Situation Report

Congress to investigate SEAL crash; Crocker on the Zero option as a strategy: “it is criminal;” Cliff notes for national security; a plan for MILSATCOM; Syria, in pics; Power, on (to the U.N.); and a bit more.

Congress to investigate SEAL crash; Crocker on the Zero option as a strategy: “it is criminal;” Cliff notes for national security; a plan for MILSATCOM; Syria, in pics; Power, on (to the U.N.); and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

Congress is looking for answers in the crash that killed 30 Americans, including members of the elite SEAL Team 6. The Hill newspaper reports early this morning that Congress isn’t happy with the answers the Pentagon has provided thus far on the deadly incident. "The victims’ families say the Pentagon hasn’t provided answers to their many questions about the deadly attack, which took place on Aug. 6, 2011, three months after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by Team 6 forces.

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, to The Hill: "We’re going to dive into this."

"Chaffetz said he met with the victims’ families about a month ago in what he described as an "emotional" gathering. He is poised to send questions to the Pentagon and may hold hearings on the matter. Charlie Strange, whose son Michael was among those killed, said he asked President Obama two years ago at Dover Air Force Base to fully investigate. The death toll in the crash was the largest of any single incident for the U.S. military during the Afghanistan war." Read the rest, here.

Three American soldiers dead in Afghanistan after a bombing that killed eight, in Wardak. "Although casualties among members of the international military coalition have decreased this year as the Afghans have taken the lead in fighting across the country, commanders have remained concerned about troop vulnerability as the fighting season and withdrawal operations have coincided. Wardak in particular has been troubled this year, as insurgents focus their energy on planning and executing attacks in neighboring Kabul. The province is a crucial channel to the capital for weapons and explosives smuggled by the Taliban." More here.

For the CIA, the drawdown in Afghanistan begins. The CIA has begun closing down clandestine bases across Afghanistan in a start of a drawdown from a region that the WaPo’s Greg Miller terms "transformed the agency from an intelligence service struggling to emerge from the Cold War to a counter-terrorism force with its own prisons, paramilitary teams and armed Predator drones. Miller: "The pullback represents a turning point for the CIA as it shifts resources to other trouble spots. The closures were described by U.S officials as preliminary steps in a plan to reduce the number of CIA installations in Afghanistan from a dozen to as few as six over the next two years – a consolidation to coincide with the withdrawal of most U.S. military forces from the country by the end of 2014."

We know the "zero option" for Afghanistan, post-2014 is probably not on the table, as we reported here. But after a recent NYT story detailing the option, it remains a question. the WaPo published an editorial today, "Zero option: Zero sense," in which its kicker uses a quote from Ryan Crocker, as quoted by columnist Trudy Rubin. Crocker, on the zero option: "If it’s a tactic, it is mindless; if it is a strategy, it is criminal."

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A different kind of shooter: amazing photography from Syria’s front lines on FP. Click bait, here.

So she wasn’t so controversial after all. Samantha Power’s nomination to the U.N. passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday by a vote of 16-2. The Cable’s John Hudson: "The vote clears the way for a final vote in the Senate, and signals a much easier confirmation process than many predicted, given Power’s lengthy paper trail as a journalist and human rights advocate. After winning the president’s nomination in June, critics dredged up a range of comments from Power’s career, including her criticisms of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein when he gassed the Kurds; CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile and Congo; and U.S. policy toward Palestine. But few of those hot-button comments inflicted damage on Power during confirmation hearings on the panel." More here.

Want Cliff Notes for the range of American security challenges? The Truman National Security Project thought so. Truman is out with its new "briefing book" today a book that Truman says, "provides a strong, smart, and principled way of considering the challenges and opportunities before us as well as a guide for future action." There’s thoughtful chapters on the budget, energy and climate security, cybersecurity, "Al Qaeda in 2013," and one on the U.S. military. It also features chapters on Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan and "Arab Countries in Transition." The Afghanistan chapter, for example, examines briefly the key issues facing the country: things like the election next year, the departure of coalition forces, the development of the Afghan security forces, etc., then provides a number of "policy landscape and recommendations," including how an immediate withdrawal from the country would risk returning Afghanistan to "chaos and lead to the death of those who stood with us," it says. "It would re-open Afghanistan to violent groups with transnational aims and abandon the Afghans who stood with us to help their country," the briefing book says. "Such abandonment would repeat the mistakes of the past." Click here to read the whole briefing book. 

