Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Efforts to free Bergdahl disorganized

FP’s Situation Report: Efforts to free Bergdahl disorganized

Efforts to free Bowe Bergdahl are disorganized, and that’s echoed by at least one member of Congress – though U.S. Central Command begs to differ. AP’s Deb Riechmann last night: "Critics of the U.S. government’s nearly five-year effort to seek the release of the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan claim the work suffers from disorganization and poor communication among numerous federal agencies involved, leaving his captors unclear which U.S. officials have the authority to make a deal… The military officer said the effort was marred by distrust on both sides. Those holding Bergdahl have indicated what they would be willing to do to prove to the U.S. government that they want to deal, but the U.S. has not formally responded to that outreach, the military officer said. The White House and U.S. military officials deny that the effort is disjointed, claim Bergdahl’s release remains a top priority and that the government is using diplomatic, military, intelligence and all other means to free him." More here.

From Centcom in response to the AP piece: "An Associated Press article posted April 24, 2014 included comments by an anonymous U.S. defense official alleging that when Secretary of Defense Hagel’s office and CENTCOM separately learned about a proof of life video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in December 2013, there was confusion about who should tell the family. Additionally, this official also alleges in the article that U.S. Central Command was "angered" because the Secretary’s office ended up informing the family and that neither office was communicating with the other about the video notification. Both allegations are completely false and mischaracterize the ongoing close coordination and teamwork between U.S. Central Command, the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies."

From Joe Kasper, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Republican from California, this morning to SitRep: "The AP report should light a fire under DoD and the entire apparatus working toward Bergdahl’s release. The only person to shake things up so far was Secretary Hagel, when he positioned Mike Lumpkin in the lead following Mr. Hunter’s request. The problem is that Lumpkin’s authorities need to extend beyond DoD or if not then someone with full command and Control needs to be installed. Otherwise the State Department and other government entities will continue operating like free agents. As for Centcom’s take yesterday, they showed just how much the elements within are not talking. They know their limitations and restrictions too — as well as the fact that other lines of effort exist."

Meantime, an internal email reveals the Pentagon’s thinking on the options for the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bloomberg’s Roxana Tiron: "The Defense Department will prepare three scenarios for war funding next year depending on how many U.S. troops, if any, will remain in Afghanistan, according to an internal Pentagon e-mail obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. One estimate would take into account 10,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country, another would presume 5,000, and another would imply zero presence as of Jan. 1, 2015, according to the official-use-only e-mail. The Pentagon earlier this year sent Congress a placeholder request of $79.4 billion for war operations in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1. That request didn’t include specifics. The Defense Department is developing the three more detailed war-funding budget estimates to present to the White House, according to the e-mail." More here.

The top Afghan watchdog says that the U.S. withdrawal complicates efforts to fight fraud. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The top watchdog overseeing the deeply flawed U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan has warned for months that his agency’s ability to fight corruption and fraud will be drastically curtailed as the Pentagon continues to bring troops back home. But it turns out, the problems will be worse than even he thought. Officials with the watchdog organization plans to hire Afghan inspectors to help check up on U.S.-funded projects, but they acknowledge that won’t be enough to ensure the reconstruction efforts are free of waste and abuse. "John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told Foreign Policy on Thursday that a February meeting with officials from other government agencies, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations left him deeply pessimistic about his auditors’ ability to find ways of ensuring proper oversight as the war winds down." More here.

A Chicago doctor known for his compassion and dedication was among the three Americans killed in Kabul yesterday. The WaPo’s Mark Berman: "When Jerry Umanos finished his residency, he didn’t set up a private practice as a pediatrician or seek out a high-paying job. Instead, Umanos went to a new health center in Chicago that was focused on improving access to health care – and a place that couldn’t offer him as much money as other facilities…Umanos was one of the three Americans killed Thursday when an Afghan security official opened fire at an American-run Christian hospital in Kabul. He was greeting two American visitors at the gate of the hospital when the gunman walked up to them and opened fire, The Post’s Tim Craig reports from Kabul. Umanos and both visitors were killed, while two others were wounded." More here.

ICYMI: Another American working in Afghanistan from the Chicago area, diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, died last year as a result of "poor planning on all levels," according to a report from the Army and reported this week by the Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz. Read more here.

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Ukraine says its efforts to regain control of the East will continue.

