Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Is military justice going soft?; Obama stands by Shinseki but makes no new friends; ISR crewmembers to Chad; Obama’s terrorism strategy stalls; Sessions to Comey: stop encouraging the kids to smoke weed, and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: Is military justice going soft?; Obama stands by Shinseki but makes no new friends; ISR crewmembers to Chad; Obama’s terrorism strategy stalls; Sessions to Comey: stop encouraging the kids to smoke weed, and a bit more.

The Thai Army acknowledges that a coup just happened. The NYT’s Thomas Fuller this morning in Bangkok: "The Thai military on Thursday launched a coup, declaring that it was ‘necessary to seize power.’ The head of the Thai Army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, made the announcement on television flanked by senior military officers. The Thai news media reported that political officers who were attending a meeting called by the military had been detained. The coup came after the introduction of martial law on Tuesday and follows a long history of coups in Thailand. Mr. Prayuth said the coup was launched ‘in order to bring the situation back to normal quickly.’ The coup, he said, was intended to ‘reform the political structure, the economy and the society.’

"The last coup in Thailand was in 2006 and had been followed by more than a year of military rule. Thousands of protesters were on the streets when Mr. Prayuth made his announcement." More here.

A terror attack in the Chinese city of Urumqi, and some reports are saying there are as many as 30 dead. From the BBC this hour: "Officials have said a ‘violent terrorist incident’ in the Chinese city of Urumqi has left more than 30 people dead. Access for reporters to the restive Xinjiang region is difficult but eyewitness testimony has been emerging." More here.

AP: "…Urumqi was the scene of a railway station bomb attack late last month that killed three people, including two attackers, and injured 79. Security in the city has been significantly tightened since the attack, which took place as Chinese leader Xi Jinping was concluding a visit to the region. The station attack and other violence have been blamed on radicals from among the region’s native Turkic Uighur Muslim population seeking to overthrow Chinese rule in the region." More here.

Meantime, is there evidence yet that Russian troops have left the border region near Ukraine? We were told this by a defense official just this hour: "It’s Groundhog Day – yes, we’ve seen some movement, but not the kind of which would lead us to believe there is a wholesale exodus of a large amount of forces underway.  Still too early to tell, and until we see empty fields where once were tents, tanks and personnel carriers we remain cautiously optimistic."

11 Ukrainian troops dead, 30 more wounded by rebels. AP earlier this morning: "Three days before Ukraine holds a presidential vote, pro-Russia insurgents attacked a military checkpoint Thursday in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 30 others in the deadliest raid yet in weeks of fighting." More here.

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Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will receive the 2014 Intrepid Freedom Award tonight at 7pm at the 23rd Annual Salute to Freedom Awards, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum at Pier 86 in New York… Secretary Mabus is also in New York today for Fleet Week.  He was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, at 7:20 this morning, and will participate in a Fleet Week event at Gracie Mansion in the City with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Tonight Mabus will be on Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno returns to Washington today. Odierno was at Fort Bliss, Texas this week, then Fort Gordon, Ga., then Tampa, Fla., where he spoke at a military gala event… Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert is at the Naval Academy this morning to jiong Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller as the reviewing officer and the guest of honor at the annual Color Parade, returning to the Pentagon later today for regular meetings.

Obama stands by his man at the VA – and makes no new friends. FP’s Lubold: "President Obama attempted to calm the storm quickly enveloping his handling of a growing Veterans Affairs scandal, laying out a logical approach to getting to the bottom of what has gone wrong – seeking reviews, promising to hold individual staffers accountable, and ordering the department’s head, the embattled Eric Shinseki, to give him an initial report next week. The one thing he didn’t do was fire Shinseki or anyone else, and that no heads are rolling means he did little to quiet administration critics – and may have instead created new ones.
"The president on Wednesday defended Shinseki, a retired four-star general who has led the VA since 2009, as a ‘great soldier’ who would lead the review into the crisis pertaining to allegations of falsified records and ‘cooking the books,’ as Obama said, at a number of VA healthcare centers. Obama ordered Shinseki to return to him next week with preliminary results of the review of the problem and vowed punishment would come ‘once we know the facts.’
"But Obama dodged questions about whether Shinseki should resign or had offered to.
"‘Nobody cares about our veterans more than Ric Shinseki,’ Obama said in his first press conference devoted to the VA scandal — which centers around allegations that 40 veterans died at a hospital in Phoenix while waiting for care – since it first exploded late last month.
"…But Obama’s dutiful respect for the investigatory process on the records scandal is seen by some critics as being overly focused on the issue at hand, and not the broader one that has frustrated critics for several years. And his remarks Wednesday did little to stop the calls for Shinseki to step down or for Obama himself to take ownership of a problem he made a feature of in his 2008 campaign.
"Now the Democratic dam supporting Shinseki may be beginning to burst. Two Democratic lawmakers from Georgia, first John Barrow and then David Scott, called for Shinseki to resign after hearing Obama speak."

