Situation Report

U.S. to Egypt: We heart you but we’re keeping our $560m; Fisher House to the rescue; What the duck-rabbit says about snatch-and-grab; Missing October 7; Marines: “the failure of the few” and a bit more.

U.S. to Egypt: We heart you but we’re keeping our $560m; Fisher House to the rescue; What the duck-rabbit says about snatch-and-grab; Missing October 7; Marines: “the failure of the few” and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The U.S. ends most of its aid to Egypt. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "The Obama administration is trying to send a message to Egypt’s generals by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S aid. The only problem is that it isn’t entirely clear what the message actually is. U.S. officials said Wednesday that the administration would delay planned deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and M1A1 tanks. The officials said they would also suspend a planned $260 million cash transfer to the Egyptians; Congressional aides briefed on the matter said that a $300 million loan guarantee would also be held back. (The U.S. gives Egypt roughly $1.5 billion per year in total aid.) The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was ‘recalibrating’ its aid to Egypt in response to the military’s continued killing of unarmed protesters demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy as well as the arrests and detentions of key opposition leaders. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Army chief who has ruled the country since removing Morsy from power, has promised to hold new elections and take other steps to restore Egypt’s nascent democratic system, but the officials said the military was taking too long to follow through on its assurances." Read the rest here.

Hagel delivered the news to al-Sisi. CNN first reported Tuesday evening that the U.S. was considering ending most of its massive assistance package to Egypt. After the White House tried to delay the new storyline, mostly unsuccessfully, by yesterday it was clear the formal decision was imminent. Mid-afternoon here in Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has built a relationship with al-Sisi in more than two dozen conversations, jumped on the phone again. This time it was to deliver the news to al-Sisi that the aid package was ending, Situation Report is told. The two had a 40-minute conversation that was described as "professional and courteous" and it was all about informing al-Sisi about the assistance but also how to move the U.S.-Egyptian relationship forward. "The U.S. wants to maintain close ties with the U.S. military," a senior military official said.

The campaign for Islam in Egypt, by the WaPo’s Stephanie McCrummen, who quotes Emad Shahin, a professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo as saying: "This is the new regime trying to create an official Islam, a state Islam, which doesn’t exist within the Islamic tradition…It’s providing a religious justification to tolerate the killing of possibly thousands of people, and it is sending alarming signals into many segments of society. This is exactly what you call fascism." Read her piece here.

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A guy who never served in the military directed his foundation to step in and front the Pentagon the money to pay death benefits for those who gave it all. The government shutdown meant the Pentagon could not pay out the $100,000 death gratuity payment to the families of fallen service members, typically within three days of the death. Pentagon officials pointed this out Sept. 27, when DOD Comptroller Bob Hale explained the possible impacts of a government shutdown three days before it came to pass, said: "We would also be required to do some other bad things to our people. Just some examples, we couldn’t immediately pay death gratuities to those who die on active duty during the lapse…" Fast forward to a few days ago, when Hagel met with service chiefs days after he directed most defense civilians to return to work. The Secretary and the chiefs discussed that despite the return of civilians there were still spending issues that remained unresolved – namely the lack of authority to pay the death benefits. That’s when Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, helped bring Fisher House Foundation to pay the death benefit on behalf of the Pentagon.  Fisher House builds houses for the families of service members to stay in as their loved ones recuperate from combat injuries in VA and other medical centers. Its founder, Zachary Fisher, never served in the military. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon would reimburse Fisher House Foundation after the government reopens. A piece on Fisher, here.

Hagel in a statement: "I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner."

Five service members have been killed in Afghanistan since Oct. 1. And 19 more have died elsewhere since that time – their families are all eligible for the gratuity.

Fisher House’s Montel Williams (a former Marine, sailor and Naval Academy grad) goes off on critics of Hagel. Williams, on CNN’s Piers Morgan:  "I don’t know where to begin. When I came out you were interviewing and talking to two congressmen. One of them had the audacity to take a shot at the secretary of Defense Hagel and say he did this for a political reason or he had the authority to do so. If he had the authority to do so, he would have done so without passing a bill today." Rough transcript, here.

The House GOP ponders ending the impasse. The NYT’s Jonathan Weisman: "House Republicans, increasingly isolated from even some of their strongest supporters more than a week into a government shutdown, began on Wednesday to consider a path out of the fiscal impasse that would raise the debt ceiling for a few weeks as they press for a broader deficit reduction deal. That approach could possibly set aside the fight over the new health care law, which prompted the shutdown and which some Republicans will be reluctant to abandon. In a meeting with the most ardent House conservatives, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, laid out a package focused on an overhaul of Medicare and a path toward a comprehensive simplification of the tax code." More here.

Situation Report corrects – Yesterday we referred to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as prime minister. Hashtag ofcourseweknowbetter.

We missed this altogether. This week marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7 when the U.S. began a bombing campaign in Kabul and the CIA and the military launched ground operations. It’s significant that in anniversary-hyper American culture the day marking the beginning of the Afghanistan war, in which more than 50,000 American troops still fight, was itself overlooked. Elbowed out by military operations in other countries, an enduring war inside Syria, a government shutdown at home and the now clichéd idea of a war-weary nation, many in the national security community know the war is all but forgotten to many Americans. This month marks an important one, however, as the U.S. and Afghanistan negotiate an important security agreement that will define the relationship and perhaps the region far into the future. This brief but vivid (and graphic) photographic retrospective in Time offers a reminder of whence the U.S. came. Worth the click, here.

How Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit explains/doesn’t explain the snatch-and-grab missions in Somalia and Libya. FP’s Rosa Brooks: Consider the duck-rabbit. As art, it ain’t much. But as a metaphor for the legal conundrums created by the war on terror, it’s pretty good. The humble duck-rabbit has an impressive pedigree: In the 1930s, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein sketched it for his Cambridge University students to illustrate his theory of language games. "I shall call the following figure … the duck-rabbit," he declared. "It can be seen as a rabbit’s head, or as a duck’s." So — naturally — when I read reports on the recent U.S. "snatch and grab" operations in Libya and Somalia, I immediately thought of the duck-rabbit… Were these law enforcement operations, military operations, or something else? Were the targets (Abu Anas al-Libi and Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, alias Ikrima) wanted criminals or enemy combatants?"

And: "Legal experts have debated the very same questions for well over a decade now, starting way back when the Bush administration first began to send detainees to Guantanamo and then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales quaintly pronounced the Geneva Conventions " quaint." Were the 9/11 attacks crime, or war? Is the legal framework applicable to combating terrorism a matter of international criminal law and human rights law, or the law of armed conflict?

"I think it’s time to face up to an uncomfortable truth: These questions have no answers. They sound like they should have answers, but they don’t, they won’t, and they can’t. In fact, they’re the functional equivalent of arguing about whether the duck-rabbit is a rabbit or a duck." Read the rest of her bit and, of course, see a picture of the duck-rabbit, here.

Libyan prime minister kidnapped, then released. Read that here.

Shabab is gaining a foothold in Kenya.  The NYT’s Nicholas Kulish and Josh Kron, from Nairobi: "When the United States tried to capture a powerful militant in Somalia last weekend, it did not go after the leader of the Shabab extremist group, but a Kenyan national whose ties were as much in his native country as in the Horn of Africa. Outside of Somalia itself, Kenya sends more fighters to the Shabab than does any other country, analysts say. Young Kenyan men have ridden buses to the border in large numbers for years, local Muslim leaders say, drawn by payments of up to $1,000 to cross into Somalia and fight for the group. But ever since the Kenyan military stormed into southern Somalia two years ago, many Kenyan fighters have been coming back home, local leaders and experts say, creating a larger, increasingly sophisticated network of trained jihadists in a country where people from around the globe gather in crowded, lightly protected public places."

The Atlantic Council’s J. Peter Pham to the NYT: "The growing number of militants in Kenya is a serious concern – or ought to be – for both U.S. policy makers and their Kenyan counterparts." Read that whole piece here.

It’s time to geek out with FP’s John Reed.  He writes: "Imagine a day in the not too distant future when American commandos won’t have to pull back in the face of enemy fire as they did in Somalia this weekend. Instead, they’ll wear armor that allows them to literally walk through a hail of AK-47 fire and snatch their target away. Who will need drones when you can snatch a guy off the street with minimal risk of U.S. casualties? This scene, straight out of a sci-fi movie, might be real someday soon — if U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven has his way. The nation’s top SEAL last month asked defense for technology to build a suit of armor, called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), that does everything from provide the wearer with night vision and superhuman strength to protecting them from gunfire. Click for the rest and for the cool video, here.

Jim Amos wants to "reawaken" his Corps. Marine Corps Times’ Dan Lamothe: "Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos wants to ‘reawaken’ the service after a dozen years of combat, calling for a period of transition in which standards are reinvigorated and Marines see a variety of long-dormant standards brought back. The commandant delivered his plan to senior officers at the General Officer Symposium, held here Sept. 23-27. It calls for a variety of initiatives, including the installation of security cameras in every barracks, the incorporation of more staff noncommissioned officers and officers on duty, and the arming of staff NCOs and officers on duty, according to briefing slides from the commandant’s address.

"Amos’ briefing slides say that while the Corps has been successful fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "we are now seeing signs that are our institutional fabric is fraying." He cited sexual assault, hazing, drunken driving, fraternization and failure to maintain personal appearance standards among his concerns. In a statement provided to Marine Corps Times late Sept. 25, the commandant, who was not available for comment, expanded on his concerns. ‘It is impossible to overstate my pride in the brilliant performance of our Marines through 12 years of sustained combat,’ Amos said. ‘As the Corps resets itself for the conflicts and crises to come, the magnificence of the many has thrown into sharp relief the failure of the few to live up to our high standards. Rather than wait for a creeping complacency to set in, I’m turning to my leaders at all levels to refocus Marines on what we do and who we are.’ The commandant’s briefing slides were more blunt. ‘We have a behavioral problem within the Corps – a small, but not insignificant, number of our Marines are not living up to our ethos and core values,’ one of Amos’ slides says. ‘They are hurting themselves, their fellow Marines, civilians and damaging our reputation.’ Read the rest and see the picture of Amos’ grimace, here.