The NYT’s Andrew Higgins, David Herszenhorn and Alan Cowell early this morning: "Defying warnings from Moscow not to confront pro-Russian militants entrenched in towns across eastern Ukraine, the interim government in Kiev on Friday threatened to maintain efforts to regain control by force that have so far produced little beyond Russian military drills on Ukraine’s border and heightened concerns about Moscow’s next move. Sounding increasingly strident alarms, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, accused Moscow on Friday of seeking to create a wider conflict." Yatsenyuk in remarks to the interim cabinet: "Attempt
s at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe… The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III." More here.

From Mexico, Hagel has strong words for Russia. Reuters’ David Alexander from Mexico City: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that reports of military activity along the Russian-Ukrainian border were worrisome and that he was trying to arrange a call with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. ‘This is dangerously destabilizing and it’s very provocative. It does not de-escalate. In fact, these activities escalate. They make it more difficult to try to find a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to that issue,’ Hagel told reporters during a visit to Mexico City. Hagel pointed to the agreement signed by Russia and Ukraine a week ago in Geneva to try to de-escalate the situation and told a news conference: ‘This goes the other way from what the Russians signed and the agreement they signed last Thursday.’" More here.

Fearing a Russian attack, Ukraine halts its military push. The WSJ’s Lukas Alpert and Julian Barnes: "Ukrainian forces moved in on a pro-Russian stronghold Thursday, killing several militants in a firefight at a roadside checkpoint, but quickly halted their advance after Russia activated the thousands of troops it has massed just across the border. Moscow’s saber-rattling-launching new land and air military drills-left Ukraine’s new government in a quandary: whether to risk pressing ahead with what it calls its antiterrorist operation in the restive east, or risk more bloodshed and provoking an invasion.
"Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who had ordered the military operation to restart on Tuesday, vowed it would continue even as a security official in Kiev said the operation in the eastern city of Slovyansk had been paused for reworking. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry gave Moscow 48 hours to explain the military exercises along the border. The Pentagon called those drills ‘exactly the opposite of what we have been calling on the Russians to do.’" More here.

Situation Report corrects, big time ­- We got it! We know! The Biebster isn’t American. We actually did know better, but in an item yesterday that began "Epic fail" that highlighted another one of Justin Bieber’s ill-fated tourist stops, this time in Japan, we did say he was American when of course he is Canadian. We know about the petition and all that. Thank you, thank you for all your love notes pointing out same. We enjoyed the one that told us that we should be "forced to listen to his music as punishment" for our mistake. Another writer wondered if SitRep’s demographics could be ascertained based on who wrote to complain and who didn’t. Most read thusly: "We have plenty of morons in America already without taking ownership of Canadians!!  Love your work!" As the Biebster would say, as long as you love me. We do regret the error.

The government’s new plan to ensure that your seat belts are fastened, seats are in the upright position – and no one is hacking your plane. FP’s Shane Harris: "U.S. security and intelligence agencies are teaming up with airline manufacturers to defend against a catastrophic cyber attack that could cripple the air traffic control system, interfere with the computer systems used by modern aircraft, and potentially even bring down a plane.
"As part of a new program, which will be run from a federal facility outside Washington, U.S. government personnel will work alongside private-sector aviation employees to share information about computer security threats, government and corporate officials said. Their goal is to spot malicious hacker activity on computer networks and to improve the security of airline manufacturing, when complex software programs that could create entry points for hackers are installed on passenger aircraft.
"For years, cyber security experts and government officials have warned that the computer networks underpinning the U.S. air traffic control system could be penetrated by malicious hackers. President Obama emphasized the threat in his first major address on national cyber security in 2009. The current air traffic control system remains vulnerable, but more modern aircraft also carry complex navigation and mechanical software, and in the future they will be connected to the air traffic system via new computer networks, making each individual airplane a potential vulnerable target." More here.

A new report from Taxpayers for Common Sense argues that the Pentagon should ditch the F-35 program and invest elsewhere. From TCS’ press release: The F-35 "is expected to cost $8 billion in fiscal year 2015 alone. The report points out that this is roughly equivalent to the entire fiscal year 2015 budget request for the U.S. Army Reserves and almost as much as is being requested for the entire Department of Commerce. The report points to capable combat aircraft alternatives to the F-35 procurement." Full report here.

Air Force leaders back states’ support for A-10 cuts. Military Times’ Brian Everstine: "Air National Guard leaders and governors are offering strong support for an Air Force plan to replace A-10 fleets with new missions in six states – unlike a vocal group of congressional lawmakers who have said they will fight to save the Warthog. State adjutants general and governors are behind the plan because it has been made clear to them that the new missions are important, said Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, director of the Air National Guard.
Clarke: "‘I tell them that, as an airman, I have flown the missions. I have flown both aircraft…When I explain to them and tell them ‘What your airmen are going to be doing is important to the nation,’ they get it.’"
"The Air Force says it would save $3.7 billion by eliminating the 353-aircraft A-10 fleet that is beloved for its close air support role, but targeted by the brass because of its age and single-mission ability." More here.

