Situation Report

U.S. prepares to support French effort in Mali; Hagel wasn’t right 100 percent of the time, Panetta and crew are wheels up; Welsh cracks wise on sling, and more.

After months of international resistance to military action, France boldly pushed forward against extremist Islamists in Mali yesterday, and the U.S. may not be far behind. French fighter jets struck Islamist militants inside northern Mali on Sunday, targeting training camps and other positions in the northern region of the country, which has been under Islamic ...

After months of international resistance to military action, France boldly pushed forward against extremist Islamists in Mali yesterday, and the U.S. may not be far behind. French fighter jets struck Islamist militants inside northern Mali on Sunday, targeting training camps and other positions in the northern region of the country, which has been under Islamic militant control. Meanwhile, the White House prepared to potentially deploy surveillance drones and other "air-intelligence assets" over Mali in coming days, the WSJ and others reported this morning. WSJ: "The limited American response to France’s request for military support reflects White House concerns about being drawn into a new conflict when it is focused on extricating itself from the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan. The White House also has balked at intervening militarily in Syria. Any deployment in support of France’s campaign in Mali would be the first U.S. involvement in a new military campaign since Libya in 2011."

NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor, to the WSJ: "We noted that the government of Mali has asked for support, and we share the French goal of denying bterrorists a safe haven in the region. We will stay in close touch with the French and other international partners as the situation develops."
Also, U.S. forces helped in a failed rescue attempt of a French intelligence agent. The White House announced Sunday evening that the American military had provided "limited technical support" to a French military operation in Somalia, in which commandos attempted to rescue an intelligence agent who has been held by al-Shabaab for years. President Barack Obama authorized the use of American fighters to provide indirect support of the operation, but the fighters never dropped any munitions and left Somalian air space soon after. The French military operation was described as bloody and failed to rescue
Denis Allex, a French intelligence agent using a cover name, according to the WaPo, who is believed dead. One other French soldier was killed in the operation, which took place about 75 miles northwest of the capital Mogadishu, and another is missing; 17 Islamic soldiers were also killed.
Obama, in a letter to Congress – "I directed U.S. forces to support this
rescue operation in furtherance of U.S. national security interests, and
pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive."

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Ask the Air Force’s Mark Welsh about why his arm is in a sling and you’ll get a few wise answers. Secretary of the Air Force Mike Donley and CoS Gen. Mark Welsh appeared in the Pentagon Friday to talk sequestration, budget issues, the JSF and other issues. The two announced ways in which they were cutting costs, from freezing civilian hires to curtailing non-essential travel to canceling furniture purchases. But Welsh, who appeared in the Pentagon briefing room with his arm in a sling, was also asked about what happened. First he jokingly blamed his injury on Donley. Then he fingered Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno as the culprit. Welsh: "We were struggling for resources between the service chiefs the other day, and I think it was the first time I realized just how big Ray Odierno really is. So I’m recovering slowly."

The real answer: Welsh is recovering from surgery after an injury suffered after about "10 face plants" in Florida about a year ago while he and his wife were wakeboarding. His wife, he said, is a much better wakeboarder than he is.

John Reed in E-Ring –

CSPAN video of the briefing

Briefing transcript

Panetta left at 5 a.m. this morning for Lisbon. It’s the first stop on a five-day trip that will take Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, and London. Over the course of this week, Panetta is expected to meet with 12 national leaders, including heads of state, to "engage on bilateral defense issues" as well as those pertaining to NATO. In London on Friday, he’ll speak about the transatlantic alliance and the focus it should have. He’s expected to link the relationship to his key priorities as secretary, including the new emphasis on Asia, cyber-security, and counter-terrorism.

Staff on a plane ­- Chief of staff Jeremy Bash, senior military assistant Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for NATO/Europe Jim Townsend, special assistant to the defense secretary Shelly Stoneman, chief speechwriter Jacob Freedman, Pentagon press secretary George Little, assistant press secretary Carl Woog.

Reporters on a plane – AP’s Baldor and Martin, Reuters’ Alexander, Bloomberg’s Ratnam, NYT’s Bumiller, WaPo’s Whitlock, WSJ’s Barnes, BBC’s Soley, Stripes’ Hlad, Defense News’ Weisberger, CBS’s McCormick.

Hagel supporters released a Hagel fact sheet. The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron had the seven-point myth-versus-fact sheet on Friday. It has details on Hagel’s stance on Iran and Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas, nukes, gay rights, and his management experience.

Friends of Chuck: Thomas Pickering and Colin Powell defended Hagel’s record. Hagel backers continue their campaign in support of his nomination as secretary of defense. Despite worries that a potential no-vote from people like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) could cripple his chances, Democrats tell Situation Report they believe he’ll ultimately get 65 or more Senate votes and be confirmed.

Amb. Thomas Pickering told Situation Report that he was confident Hagel would be confirmed and didn’t think the opposition or the political theater in recent weeks would impede Hagel’s ability, once in office, to get the job done.

"It is what it is. Even the most controversial nominations that have succeeded have allowed people to operate. They have a little cloud from time to time, but I don’t think it is a disadvantage. Even if his fellow Republicans vote against him, that is not going to impair his capacity to carry out the office," said Pickering, a trustee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Pickering acknowledged that Hagel’s opposition to the surge in Iraq, which many think was effective, is a fair topic for questioning. Pickering said Hagel’s opposition to an openly gay ambassador was wrong — he has since apologized for it and his apology was accepted. "Nobody is guaranteed to be right 100 percent of the time, as Hagel showed us on the Hormel issue," Pickering said.

Much of the Sunday shows yesterday were used to either defend Hagel’s record or impugn it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell  was asked on NBC whether Hagel thinks "the military option" against Tehran was "feasible," and he responded that any military option is feasible — but that it depends on what you want to accomplish. Overall, the military is happy with President Obama’s choice, if the wave of support from the retired community is any judge, he said.

Powell, to David Gregory on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’: "For the last three weeks, we have had dueling op-eds and dueling blogs and dueling different groups coming forward, but most of the national security community in retirement that I know and many of the secretaries of defense and state that I know, and national security advisers, and very distinguished ambassadors who served in the Middle East, think that Chuck Hagel is a solid guy who speaks his mind. He’s a good supporter of Israel. He has been there and the record will show that, but he is not reluctant to disagree when he thinks disagreement is appropriate."

John McCain was non-committal. Appearing on CBS’s "Face the Nation," McCain deferred judgment to the confirmation hearings, expected even by the end of this month. "My questions about him, and they will be raised in the [confirmation hearings], are, what his view of America’s role in the world?" McCain said. "Whether he really believes that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War? That clearly — that’s not correct. In fact, it’s bizarre. Why would he oppose calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization?"

McCain also said this White House doesn’t check with Congress to see where members are on a particular nominee. Even some Democrats have told Situation Report they are not sure why the White House isn’t better at working with Senate leaders prior to a nomination. This one in particular, coming as it did weeks after Hagel’s name was first seriously floated by the White House, allowed opponents to mount a well-organized campaign. McCain: "Usually with previous presidents, both Republican and Democrat, when they’re considering nominations, they call in the other side and say — the key members on the other party — and say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about nominating Mr. X, what do you think about that? There’s been none of that with this administration." CBS’s Face the Nation:

Bob Corker raised the issue of Hagel’s temperament as a manager. On ABC’s "This Week," he suggested former staffers were coming out to raise questions about Hagel’s temperament, though he never explained what he meant and host George Stephanopoulos seemed puzzled but didn’t quiz him on it. "I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them. I have, certainly questions, about a lot of things," he said. ABC "This Week:"


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