Situation Report

Hagel to meet with Shinseki: VA claims under Obama slow; Hagel to review sexual assault case; Whither the QDR? and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold A helicopter crash has killed five Americans in southern Afghanistan. The helicopter went down in the Daman district of Kandahar, possibly during a rainstorm, and CNN is reporting that the dead were all Americans. There was no enemy activity reported in the area. It was the first such crash since October, when ...

By Gordon Lubold

A helicopter crash has killed five Americans in southern Afghanistan. The helicopter went down in the Daman district of Kandahar, possibly during a rainstorm, and CNN is reporting that the dead were all Americans. There was no enemy activity reported in the area. It was the first such crash since October, when two crashes killed 11 members of the coalition.

Hagel will sit down with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the former sergeant who was combat wounded in Vietnam, has made a point of saying he will reach out to the VA to narrow the institutional and bureaucratic gaps between DOD and VA. Today will be the first one-on-one meeting between Hagel and Shinseki. Hagel’s meeting couldn’t come at a better time. A new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Aaron Glantz shows that veterans aren’t getting benefits in a timely manner under President Barack Obama. Glantz: The Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to provide key information to Congress and the public that shows the agency’s ability to quickly provide service-related benefits has virtually collapsed under President Barack Obama. Internal VA documents, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting and authenticated by the agency, reveal that delays newly returning veterans face before receiving disability compensation and other benefits are far longer than the agency has publicly acknowledged. The documents also offer insight into some of the reasons for those delays. And: "The agency tracks and widely reports the average wait time: 273 days. But the internal data indicates that veterans filing their first claim, including those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wait nearly two months longer, between 316 and 327 days. Those filing for the first time in America’s major population centers wait up to twice as long — 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago." The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs meets Wednesday.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report, where we’re catching up with old friends and making some new ones today in Fort Bragg, N.C. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

DOD ban on unnecessary travel, yet no room at the inn. Despite the ban on unnecessary travel by the Pentagon, it wasn’t easy to get a hotel room here at Fort Bragg, where we hear there was no vacancy at the Holiday Inn Express last night. Why? All the DOD personnel in town tonight, we’re told.

The Air Force three-star who overturned the ruling in a sexual assault case is now on the hot seat. Hagel has decided to launch an internal review of the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to a year in confinement. Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force, overturned the sentence, allowing Wilkerson to be freed and reinstated in the Air Force. Franklin was not required to provide a reason for his decision. The case has caused a major furor over on the Hill. In letters Hagel sent to Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Hagel said he could not overturn the ruling by Franklin. But he did vow to look into it. "I believe this case does raise a significant question whether it is necessary or appropriate to place the convening authority in the position of having the responsibility to review the findings and sentence of a court-martial, particularly prior to the robust appellate process made available by the UCMJ," Hagel wrote. Hagel has asked the Pentagon’s top lawyer and the Secretary of the Air Force to review the case to make sure "all aspects of the UCMJ were followed" and see if in light of the case, changes should be made as a result. "Finally, I am also prepared to work with you as you consider additional legislative options that could help ensure the effectiveness of our responses to the crime of sexual assault," Hagel wrote.

Guidance for the Quadrennial Defense Review that is due next year is still a little vague. The combination of the Pentagon’s budget problems, sequester, and the fact that there is a new SecDef who’s still learning where the latrine is means the services haven’t yet been given specific guidance on how to proceed with the Q   DR. And while the Pentagon is required by Congress to perform the review, it has some flexibility in how it does so. What are the marching orders? How will the QDR force the services to figure out what they are supposed to do and how they must complement each other? But also, after more than a decade of having plenty of money, how will sequester, budget cuts, and the continuing resolution under which the Pentagon is currently funded affect the QDR?

The Marines have been one of the most vocal services on the QDR, eager to "tell their story" and position themselves well under the review. Maj. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the Marines’ point man on QDR, says the Corps is about getting back to its naval roots, putting Marines in forward locations, especially around Asia, and making Marine Expeditionary Units more of the focus.

