Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Afghanistan reconstruction costs more than the U.S. Marshall Plan; Israel calls up 16,000 reservists; Derek Chollet tells staff he is leaving; Heavy flight restrictions still in place for the F-35; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

What does $104 billion get you in Afghanistan? The world and most of Washington may be distracted from what's going on in Afghanistan, but the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction is not. A new report from his office shows that despite outspending the U.S. Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War Two, the United States is not getting infrastructure that Afghans can sustain on their own. FP's Elias Groll: "Instead, the funds have mainly bought empty buildings, malfunctioning power plants, and a corrupt government that will be wholly dependent on Western -- read: American -- aid well into the future."

Most of the money is for the Afghan security forces."... Of the $104 billion the United States has poured into Afghanistan since fiscal year 2002, some $62 billion has gone toward creating the Afghan army. (It should be noted that when comparing the U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan with the Marshall Plan that in the aftermath of World War II, the United States did not have to stand up any European armies.) To save money, the size of that force is being reduced from 352,000 to 228,500 men. Even at that reduced size, the Afghan government takes in far less money than will be required to fund the army: an estimated $4.1 billion annually." More here.

Meanwhile, the audit of June's election continues as Secretary of State John Kerry is urging Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to move forward with plans to form a unity government. It remains to be seen whether the two candidates will actually implement what they agreed to in private. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "‘The time for politics is over," Kerry wrote in an op-ed published online Wednesday by Afghanistan's TOLOnews in English as well as in Dari and Pashto, the two official Afghan languages. ‘The time for cooperation is at hand,' he wrote ...

"Kerry's intervention came amid a crescendo of what a senior Obama administration official called ‘misinformation and background noise' about the terms of the still-secret accord they reached in their July 12 emergency talks with him." More here.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will continue to destroy Hamas tunnels with or without a ceasefire. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon directly accused Israel of shelling a U.N. shelter for Palestinians. FP's Colum Lynch: "In a scorching rebuke from the normally mild-mannered diplomat, Ban charged that Israel's action constituted a ‘reprehensible' assault on civilians and demanded that those responsible for the strike be held accountable. The shelling of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School marked the fifth time since the conflict began on July 8 that a U.N.-protected shelter has been hit with incoming fire, but the incident is the first time that Ban has directly blamed Israel. That leaves open the possibility that some of the other facilities were hit by Hamas rockets. Israeli officials have said the militant group stores weapons in U.N. facilities and uses them to fire rockets into the Jewish state." More here.

Israel announces it's calling up 16,000 reservists, the WSJ's Joshua Mitnick reports.

While Congress figures out how to pass $225 million in new Iron Dome funding before the August recess, DoD supplies Israel with new ammo. Stars and Stripes' story: "As conflict continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the Department of Defense has released arms to Israel from a weapons stockpile maintained within the borders of the close U.S. ally, defense officials confirmed Wednesday. The ammunition sale from the weapons stockpile, established in the 1990s for use by both countries in case of emergency, took place within the past week, following three weeks of battle between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in Gaza."

But according to a defense official it was not in response to an emergency request from Israel. "Instead, the United States elected to supply 120mm mortar shells and 40mm grenades from the stockpile because the arms were approaching the date they would require replacement, he said. Israel regularly buys such ammunition when the United States rotates its stocks, he said, and the United States would meanwhile send new ammunition to refresh the stockpile." More here.

Israel released a video of Special Forces soldiers raiding a Gaza house a day after Hamas uploaded a video of its soldiers attacking an Israeli military installation. Watch the new video on FP here.

Israel's feeling little pressure from Arab countries to stop the fighting and that's probably a big part of why no ceasefire deal has been reached. The NYT's David D. Kirkpatrick: "After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states - including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip." More here.

In Iraq, the fight over oil is really a fight to keep the country together. But Baghdad's attempt to keep the Kurds reliant on the central government could backfire. FP's Keith Johnson: "The age-old dispute between Iraq's Kurds and its central government has found the unlikeliest of new battlegrounds: a Texas courtroom. In a contentious lawsuit, Baghdad and its semi-autonomous northern region are waging a legal battle that's nominally about the ownership of a million barrels of crude oil sitting in a tanker parked outside the Houston Ship Channel. The real issue, however, is the future of the Iraqi state.

