video, Andre Poulin, cast himself as just a typical Canadian, the authorities there say he lived a far different life from the one he described.

"...The video is believed to be one of the first pieces of media in which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - or ISIS, the group that controls large parts of both countries - used an English-speaking North American to try to lure others to fight on its side. It was distributed recently by a propaganda arm of ISIS, known for having one of the slickest and most aggressive media operations in the Islamic world, according to experts who track jihadist materials." More here.

Meanwhile, Libyan jihadists in Syria and Iraq returning home to fight Haftar. Al-Awsat's Abdul Sattar Hatita: "Libyan jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq are returning home to fight the breakaway militia led by Khalifa Haftar, who has recently emerged as a serious threat to the country's Islamists, security and military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The revelation came after former Libyan officials expressed fears of an expected Islamist onslaught in a bid to take over the capital, Tripoli.

A security source said: "Islamists have decided to bring the Libyan jihadists they had sent to Syria and Iraq in order to control Tripoli on [Thursday], particularly after they lost in the parliamentary elections." More here.

Assad is settling in for a third term. He was sworn in just today. AP, here.

The West should worry about a campaign that makes an autocratic regime with revisionist intent more effective. Joseph Bosco for the Diplomat: "Clean, transparent government is a basic tenet of Western political liberalism, so we are naturally inclined to support government reform efforts elsewhere. But in the case of the People's Republic of China, should we be rooting for Xi Jinping's version of an anti-corruption campaign to succeed, or to fail, in its intended purposes? Or should we hope it succeeds spectacularly in ways not intended by Communist Party leaders, as glastnost and perestroika did under Mikhail Gorbachev? Xi's campaign is designed to accomplish multiple Party objectives, none of which necessarily serve Western interests in regional peace and stability." More here.