"… And Norton Schwartz, the retired four-star general and former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said Shinseki is "no slouch" and will not be timid in making changes if the allegations about false records are found to be true. "My view knowing him as I do is that he is a man of high ethics and standards, and I can only imagine that he is just pained by this because he is also a man of obligation," Schwartz said in an interview.

Removing Shinseki might be the wrong thing to do at this point, he said. It could be hard for the White House to find a new VA chief in its second term, and changing horses midstream could do more damage than good.

"The dilemma here is, do you want a symbolic action or one that gives you the best opportunity for a remedy," he said. "I’m inclined to do the latter."

"And to Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat from Alaska on the Veterans Affairs Committee, it’s not so much whet
her firing Shinseki would send a strong signal about how seriously the administration is taking the issue. There’s only one way to do that, he said.

"Fix the problem." More here.

Shinseki pulls the performance bonus for the senior official at the Phoenix VA who is under investigation. The WSJ’s Ben Kesling: "… Secretary Eric Shinseki rescinded a performance bonus of approximately $9,000 that had been given to the director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Sharon Helman, according to a VA spokesman. Mr. Shinseki placed Ms. Helman on administrative leave on May 1, along with two other employees, pending the results of a review of the hospital by the agency’s acting inspector general, the VA said… Ms. Helman received the bonus on top of her nearly $170,000 salary in 2013, according to a database of federal employee data. As a senior executive service employee, among the highest ranking in the executive branch, Ms. Helman’s bonus wasn’t unusual. Senior executive contracts typically include provisions for performance pay." More here.

Is military justice going soft? Military Times’ Pentagon Bureau Chief Andrew Tilghman with a special report: "With all the concerns in Washington these days about misconduct in the ranks, one might think the military justice system is swamped with unruly troops and commanders looking to crack down on them. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Across the force, the military is meting out far less punishment today than just a few years ago. It’s a hard-to-explain trend that has many military justice experts wondering whether commanders have lowered expectations for keeping troops in line – or simply gone soft on some forms of misconduct.
"…Many legal experts say the across-the-board drop in punishments coming at the tail end of two long wars reflects a philosophical change in the way the military handles misconduct in the ranks, especially low-level misconduct. As commanders have grown frustrated with the time and resources required to press a full-blown court-martial, they are now more likely to simply kick troops out of the service quickly and efficiently through administrative channels.
"In effect, minor misconduct – a positive drug test, unauthorized absence, cheating or insubordination – that in the 1990s might have led to a summary court-martial or official nonjudicial punishment is now often handled with an administrative separation board, which means fewer lawyers, less paperwork and a quicker resolution.
"‘Since 9/11, there is just not as much time to spend on the low-level troublemakers,’ said Cmdr. Aaron Rugh, director of the Navy’s trial counsel assistance program." More here.

Obama terrorism strategy, to include use of force rules and drone policies, stall. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung on Page One this morning: "…But many of the changes Obama outlined have proved easier said than done, including new rules governing the use of force abroad, increased public information on and congressional oversight of lethal attacks with drones, and efforts to move the CIA out of the killing business. Some initiatives have become mired in internal debates, while others have taken a back seat to other pressing issues and perceived new terrorism dangers. Congress, while demanding faster change in some areas, has resisted movement in others. In a Senate hearing Wednesday, irate lawmakers criticized senior administration officials over the lack of follow-up with one of the strategy’s principal goals: Obama had said he was looking forward to "engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal" the nearly 13-year-old congressional authorization to use force against those individuals, groups and nations responsible for the 9/11 attacks." More here.

The U.S. sends troops to Chad to aid the hunt for the Nigerian schoolgirls. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt: "The United States has sent 80 troops to Chad in Central Africa to support a growing international effort in neighboring Nigeria to help find and rescue the schoolgirls who were abducted by an Islamist extremist group last month, the White House said on Wednesday. The American military personnel are not ground troops. They are mostly Air Force crew members, maintenance specialists and security officers for unarmed Predator surveillance drones that will help search for the more than 260 Nigerian girls seized by the group, Boko Haram.

‘These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,’ the White House said in a statement formally notifying Congress about the deployment.