"Simply put, the hard-pressed Kurds are desperate to sell their oil to replace revenue they used to receive from the central government. But Baghdad is doing everything in its dwindling power to prevent such self-sufficiency. Its legal threats have cast a pall of uncertainty over Kurdish oil, which is discouraging potential buyers around the world. And that is inexorably pushing the Kurds further away from reconciliation with the Shiite-led regime in Baghdad and closer to open independence." More here.

As a warning against backing the Islamic State, Shi'ite militia forces shot 15 Sunni Muslims in the head and then hung their bodies on display in a public square in Baquba, a town 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. Reuters' Michael Georgy has the story here.

It looks like Hezbollah has joined the fight in Iraq. Reuters' story: "A Hezbollah commander has died during a mission in Iraq, sources familiar with the incident said on Wednesday, indicating the Lebanese group that is already fighting in Syria's civil war may be involved in a second conflict in the region. Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shi'ite Islamist group, has not previously announced any role in the conflict in Iraq ... " More here.

The threat of Americans being trained in Syria to become terrorists and then returning to the United States is not hypothetical ... It's happened. Moner Mohammad Abusalha, "who grew up a basketball-obsessed teenager in a Florida gated-community," carried out a suicide attack in Syria in May. After his training, but before he blew himself up, Abusalha came home to the United States for several months. The NYT's Michael S. Schmidt and Mark Mazzetti with the exclusive: "Mr. Abusalha, 22, chose to carry out his attack in Syria rather than in the United States, but the difficulty learning about his background, motivations and travels illustrates the problems law enforcement officials face in trying to identify the Westerners - including dozens of Americans - believed to have been trained by Islamic militants in Syria." More here.

For Al-Awsat, Yousef Al-Dayni writes about Islamic self-delusion: "...We are facing a number of major issues, but perhaps the biggest is our inability to even diagnose the problems facing us. We lack the ability to gauge the sheer magnitude of the threat that these extremist groups represent, particularly as they are now present all over the world. There is a collective departure from reality among Muslims today in favor of daydreams of the caliphate and eschatological musings. Islamic discourse today reflects the worst parts of our heritage in terms of myths, lies, hypocrisy and the political exploitation of religion." More 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: kate.brannen@foreignpolicy.com And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @k8brannen, @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who's Where When: Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy Capt. James Goudreau speaks at the 17th Annual Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Expo and Forum at 10:15 a.m. at the Cannon House Office Building.

Obama plans to huddle with Hill leaders today to discuss national security and foreign affairs. House Speaker John Boehner and his House Republican colleagues are not expected to attend the White House meeting.  POLITICO's John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be in attendance, as will the top Democratic senators from the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence committees. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the party whips, are also expected to be there." More here.

Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, will be leaving the Pentagon in January. FP's Kate Brannen: "After nearly six years serving in Barack Obama's administration, Chollet told staff Wednesday, July 30, that it's time for him to devote his energy to other endeavors, including his family. His departure is sure to spark speculation that Chollet, like other prominent Democratic national security officials, may be leaving to recharge his batteries before taking a senior post in a potential Hillary Clinton administration."

What's next for Chollet? "I expect you'll see him writing a book and lending his voice on any number of topics," a defense official told FP. "He's got a lot of credibility."

And who might replace him when he leaves in January? Elissa Slotkin will likely be on the shortlist. She'll be "returning in August as the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. She had been performing the duties of the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy while Brian McKeon waited for the Senate to confirm him to that post, which it finally did on Monday." More on the staff changes in the International Security Affairs office here.

A new commander for JSOC. Fayetteville Observer's Drew Brooks: "Army Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III took the helm of the Fort Bragg-based Joint Special Operations Command, officials announced in a two-paragraph statement. Thomas replaced Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, who had served as JSOC commander since May 2011." More here.

The Veterans Affairs' scandal prompted something rarely seen in Washington -- bipartisan cooperation. FP's John Hudson: "On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly approved a $16.3 billion plan to overhaul the massive federal department, which has been dogged by allegations of mismanagement and neglect, including allowing veterans waiting for medical care to die. The bill passed by a vote of 420 to 5. The Senate is expected to follow suit before adjourning for the August recess." More here.

