Situation Report

The bullhorn for North Korea; Chuck Hagel’s paycut; Changing it up on Iran; What war would look like; The ANSF in Afghanistan: taking the fight; Gidget Fuentes, departing; and a little more.

The bullhorn for North Korea; Chuck Hagel’s paycut; Changing it up on Iran; What war would look like; The ANSF in Afghanistan: taking the fight; Gidget Fuentes, departing; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Shouting across the DMZ: As tensions simmer and fears of miscalculation leading to escalation grow, there aren’t a lot of sophisticated ways to communicate with North Korea, Situation Report was told. Years ago, a hotline was established by the U.N., but the North Koreans routinely cut it off when they get mad. "If we want to get word across, we go to the DMZ and get a bullhorn and push the message across that way," Walter "Skip" Sharp, the retired four-star who commanded U.S. forces in Korea between 2008 and 2011, told Situation Report. "We’re confident the message gets through." One of the other ways to send a message is of course through China, he said, or through dual-credentialed diplomats based in Seoul, like the Canadians.

Sharp, on the possibility of ground troops: The U.S. and South Korea have played numerous, high-level war games over the years to prepare for a significant conflict. One of the key signs of imminent attack, of course, would be the mobilization of forces in the North, triggering a mobilization of South Korean troops. Sharp: "I think it would be a step that would be agreed to only when both the ROK president and our president have seen enough indicators of mobilization and movement and other things that we look for in North Korea that we say that there’s a pretty good chance that we’re really going to war. For us to do that, the North Koreans would probably have announced they would mobilize their whole force. That would be done simultaneously. I think if we ever got to that point, we are on the edge of war."

There are as many as 200,000 Americans in South Korea who would have to be evacuated if things got ugly. Responsibility for a non-combatant evacuation operation, or "neo," would fall to the current U.S. commander, Gen. James Thurman, to oversee such an operation. "There is a whole set of things you have to do, and obviously the military commander wants to do it sooner rather than later," Sharp said. 

Pavlov’s dog of war: Why is Kim Jong-un is doing this? Because it tends to work. Every time Kim or his father before him (or his father before him) have rattled their sabers, they get something in return. "So he has seen that, and believed that in order to get us to back down, the provocation has to be even of a higher provocation than in the past. He’s pushing the limits to see what that point is." But Sharp says he’s not sure the North Korean leader fully understands just how frustrated — and scared — the South Koreans are. If North Korea launches another torpedo attack — as they did some years ago — it could trigger a strong reaction from the South. "I’m still not convinced that he really understands just how much the South Korean people’s demand is for a kinetic attack — it will be very strong."

Wanna know how a war would start with North Korea? Read below an excerpt from Patrick Cronin’s piece on FP. 

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report, where it starts every morning at 5:30. 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 Army is moving THAAD to Guam. The Pentagon announced yesterday that it would deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to the island of Guam. The news of the deployment of the Lockheed Martin-made "THAAD" missile defense system is a sign of concern that Kim could make good on his threat to strike U.S. targets. Read the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron’s piece on THAAD, here. 

Despite all this, the White House is dialing back its posture on North Korea. For the last week or so, there has been a barrage of announcements, from the arrival of F-22 stealth jets, to the flyover of B-2 bombers on the Korean Peninsula. But the WSJ reports this morning that out of fear that all of this plays into the North Korean plan, the U.S. national security staff has turned down the noise. The U.S. is pausing its step-by-step plan, called "the playbook," so nothing will be misconstrued by the North Koreans.  A top administration official told the WSJ: "The concern was that we were heightening the prospect of misperceptions on the part of the North Koreans, and that that could lead to miscalculations."

Voluntary salary cuts — the new in thing in Washington. The budget crunch means it’s in vogue to give up some of your pay. Yesterday, the NYT reported that President Obama was parting with 5 percent of his roughly $400,000 salary — about $20,000 — in solidarity with federal workers who are losing part of their salaries under furloughs. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said some time ago he would give up part of his salary. And on Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — Senate confirmed and therefore not subject to the furloughs forced by sequester — had volunteered to give up 14 days of his salary, the equivalent of what he would lose if he were subject to furlough. Hagel makes about $200,000 per year, so he’ll lose about $10,000.

How does one return part of their salary to the government? Ask the lawyers. Little, on Tuesday: "My understanding is — and I’m not the accountant expert here — but my understanding is that there is a legal way to actually write a check, if you will, back to the U.S. Treasury." 

Chuck Hagel is attempting to establish his bona fides as an activist Pentagon chief. Yesterday’s "major policy speech" at National Defense University was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s wake-up call to the uniforms, contractors, civilians, the industry and perhaps the bureaucracy in general that things are going to be different. Of course he is not the first to carry this message. But as the sequester axe falls and the necessity of billions of dollars of additional cuts loom, Hagel may be poised to lead the charge and take that hill. One of the lines that perhaps resonates the most is his bit about trimming the Pentagon itself. Hagel, on the Pentagon: "More broadly, despite good efforts and intentions, it is still not clear that every option has been exercised or considered to pare back the world’s largest back-office," he said. "The military is not, and should never be, run like a corporation.  But that does not mean we don’t have a good deal to learn from what the private sector has achieved over the past 20 to 30 years, in which reducing layers of upper and middle management not only reduces costs and micromanagement, it also leads to more agile and effective organizations and more empowered junior leaders. In light of all these trends, we need to examine whether DoD is structured and incentivized to ask for more and do more, and that entails taking a hard look at requirements – how they are generated, and where they are generated from."

We’re told Hagel made final changes to the speech at his desk Wednesday morning and strayed little from his prepared text. Read the full speech here.

