What Karzai’s election announcement means, Did the F-35 father a new Chinese baby? and more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
SIGAR issued a blistering report on the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces to sustain themselves. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction charged that Afghan forces aren’t able to conduct operation and maintenance work because they have too few personnel to perform those duties and because many of the personnel they do have are unskilled — and some can’t even read. The group cited "undeveloped" budgeting, procurement, and logistics systems and said that only about 40 percent of critical ANSF sustainment jobs were filled.
"The ANSF lacks personnel with the technical skills required to operate and maintain critical facilities, such as water supply, waste water treatment and power generation," the report said.
The report was less about wrongdoing than about the need find ways to take the training wheels off quicker. And if professionals talk logistics, as we always hear, then SIGAR is on to something, holding the ISAF training mission’s feet to the fire to make sure it stays focused on building all aspects of the security forces’ required capabilities.
The NATO training mission and the Pentagon have shared many of these broad concerns for a long time as the security transition in 2014 looms. Indeed, creating sustainable security forces is a cornerstone to U.S. and international strategy in Afghanistan. But the SIGAR report, which looks at specific sustainability issues within the ANSF, creates a to-do list for the ISAF training mission.
The Pentagon’s Cmdr. Bill Speaks on the report: "Our mission is to make sure that Afghan National Security Forces are able to sustain their facilities after 2014. We welcome periodic audits that identify problems and obstacles to achieving that goal, and we will certainly make all necessary adjustments to our training to ensure we meet that goal."
Read the full report: http://bit.ly/Q6ZUot
Clinton calls for the building of a new Syrian opposition. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian National Council can no longer be the "visible leader of the opposition," during a stop in Croatia. "They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard," Clinton said, as reported by The Cable’s Josh Rogin on FP. Clinton acknowledged yesterday that the U.S. has been working to establish a new council to represent the Syrian opposition, the form of which will be unveiled at a conference next week in Qatar, Rogin reports. A senior administration official told The Cable: "We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress." http://bit.ly/JyqV
According to the latest Pew poll, Obama would make better foreign policy decisions. Fifty percent of respondents said Obama would make better foreign policy decisions over 42 percent who said Romney would. Answers to that question for Obama are up three points from mid-October (47 percent), but down three points from mid-September (53); answers to the question for Romney are down one point from mid-October (43) but up four points from mid-September (38). http://bit.ly/yKAetY
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report, where the election can’t come fast enough. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. And sign up for Situation Report here: http://bit.ly/NCN9uN or just send me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list.
The announcement that Karzai would allow elections in 2014 was welcome news to the international community but it’s not necessarily what it seems. As focus intensifies on the security transition expected to take place in 2014, many Afghan hands have lamented the lack of attention to the political transition that is supposed to take place then as well. According to the Afghan constitution, elections has to take place in 2014 and President Hamid Karzai must step down. There had been doubt that he would follow through — thus requiring the constitution to be rewritten — but those fears have largely abated. The concern now is that Karzai will essentially pick a successor and the elections will be rigged. This could widen fissures between a number of political, ethnic and tribal groups and raise legitimate fears of civil war. This week, media reports said Karzai had set elections for April 2014, but Scott Smith, a former U.N. official who is now at the United States Institute of Peace, pointed out to Situation Report that it was the International Election Commission, not Karzai, that made the announcement. In fact, Karzai doesn’t have the power to set elections himself, only the Constitution dictates that.
Regardless, the move is a positive sign, he said. "This is not necessarily a sign that Karzai will allow free and fair elections, but it should make those who insist that he will not [allow them] to think twice," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "I think that it is fully within the realm of possibility that among the options Karzai is considering, having elections that allow a stable transfer of power is one of them."
There is increasing pressure for the U.S. to do more to facilitate an election that will be seen as legitimate by the Afghan people as the U.S. military walks out the door. Sensing the strategic failure rigged elections — or no elections — could bring, American military officials have been quietly pushing for more action on political transition. Afghan elites, too, want the U.S. to be more forceful when it comes to Afghan elections. But the State Department, citing Afghan sovereignty, has been slow to get involved. And officially, the prevailing view is that the American role should only be to help secure polling stations for a safe, clean, and fair election.
Many believe this is Karzai’s moment, in which he can become the father of modern Afghanistan. Although when it comes to Afghanistan there are always pessimists, the head of the International Crisis Group believes Karzai can forge a path to strong and credible elections. "But talking about it is not enough," wrote Louise Arbour in a recent op-ed. "The country’s leadership has to act." http://bit.ly/RnDDOj
If the grainy images are to be believed, China is flying its newest stealth fighter. Military blogs in China claim that the Chinese military is flying its new J-31 fighter, built by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. That makes two new fighters, in addition to the Chengdu J-20, that China has unveiled in the last two years, reports Killer Apps’ John Reed. There are numerous pictures of the J-20, which, for some reason, Chinese bloggers were allowed to photograph. But there have been far fewer images of the new J-31. Reed: "While there is no proof that China’s latest stealth fighter stole design specifications from American stealth fighter projects, the rear portions of aircraft blatantly copy the design of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 while forward sections of the jet look an awful lot like an F-35." (Remember that the F-35 program suffered a massive cyber intrusion some years ago, and thieves took reams of data about the plane.) http://bit.ly/Tn8SbZ
Is the Pentagon getting dumber? It cut $3 billion from its intelligence budget last year, spending $21 billion instead of the $24 billion it spent the year before. Why? Fiscal constraint. The Pentagon’s Lt. Col. Jim Gregory told the E-ring’s Kevin Baron that the cuts "reflect the secretary’s priorities in light of the fiscal challenges before us." http://bitly.com/SpTcXj
Reports that a North Korean general was executed by mortars have a ring of truth, but as we reported last week, DPRK officials rumored to have been killed have a habit of showing up again. Supposedly, a deputy defense minister by the name of Kim Chol was rounded up for drinking liquor with a female colleague in violation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s warning not to engage in "singing, or dancing, merrymaking or recreation" after the death of Kim Jong Il. Then, reports of his death by firing squad emerged. But Michael Madden writes on FP: "The Kim Chol story first appeared in South Korean media in March; its reappearance, and the trivial reason cited for his execution, suggests it originated from gossip. It also suggests that rumors of his fate may have been intentionally circulated to warn ambitious members of the military not to challenge the authority of the new leadership."
- WSJ: Indonesia suspects al-Qaeda links to terrorism suspects. http://bitly.com/SmNENf
- Reuters: China proposes new initiatives for Syrian ceasefire. http://bitly.com/PIXDQo
- The Guardian: Clinton calls for overhaul of opposition in Syria. http://bitly.com/TaIbsX
The Two Sudans
- All Africa: Iranian warships leave Sudan. http://bit.ly/VddFDl
- Turkish Weekly: Sudan’s Iran alliance under scrutiny. http://bitly.com/VdTzsH
- All Africa: Rebels deny U.S. accusation of using refugee camp to recruit children. http://bitly.com/PIRJ1Q
- Reuters: Sudanese dream big with new airports. http://reut.rs/UhApwB
Your Opinion Counts
- WaPo (Ignatius): The fog over Benghazi and the need for good intelligence. http://bitly.com/WZaP5m
- New York Post: Middle Eastern eyes on U.S. election. http://bit.ly/PnmHeu
- FP (Walt) What’s the foreign policy agenda for the next four years? http://bit.ly/W8idMA
- WaPo: All politics are local in Iran nuclear dispute. http://bitly.com/QVpytb