Russia warns that sanctions will backfire on the West. AFP's Anna Smolchenko in Moscow with Anna Malpas in Donetsk: "A defiant Russia said Wednesday that Western sanctions over Ukraine would backfire on the United States and lead to energy price hikes in Europe after Brussels and Washington unveiled the toughest punitive measures against Moscow since the Cold War." More here.

Meanwhile, in the short-term, it's unclear if sanctions can deter Putin. The WSJ's Jay Solomon in Washington and Marcus Walker in Berlin: "The U.S. and Europe made good this week on their threats to start penalizing broader sections of Russia's economy in a bid to force President Vladimir Putin to end his support for separatist rebels in Ukraine. But recent history of the use of financial sanctions by Washington and Brussels-including against Iran, North Korea and Syria-suggests that significantly more pervasive penalties, particularly against Moscow's energy sector, would be needed to change the Kremlin's calculations, said current and former U.S. officials and sanctions experts. Even then, it is uncertain whether Mr. Putin values Russia's economy more than his influence over Ukraine." More here.

Watch the Ukrainian military's latest recruitment videos on FP, here.

Andrew S. Bowen, writing for FP, predicts things will only get worse before they get better in eastern Ukraine: "There was little Ukraine could do to stop the ‘little green men' who invaded Crimea. By the time Kiev had realized what was going on, Russia's most elite and best-trained Naval Infantry, Airborne, and Spetsnaz troops (including the new Senezh unit, which seized the Crimean parliament) had prevented Ukrainian reinforcements from entering Crimea. But the separatist militiamen in eastern Ukraine, despite being equipped, trained, and funded by Moscow, are a different story. There, Kiev retains a vast advantage in firepower, materiel, and troops, along with the implicit backing of the international community against an increasingly fragmented and uncoordinated separatist movement." More here.

As fighting in Libya rages, the West is worried about what happens next. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "Combatants are broadly divided between Islamist and secular militias. And although the Americans and Europeans are not seen as direct targets of either, some U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly concerned that the Islamists could seek to align themselves with al-Qaeda affiliates or with the Islamic State organization that has seized wide swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq." More here.

A reporter's dream: The White House accidentally emailed the AP the State Department's preliminary proposed talking points on the Senate report on the CIA's interrogation program. AP's Ken Dilanian and Eileen Sullivan: "A Senate report on the CIA's interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some U.S. ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to a document circulating among White House staff.

"The still-classified report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, says the document ... " More here.

The Air Force calls for cheaper and quicker weapons development. The NYT's Helene Cooper: "In an acknowledgment that the military may be pricing itself out of business, the Air Force on Wednesday called for a shift away from big-ticket weapon systems that take decades to develop and a move toward what Defense Department officials are calling more ‘agile' high-tech armaments that can be quickly adapted to meet a range of emerging threats."

Maj. Gen. David W. Allvin, a co-author of the Air Force's new strategic forecast: "To boil this down, we have to buy things very differently and develop and employ our people differently ... We have to behave more like an innovative 21st-century company." More here.

You might not have noticed, but the F-35 is still under some serious flight restrictions due to the June 23 engine fire. Defense News' Aaron Mehta: "Despite ongoing restrictions on the fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the US Air Force's top general warned against being ‘alarmist' when discussing the fifth-generation jet's engine."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh at a briefing yesterday at the Pentagon: "Pratt & Whitney has been making pretty darn good engines for single-engine airplanes for a long time for the United States Air Force ... What we found in the program so far, with these almost 9,000 sorties so far, is this engine works pretty well, too. That day it didn't, and we need to figure out why." More here.

Al Jazeera's Jamie Tarabay interviews Phil Strub, DOD's liaison to Hollywood, here.

Next week, Bergdahl will face questions about his disappearance. USA Today's Jim Michaels: "Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released in a prisoner swap with the Taliban two months ago, will meet next week with the senior Army officer investigating the circumstances of his capture in Afghanistan, his lawyer said Wednesday. Bergdahl, who spent five years in captivity, plans to meet with Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the investigating officer, in San Antonio, where Bergdahl is stationed, according to lawyer Eugene Fidell." More here.

The men who captured one of the ‘Taliban 5? speak out about the Bergdahl swap. Alex Quade's video for the Daily Caller, here.