Gidget Fuentes is leaving Navy and Marine Corps Times. After more than 18 years at the Gannett-owned papers, "Gidge," a fabled reporter in the Navy and Marine Corps world, is giving up the ghost. Widely known by lance corporals and four-stars alike, she’s been a reporting machine, covering the military since 1992, when she first deployed to Somalia. "It’s good to hit the ground running and learn as much as you can from the ground, listening to the lance corporals and savvy captains," she told Situation Report by e-mail. She remembers getting a ride in an AH-1W Super Cobra at Camp Pendleton, Calif., spending a half-day on a boomer sub, doing two Marine "Crucibles," one at Pendleton and another at Parris Island, S.C. And she’s seen Marines and sailors come and go. "Lots of happy homecomings and somber deployments," she says. She’s leaving to do some freelance work, volunteer, and travel with her husband. "It’s all good," she says. "It’ll be an adventure for sure."

Today at Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a discussion on whether the U.S. should encourage South Korea and Japan to make plutonium-based nuclear fuels. Lunch at 11:45 on the Hill, in Rayburn room number 2200. Discussion at noon. Deets here. 

And at USIP tomorrow, Afghanistan elections. Lost in the clutter of all things Afghanistan is the fact that a year from now, Afghans are supposed to be voting on a new president. But there are a host of issues that must be resolved first. A panel discussion tomorrow at 10 a.m. at USIP with Nader Nadery, chair of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, USIP’s Scott Smith and Hossai Wardak, and USAID’s Scott Worden. Moderated by USIP’s Andrew Wilder. Deets here. ICYMI: Scott Smith jumps into the Richard Holbrooke legacy debate on FP with "The Bull in Afghanistan’s China Shop," here.

IEDs attacks show the ANSF stepping up. According to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, there were nearly 2,500 IED "events" in Afghanistan between December 1 and February 28, 2013. That is a 3 percent decline despite a 32 percent decrease in the number of coalition "boots on the ground." That means, according to JIEDDO, that while the number of incidents has remained relatively static, more of them are aimed at the Afghan National Security Forces. "Attacks on Afghan National Security Forces are climbing (up 100 percent) as they take the lead in operations," according to a data slide provided to Situation Report. At the same time, 64 percent of all casualties are attributed to IEDs, but the number of "casualty-causing attacks" is 70 percent below last year. That positive trend is attributable to new equipment, training, and lessons learned, shared from unit-to-unit, JIEDDO officials say. 

Time for a new approach on Iran. A new report due out this morning from the Atlantic Council says it’s time to get a little more pragmatic with Iran, and features way to reach out to the Iranian people regardless of what happens with nuclear talks. Suggestions include tweaking sanctions and stationing Americans in Tehran to process visas.

Four themes, according to the execsum: One: "Even while ensuring that nuclear-related sanctions are made more effective, the U.S. and its allies should introduce new measures to augment people-to-people ties, support Iran’s democratic evolution, and facilitate trade in?food, medicine, and medical supplies;" Two: "Diminishing Iran’s ability to hurt the interests of the US and its allies in the region;" Three: "Stopping and reversing Iran’s progression toward a nuclear weapons capability through negotiations, including direct bilateral talks; and four: "Engaging the Iranian people by increasing outreach through media, technology, academic, cultural, and sports exchanges, and direct diplomatic access." Read the report here.

Who was on the Task Force? It was chaired by Amb. Stu Eizenstat and, before he was nominated to be Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. The task force also included: Odeh Aburene, Michael Adler, James Cartwright, Joseph Cirincione, Michael V. Hayden, Trita Parsi, ?Thomas R. Pickering, William Reinsch, Richard Sawaya, Greg Thielmann and Harlan Ullman.

What war would look like. David Petraeus was famous for saying "tell me how this ends," talking about Iraq. Now in Patrick Cronin’s piece on FP, "Tell me How this Starts," Cronin describes how things could go south, as it were. Cronin: "Let’s say that the North decides to fire its new mobile KN-08 intermediate-range ballistic missile, capable of reaching U.S. bases in Guam. An X-band radar based in Japan detects the launch, cueing missile defenses aboard Japanese and U.S. ships. The U.S.S. Stetham, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer equipped with Aegis phased-array radars, fires its SM-3 missiles, which hit and shatter the KN-08 warhead as it begins its final descent. The successful intercept is immediately touted internationally as a victory, but, now desperate for tactical advantage that will allow it to preserve its nuclear and missile programs, the North Korean leadership orders an assault on South Korean patrol vessels and military fortifications built after the 2010 shelling incident.

"The regime feels safe in striking out along the maritime boundary because the two sides have repeatedly skirmished in the area in the past 15 years. But President Park, determined to show backbone, dispatches on-alert F-15K fighter aircraft armed with AGM-84E SLAM-Expanded Response air-to-ground missiles to destroy the North Korean installations responsible for the latest assault. For good measure, they also bomb a North Korean mini-submarine pier as belated payback for the sinking of Cheonan. North Korean soldiers and military officers are killed in the attack. Pyongyang vows a merciless response and launches a risky salvo of rockets into downtown Seoul, in hope of shocking the Blue House into seeking an immediate cessation of fighting. But far from ending the tit-for-tat attacks, North Korean actions have now triggered the Second Korean War."

Noting Randomly

  • NYT: North Korean missile moved to coast, but little threat seen. Gunpowder and Lead:  Fun with numbers, and the $900 million in Stryker parts.
  • Defense News: Hagel calls for major overhaul of military structure. 
  • Danger Room: "There’s no turning back: my interview with a hunted American jihadist.
  • Secrecy News: Defense doctrine offers insight into military operations.
  • The Indianapolis Star: Former Marine dreams of playing
    taps every night, everywhere.