Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: U.S. conducts strike in Somalia; A Marine helicopter crashes; Three Americans plead for help in North Korea; Humanitarian drops in Amerli, Iraq; Kristin Lord leaves USIP; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Pentagon says it conducted a C-T mission in Somalia yesterday against the Shabaab. Ever since Shabaab's stunning attack inside an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi almost a year ago, signaling a comeback of sorts after U.S. officials thought the Somali-based group linked to al-Qaida had been vanquished, the U.S. has ramped up its assistance to Somali intelligence and military units and to support the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. The Pentagon was mum on the details of its operation Monday, and the wording of the announcement left it vague if the U.S. had only conducted an airstrike or if ground forces had been involved.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby: "U.S. military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the al-Shabaab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate."

"The U.S. has been providing financial, logistical and material backing to AMISOM and Somali forces doing battle with the Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida. American drones from nearby Camp Lemonnier, a sprawling base the U.S. maintains in Djibouti, have also been providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to the effort.

Roger Carstens, a former Green Beret who has spent more than a year on the ground in Somalia in the last few years, to Foreign Policy last night: "The result has been a rather successful, if slow and grinding, campaign prosecuted by AMISOM and the Somalis against al Shabaab."

Carstens said that if the U.S. were to have conducted an airstrike mission in Somalia, as it appeared to have done in Barawe, that would be an indication that it had in its sights a high value target. "As can shown by the rather small number of U.S. military operations in Somalia over the past few years, the standard for an attack in Somalia has been pretty high," Carstens wrote. "The target must be worthy of the U.S. stepping out from its preferred position (behind the scenes) to conduct a unilateral strike."

Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said the U.S. has seemed to increase its role in Somalia, albeit quietly, as it strengthens its capabilities with AMISOM and local forces. "I would put the apparent increase in U.S. operational tempo in Somalia as a function of both better intelligence and a change in al-Shabaab itself," Pham wrote FP in an email late Monday. "The first is the result of an increased presence, both public and clandestine, that has resulted in information that can operationalized. The second is the shift of al-Shabaab since it abandoned Mogadishu in mid-2011 from an insurgence into a terrorist group which has carried out regional attacks and thus raised its profile as a threat to the U.S. and its allies in the region." Click here soon for Lubold's full story, which will also be updated later today.

Meantime, the Pentagon is expanding its footprint in Africa. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock on Page One this morning as if to underscore the point of what it's doing in Somalia: "The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara. After months of negotiations, the government of Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

"The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub - its second in Niger and third in the region -  to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent." More here.

Want to sound smart on the Shabaab today? CFR's backgrounder on the group, here.

This week, a new book by Tony Zinni, the warrior-diplomat and former Central Command commander, will be released that looks at American foreign policy, why it's failed and how it can be reversed. It's called "Before the First Shots are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield," and there's a review of the book with a Q&A with Zinni by Andrew Lubin at the Marine Corps Association and Foundation, here.

Speaking of which: a Marine CH-53 assigned to Centcom crashes near Djibouti - and all 25 personnel are rescued. Military Times, here.

Welcome to Tuesday'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, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

New in SitRep this morning: The U.S. Institute of Peace's Kristin Lord, formerly of CNAS, is leaving USIP for IREX. From a press release USIP will release later this morning: "Dr. Kristin Lord, acting president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, announced that she will leave USIP on October 3, 2014 to become president and CEO of IREX, a global non-governmental organization that focuses on education, civil society and media development. Dr. Lord previously held the position of executive vice president at USIP, and took over as acting president when former Congressman Jim Marshall left USIP in January of this year. USIP is in the final stages of a search for a new president. Bill Taylor, USIP vice president for Middle East and Africa, will temporarily assume the role of executive vice president at the Institute to provide continuity through the upcoming transition."