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: What is the Obama administration’s plan for Iraq?; New sanctions leave big loopholes for Russia; Singapore’s big data experiment; Bob Woodward visits the Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Kate Brannen with Nathaniel Sobel

Pressure is building on the Obama administration to respond to the crisis in Iraq. On the ground, the Islamic State is still making gains, closing in on Baghdad. In Washington, the Pentagon is facing increasing questions about what comes next now that its assessment of the Iraqi security forces is complete. While everyone waits for the White House's next move, thousands of Hellfire missiles are making their way to Iraq.

Iraq is struggling to halt the Islamic State's march on Baghdad. The WSJ's Ali Nabhan and Nour Malas: "The fight for Jurf al-Sakhar within what U.S. forces in Iraq once called the ‘Triangle of Death'-a major combat zone during the American occupation-shows how Iraqi forces are struggling to stave off the insurgents encroaching on the capital. While in the north the government has blunted the Islamic State's drive toward the capital beyond Tikrit, the militants are pushing the frontline toward Baghdad from the south." More here.

At the Pentagon, the Iraq assessment remains under review. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby fended off criticism yesterday that the military isn't taking the problem seriously.

"I think everybody shares the proper sense of urgency here about the situation in Iraq," he told reporters at a briefing. "This notion that we've done nothing is just false. We have 715 American troops on the ground in Iraq defending our property and our people, and also providing security assistance and some advice through those joint operations centers, the one up in Erbil and the one in Baghdad ... I take deep issue with this notion that the United States, and the United States military, in particular is not moving fast enough or doing enough."

Part of that security assistance is thousands of Hellfire missiles. Kirby described the weapon as the "most in demand by the Iraqi security forces." A total of 466 Hellfire missiles were delivered in July. Since January, the U.S. has provided 780 of them, and there are another 366 that are going to be delivered in August, according to Kirby.

And yesterday the U.S. approved a plan to send 5,000 more. The WSJ's Doug Cameron and Dion Nissenbaum: "The $700 million deal for the missiles, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., comes amid other signs that Washington is tackling a backlog of approvals for weapons sales to one of the largest defense-export markets for U.S. contractors." More here.

Setting the record straight on Iraq ...  Jessica T. Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing for the August 14 issue of The New York Review of Books: "The story, which has seemed to be all about religion and military developments, is actually mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice. True, one side is Sunni and the other Shia, but this is not a theological conflict rooted in the seventh century. ISIS and its allies have triumphed because the Sunni populations of Mosul and Tikrit and Fallujah have welcomed and supported them-not because of ISIS's disgusting behavior, but in spite of it. The Sunnis in these towns are more afraid of what their government may do to them than of what the Sunni militia might." More here.

If you need a refresher on the last 11 years in Iraq, and missed last night's Frontline on PBS, you can watch it here.

9 things to avoid when founding your own caliphate. FP's Christian Caryl, here.

And here's a look at how kidnapping Europeans is bankrolling Al Qaeda from the NYT's Rukmini Callimachi.

There was tough talk from the Europeans and the Americans yesterday, but on paper, the new Russian sanctions they agreed to still provide a lot of wiggle room. Europe's hesitancy to hit Russia too hard, especially its gas industry, is all about protecting their own economies from taking a blow as well. FP's Jamila Trindle and Keith Johnson: "The coordinated moves by Washington and Brussels began Tuesday, when European leaders took their broadest swipe yet at key sectors of the Russian economy and announced measures designed to block Russian banks from using the continent's capital markets, curtail the export of oil industry equipment, and ban member countries from signing new defense contracts with Russia. But the EU left some loopholes large enough to send a couple of giant warships through, as the French government still plans to do. Also left largely untouched was Russia's all-powerful gas industry." More here.

The FT's editorial page says it's over with Russia: "By ramping up sanctions on Moscow in response to its persistent destabilisation of Ukraine, the US and its European allies are closing a chapter in their relationship with post-communist Russia. They are recognising the breakdown of a 25-year effort to forge constructive ties with a state whose behaviour, it was once hoped, would depart from the suspicious self-isolation of the communist era.

"For the foreseeable future, this hope is dead. Barring a wholly unlikely change in the strategic calculations of President Vladimir Putin, relations between the west and Russia will be difficult and even dangerous for years to come." More here.

