Attention Africa; Troops wavering on war; Warning from Mali; What Army brain drain?; Amnesty on GTMO, and more.
- By Kevin Baron
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.
By Kevin Baron
Pentagon gets serious about Africa. When four African heads of state visit Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon early Thursday morning, the administration hopes to showcase countries where democracy and security are flourishing. But for Pentagon planners, African security has become a growing and complex challenge right as resources are tightening.
"You can tell our bosses we work very, very hard," said a senior defense official who briefed FP’s The E-Ring in an interview on Wednesday. Pentagon officials plan to raise the issues of extremism, terrorism, narcotics and other trafficking, and border security with the visiting delegation, whose countries DOD officials hope can be models for other African nations.
"All four of these countries, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Cape Verde, are all examples in their own right of how to reform your security sector and how to start developing a healthy civil-military relationship in Africa," the senior defense official said.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report, where we’re starting to appreciate strong coffee and alarm clocks. While your regular point man Gordon Lubold is soaking up rays, you get me, Kevin Baron. I’m also the author of The E-Ring, FP’s blog about the Pentagon’s power corridors. Follow me on Twitter @FPBaron and email me at email@example.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just ask and we’ll put you on the list. And as always, if you have something to ask or tell, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. Nevermind the censors, just send it.
Hagel coming out. The new defense secretary and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will hold their first full dual press conference together, today at 2:30 pm, in the Pentagon briefing room.
Why trafficking. Drug flows across North Africa have DOD’s attention because a) the narcotics are the main concern of Senegal and Cape Verde, and b) the drugs mostly end up in Europe, which Pentagon says is a security threat. "We have a border problem, so the same transit routes in the Sahel, for example, that will use drug smuggling might also use it for arms smuggling and other illicit trafficking," the official said.
Setting the scene. The delegation’s meeting with Hagel is scheduled to include 12 African visitors, including the heads of state, the defense minister of Cape Verde, foreign ministers of the other three countries, a political counselor, and one of the presidents’ fathers.
Military diplomacy needed post-Arab spring. Thursday’s visitors are among several African military and political dignitaries making a pilgrimage to the Pentagon. The president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, visited last year, and a delegation from Tunisia is due in April with Moroccans expected in early summer. DOD is trying to renew key relationships in Africa, especially after the Arab awakening. "Everything is sort of new to the Tunisians and the Libyans, certainly," the official said. "We’re new to them and some of them are new to us."
Good news, bad news. "I think on some level the relationships have gotten even better and stronger than they were previously, because you have a more open environment in which to have truly strategic discussions with these partners." But defense officials are struggling to nail down additional training and exercises: "In Tunisia and Libya, unfortunately right now we’re on such limited staffing at the embassies…. It does unfortunately impact our ability to do more, faster."
Most troops think U.S. will fail in Afghanistan. For the first time, a majority of U.S. troops surveyed in an annual poll believe the U.S. is unlikely to accomplish its goals in Operation Enduring Freedom, signaling a significant shift in attitudes toward the campaign. The results of the annual Military Times poll of troop attitudes, published this week, show just 32 percent of troops think the U.S. is "likely to succeed" in Afghanistan, which is down from 47 percent a year ago. Roughly 54 percent believe Iraq was a success, which is down from 72 percent in 2011, the last year troops were deployed there.
Officers vs. enlisted. Unsurprisingly, officers are more satisfied with life in the military, including their pay and leadership. Amusingly, nearly four out of five officers rated themselves excellent or good, whereas the enlisted guys and gals rated fewer than two of five officers that highly. Less than half of the enlisted men surveyed felt they were paid a fair wage; the result falls to just 33 percent in junior ranks.
No girls allowed. More than half of all respondents, 52 percent, said they would discourage their daughters from joining the military, while 39 percent said opening combat to women would have a negative impact on readiness.
Gay equality, captain? The guys over at Duffleblog are having a little fun with the popular movement to change one’s social media profile picture to the gay rights symbol, a red equal sign. If you rotate the sign… well, enjoy.
Speaking of Africa…here’s Bob Geldof. In a cool podcast via the Center for Global Development, Geldof recounts the early 1980s when he feels the world first took serious notice of Africa, how Band Aid changed things, and the excitement he sees today on the continent. Asked by Development Drums’ host Owen Barder, "Why haven’t you just walked away?" Geldof replied, "Because you can see things change." Geldof works with a private equity firm, and says he avoids NGOs because he feels they are slow and he likes to move fast. Hmm, wonder what he feels about development and aid money used in COIN or as an anti-terrorism tool for Africa’s ungoverned spaces? What do you think?
Yochi in Mali. In an article for FP, "Welcome to Cocainebougou," Yochi Dreazen, veteran war correspondent just back from a bumpy trek across the vast North African country, explains why winning any war in Mali won’t come easy. Well, a senior Malian military official in Bamako explains it, and Dreazen writes: "Smugglers and Islamists have been traversing the terrain for decades, he said, and the Malian troops will be deploying there in force for the first time. ‘I would like to say we’ll be able to stop the smuggling, but that would be a lie,’ he told me. ‘They know every cave and every little path. We’ll be lucky to find half of them. But every shipment we stop will help starve the terrorists of money.’"
Ben Hodges brushes back Barno. In a big "not so fast my friend" article freshly posted on FP, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges rejects retired Lt. Gen. David Barno’s recent assertion that all of the good talent is leaking out of the military. "What an insult to the thousands who are in fact staying," he retorts. Hodges is commanding general for NATO’s Allied Land Command, in Turkey, but is known back in the Pentagon from his da
ys on the Joint Staff running the Af-Pak Cell under Adm. Mike Mullen’s chairmanship.
Tuition Assistance is back. In one of the quickest turnarounds in Pentagon history, officials reversed their decision to cut back tuition assistance benefits for troops as a way to meet the mandated spending cuts of sequestration. The Pentagon is essentially following Congress’ orders, after lawmakers passed language in last week’s continuing resolution barring the cutbacks. Read more in the E-Ring, here.
Remember GTMO? Amnesty International does. "Talk is cheap. It’s time for President Obama to take real action to fulfill his Guantanamo promise," said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Campaign, in a statement on Wednesday. Johnson was reacting to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who said "the administration remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay." But that’s not what the hunger strikers at GTMO believe.
Where is President Obama? In testimony before Congress and at a Pentagon press briefing, Gen. John Kelly, the commander of Southern Command, which includes Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said roughly two dozen prisoners were on some form of hunger strike to protest President Obama’s silence on closing the detention center. Obama made no mention of GTMO in his State of the Union or inauguration speeches. Amnesty’s Anne Fitzgerald, director of research and crisis response, last Friday sent Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a three-page letter pleading for the new Pentagon chief to make something happen.
"It should not be difficult for any human being to imagine the sense of hopelessness such silence could compound in a detainee population held for years in indefinite detention," Fitzgerald wrote. She notes that Obama did reference human rights and dignity in both speeches, which she contends should be reason enough to compel the president to move on closing the facility.
"I urge you in the name of universal rights, human dignity and justice to ensure that a new and redoubled effort…to close the Guantanamo facility and end the detentions there."
Acrimony in Asia
- VOA: US Sends B-2 Bombers Over Korean Peninsula
- NYT: North Korea Cuts Off the Remaining Military Hot Lines With South Korea
- USA Today: Chinese navy makes waves in South China Sea