IAVA weighs in on the VA health care system in Arizona. IAVA: "With the sensationalized coverage of the tragic shooting at Fort Hood and the reprehensible op-ed published in The New York Times attempting to link vets to hate groups, IAVA has been working overtime to ensure our community – the brave men and women who have sacrificed overseas and are now leading at home – is protected from attacks.
"Then, last night, CNN reported that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for an appointment at the Phoenix VA. And to add insult to injury, it’s alleged that the VA placed many vets on a secret waiting list that was part of an elaborate scheme to hide that thousands of sick veterans were being forced to wait months to see a doctor. If true, this is shockingly unacceptable. IAVA is joining Senator John McCain, one of two combat vets in the Senate, in calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into these allegations." More <
a href=”http://iava.org/press-room/press-releases/shocking-report-40-vets-die-waiting-va-appointments&#8221;>here.

POTUS has landed in South Korea, where he faces questions about his North Korea policy. The NYT’s David Sanger: "Almost everything American intelligence agencies and North Korea-watchers thought they understood two years ago about Kim Jong-un, the North’s young leader, turns out to have been wrong. The briefings given to President Obama after Mr. Kim inherited leadership said it was almost certain he would be kept in check by his more experienced uncle, Jang Song-thaek. Instead, Mr. Kim had his uncle and dozens of others executed. The early betting was also that Mr. Kim, who was briefly educated in Switzerland, would emphasize economic overhaul over expanding the nuclear and missile arsenals that were his father’s and grandfather’s legacy.

"Instead, the nuclear program has surged forward, and recent missile tests are demonstrating that after years of spectacular failures, the North’s engineers are finally improving their aim. Their next big challenge is proving that an intercontinental missile they have shown only in mock-ups can reach America’s shores.
"As a result, when Mr. Obama lands here on Friday on the second stop of his Asia tour, he will be confronting the question of whether his strategy of ‘strategic patience’ with the North has been overtaken by reality: an unpredictable, though calculating, ruler in Mr. Kim, who has proved to be more ruthless, aggressive and tactically skilled than anyone expected." More here.

Leave the gifts at home, Mr. President. Here are the five things America’s allies in Asia really need, according to Senator Marco Rubio for FP: "The stakes are high for President Barack Obama’s Asia trip. As I heard firsthand on my journey to Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea in January, the United States’ allies are nervous. They are closely watching events halfway around the world, in Syria, and now in Ukraine. Every U.S. move or utterance on those issues is seen through the prism of growing uncertainty in Asia as a rising China begins to flex its muscles, asserting territorial claims across a large swathe of the region." More here.

Kim Jong Un was adorable as a child. FP’s Elias Groll on how North Korea turned Kim Jong Un’s baby photos into propaganda. Full story with pictures here.

The Army recognizes ‘Humanism’ as a religious preference, here.

Islamists in government: Do they moderate once in power? A lunchtime event today at the Washington Institute with State’s Haroon Ullah.  Deets here.

ICYMI – DAS Gregory Kausner talked conventional arms transfer policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Tuesday. His message was clear: "When the United States provides defense articles and military training to our partners and allies, it does so for one main reason: to further U.S. national security interests." Full remarks here.

Tyler Hicks rushed into the Westgate Mall in Nairobi to take photos in the midst of the attack that killed more than 65 people – and he won the Pulitzer.  His interview with NPR’s Terry Gross’ on Fresh Air: "I didn’t just blindly run in. I first believed this to be a robbery gone wrong, and that wouldn’t be something I’d normally take risks for – that’s not a big, important news event. There are a lot of violent robberies in Kenya and it’s something that you just stay away from. When first I approached the mall I could see … hundreds of people running in terror away from that building, through the parking lot out onto the street – really spilling out onto the street. I knew immediately that this had to be something more serious than just a robbery. As I got up closer to the mall, I could see … people coming out, clearly who had been shot. People with blood splattered on their faces being pushed out of this mall by other civilians in shopping carts, literally using shopping carts as gurneys and wheelchairs for people who couldn’t walk. A little bit later, about 45 minutes later, after I had seen that … some people had been killed, their bodies laying on the front steps of the mall … it was clear to me that this was something far bigger and serious enough that it warranted the attempt to get inside to see what was happening." Read and listen here.