Israelis support Netanyahu and the Gaza war, despite rising death tolls on both sides. The WaPo's William Booth and Ruth Eglash: "... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is riding a massive wave of popularity. Domestic support for the Israeli leader's prosecution of the war in Gaza, which has left more than 1,200 Palestinians dead, has only grown over the past three weeks, as the Israeli public and political class rally behind an aggressive, definitive campaign against Hamas and its rockets and tunnels." More here.

Israeli artillery fire has hit a United Nations-run school serving as a shelter in northern Gaza. The NYT's Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren: "Witnesses said at least two shells landed at Abu Hussein school, located in the middle of the Jabaliya refugee camp, around 4:30 a.m., hitting the stairway and a classroom." More here.

For TIME, Michael Crowley profiles Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, here.

A video of a Hamas attack on an Israeli military installation via a tunnel went viral yesterday. See it on FP, here.

Chinese hackers stole documents from the makers of Israel's Iron Dome system: Reuters' Eric Auchard: "Comment Crew, as the hacking group is known, stole designs for Israeli rocket systems in a spree of attacks during 2011 and 2012, Joseph Drissel, chief executive of Cyber Engineering Services (CyberESI), said in a phone interview." More here.

A mystery Syrian defector named "Caesar" will show his grisly photos to Congress at a televised briefing tomorrow. The event could raise questions about the Obama administration's Syria policy, but most of those questions have already been raised. FP's John Hudson: "The Syrian defector known as ‘Caesar' who smuggled out thousands of graphic photographs documenting President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on his own people will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, Foreign Policy has learned. The briefing will be televised and open to the press, but due to security concerns related to Caesar's safety, the Syrian defector's face will be covered.

"...The Syrian military photographer fled his country last year and handed thousands of photos to the United Nations and FBI investigators that shocked human rights organizations around the world. His photographs, which U.S. officials say are authentic, show some 11,000 mutilated and mangled bodies, which suggest widespread torture and mass killings by the Assad regime. The Syrian government says the photos are fakes." More 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: kate.brannen@foreignpolicy.com And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @k8brannen, @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who's Where When: National Security Adviser Susan Rice is giving a speech at 10:15 a.m. at the U.S. Institute of Peace where she'll set the scene for next week's Africa Leaders Summit and discuss "the administration's goals and expectations for this historic event."

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work is meeting with South Korea's Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Hwang Ki-Chul at the Pentagon... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is at West Point for a two-day symposium on the Army profession... Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh are hosting a press briefing on the "State of the Air Force" at 1 p.m. at the Pentagon... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is in Singapore for meetings with government and Navy officials.  He's also holding an All-Hands Call with Sailors as part of a multi-nation visit to the Pacific region.

The House Armed Service Committee has a hearing on the "Risks to Stability in Afghanistan: Politics, Security, and International Commitment" at 10:00 a.m.

The UK's First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Sir George Zambellas is giving a talk about "credible maritime partners in the 21st century" at CSIS at 10:30 a.m. More on the event here.

Singapore is testing whether mass surveillance and big data can not only protect national security, but actually engineer a more harmonious society. FP's Shane Harris reports on Singapore's Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) program: "... Many current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they'd build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren't standing in the way ... many American spooks have traveled to Singapore to study the program firsthand. They are drawn not just to Singapore's embrace of mass surveillance but also to the country's curious mix of democracy and authoritarianism, in which a paternalistic government ensures people's basic needs -- housing, education, security -- in return for almost reverential deference. It is a law-and-order society, and the definition of ‘order' is all-encompassing." More here.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the Senate has another go at NSA surveillance reform. The WaPo's Andrea Peterson: "Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a new compromise version of the USA Freedom Act in the Senate on Tuesday, aimed at curtailing the government surveillance and data collection practices revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden." More here.

FP's Shane Harris broke the story yesterday of retired Gen. Keith Alexander's post-NSA career plans: make millions off of technology for which he's won patents. In a new story, Harris takes a look at the "technologies for which the secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has been granted patents by the U.S. government." They include a new-and-improved child car seat. No joke. Read more here.

