Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Pentagon to assist in Nigeria; Syrian rebels leave Homs; Rogers now backs a broader NSA reform bill; Did Bart Simpson start the war in Syria?; and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: Pentagon to assist in Nigeria; Syrian rebels leave Homs; Rogers now backs a broader NSA reform bill; Did Bart Simpson start the war in Syria?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Pentagon is expected to send assistance to Nigeria as part of a "cell" of interagency experts. Lubold’s story: The Pentagon isn’t sending a team of special forces or a unit of Marines to Nigeria anytime soon to help free the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped last month. Instead, Washington is sending a team of U.S. officials, including small numbers of uniformed military personnel, to help the Nigerian government locate the girls and bring them back safely… State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, at a press briefing two hours after Kerry and Jonathan spoke, hinted that the American response would come from a number of U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon. "It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that can be – that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response," Psaki said.

That fed some speculation that the U.S. was considering sending in a company of Marines or a Special Forces unit that could potentially find and rescue the girls. Not far away, in Uganda, the Pentagon has deployed more than 150 Special Forces troops to aid in the capture of fugitive rebel commander Joseph Kony.

But it’s unlikely anything of that scope is envisioned in Nigeria, at least for now. The only plan currently under consideration is to send a small number of military personnel as part of a larger U.S. team, a Pentagon official said.  "We’re going to provide all the help we can to the Nigerians," said the official, adding that there are no plans to deploy a full unit of troops. Read the rest here.

…But some in Washington urge a deeper US military footprint in Nigeria. The CS Monitor’s Anna Mulrine: "US officials and lawmakers are quickly concluding that America’s military should be doing more to help rescue hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria by a terrorist group. What is the point of having a US Africa Command, they say, if not to counter such attacks? … The team will include an interagency coordination cell that will operate out of the US Embassy and advise the Nigerian government on logistics, intelligence, and communications, says Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesman. ‘At this point, we have no inclination to deploy troops. It’s just a planning cell,’ adds a US military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘There will be military participation, but you can count them on two hands.’ Some US lawmakers want to see more. They called on the Obama White House to send, as well, military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, which can include drones." More here.

The Nigerian government defends its actions. CNN’s Isha Sesay, Vlad Duthiers and Chelsea J. Carter: "Nigeria defended its response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terror group Boko Haram, even as details emerged Tuesday about a second mass abduction, adding to a growing global outrage over the fate of the children. President Goodluck Jonathan has been under fire over accusations the government initially ignored and then later downplayed the abduction of the girls, who have become the focal point of a social media campaign demanding their safe return.

The President and the government (are) not taking this as easy as people all over the world think,’ Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for Jonathan told CNN. ‘We’ve done a lot — but we are not talking about it. We’re not Americans. We’re not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something.’ More here.

The NYT’s ed board begs to differ: its criticism of Jonathan’s handling of the crisis here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And 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, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Syrian rebels withdraw from the city of Homs. The NYT’s Anne Barnard this morning: The last remaining insurgent fighters in the Old City of Homs in central Syria began evacuating on Wednesday morning, antigovernment activists and state media said, under a deal that would hand the highly symbolic district to the military after two years of blockades and bombardments.

"Under the deal, hammered out between security officials and rebel representatives with the participation of Iran’s ambassador to Damascus, insurgents in Aleppo Province, to the north, will also lift their longstanding blockade of two villages there, activists briefed by rebel negotiators said. About 2,000 people, mainly fighters and their families, were expected to travel to rebel-held areas in northern Homs Province in bus convoys escorted by United Nations vehicles, spokesmen for the insurgents said. The deal allowed each fighter to take one bag and their individual light weapons, and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher per bus." More here.

The head of the Syrian opposition, President Ahmad Jarba, delivers his first address in Washington at USIP at 11:00 a.m. today. Watch the livestream here.

Who’s Where When today – Hagel hosts an honor cordon to welcome Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh at 9am, then another honor cordon for Georgia’s Minister of Defense Irakli Aalsania at 11am.; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Rosemary Freitas Williams delivers remarks at the 2014 Military.com Spouse Summit at 9 a.m at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner outside Washington, D.C.; and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens deliver remarks at the 2014 Military.com Spouse Summit at 10:15 a.m. at the same hotel.

Also today, at the Pentagon, a group of USA basketball and college champion basketball coaches will conduct a panel discussion on leadership in the building’s auditorium at 1:30pm and is open to all Pentagon employees with a badge. Dempsey will host the event with USA basketball and the National Basketball Association "Hoops for Troops" program. Coaches from USA Basketball men’s and women’s national teams and NCAA collegiate teams, including the 2014 NCAA National Champion men’s and women’s head coaches from UConn.

