Situation Report

Allen returns to Afghanistan

Allen returns to Afghanistan

John Allen is back in Afghanistan. The ISAF commander returned to Kabul overnight, his first time back since the scandal involving him and David Petraeus first broke. His departure from Washington means that DOD investigators sifting through as many as 30,000 pages of e-mails have what they need from him in person. Gen. Allen’s promotion to the top U.S. military job in Europe was put on hold when it was discovered that there might be inappropriate e-mails between him and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. We and others have reported that the actual number of e-mails is far less than the volume of pages suggests; of those, it is thought that there are very few that are potentially inappropriate. People close to the situation believe it will not take long for investigators to finish reading the e-mails between Allen and Kelley and make a determination about what occurred. Allen has maintained that there was no wrongdoing.

Allen’s PAO Maj. Dave Nevers would not comment on the investigation or the form it’s taken, but sent Situation Report this statement before he himself boarded a plane bound for Kabul: "The Defense Department Inspector General’s investigation into certain communications by Gen. Allen continues. Out of respect for that process, Gen. Allen will continue to refrain from commenting on those matters that may fall within the scope of the investigation. He is happy to be back in Afghanistan, particularly in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops."

Panetta warned of the "cancer" that is al Qaeda and said there are "no shortcuts" to exiting Afghanistan before 2014. In a not-so-uplifting pre-Thanksgiving speech at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, Panetta said the U.S. has beaten back the al Qaeda operation that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 and has held Taliban fighters at bay. "All this sends a simple and powerful message to the Taliban, to al Qaeda, and to the violent extremist groups who want to regain a safe haven in Afghanistan: we are not going anywhere; our commitment to Afghanistan is long-term; you cannot wait us out," he said.

Panetta didn’t mention the troop strength recommendations for Afghanistan that he may already have from ISAF Commander Allen, who had told Situation Report in August that he would be making those recommendations to Panetta and the White House in November. Many believe he will recommend a gradual withdrawal of troops and keep as big as a force in Afghanistan through next year’s fighting season as he can.

Panetta said there are a number of places outside of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, which will continue to require constant monitoring so they don’t become breeding grounds for terrorists.

Panetta: "We have slowed the primary cancer ­- but we know that the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the global body."

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report, where we usually know what day it is but yesterday we didn’t. Today we can say accurately: Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list.

The U.S. condemned an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv that injured as many as 22 and punctuated uncertain efforts to get a truce to the fighting along the border between Israel and Gaza. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to fly to Cairo today in her efforts to stop the fighting. The NYT this morning on the attack on the bus: "On several occasions since the latest conflagration seized Gaza last week, militants have aimed rockets at Tel Aviv but they have either fallen short, landed in the sea or been intercepted. Hundreds of rockets fired by militants in Gaza have struck other targets."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney early this morning: "These attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous.  The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack.  The United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.

Jamie Rubin, on CNN: "What’s new and different and harder and makes this all much more complex, is the United States is not actually dealing with the player that is important right now, which is Hamas."

Exploration of four Afghan mines could begin as early as January, a big step toward giving Afghanistan a chance to profit from the trillions of dollars of gold, iron ore, copper, lithium, and other minerals discovered there, even if those profits could be years away. By the end of next month, the Afghan government is expected to approve an amendment to its minerals law that will allow four tenders from mining firms to conduct exploration operations. It is a significant step, say officials at the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, the Pentagon arm that is helping the Afghan government with mining and other business development, because it helps to put the Afghans on the start of a path to economic sustainability.

The game-changing opportunity for the country is tempered by the sober thinking of pragmatists who see weak governance, rampant corruption, poor security, and a lack of intellectual or infrastructural capacity — meaning it could take as much as a decade for Afghanistan to see green.

But experts say the four tenders are important because they represent the first agreements to be reached under Mining Minister Waheedullah Sharani, widely considered to be a man trying to do the right thing as the country looks to create long-term economic viability.

Sharani learned from the controversial contract with a Chinese firm for rights to the Aynak copper mines. That incredibly simple, four-page document, negotiated with the help of the World Bank, gives the Chinese firm extremely favorable terms. The most worrisome aspect of the contract is that it gives the Chinese the option to essentially sit atop a reserve of copper worth billions of dollars and do nothing for years. The contract with Chinese firm MCC, which the Afghans will finally make public in the coming weeks, taught the Afghans such painful lessons about fairness that future mining contracts are expected to force more accountability among the firms competing for mines and make sure the Afghan government gets a bigger piece of the pie.

By January, the four tenders should be complete and exploration — which itself could take another two years — can begin. "Right now we’ve got four mines on the table that have been bid on, the bids have been evaluated, and the winning bidders have been pretty well identified," Jim Bullion, director of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, told Situation Report. "And almost each one has an Afghan partner."

The Task Force has been actively helping the Afghan Ministry of Mines to identify mines that would generate the most interest among international investors and developers, then help them evaluate the bids they receive to make sure the criteria they use will help them get the best deal.

"As we look at these mines, these are world class mines that will be able to compete with any big mining operations around the world," he told Situation Report.

Although there is optimism all around, it remains unclear how much money the Afghans could see out of even these first four mines. The exploration of the mines, to begin soon, will help answer that question. But mining is like venture capitalism, says Bullion. "You know that for every 10 you have, there are a certain number that are not going to deliver what you hope for, and some are going to deliver way beyond what you hope for," he said. "It’s managing a portfolio that will hopefully come together and overall deliver a pretty good revenue stream to the government down the road."

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruffled some feathers last week with a quip claiming that while he was still in office, living alone and microwaving meals, he would look across the lawn to his neighbor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, who enjoyed having meals cooked for him by staff.

"I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time," Gates said in response to a question after a speech last week and that was quoted in The Washington Post. "He wryly complained to his wife that ‘Mullen’s got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I’m shoving something into the microwave. And I’m his boss.’"

As the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron writes, "what in any other season would have been a classic Gates laugh-line is now taken as a serious question, as the four-star lifestyle has come under scrutiny" following the scandal involving David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen. Of course, high-ranking officers have big perks at their fingertips, and the scandal has pointed up just how many they have. "But they also have great latitude on whether or how they use those perks," Kevin writes.

The military has issued ethical rules for the road for generals and admirals, and Mullen was always very careful to use support that fell within those lines. As the top military officer to the U.S., the home in which Mullen lived was used for a number of social functions on any given week, and as such, Mullen and his wife Deborah needed aides to help plan and host the many dinners, meetings and other events.

A former adviser to Mullen told Kevin: "I want to believe that Secretary Gates was just joking and I suspect that he was because he and Adm. Mullen had that kind of relationship where they jive each other as next-door neighbors. Secretary Gates knows very well how fastidious Adm. Mullen was about this."