What are the costs of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs? A new 60-page report released yesterday by New America's Open Technology Institute examines the impact of NSA programs on the U.S. economy, American foreign policy, and the security of the Internet as a whole. Danielle Kehl, a policy analyst at New America, told Situation Report: "A lot of people are going to be looking for a big dollar figure: what is NSA surveillance going to cost us overall? But there's a really interesting story beyond the significant impact on U.S. companies' bottom lines. The NSA is undermining our foreign policy objectives -- and particularly the U.S. Internet Freedom agenda -- and weakening Internet security in order to make intelligence gathering easier. We need to start looking at the whole picture when we talk about the impact of these programs and what needs to be done to address the situation." Full report here.

The Army will question Bowe Bergdahl next week about his 2009 disappearance and capture by the Taliban. Reuters' Laura Zuckerman: "Bergdahl, an Army sergeant, was introduced to the investigating officer, Major General Kenneth R. Dahl, and is expected to be questioned by him next week in Texas in an informal setting, said the soldier's lawyer, Eugene Fidell." More here.

Stavridis: Why this is the right time to cooperate with Iran. Retired Adm. James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, writes for HuffPo: "With the world seemingly exploding around us, it may be time to consider our relationship with Iran. As Henry Kissinger said once, to solve the biggest problems, sometimes it is necessary to expand them. We should seriously explore ways in which our deeply problematic relationship with Iran can be improved through finding small zones of cooperation -- including perhaps in Iraq today, which presents an opening of somewhat aligned interest in defeating the emerging danger of the ultra-violent extremist organization the Islamic State." More here.

The strange, sad story of the stowaway boy in the wheel well. AP's Lolita C. Baldor: The body of a young stowaway was found inside a compartment near the wheel well of an Air Force cargo plane that had landed in Germany, U.S. military officials said Tuesday, triggering questions about the security of an aircraft that had made several stops in Africa." More here.

Don't grow numb to North Korea's missile tests, Locklear warns. The AP's Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor: "Amid concerns about its development and testing of nuclear weapons, North Korea may be lulling the world into largely accepting its advances in missile technology, the admiral in charge of American forces in Asia and the Pacific said Tuesday. Adm. Samuel Locklear told a Pentagon news conference that he is concerned by North Korea's frequent testing of ballistic missiles." More here.

McDonald sails through confirmation and is now headed to the VA: The Senate voted yesterday 97-0 to approve Robert McDonald's nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Some more bad news for the F-35 ... Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: Software for Lockheed Martin's F-35 jet, the Pentagon's costliest weapons system, may be as much as 14 months late for required flight testing, according to a Pentagon review." More here.

Why managing talent is important to national security. The Navy's Chief of Personnel, Vice Adm. Bill Moran, in an op-ed for The Hill: "We are clearly behind our civilian corporate counterparts in fashioning productive pipelines to develop and differentiate talent, despite our closed-loop system. In 1973, we took a pretty big risk of our own when we created the All-Volunteer Force, betting that market forces combined with love of service would steer us away from a reliance upon conscription for our defense." More here.

Suzy George is named chief of staff for the National Security Council staff. Her official title: "Deputy Assistant to the President, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council staff." George is taking over for Brian McKeon, who's leaving the White House to become the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.

Previously, George worked as a principal at the Albright Stonebridge Group, an international strategic consulting firm.  From 1997 to 2001, George served as the deputy chief of staff in the State Department, under Secretary Madeleine Albright.

All the Pentagon's Men ... At the invitation of Kirby, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward visited the Pentagon yesterday to sit down with press officers and discuss their craft.

"Mr. Woodward told some war stories from the '60s and 70's, shared his thoughts on the state of journalism today and gave the assembled [public affairs officers] some sage advice," Col. Steve Warren, director of Pentagon Press Operations, told Situation Report.

Hook 'em! Navy Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, is the lone finalist selected to become the chancellor of the University of Texas. More from AP here.

Today's babies can thank the shutdown. The WaPo's Jessica Contrera reports that Washington is experiencing a baby boom thanks to the most recent government shutdown. And it includes the Pentagon press shop's Carl Woog!

"Carl Woog, a Pentagon employee whose wife recently gave birth to a baby boy, said they tracked her conception date back to just after the shutdown ended. Although Woog wasn't furloughed, he and his wife ‘may have been celebrating congressional action,' he joked."