Who’s coming to talk leadership? Geno Auriemma of UConn’s women’s basketball; Jim Boeheim, assistant coach for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team and head coach of Syracuse University men’s basketball; Jamie Dixon, head coach of University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball; Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan St
ate University men’s basketball; Kevin Ollie, head coach of University of Connecticut men’s basketball; Tubby Smith, head coach of Texas Tech University men’s basketball and Jay Wright, head coach of Villanova University men’s basketball. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas will moderate the panel discussion. The whole thing will be carried live on the Pentagon Channel at 1:30, here.

Susan Rice arrives in Israel today for consultations on Iran and bilats with Bibi and Peres.  Reuters’ Mark Felsenthal: "U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice will travel to Israel on Wednesday and Thursday for meetings with Israeli officials in which nuclear talks with Iran will be on the agenda, the White House said on Tuesday. Rice’s visit, the first in her role as national security adviser, comes as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have collapsed. The Obama administration made clear that Rice’s trip is part of regularly scheduled talks and that the stalled Middle East peace discussions are not on the agenda… Rice is leading a multi-agency delegation to the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group that regularly brings together senior officials to discuss bilateral and regional security issues, the White House said." More here.

The White House will provide lawmakers access to the memo that authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. The WaPo’s Greg Miller: "The White House pledged Tuesday to give lawmakers expanded access to memos on the legality of killing American citizens in drone strikes, a concession aimed at heading off Senate opposition to a judicial nominee involved in drafting those secret documents. The move was designed to salvage the nomination of David J. Barron to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit and address growing frustration among lawmakers over secrecy surrounding the administration’s counterterrorism operations a year after President Obama vowed greater transparency. Barron, who previously worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, was a principal author of at least one memo that served as the legal foundation for Obama’s decision to order a 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who had become a senior al-Qaeda operative in Yemen." More here.

The Yemen army captures an al-Qaida stronghold. Reuters’ Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden: "Yemeni government forces captured al Qaeda’s main stronghold in the southern part of the country on Tuesday after insurgents blew up the local government compound there and fled, the Defence Ministry said. The mountainous al-Mahfad area of Abyan province, along with Azzan in the adjacent province of Shabwa, has been the militants’ main stronghold in Yemen since 2012. In that year, the Yemeni army, with U.S. help, drove the fighters from towns they had seized during a chaotic national uprising in 2011. Major powers are keen on Yemen curbing the Islamist insurgents and restoring order in the south to prevent threats to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia next door. They also want to reduce any risk of Yemen being used as a springboard for attacks on Western targets." More here.

Surprise move: Rep. Mike Roger opens the door for bigger NSA reform than expected. FP’s John Hudson: "In a dramatic change of tone, Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, praised a bill in the House Judiciary Committee that would sharply curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers. His remarks suggest that the powerful lawmaker may be more willing to vote for tougher reforms than previously anticipated. Rogers and other national security hawks have spent weeks arguing that the USA Freedom Act, the most aggressive NSA reform bill under consideration in Congress, would remove tools that the government needs to track phone calls by foreign terrorists. Rogers, a staunch NSA supporter, is the sponsor of another bill that would codify many of the surveillance practices opposed by privacy advocates, such as the dragnet collection of records." More here.

An FBI agent is arrested on anti-terrorism charges in Pakistan. The WaPo’s Tim Craig and Adam Goldman: "An FBI agent is being held on anti-terrorism charges in Pakistan after authorities found ammunition in a bag as he boarded a plane in Karachi, Pakistani and U.S. officials said Tuesday. The agent was detained by airport police in Karachi about 4 p.m. Monday when he tried to board a Pakistan International Airlines flight to Islamabad. He was in possession of 15 bullets and a magazine for a 9mm pistol, police officials said." Read the rest here.

Elections are the next contest for the West and Russia in Ukraine. The NYT’s David Herszenhorn: "Russia and the West maneuvered on Tuesday ahead of a seemingly inevitable clash over Ukraine’s plan to hold a presidential election on May 25 that Western powers view as crucial to restoring stability and that the Kremlin says will be illegitimate, particularly if the government in Kiev cannot first stabilize the country. Senior Russian officials have repeatedly referred to the provisional government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as an illegitimate ‘junta.’ From their perspective, allowing an election to go forward when no pro-Russian candidate has a real chance of winning would seriously weaken the Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine. It could also help the West coax the country out of Moscow’s orbit. Russia has made clear that it wants the election to be delayed. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov pressed the point again on Tuesday, insisting that the interim government end bloodshed and amend the Constitution to devolve power to the regions – and that it do so before Ukrainians are asked to choose a new leader." More here.

