Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: The Pentagon touches the third rail (military benefits); Is the U.N. giving Assad a pass?; A new task force for the Philippines; A training mission for Libya to form?; and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: The Pentagon touches the third rail (military benefits); Is the U.N. giving Assad a pass?; A new task force for the Philippines; A training mission for Libya to form?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Is the U.N. giving Assad a pass? Humanitarian workers who chronicle the suffering in Syria are keeping from the public key details on just who is at fault, FP’s Colum Lynch reports. Lynch: "During the past year, the United Nations’ chief relief agency has routinely withheld from the public vital details of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s systematic campaign to block humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians. This silence has infuriated human rights advocates, who believe that greater public exposure of Assad’s actions would increase political pressure on the Syrian government to allow the international community to help hundreds of thousands of ordinary Syrians who are trapped in the line of fire.

"Instead, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) — which oversees international relief efforts in Syria — has relied on low-key, behind-the-scenes diplomacy to quietly persuade the Syrian regime to open the aid floodgates. So far, critics say, the strategy has been ineffective. Worse, it provides a measure of political cover to the Assad regime as it carries out mass starvation and slaughter, these critics contend. The U.N. ‘should be much more willing to point the finger at the Syrian government when they are responsible for vast blockages of aid. They haven’t said enough about who is responsible for violations and the character of those violations,’ said Peggy Hicks, the head of advocacy for Human Rights Watch. ‘There is always a balancing act, but we have been concerned that the U.N. has been reluctant to recognize the limits of working behind the scenes.’" Read the rest here.

The WaPo’s Liz Sly, in Beirut: "A new Syrian offensive in the mountainous terrain bordering Lebanon has triggered a fresh exodus of thousands of Syrians into a country already burdened by the largest number of refugees in the region, U.N. officials said Sunday. A thousand families sought shelter between Friday and Sunday in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal after government forces attacked their villages in Syria, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees." The rest here.

Will Hagel and Dempsey touch the third rail of Pentagon politics – benefits and compensation? The WSJ’s Julian Barnes sketches in broad brushstrokes the notion that the Pentagon has come up with a plan to cut military pay and benefits after years of growth – but we won’t know anything for awhile. Still, it’s an issue few want to discuss because no one – not members of Congress, and not even the four stars who run the Pentagon – necessarily want to be seen as cutting benefits from the military after years of sacrifice in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But the cost of military personnel could soon balloon to 60 percent, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey told Barnes at the Reagan Defense Forum in California over the weekend and that is unsustainable. Barnes: "…Military officials haven’t revealed details of the plan, which still must be approved by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Barack Obama before it is sent to Congress for approval. Gen. Dempsey said the chiefs would unveil the changes when the proposed military budget is released in February. He said the new plan wouldn’t immediately cut the benefits received by service members or retirees. Over the past nine months, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been analyzing military compensation-from pay and health benefits to housing allowances to the discounted prices at base commissaries.

"Previous efforts to curb benefits have met stiff opposition from veterans groups and lawmakers. Gen. Dempsey said the military’s previous efforts to change compensation were flawed because they were one-year fixes. The new approach would offer a multiyear plan to slow the growth of military compensation… The Pentagon will make a persuasive argument to lawmakers that the changes are needed to balance the budget and fair to troops," Dempsey told Barnes.

Dempsey: "We have the analytic tools that potentially we didn’t have before," he said. "We have a body of knowledge that has convinced us doing it once is the right answer." Read the rest here.

Also at the forum, McCraven says the U.S. mil is looking at a training mission in Libya to create a force of 5-7k conventional soldiers with a separate more specialized unit for C-T. The NYT’s Thom Shanker: "McRaven said no final decisions had been made about a training mission to support Libya, where militia violence has increased in recent days. It has not been decided which nations would be involved or where the training would take place, officials said, but the overall mission would be organized by the military’s Africa Command." McCraven: "There is probably some risk that some of the people we will be training with do not have the most clean record…At the end of the day, it is the best solution we can find to train them to deal with their own problems." More here.

Libya’s deputy intel chief kidnapped outside the Tripoli airport. Reuters: "Mustafa Noah, the head of agency’s espionage unit, was pulled into a vehicle in the carpark, and had no bodyguards with him at the time, one of the sources said, without going into further details on the attackers or their motives." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report and thanks to FP’s outstanding Dan Lamothe for filling in part of last week. If you’d like to sign up for Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we’ll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend. Register free for Situation Report and other FP products here. As always, if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, you gotta say something — to Situation Report. One more thing: please follow us @glubold.