 The US expands it humanitarian and airstrike campaign in Iraq to the town of Amerli. FP's Kate Brannen: "The United States on Saturday air dropped humanitarian aid and conducted airstrikes against Islamic State targets in and around Amerli, a town 100 miles north of Baghdad that's been under siege for over two months. The U.S. Air Force delivered aid alongside aircraft from Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. dropped 109 bundles, according to U.S. Central Command. Carrying out the drop were two C-17s and two C-130s, delivering approximately 10,500 gallons of fresh drinking water and approximately 7,000 meals ready to eat. To support the humanitarian assistance mission, the U.S. military also conducted three airstrikes in coordination with the Iraqi security forces responsible for protecting Amerli, Centcom said in a statement." More here.

A video of Peshmerga forces fighting IS militants inside Zumar - watch Rudaw's report, here.

Videos of U.S. military humanitarian assistance airdrops operations conducted Aug. 30-31 over northern Iraq.  Watch the clips on U.S. AFCENT's YouTube channel, here.

Syrian rebels issue demands for the release of captive UN troops. AP: "Syrian rebels have issued three demands for the release of 45 Fijian peacekeepers they've held captive for five days, Fiji's military commander said Tuesday. Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front wanted to be taken off the UN terrorist list, wanted humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wanted compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers.  Tikoitoga said the UN has sent hostage negotiators to Syria.

"The al-Nusra Front abducted the Fijian soldiers Thursday morning and was holding them at an unknown location. The rebels also surrounded two Filipino units serving in the UN mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel and Syria, but the Filipino troops escaped over the weekend." More here.

Germany agrees to arm Kurdish forces battling ISIS, the NYT's Alison Smale in Berlin, here.

FP's Elias Groll on how the Washington press corps became convinced that Obama was about to launch airstrikes in Syria last week, here.

Documents from Edward Snowden's archive reveal that Turkey is both NSA's target and partner. Der Spiegel's Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Michael Sontheimer and Holger Stark: "...Documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL and The Intercept have seen show just how deeply involved America has become in Turkey's fight against the Kurds. For a time, the NSA even delivered its Turkish partners with the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders on an hourly basis. The US government also provided the Turks with information about PKK money flows and the whereabouts of some of its leaders living in exile abroad.

"At the same time, the Snowden documents also show that Turkey is one of the United States' leading targets for spying. Documents show that the political leadership in Washington, DC, has tasked the NSA with divining Turkey's ‘leadership intention,' as well as monitoring its operations in 18 other key areas. This means that Germany's foreign intelligence service, which drew criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed it had been spying on Turkey, isn't the only secret service interested in keeping tabs on the government in Ankara." More here.

Three Americans in North Korea ask for help. AP's Eric Talmadge Pyongyang: "North Korea gave foreign media access on Monday to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and - watched by officials as they spoke - called for Washington to send a high-ranking representative to negotiate for their freedom. Jeffrey Fowle and Mathew Miller said they expect to face trial within a month. But they said they do not know what punishment they could face or what the specific charges against them are. Kenneth Bae, who already is serving a 15-year term, said his health has deteriorated at the labor camp where he works eight hours a day." More here.

Ukraine accuses Russia of "undisguised aggression" as rebel forces advance. Reuters last night: "...In the latest in a string of setbacks in the past week, Ukraine's military said it had pulled back from defending a vital airport in the east of the country, near the city of Luhansk, where troops had been battling a Russian tank battalion.

"Poroshenko said in a speech there would be high-level personnel changes in the Ukrainian armed forces, whose troops fled a new rebel advance in the south which Kiev and its Western allies say has been backed up by Russian armored columns. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on Sunday for immediate negotiations on the "statehood" of southern and eastern Ukraine, blamed Kiev's leadership for refusing to enter into direct political talks with the separatists." More here.

On the frontlines of the new offensive in eastern Ukraine, the hardcore Azov Battalion is ready for battle with Russia. But they're not fighting for Europe, either. Alec Luhn in Ukraine for FP, here.

Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with a F-35 scoop: "United Technologies Corp. (UTX)'s Pratt & Whitney unit said it suspended delivery of engines for the F-35 jet, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program, over concern that a supplier may have provided ‘suspect' titanium." Full story here.

