Situation Report

Tension over the Allen issue in Asia

Tension over the Allen issue in Asia

"Fighting Joe Dunford" appears before a Senate panel this morning in his confirmation hearing for the ISAF job. If confirmed, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has asked that the Senate act on the nomination promptly because of the current scandal, Dunford will have a large impact on the final months of the war in Afghanistan. His testimony begins this morning in Washington. According to his written answers to questions posed in advance by senators, which were obtained by the Cable’s Josh Rogin, Dunford is ready to tell Congress that he supports U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan for a host of missions in 2015 and beyond.

Dunford, in written statement to senators: "In my view our overall objective in Afghanistan after 2014 will be to sustain our hard-won security gains after 2014 so that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists… to accomplish this objective, the primary missions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan should be to (1) train, advise, and assist the ANSF; (2) provide support to civilian agencies, and (3) conduct counter-terrorism operations.  This mission set will include force protection for our brave young men and women and, as available, the provision of in extremis support for our Afghan forces."

But meanwhile, the fallout from the scandal in Washington continues. A new report this morning in the WSJ shows tension between David Petraeus at CIA and the White House over Benghazi, and anger over his releasing a detailed timeline on the Sept. 11 attack at the diplomatic compound there. "Mr. Petraeus wanted his aides to push back hard and release their own time line of the Sept. 11 attacks…seeking to set the record straight and paint the CIA’s role in a more favorable light. Mr. Clapper and agencies including the Pentagon objected, but Mr. Petraeus told his aides to proceed," senior officials told the WSJ’s Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman.

Panetta is wrapping up a bilateral meeting with Thailand today, and tomorrow the secretary flies to Cambodia for meetings there. After a bilateral meeting with the Cambodians, the secretary will sit with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in a somewhat informal roundtable to discuss issues of mutual interest, Situation Report is told. The Pentagon’s Asian pivot is in part about building and expanding partnerships as the U.S. looks to build its presence and engagement in the region. Following the meeting, Panetta will see the Angkor Wat shrine.

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There is some tension over the Allen matter on the Panetta trip. With a scandal that has felled the director of the CIA and is now threatening the career of the Afghanistan war commander, reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are trying to get him to answer the myriad questions they have, including whether the defense secretary overreacted in triggering an investigation into ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen, jeopardizing his career and reputation, when defense officials, general officers, and others are now saying there might not be much to the e-mails between him and Jill Kelley, the socialite from Tampa. Allen has also maintained there was no wrongdoing.

But in the scripted itinerary of the "bubble" in which Panetta and other top officials travel, there is frustration among the press corps, as the Pentagon tries to keep focus on the pivot to Asia.
Some days ago, Panetta conducted a media availability on the plane from Hawaii to Perth, Australia, and then retired to his quarters as is typical on such trips. Hours later, reporters were the first ones to be told about the matter regarding Allen when Pentagon press secretary George Little read a statement about the investigation. Once on the ground, Panetta took two questions on the matter in a regularly scheduled press conference. At other opportunities, we understand, attempts to get other questions answered have been avoided. And according to an individual on the trip, there is visible tension between the press corps and Defense Department’s press operations as reporters are upbraided for wanting to ask more questions on the Allen issue. Panetta was supposed to do a press event in Cambodia tomorrow but will now read a statement after meeting with defense ministers and now will not take questions.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, is frustrated with the press corps’ complaints. A senior defense official tells Situation Report that the secretary has had one gaggle, two press conferences, and offered up other backgrounders and on-the-record events. "An interesting threshold for griping," the defense official said. "There’s only so much a Secretary of Defense can say about a matter that’s under investigation, and reporters know that," the official said, adding that the event in Cambodia will be at the historic Angkor Wat shrine. Giving reporters the ability to ask questions about sexual allegations would not be appropriate, the official said. "We’d planned to have a press availability there, but it’s of no profit to anyone on an Asia-Pacific trip if recycled questions on tawdry Washington controversies come up every time."