PACOM activated a new task force last night to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Philippines. From the press release overnight: "Lt. Gen. John Wissler, United States Marine Corps, commanding general, III Marine Expeditionary Force, was designated as the JTF-505 commander…  JTF-505 follows the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s Force… JTF-505 headquarters will be located at Camp Aguinaldo, near Manila, and will coordinate U.S. military relief efforts. The task force will work closely with senior representatives from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other U.S. agencies to ensure continued, timely and swift responses to requests from our allied partner, the Government of the Philippines."

No official
choice has been made for George Little’s job.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not yet selected a replacement for Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, whose last day was Friday, we’re told. Meantime, Bryan Whitman will be the acting Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs and Carl Woog, the deputy press secretary, will be acting as Hagel’s spokesman until a more permanent arrangement can be worked out.

Are talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan at an impasse? NYT’s Rod Nordland and Matthew Rosenberg: "Despite recent optimism about talks over a future American military presence here, two senior Afghan officials said on Sunday that the negotiations were at a profound impasse, days before an Afghan grand council is scheduled to meet to seek popular support for a deal. The officials said both sides had refused to budge on American negotiators’ insistence that United States troops retain the right, at least in some form, to enter Afghan homes – something President Hamid Karzai has openly opposed for years. A senior American official in Washington said he ‘would not characterize remaining differences as an impasse.’ He emphasized that the talks were continuing and that it was normal for such negotiations to run until the last moment. ‘Not only Karzai but a broad section of Afghanistan’s political leadership want to reach an agreement,’ said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate negotiations." The rest here.

Meanwhile, in a sign of growing confidence in the government in Pakistan, Shaiq Hussain and Tim Craig in Islamabad:  "The Pakistani government announced Sunday that it intends to try former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for ‘high treason,’ a dramatic escalation of the charges he has faced since he returned from exile this year. Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the government will name a special prosecutor on Monday to try Musharraf for invoking emergency rule during his 1999-2008 dictatorship… The news signals the growing confidence of Pakistan’s civilian government after decades of political upheaval, including three coups. But the decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government could fuel new discord in the country, where some residents still look back at Musharraf’s tenure as one of relative security and economic stability." Read the rest here.

Page One: Afghanistan clinic forced to close. As funding fades, the U.S. is pulling the plug on a clinic that served as a model. The WaPo’s Kevin Sieff: "By next month, there will be no more doctors at the clinic once deemed a model for Afghanistan. The shelves of the pharmacy are already empty. The modern X-ray and dialysis machines, rarities in one of the world’s poorest countries, sit unused in a building that was inaugurated by a top U.S. general. The project, launched by the Pentagon in 2007, is closing – its funding depleted and the Afghan government unable to provide support. Earlier this month, a patient came to see a doctor but found the clinic nearly abandoned." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: Pressure mounts for Hagel to remove Patton as sexual assault chief Gary Patton for his role in connection with whistleblowers in Afghanistan. Military.com’s Michael Hoffman:  "Pressure is mounting on U.S. military leaders to remove the Army two-star general in charge of overseeing the Pentagon’s sexual assault policy after he was accused of intimidating whistleblowers in Afghanistan. A government watchdog — the Project on Government Oversight — sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to remove Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton from his command of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Pentagon. The letter cites a report by the Department of Defense Inspector General which found Patton, who was then the deputy commander of an Afghan training mission, had ‘restricted subordinates from communicating with IG investigators.’" More here.

What’s going on here? Bloomberg’s David Lerman and Tony Capaccio: "A U.S. military investigation found no wrongdoing in a decision to keep building a $25 million regional headquarters in Afghanistan that local commanders said they didn’t need or want. The 64,000-square-foot command headquarters in Helmand province, approved as part of a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2009, has a war room, a briefing theater and enough office space for 1,500 people. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, criticized the project in July, saying he was ‘deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped.’" Read the rest here.

Tom Ricks’ rules for thriving in Washington. The first one is, treat people decently – and, Ricks writes, "the less power they have, the more conscious you should be of this." Another one is: "Enjoy the game, the passing pageant of life you are lucky enough to witness." Read the rest of Ricks Rules, here.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps approved plans to adopt the male dress and service cap as the universal dress and service cap for all Marines. Remember that crazy story about how President Barack Obama was ordering changes to the Marine Corps uniform? Wasn’t true. But what was true was Commandant Jim Amos’ plan to make some changes… Survey information from all Marines provided critical feedback for this decision. The uniform board study showed that 91 percent of all Marines were in favor of selecting the current male version as a universal cover over the so-called Dan Daly version. From the Corps’ Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, president of the Marine Corps Uniform Board: "The decision to adopt the male dress and service cap as the universal dress and service cap for all Marines was primarily driven by the inability of the current manufacturer of the approved female dress and service cap to continue to produce it for our women."