Smaller military hospitals are said to put patients at risk. The trickle of cases in smaller U.S. military hospitals put patients at risk and the Pentagon may curtail the system. The NYT's Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren on Page One, here.

The UAE's airstrikes in Libya represent a new and dangerous phase in its struggle with Qatar.  ECFR's Andrew Hammond for FP: "...The UAE-Egyptian intervention in Libya is yet another example of the Gulf states' newfound assertiveness, which now displays only secondary regard for American concerns. This represents a sea change in Middle Eastern politics: Ever since the Gulf states achieved their independence from the British, they have sought to project an image of their countries as trouble-free, depoliticized utopias, underwritten by the wealth accruing from energy resources. Iranian expansionism following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 began to disturb the calm waters, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia made huge military expenditures to deter potential Iranian attacks in the event of American or Israeli military action. 

"In the era of the uprisings, however, the fancy accouterments acquired by Gulf states have apparently found other purposes. They are now being used to put down internal dissent, as in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, or to advance the states' regional interests. As the acrimony with its Gulf neighbors worsened, Qatar announced in March a massive $23 billion arms purchase including massive orders of attack helicopters from Boeing and Airbus. The psychology of the Tripoli raid almost suggests it's Doha that Egypt and the UAE would really like to bomb." More here.

Peter Beinart for Ha'aretz on how Obama's Mideast strategy is about what Americans want - targeting terrorists. Read it here.

Meantime, NATO leaders face an expanding agenda at this week's NATO summit. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "This spring, US officials and policy experts were preparing for a typical NATO summit in Wales. The main focus of the summit was to be troop levels in Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama had set a timetable for the US military's withdrawal from Afghanistan. The focus of the summit in September was supposed to be about how to keep alliance members engaged, and more importantly, increasing defense spending.

"But since then, an explosion of global events has altered the security landscape and thus the agenda for the summit. Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. Now NATO officials say Russia has sent troops into eastern Ukraine and is assisting anti-Kiev fighters in that region.

"Meanwhile, Islamic State fighters have moved from Syria into northern Iraq where they have captured numerous cities. Islamist militants have been fighting for control of Libya." More here.

Afghanistan is expected to send its defense minister - but not president - to the NATO summit. Reuters' Adrian Croft, here.

Afghan Army killings threaten U.S. aid - The Daily Beast's Kim Dozier this morning, here.

Former deputy director of the CIA John McLaughlin writes on the NATO summit about how NATO may not be up to looking Putin in the eyes and seeing his soul. Read it on Ozy, ("smarter,fresher, different") here.

CNAS releases a report today on what incoming Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who begins Oct. 1, must do. The Center for a New American Security's Jacob Stokes, Julianne Smith, Nora Bensahel and Dave Barno provide new policy recommendations for the new SecGen, including how he should address NATO's response to Russian aggression, military capabilities, crisis management in the Middle East and Arctic security. Read it all here.

NATO weighs a rapid response force for Eastern Europe. The NYT's Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Steven Erlanger on Page One: "As Ukrainian leaders warned on Monday of "a great war" with Russia, NATO leaders meeting in Wales this week were expected to endorse their most concrete response yet to increased Russian military intervention in Ukraine: establishing a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying quickly to Eastern Europe, officials of the alliance said.

"The new force of some 4,000 troops, capable of moving on 48 hours' notice, will be supported with logistics and equipment pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia, with an upgraded schedule of military exercises and deployments that are intended to make NATO's commitment of collective defense more credible and enhance its deterrence." More here.

POTUS visits Estonia before attending the NATO summit. The WSJ's Colleen McCain Nelson: "President Barack Obama will travel to Estonia this week intending to reassure the region, rattled by Russia's incursion into Ukraine, that NATO remains committed to defending its Baltic members.

Charles Kupchan, the White House's senior director for European affairs: "Russia, don't even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way that you have been messing around in Ukraine."

