Situation Report

The change-out in Afghanistan continues; This just in: North Korea, not Iran, is the wolf closer to the door; Barno pushes back; Malians oust militants from Timbuktu; The cost of war; and a little more.

The change-out in Afghanistan continues; This just in: North Korea, not Iran, is the wolf closer to the door; Barno pushes back; Malians oust militants from Timbuktu; The cost of war; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

The U.S. flew F-22 steath fighter jets to South Korea yesterday. As tensions become more pronounced between the U.S. and North Korea, the WSJ reports on A-1 this morning that the U.S. deployed the jets — "among the most expensive and advanced weapons in the Air Force’s arsenal" — to the peninsula on Sunday. "In a conflict with North Korea, F-22s would likely be the first aircraft used. The hard-to-detect fighters could be sent in to take out air defense missiles and radars in advance of bombers aimed at missile launch sites or other targets. They could also be used to escort nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers, should these be used in a strike."

And: "The use of F-22s in the training exercise with South Korea…is a signal the U.S. is eager to showcase its most potent weaponry to North Korea." 

D’oh! Does it feel like 2002? When it comes to North Korea vs. Iran, it’s the North that is the wolf closer to the door. The Journal also publishes a piece this morning about how North Korea has "eclipsed" Iran as a nuclear arms threat. Many will cringe at the notion that in the end, for all the anxiety and political theater over Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it’s actually North Korea that poses the (much?) bigger threat. The North has built a warhead, has conducted successful medium-range and long-range missile tests, can enrich uranium, and has the ability to use plutonium for a warhead. Iran can only check two of those boxes, having conducted a successful medium-range missile test and has the ability to enrich uranium, the WSJ reports. Evans Revere, a former State official: "By many estimates, North Korea will have the ability to deliver nuclear weapons using long-range ballistic missiles to distant targets within four or five years… [T]his will drastically change the security environment in Asia."

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report, where despite a great respite, we actually are happy to be back and thank the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron for driving the bus last week.  We’ll spare you any obvious April Fool’s jokes today – everything here is fahreal. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And 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.

The change-out continues in Afghanistan. There are new commanders in Afghanistan or soon will be. Army Maj. Gen. Sean McFarland, who has been the J-3, or DCOS OPS, was replaced recently by an Army one-star, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Bannister. The new Regional Command-East Commander is Maj. Gen. James McConville. The newish head of intel for ISAF is Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter. The commander of RC-Southwest, which had been Marine Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, is now Marine Maj. Gen. Walter Lee Miller. And Situation Report has learned of others headed to Afghanistan in the next few months whose assignments haven’t yet been announced: Lt. Gen. Mark Milley will replace Lt. Gen. James Terry as the day-to-day operator, or commander of the ISAF Joint Command. And Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, who heads the Special Operations Task Force, will soon be replaced by Maj. Gen. Scott Miller. Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, commander of RC-South, will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division. 

Dunford met with Kayani. ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford met today with Pakistan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in what was Dunford’s first visit with Kayani as ISAF commander. The two talked about strengthening cooperation and pressuring militants who threaten security along the border. Stability there has become especially important as the U.S. begins its retrograde of equipment over the border amid what U.S. and Pakistani officials have begun to term a new era in U.S.-Pakistani relations. From ISAF: "During the session today, the two military leaders discussed a variety of issues related to strengthening cooperation and pressuring militants who threaten security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."

Dunford: "The Pakistanis, the Afghans and the international community all desire peace and security in the region. These meetings are important to achieving that goal as we continue to explore ways to expand our relationship." 

Fighting continues in Timbuktu. Islamic militants were fighting off Malian and French forces, and a suicide bomber attacked a Malian Army checkpoint over the weekend, launching what we’re told is a "well-coordinated Islamic offensive." Occasional FP contributor and friend to Situation Report Matt Trevithick and a colleague, Daniel Seckman, are on the ground there. They tell us that French warplanes arrived about 12 hours after the attack, helping to push the Islamist fighters back from within 100 meters of a popular hotel where Timbuktu regional Governor Mangara and his staff were staying. Trevithick and Seckman: "The governor, a former Malian Army Colonel, was confident his forces could maintain security in the city and repel the attack, saying ‘Malian forces are more than capable of both fighting Islamists and coordinating with French forces.’"

We’re told that there were three Islamists running through the city, across rooftops of houses and through the streets, when the Malian Army, in coordination with mobs of local citizens, cornered and killed them. The crowds were chanting "Vive Le France" and "Allahu Akbar" together. "It was incredible: women, children, men and boys all armed with sticks and rocks and ran after the Islamists through the streets," Trevithick and Seckman wrote in an e-mail. Although the French military has received a lot of credit in recent weeks, the two tell us that in Timbuktu it was the Malian army did the heavy lifting – and killing.