Tonight at Truman, a launch party for the briefing book and a welcome to Doug Wilson, Truman’s new (and only!) Senior Fellow in Residence.

If cyber-sabotage is so easy, why hasn’t anyone crashed the grid? Writing on FP, Thomas Rid asks the question. Rid: "Hacking power plants and chemical factories is easy. I learned just how easy during a 5-day workshop at Idaho National Labs last month. Every month the Department of Homeland Security is training the nation’s asset owners — the people who run so-called Industrial Control Systems at your local wastewater plant, at the electrical power station down the road, or at the refinery in the state next door — to hack and attack their own systems. The systems, called ICS in the trade, control stuff that moves around, from sewage to trains to oil. They’re also alarmingly simply to break into. Now the Department of Homeland Security reportedly wants to cut funding for ICS-CERT, the Cyber Emergency Response Team for the nation’s most critical systems."

The Pentagon needs a new satellite strategy.  The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison is out with a new report this morning offering six new recommendations for how to maintain "assured access" to satellite communications and protect troops in the face of the growing threats to those comms by players like China. But how to do it in a "resource-constrained" environment? Harrison asks. This gets wonky real fast, but he offers six ideas nonetheless: one, transition from today’s two-tier MILSATCOM architecture to a three-tier architecture with a middle tier for tactical users; two, pivot to the Pacific in space by inviting regional allies like Japan, Australia and South Korea to be part of that middle tier to improve their capabilities and interoperability; three, avoid falling for an adversary’s cost-imposing strategy by steering the competition in a more favorable direction; four, avoid new program starts by leveraging current programs like AEHF; five, do not force competition where it doesn’t exist; and finally, consolidate military satellite communications programs, budgets and operations under one service "to create better alignment of authorities and budgets for MILSATCOM, reduce redundancy and overhead costs across the Services, and enable better control of MILSATCOM system synchronization."  The report is here.

Ash Carter winds up his trip overseas, today in Ethiopia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who visited Israel, then Uganda, is now in Ethiopia. He will begin his day today in a meeting at the U.S. embassy with U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth and key staff before then meeting with Gen. Yunus Samora, Ethiopia’s Chief of Defense, at the Ethiopian National Defense headquarters. Later, Carter will sit down with Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Erastus Mwencha before winding things up with a visit with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Salmon alert: John Arquilla swims upstream with a piece on FP, "Why Iraq was America’s Best-Run War." Arquilla: "It is an axiom that generals tend to fight the last war, but the truth is that, as often as not, they would like to forget the last war. Witness Vietnam, in the wake of which it took more than three decades for a new counterinsurgency manual to be written by General David Petraeus and others. Happily, the military waited only five years to commence work on an update of the Petraeus version. As this new effort unfolds, based on the latest experience in Afghanistan, it might prove useful to incorporate the kind of analysis that the late Harry Summers, a soldier and strategist par excellence, employed in his study of the debacle in Vietnam, published a scant seven years after the fall of Saigon. Given the fresh attention being focused on military options in Syria, as outlined in General Martin Dempsey’s letter to the Senate on Monday, there is even more reason to remember Harry Summers."

Noting

  • Al-Monitor: (Rozen/The Back Channel): Puneet Talwar to become Assistant Sec-State of Political-Military Affairs.
  • Pro Publica: Army admits thousands of war records are missing.  
  • Defense News: Interview with Lockheed’s Marillyn Hewson.
  • Small Wars: A return to core competencies: an argument for a balanced approach.
  • LA Times: Unemployment among vets drops sharply.