"Mr. Obama's travels to Estonia and the NATO summit are a two-pronged approach to convey to the Russians that their behavior is unacceptable, Mr. Kupchan said Friday. So far, though, Mr. Putin appears to be undaunted by Washington's warnings and not dissuaded by a series of sanctions." More here.

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Intel treasure trove: FP obtains an ISIS laptop; Blair-Olson-Neumann: empower ambassadors; Russia presses Ukraine; Foley was waterboarded; VA: sorry for comparing vets to Oscar the Grouch.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Only in FP: Buried on a Dell laptop computer captured in Syria are lessons for making bubonic plague bombs and missives on using weapons of mass destruction. U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria, and whether the Obama administration will widen an air war there, will be driven by the intelligence it can capture on the ground, naturally. A husband-and-wife journalist team were given a laptop found in the Syrian province of Idlib that belonged to fighters from the Islamic State and the two wrote about what they found exclusively for Foreign Policy today. It's the kind of intelligence that is hard to come where intelligence collection is difficult, but it's the kind of information that may help inform U.S. policymakers as they assess the threat the group poses to the region and U.S.

The amazing story of Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, writing from Turkey for FP: "Abu Ali, a commander of a moderate Syrian rebel group in northern Syria, proudly shows a black laptop partly covered in dust. ‘We took it this year from an ISIS hideout,' he says.

"Abu Ali says the fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which have since rebranded themselves as the Islamic State, all fled before he and his men attacked the building. The attack occurred in January in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib, close to the border with Turkey, as part of a larger anti-ISIS offensive occurring at the time. ‘We found the laptop and the power cord in a room,' he continued, ‘I took it with me. But I have no clue if it still works or if it contains anything interesting.'

"As we switched on the Dell laptop, it indeed still worked. Nor was it password-protected. But then came a huge disappointment: After we clicked on ‘My Computer,' all the drives appeared empty.

"Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Upon closer inspection, the ISIS laptop wasn't empty at all: Buried in the ‘hidden files' section of the computer were 146 gigabytes of material, containing a total of 35,347 files in 2,367 folders. Abu Ali allowed us to copy all these files -- which included documents in French, English, and Arabic -- onto an external hard drive.

"The laptop's contents turn out to be a treasure trove of documents that provide ideological justifications for jihadi organizations -- and practical training on how to carry out the Islamic State's deadly campaigns. They include videos of Osama bin Laden, manuals on how to make bombs, instructions for stealing cars, and lessons on how to use disguises in order to avoid getting arrested while traveling from one jihadi hot spot to another." Read the rest of this tale here.

As you were: President Barack Obama attempted to reverse the public narrative of White House thinking on expanding the air war in Iraq and Syria, appearing yesterday at the White House and essentially saying no decision was imminent with a rhetorical blow to pro-intervention warriors by conceding: "we don't have a strategy yet."

Obama urges calm in the face of two crises, the NYT's Peter Baker, here.

Kerrying water: John Kerry is the point man to drum up international support to fight the Islamic State. FP's Brannen, Lubold and Hudson: "Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his foreign counterparts to discuss confronting the Islamic State and U.S. efforts to support the Iraqi government while attending the NATO Summit in Wales, according to the State Department. Kerry's role at next week's summit, which starts Thursday, is part of the Obama administration's effort to build a coalition behind a broader campaign to take on the Islamic extremist group in Syria and Iraq.

"...For an administration that shuns militarily intervention, the support of allies, from European to Arab nations, is critical. Some experts believe that if President Barack Obama sends additional troops into that theater of war, a variety of special operations forces from a number of countries could marry up with forces already deployed there." More here.

Turnabout is fair play to ISIS: The group waterboarded Jim Foley and other American hostages. The news yesterday that American hostages, including journalist Foley, were waterboarded by the group calling itself the Islamic State is haunting in the way in which it brings past Washington policy overseas back home. The WaPo's Adam Goldman and Julie Tate: James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA's use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks... 'They knew exactly how it was done,' a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages said of the Islamic State militants. The person, who discussed the hostages' experience on the condition of anonymity, said the captives were held in Raqqah, a city in north-central Syria." More here.