"The Pacific is a great place to do that," he told a small briefing of reporters, including Situation Report. But under this year’s QDR, the Corps and the other services will have to look to what degree the current aspects of the national security strategy, released last year and in 2010, are still relevant.

"The question will be, is that still going to be supportable given budget cuts," he said. "I don’t know the answer to that."

The Marines want to work with SOCOM. McKenzie told us: "It is our desire to work increasingly closer with SOCOM as we go forward. Special Operations Forces bring unique capabilities, but they can become even more powerful when they leverage conventional forces that are aligned with them. With our MEUs and our other organizations that we’re going to deploy forward, we have a great opportunity to build a complementary relationship with Special Ops and we’re going to continue to do that going ahead."

Who’s running the QDR? It’s as yet unclear who will run the daily, overall effort, but it’s likely Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Undersecretary for Policy Jim Miller will play a large role. Meanwhile, the point-man for the Navy’s contribution to the QDR is headed by Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, who is currently serving as the director of Warfare Integration. Maj. Gen. John Rossi is the point-man for the Army, and Maj. Gen. Steven Kwast is the Air Force QDR head. McKenzie is the Marine’s QDR chief.

The Senate Armed Services Committee announced last week that Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy and QDR whiz; James "Hoss" Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gregory Martin, former commander of Air Force Materiel Command; and Michael Maples, former Defense Intelligence Agency director were all chosen to sit on the Senate’s independent QDR panel, which provides outside analysis to whatever the Pentagon does on QDR.

Pphew. You can go back to liking Colin Powell on Facebook. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell’s Facebook page was hacked yesterday in a mischievous attempt to distribute those private images of the Bush family. But it’s all good now. Powell, writing on his FB account: "Dear Friends, I’m happy to report that the hacking problem has been fixed. We have been working with fb this morning and they took immediate action to remedy the situation."

China’s J-31 stealth jet could be made for carriers. Killer Apps’ John Reed reports that China’s own stealth fighter designer told Xinhua that he’d like to see the J-31 be able to operate on a carrier. Reed:  "As we’ve pointed out before, this wouldn’t be too surprising. The J-31 is smaller than China’s other stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20, meaning that it would be easier to fit on a crowded carrier. The plane also strongly resembles the U.S. Navy’ next-generation carrier fighter, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (click here to read more about that resemblance). Finally, it’s got two wheels on its nose landing gear, a feature that is exclusive to U.S. naval fighters due to the increased stresses of carrier landings."

North Korea is not picking up. Tensions are mounting on the Korean peninsula this week as the North declares the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War nullified and the North’s state media says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying, "war can break out right now." And, in the test Monday of a hotline between the North and the South, the North Koreans never picked up the phone. The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports, however, that it’s not the first time. "North Korea’s apparent cut-off of communication links at Panmunjom, coupled with its provocative rhetoric, is not constructive to ensuring peace and stability on the Peninsula," Lt Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a spokeswoman at the Pentagon, told Baron on Monday. But Wilkinson said the north has refused to pick up the phone before.

Former SASC member Sen. Joe Lieberman is joining former Sen. Jon Kyl on a project on American leadership. AEI announced yesterday that Lieberman, the former senator from Connecticut, and Kyl, the former senator from Arizona, would work on a project called the American Internationalism Project, will be housed at AEI, reports the Cable’s Josh Rogin. "The impetus for the project was an overall feeling of creeping isolationism in an era of fiscal austerity," AEI research fellow Phillip Lohaus told Rogin. "There’s a sense that the feeling that America is a force for good in the world is losing traction. This project is an attempt to redefine the conversation as America as a force for good."

The project is meant to present a cogent counter argument to the rise of neo-isolationism in Washington, as evidenced by the increased popularity of figures such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Rogin was told.

Noting

  • Bloomberg: How misguided U.S. aid contributed to Mali’s coup.
  • Global Post: In Mali, abandoned weapons kill and maim children.
  • LAT: New Pentagon chief Hagel tries to find his balance.
  • WaPo: Top military affairs senators ask Hagel to downgrade medal.

 

 

 

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