The Pentagon’s senior military officer ducked the press corps traveling with Panetta. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, who is also traveling in Asia but on a separate trip from Panetta, didn’t speak with independent reporters who are part of Panetta’s Asia trip. Only when he was alone with Jim Garamone, an in-house reporter for the Pentagon, did he speak candidly about his views on the matter regarding Allen. He said that he agreed with Panetta that people shouldn’t jump to conclusions on the investigation into ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen. From what he sees so far, there’s nothing to the e-mails between Allen and Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite.

Dempsey: "We have John Allen scheduled to become the [European Command] commander, and I wouldn’t want him to miss that opportunity unless there is reason for that to happen," the chairman said. "I don’t see that at this point, but I see this investigation and how long it could take affecting that."

Lawyer-ing up: Col. John Baker, a Marine Corps J.A.G. officer, released a statement on behalf of Allen, saying the ISAF commander, a Marine, would not have any comments on the situation while the investigation is going forward. "General Allen intends to fully cooperate with the Inspector General Investigators and directed his staff to do the same. To the extent there are questions about certain communications by General Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible," according to Baker’s statement.

Meanwhile, Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham, speaking to reporters in Paris amid the demotion of the former Africom commander and the other scandals, said shortcomings of any officer reflect poorly on the entire office corps: "Any taint on an individual has a tendency to blemish the institution — and it’s unhelpful."

Stan McChrystal’s book, delayed by security checks, will now be out in January. "My Share of the Task" was to come out just after the election. But the Pentagon’s security vetting process — backlogged, meant his original publication, scheduled for this week, couldn’t be met. It will now be published Jan. 7.

From the publisher: "General McChrystal spent nearly two years working closely with military officials to make sure he followed all the rules for writing about the armed forces, including special operations. He was extremely careful not to include any information that would endanger any military personnel or their mission."

Obama vowed to roll up his sleeves on negotiating a budget plan with Congress, which would presumably include a deal on defense sequestration. A report compiled by a number of independent defense experts and released by the Stimson Center, suggests ways in which the Pentagon’s budget could be made sustainable. The report, "A New U.S. Defense Strategy for a New Era: Military Superiority, Agility and Efficiency," sets out 10 "operating principles" that emphasize better efficiency, from personnel to procurement. "The group concluded that the strategy could be implemented in this current budgetary environment without much risk," Barry Blechman, the co-founder of Stimson, told Situation Report. That strategy is predicated on agility and small footprints, smarter investments — that are focused on real threats, not notional ones — and no large-scale invasions.

"We should not go into situations and let them evolve into protracted ground conflicts," Blechman said. "It’s just too hard a job for anyone and we shouldn’t try it."

The report shows ways in which the Pentagon could trim $1 trillion over 10 years. The report suggests the Army’s force structure could be cut by one-third, the Marines to 150,000. The Air Force could eliminate some fighters (no more than 300 fighters have ever been used in each of the air wars since Desert Storm, the authors point out), and the Navy could accelerate its retirement of some cruisers. Rotational deployments — which do not include families and which enable the military to have a less disruptive presence in some countries — could also help create a path to fiscal sustainability, Blechman said. "The Air Force started moving to that model in the 1990s…. I think they will resume it again, and we think the Army can follow the same model," he said. "It gives predictability and avoids the problems of being ensnared overseas."

The report was signed by a number of retired generals, from the Army’s Daniel Christman to the Navy’s Bill Owens to the Marine’s Jim Cartwright to the Air Force’s Dave Deptula. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Leslie Gelb, Gordon Adams, and Graham Allison, among others, were also a part of the defense advisory committee and embrace its conclusions. The report, out early this morning:

Jill Kelley and her husband Scott created the "Doctor Kelley Cancer Foundation" in 2005 to "conduct research into efforts to discover ways to improve the quality of life of terminally ill cancer patients." And according to a 2007 tax return, the charity raised $157,000. But it spent the same amount on expenses. "There’s no record of cancer research or no record of care for patients," CNN’s Drew Griffin reported. The charity spent $43,000 on meals and entertainment, nearly $9,000 on automotive expenses, and nearly $7,000 on "dues and subscriptions." CNN reports that another $58,000 was spent on "program services," but there is no record of what that is. The charity was dissolved in 2007 but retains its 501 (c)(3)status with the IRS.