Situation Report

How does the Pentagon stop Syria?

How does the Pentagon stop Syria?

How will the Pentagon stop chemical weapons in Syria? The short answer is there are no good answers. Amid mixed reports that Damascus was or maybe was not poised to fall to the opposition, U.S. reports indicate the Syrian military is loading precursor chemicals for the nerve gas sarin into bombs — inching closer to red lines that President Barack Obama has said would change his "calculus" on intervention there. The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron spoke with Leonard Spector of the Monterey Institute for International Studies, who believes that the fact that chemical weapons have "pariah status" across the international community could make military intervention more palatable.

Spector: "These weapons are so outlawed, they’re so disfavored, they’re so abhorred by the international community that they resonate in a different way than explosives."

Meanwhile, the United Nations special envoy on Syria is advocating a diplomatic resolution that would push President Bashar al-Assad aside and pave the way for a transitional government. Lakhdar Brahimi met last night in Dublin with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

There’s still a good chance Assad will not use his chemical weapons. But that’s not actually the real threat. Writing on FP, Charles Blair: "The greater threat remains terrorist acquisition of chemical weapons if the military loses control over relevant sites and facilities. The Pentagon estimated earlier this year that it would take more than 75,000 troops to secure Syria’s chemical weapons against theft — and that assumes that U.S. intelligence knows precisely where they all are. After the fall of Baghdad, looters gained access to Iraq’s Al-Qaqaa military installation, and close to 200 tons of military grade explosives vanished, even though there were 200,000 coalition forces available and the International Atomic Energy Agency had specifically warned of the explosives’ vulnerability."

USIP’s Paul Hughes to Situation Report on military options to counter Syria’s chemical weapons: "In a nutshell, there aren’t any good options; those that exist vary from worse to terrible. If we could control the weather, things might be better."

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In the run-up to the big game tomorrow, it’s getting a little crazy at the Naval Academy. Here’s what a bunch of people read from Vice Adm. Mike Miller, USNA’s superintendent: "Greetings, In preparation for the humiliating defeat Army will be dealing to us in the near future, I have some guidance to pass down. First: when we stage for march-on, we need to clean up our act. The Internet has us pegged as dirty slobs (see: — this year, we need to bring trash bags and clean up after ourselves. From what I understand, Army is embarrassed to even be associated with us. Second: clean up the actual march-on (see: Please at least pretend to be in the military. Dress right dress, don’t talk at attention, etc. Seriously, this one is too easy. Third: we need to have better accountability of our goats (see:, This is also very embarrassing. Fourth: when Army sings second, we will be respectful and professional. Fifth: we need to be better at cyber. [Italics mine.] Finally, I award you all with PMI [sleep-ins] until Christmas. Maybe even a little longer, depending on how morale is going after Army defeats us on Saturday. Cheers. Go Army, Sink Navy!"
USNA public affairs: "Vice Adm. Miller’s email was not hacked and there was no damage to USNA systems. A spoofed email was sent which appeared to be from Vice Adm. Miller…. There was no need to correct the record as the email was recognized by all as an Army-Navy Spirit Week prank. Go Navy! Judy Campbell."

Surprise, surprise: Lloyd Austin is going to Central Command. Today, the Pentagon announced that Austin would in fact be nominated to go to U.S. Central Command, as long thought, to succeed Gen. Jim Mattis, who is expected to retire to Walla Walla, as he’s joked for years. There were different names suggested for Central Command, but Austin’s was considered the most likely. Kevin Baron: "The Pentagon will rely on Austin’s thinking far beyond Afghanistan as the military becomes increasingly entangled with local militaries and security forces across the Middle East and North Africa, chasing the spread of al Qaeda and other extremists groups."

Panetta bids adieu to Jeh Johnson. The Pentagon’s lawyer, Jeh Johnson, announced he was leaving the post at the end of the month. Panetta: "Jeh is one of our nation’s most respected legal minds, and he’s taken on a number of important public service responsibilities throughout his career, including as a federal prosecutor and as General Counsel of the U.S. Air Force."

Johnson, who had been rumored to be a candidate for attorney general, has "guided me and the Department through some tense, real-world developments," according to Panetta’s statement. Johnson helped develop policy on the use of force, detention, prosecution, and cyber-security; and his "persuasive analysis" also played a big role in the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell," which has "allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve with integrity and honor."