The U.S. identifies Americans fighting jihad. The NYT's Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt: American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have identified nearly a dozen Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant group that the Obama administration says poses the greatest threat to the United States since Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As ISIS has seized large expanses of territory in recent months, it has drawn more foreign men to Syria, requiring more American and European law enforcement resources in the attempt to stop the flow of fighters, senior American officials said. And as a result of the increasing numbers of men, ISIS is now recruiting foreign women as jihadist wives." More here.

Carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria might be defensible on moral grounds. But is it legal? FP's Colum Lynch: "President Barack Obama made three things clear at a news conference on Thursday: A military strike on Islamic State fighters in Syria is not imminent; the commander in chief doesn't need Congress's permission to act; and if the United States strikes, it'll be in the nation's self-defense.

"It's that last point that may be the most important, as administration officials are grappling with a legal justification for launching airstrikes inside a country whose government hasn't explicitly given permission to do so." More here.

Newsweek's Jeff Stein adds to the thought bank on what a war against ISIS might look like, here.

Want to know the list of folks who attended the National Security Council meeting at the White House yesterday? Scroll all the way down.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. We'll next see you Tuesday. 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, send it to us early for maximum tease. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

If you love runners and veterans, click here to watch what racers did when they saw a 95-year-old veteran. Probably an old video, doesn't really matter.

Want security and stability around the world? Hand over the car keys to ambassadors and others assigned overseas so they are empowered to make decisions and coordinate policy in a way only they can. Denny Blair, Eric Olson and Ron Neumann make a new, forceful argument for changing the way Washington works, and not in a way you've heard before. In a new piece in the National Interest, the former DNI, former SOCOM commander and former ambassador in Algeria, Afghanistan and Bahrain, write together for the first time to make the case for why Washington must make dramatic changes to how and who implements policy, empowering diplomats and other U.S. personnel assigned overseas so they can make decisions that, the trio argue, will help create a long-term strategy for security and stability in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. But reform is a must, they write.

Few of the obvious lessons learned from recent years have actually been learned, Blair, Olson and Neumann argue in "Fixing Fragile States in The National Interest, just posted this week: "Continued complex political, economic and military operations will be needed for many years to deal with the continuing threat from Al Qaeda and its associated organizations, much of it stemming from fragile states with weak institutions, high rates of poverty and deep ethnic, religious or tribal divisions. Despite thirteen years of experience-and innumerable opportunities to learn lessons from both successes and mistakes-there have been few significant changes in our cumbersome, inefficient and ineffective approach to interagency operations in the field.

Build a better ambassador, they write. "We believe the time has come to look to a new, more effective operational model. For fragile states in which Al Qaeda is present, the United States should develop, select and support with strong staff a new type of ambassador with more authority to plan and direct complex operations across department and agency lines, and who will be accountable for their success or failure... Congress and the executive branch need to authorize field leaders to shift resources across agency lines to meet new threats. It is, in short, a time for change-change that upends our complacent and antiquated approach toward foreign societies and cultures."

The need for more Anne Pattersons: "...The leader of American in-country operations in a fragile state needs high-order managerial and leadership skills for complex program execution as well as a deep knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of other American organizations, especially military and intelligence. Some Foreign Service officers who became ambassadors have developed these skills. James Jeffrey, Anne Patterson and Ryan Crocker are among several in the recent past. However, although such training has been recommended, the Foreign Service is not geared toward producing such skills broadly. A qualification-and-selection process is needed for ambassadors to places like Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Mali, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq to identify candidates with the experience, knowledge and stature to direct an integrated, multiagency task force."

And, why can't more agencies be like the Pentagon? they ask. "...It is only the Department of Defense that has either the authority or the tradition of assigning personnel to difficult overseas assignments whether they volunteer or not. All other agencies rely on volunteers. The result has been chronic shortchanging of the nonmilitary billets in fragile states- short assignments for officers, or the use of contractors."
Their walk-off: " It's time to replace decades of failure with a new approach that protects American security by transforming fragile states into genuinely secure ones." Read the rest of their argument here.