Odierno says Ukraine demonstrates that you never know what’s around the corner. James Kitfield for Defense One’s interview with Odierno on Ukraine, the budget, downsizing, sexual assault, and more here.

The Tomahawk is getting a nose job. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The U.S. Navy’s iconic Tomahawk cruise missile has been launched many hundreds of times since the Gulf War in 1991, but, like a star in show business, the weapon is starting to show its age. It’s only fitting then that the main defense contractor behind the missile is taking a page from the Hollywood playbook and giving it a nose job. Raytheon Missile Systems, of Tucson, Ariz., is experimenting with a variety of new high-tech sensors that could go on the nose cone of the missile.
"The Tomahawk was first fielded by the Pentagon in the 1970s and has since been used in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and a variety of other countries where the U.S. military wanted to strike targets at long ranges. The missile typically has a 1,000-mile ra
nge and carries a 1,000-pound warhead, and can be launched from a variety of ships and submarines. It’s also frequently among the first shots the United States fires in a conflict. In 2011, for example, the U.S. and British militaries launched more than 160 Tomahawks into Libya in one 12-hour period to take out anti-aircraft weapons and command centers before Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi could use his military against his own civilians." More here.
The FAA says the U2 did not cause LAX’s control center’s computers to crash. Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol, here.

ICYMI – UPS delivered a $400,000 drone, by mistake. Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg: "No one’s perfect, least of all UPS. But as far as mistakes go, this is just about as bad-and expensive-as it gets. Thanks to one hell of a mixup, Reddit user Seventy_Seven just got a $400,000 unmanned aerial vehicle delivered straight to his doorstep. Talk about service. Apparently, the rather expensive piece of federal property had been in storage ‘for a while’ before landing at its new (probably extremely temporary at this point) home. And the really weird thing is, even after being informed of the error, UPS was more than willing to let him hold onto the US government’s drone." More here.

The contract for the next presidential helo is up for grabs. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: "The contract for the next US presidential helicopter will be awarded this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday evening, according to sources. The only known bidder on the program is the team of Sikorsky Aircraft and Lockheed Martin, which is offering a souped-up version of Sikorsky’s S-92. The president flies in Sikorsky-made VH-3D and VH-60N aircraft. The US government hopes to acquire up to 23 operational helicopters, with a 2020 operational date targeted. Initially, the US Navy expected Sikorsky to be challenged by offerings from the teams of Northrop Grumman-AgustaWestland and Bell-Boeing. But after studying the requirements, both teams declined to participate in the program." More here.

A major network outage hit the Pentagon police agency. Nextgov’s Bob Brewin: "The agency that manages the Pentagon Police Department  and also runs networks and computers for the Office of the Secretary of Defense experienced a ‘catastrophic network technological outage’ on Jan. 3, and repairs may not be complete until January 2015, an obscure document on the Federal Business Opportunities website revealed. A Defense Department spokesman attributed the outage to the failure of a legacy component. The contracting document, posted on May 2, said the outage experienced by the Pentagon Life Safety System Network and Life Safety Backbone left the Pentagon Force Protection Agency ‘without access to the mission-critical systems needed to properly safeguard personnel and facilities, rendering the agency blind across the national capital region.’" More here.

Did Bart Simpson’s boy band predict the war in Syria? This isn’t nuts – at least in Egypt. FP’s own Elias Groll: "In 2001, Bart Simpson teamed up with his friends Milhouse, Nelson, and Ralph to form the boy band Party Posse and record a music video in which these boys of Springfield bomb a group of armed, hostile-looking Arabs.

The song — "Drop Da Bomb" — is a weird pre-9/11 satire of American militarism.

"There’s trouble in a far-off nation/Time to get in love formation/Your love’s more deadly than Saddam/That’s why I gotta drop da bomb!" the boys sing.

Groll: "Thirteen years later, the fake song — nominally a recruitment video for the Navy — is stirring up some real, albeit bizarre, controversy in Egypt. Egypt’s al-Tahrir satellite TV channel aired a segment earlier this week claiming that the quartet predicted the current Syrian civil war. In the music video, the bearded, keffiyeh-wearing fighters targeted by the Party Posse stand next to a jeep emblazoned with what at the time was a fictitious Arabic-looking flag. That flag happens to be identical to the one adopted by the Syrian opposition. A female anchor on al-Tahrir, a privately owned channel, then made the only logical conclusion: The Simpsons segment raised real questions whether "what is happening in Syria today is premeditated." More here.