Rosa Brooks writes on FP: "Confessions of a strategic communicator" after the Pentagon’s decision to axe "strategic communications," at least as a term. "This latest memo is just another shot fired in the ongoing skirmish between those who believe that strategic communication is merely an unnecessary euphemism for "communications" — meaning, basically, press statements and talking points — and thus should be controlled by public affairs offices, and those who believe strategic communication is a confusing term, but one that has nonetheless come to stand for something complex and important, something that has more to do with "strategy" than with "communications." I’m in the latter camp."

The frustrating fight against the Pakistanis and their bags of fertilizer. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization is pointing to a record numbers of IED "events" in Afghanistan last year, but also the declining number of IEDs that are effective against troops – the number of those attacks has dropped 62 percent over last year and has steadily decreased for 15 straight months. And, the percentage of those killed in action from IEDs has dropped from 55 percent last year to 46 this year; the lowest in four years, JIEDDO says. It’s evidence JIEDDO points to that it is itself effective against what remains the number one killer of troops in the war zone, thanks to a surge of equipment for troops, better training and other factors.
But Lt. Gen. Mike Barbero, the head of JIEDDO, tells Situation Report he struggles with one thing that is much harder to control: stopping the flow of ammonium nitrate, used to make the overwhelming majority of the homemade explosives used against troops in Afghanistan, from entering the country from Pakistan.

Homemade explosives account for 83 percent of IED "events," defined as found, cleared or detonated, and of that, 72 percent is made with ammonium nitrate. One bag of it can produce seven or eight IEDs, he said. "It’s a supply issue," Barbero said.
The problem is not new. But there is increasing frustration among American officials that the Pakistanis seem unwilling to help do anything about the problem. "They can and need to do more," Barbero said. "The bottom line is, I know they could do more, it is an area so open for cooperation."
Among other efforts to slow the flow of the ammonium nitrate, Barbero has asked Pakistani fertilizer supplier FATIMA to add dye to their product, a relatively low-cost additive that will help border guards between Afghanistan and Pakistan identify the bags as bomb-making material. Even with an extremely porous border, that could make it harder for insurgents to transport the material, Barbero says. But efforts to get the Pakistani government to push the firm into adding the dye have not been successful, Barbero says.
"On the network and IED cooperation point there has been a lot of talk about cooperation with us, but there hasn’t been any real cooperation," Barbero said of the Pakistanis.

A model for the future? Meanwhile, Barbero co-chairs an interagency group called the Homemade Explosive Task Force, which Barbero says should inform the way U.S. governmental agencies tackle other problems – in concert. The task force cuts across a number of agencies, from Treasury to Homeland Security to Justice and Commerce, and meets every six weeks or so to get after what Barbero calls the lifeblood of bomb makers: money.  The group employs a number of "non-kinetic actions" from defense trade controls to designating bomb making facilitators — the banks or businesses that help them — and attempts to better understand the financial networks that keep bomb makers in business. Barbero pointed to the arrest of an Afghan currency dealer recently who was accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of using his chain of money transfer shops to funnel "significant funds for the Taliban commander leading operations in the province," according to a story in The Telegraph Nov. 30.
"In looking at this, I think we need to develop what I call financial intelligence," Barbero says. "My take is in the U.S. government, everybody does a little financial intelligence, nobody does enough. What we need is a holistic approach to these networks," he said.

JIEDDO’s future remains in doubt, however. The organization, begun in 2006, has been funded to the tune of more than $18 billion. Some believe that as the war in Afghanistan winds down, so should the funding of JIEDDO, if not the organization itself. And as Pentagon budgeters look at places to cut, JIEDDO is an obvious target. Funded entirely by the supplemental war accounts, Pentagon leaders are considering if the organization should be folded into a permanent structure — perhaps under Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, or maybe make the Army executive agent of the organization, thus giving it a permanent bureaucratic home. JIEDDO, which has asked for funding of $1.9 billion and has made cuts to its underperforming programs and will reduce its staff by 25 percent, believes it must stay intact to counter the IED threat around the world, not just Afghanistan. And for his part, Barbero says he is not trying to preserve the organization, just the capabilities it provides.