The honor cordon pivot: Hagel will meet the Singaporean prime minister today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will host Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for an honor cordon outside the Pentagon’s River Entrance today at 12:15. 

$4 to $6 trillion: Harvard looks at the cost of wars. Harvard’s Kennedy School is out with a new study on the financial legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their impact on the U.S. national security budgets for years to come. Everyone knows how expensive the wars were, as high as $6 trillion, according to some estimates. The staggering estimates initially of the war in Iraq, which ranged from $1.7 billion to $200 billion, proved to be, well, incorrect. But the Harvard study’s main point is that the big wallop is still unfelt: "The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid. Since 2001, the US has expanded the quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans. This has led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. These benefits will increase further over the next 40 years. Additional funds are committed to replacing large quantities of basic equipment used in the wars and to support ongoing diplomatic presence and military assistance in the Iraq and Afghanistan region. The large sums borrowed to finance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will also impose substantial long-term debt servicing costs," according to Linda Bilmes of Harvard.

James Fallows: "As the paper lays out, a surprisingly large fra
ction of the long-term costs comes from the disability payments and medical obligations to people who served. People who were 18 or 20 years old when the war began, and who were injured or disabled (but survived), may need public help until very late in this century."

ICYMI: Hodges, your serve. In the back-and-forth between Dave Barno, the retired three-star, and Ben Hodges, the active three-star, on the future of the Army, we have a new round. It all started when Barno wrote about a week ago that the Army was at risk of losing its best-and-brightest in "Military Brain Drain." Hodges begged to differ, responding to Barno’s piece, and saying actually, the Army is retaining the best people. Now Barno pushes back with a new piece on FP, "Loss Leader."

Barno, on Hodges’ contention that the Army doesn’t have the problem Barno thinks it does: "Maybe, maybe not. Frankly, I remain worried. The issue is not that the best and brightest in the military have already left. My concern is that the worst effects of the ongoing drawdown are still to come — and may well be years away. The people who must ultimately judge whether Hodges’s defense is sound are the junior officers and sergeants wrestling with tough individual decisions about staying in or leaving the service. But for the Army, now is the time to look for leading indicators and craft proactive strategies to avert what could easily become one of the worst unintended consequences of shrinking the force." Barno’s original piece here. Hodges’ response to Barno’s piece here. BBC’s piece on the Army’s "hollowing out:" here.   

Bears repeating: FP’s "best military photography" of 2012, here. 

The disconnect between the military and society is a special topic to Situation Report. It’s one of the overarching things that keeps us intrigued on this beat. Typically, the narrative is that society has left the military on its own, greeting them in airports and thanking them for their service, but leaving just 1 percent of society to serve. Yesterday, the WaPo ran a piece by Mike Mullen’s former adviser and public affairs officer, now-Adm. John Kirby, on a twist on that dynamic: it’s the military that has insulated itself. The article, first published online last week, says the military should reach out. "It’s time that we do a better job understanding and relating to the people we serve. We do not talk with them. Too often, we talk at them. We are the guest speakers, the first-pitch-throwers, the grand marshals. We show them the power of our capabilities through air shows, port visits and other demonstrations. This outreach is important, but it isn’t always a two-way street. And it doesn’t improve our understanding of the society we defend. We tend to focus on the fact that, because so few Americans serve in uniform — something like 1 percent — they don’t understand us. There’s some truth to that. But is it solely their fault?"

Noted: On our return late last week at BWI airport in Baltimore, we stood and watched as an impromptu crowd of travelers, having experienced their own multiple delays in getting home, gather outside the security gate to clap, hoot, holler and shoot pics as service men and women returned from Afghanistan.

The Pivot

  • AP: North Korea taps reformist premier amid nuclear tensions.
  • The New Yorker: North Korea’s dangerous game.
  • WSJ: Beijing puts brakes on military car perks.

Noting

  • AFP: U.S. military cargo removal from Afghanistan: $5 to $6 billion.
  • Dawn: ISAF commander meets with Kayani.
  • AP: Afghan teen kills U.S. soldier while he was playing with children.   

Droning On

  • Defense News: Lawmakers say CIA should keep drones.
  • The Atlantic: Can domestic drones be fought at the ballot box?
  • Forbes: FAA to hold town hall meeting on drones Wednesday in Washington.
  • The Week: Drones changing hands.