Russia is said to press offensive in Ukraine but don't call it an "invasion." The WaPo's Annie Gowen and Anne Gearan, here.

Reuters this morning: "Pro-Moscow rebels fighting in Ukraine said on Friday they would comply with a request from the Kremlin and open up a 'humanitarian corridor' to allow the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops they have encircled. It was not clear how the government in Kiev would react to the offer, suggested first by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the first word from the Ukrainian military was negative. It said in a statement that Putin's call showed only that 'these people (the separatists) are led and controlled directly from the Kremlin." More here.

How far will Putin go? FP's Elias Groll and Reid Standish: "...In the last two days, Russian troops have attempted to relieve pressure on their separatist allies in Donetsk and Luhansk by opening what amounts to a third front south of the two breakaway cities. On Wednesday, Ukrainian troops, who had been steadily advancing on separatist forces in the east, beat a hasty retreat from Novoazovsk, where they were routed by troops and armor streaming across the Russian border. Novoazovsk lies a mere 20 miles from the southeastern port city of Mariupol, a city of 500,000.

"Will Putin continue the advance past Mariupol, toward Crimea -- which he annexed in March -- and potentially all the way to the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova? Or is this a mere tactic to ensure the survival of Putin's proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk?" More here.

Imran Khan's populist protest movement is on the verge of taking down Pakistan's corrupt, sclerotic government. How did such a lightweight get so far? Mosharraf Zaidi for FP: "...Today in Pakistan, there are two big questions: Is the military attempting to stage-manage Sharif's third exit? And is his political tormentor, the temperamental former cricket star Imran Khan (unrelated to Ayub Khan), the Army's choice as his replacement?" More here.

Who's Where When today - Tomorrow, Navy Sec. Ray Mabus cheers on Navy vs. Ohio State in Baltimore...

That military pilot was found in Virginia in that fatal crash a few days ago. The WaPo's Clarence Williams, here.

Stan McChrystal wades into midterm races, Martin Matishak for The Hill, here.

The VA regrets using "Oscar the Grouch" to depict dissatisfied veterans in a training guide. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Tricia Nadolney: "...The cranky Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can was used in reference to veterans who will attend town-hall events Wednesday in Philadelphia...The spokeswoman from the Philadelphia VA benefits office - which will host the town halls Wednesday at noon and 6:30 p.m. - said in a statement that the agency regretted any misunderstanding caused by the slide show." More here.

The VA is looking for a few good men and women - nurses and doctors - to fix what ails it. The WaPo's Joe Davidson in the Federal Diary, here.

Mike Hagel's life in aviation landed him in the Pentagon before his brother Chuck. Casey Logan for Omaha.com: "From time to time, Mike Hagel likes to provide his older brother, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, with an important piece of Pentagon history.

The younger Hagel: "I have to remind him every once in a while that I was there before he was... I've had paintings in the Pentagon since 1990."

"Hagel, 64, is one of four artists featured in an exhibit, ‘History Takes Flight,' opening Saturday at the Strategic Air & Space Museum. The show presents more than 30 aviation-themed paintings and prints." More here.

Who attended the national security council meeting at the White House yesterday? Good question - here's the list: VP Joe Biden (via secure video); Sec. State John Kerry (via secure video); Sec. Defense Chuck Hagel (via secure video); AG Eric Holder; DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson (via secure video); WH COS Denis McDonough; National Security Advisor Susan Rice; U.S. Amb. to the U.N. Samantha Power (via secure video); WH Counsel Neil Eggleston; DNI Director James Clapper; CIA Director John Brennan; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey (via secure video); Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld; National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen; U.S. Central Command Commander Lloyd Austin (via secure video); OMB Director Shaun Donovan;  Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken; Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco; Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Caroline Atkinson; Deputy Secretary of State William Burns; White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and Gulf Region Philip Gordon; Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs Katie Fallon; DAS of State for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk; U.S. Amb. to Iraq Robert Stephen Beecroft (via secure video); Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council Suzanne George.