"…On Monday, the Pentagon announced an agreement that would allow the United States to share some intelligence, including aerial imagery, with Nigerian officials, but not raw intelligence data. American officials are wary of sharing too much because they believe that Boko Haram has infiltrated the Nigerian security services." More here.

A U.S. plan to train Libyan troops never got off the ground. Military Times’ Jeff Schogol: "As Libya transitions from anarchy to civil war, a plan for U.S. soldiers to train Libyan troops remains on the drawing board. Since Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in 2011, Libya has been at the mercy of militias, which have spent much of their time fighting each other. The Libyan government – such as it is – has been unable to reign in the armed groups. Media outlets reported last year that the U.S. government was considering training Libyan troops for the Libyan central government. Then the Associated Press reported in March that a small team of soldiers would soon go to Tripoli to begin selecting 5,000 and 8,000 Libyans to be trained by about 500 U.S. soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division. Two months later, the effort to train a Libyan military force has yet to move beyond the realm of the theoretical." More here.

Libyan general lays out a road map for Libya, but it’s unclear what he really wants. The AP’s Esam Mohamed and Bradley Klapper: "Gen. Khalifa Hifter has been waiting decades for his moment. A top general under Moammar Gadhafi, he was tainted by a disastrous defeat in a war against neighboring Chad. Exiled in the United States, he helped lead the opposition and vowed to return one day. Since Gadhafi’s 2011 ouster he has struggled for a role, distrusted by other generals. Now his time may have come. He is presenting himself as Libya’s potential savior after nearly two years of chaos in which unruly militias are exercising power over elected officials and assassinating dozens of soldiers and police. In less than a week since Hifter s
urfaced, supporters flocked to his self-professed campaign to crush Islamist militias and their backers in parliament and to bring stability to the country. But there are fears his ultimate goal is to make himself into a new Gadhafi, and his democratic credentials are far from established.

"… Laying out a road map for transitional period, Hifter called for the country’s top judicial authorities to form a new presidential council to take over power until holding new parliamentary elections. In a televised statement late Wednesday Hifter appeared in a military uniform and surrounded by military officers accused the current Islamist-dominated parliament of turning Libya to a state ‘sponsoring terrorism’ and a ‘hideout to terrorists’ who infiltrated the joints of the state, wasted its resources and controlled its decision making. He asserted that the military wants the ‘continuation of political life’ and stressed that the new council is a ‘civilian’ one in an apparent attempt to defuse fears of militarizing the state." More here.

Deborah Peter, a native of the Nigerian town where the schoolgirls were recently abducted, testified before the HFAC yesterday. The WSJ’s Michael Crittenden: "After shooting her father and brother in front of her, Boko Haram militants placed Deborah Peter between the corpses, threatening to kill her if she wasn’t quiet. It was a day before the Nigerian army came to bring her to a hospital. Ms. Peter, a native of the Nigerian town where nearly 300 schoolgirls were recently abducted by the militant group, told U.S. House lawmakers on Wednesday that she later learned that Boko Haram later decided it should have killed her. The world ‘needs to know how horrible’ the group is, she said in written testimony recounting the December 2011 attacks in her home." More here.

Comey says the FBI isn’t stopping after this week’s cyber ruling on China. FP’s Shane Harris: "FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday called the work of Chinese military officials accused of hacking into the computers of American corporations and a labor union ‘burglary,’ and promised the bureau would keep up its efforts to bring more accused cyber spies to justice. Comey stopped short of announcing any new indictments, but he said that the FBI was aggressively pursuing investigations against other criminal hackers and that he wants to send agents overseas to work directly with foreign governments on more cyber espionage cases in other countries… In announcing the indictments this week, a Justice Department official said the Chinese spying had led directly to the loss of American jobs." More here.

Duuuude! Senator Sessions tells Comey to stop encouraging the kids to smoke weed. FP’s Shane Harris with the Click Bait, here.

Why is the U.S. spying in the Bahamas? The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf: "After all we’ve learned from the Edward Snowden leaks, it is impossible to be surprised by The Intercept’s report that the NSA is ‘secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.’ … Our approach in the Bahamas has an arrogance similar to imperialism. ‘The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran,’ The Intercept notes. ‘But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate ‘international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers’-traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.’" More here.

A new comic book biography of fugitive Edward Snowden hit the shelves yesterday.  Read a six-page preview here.

Congress won’t let the Air Force get rid of it’s A-10s. The WaPo’s David Ignatius in his column: "One of Washington’s recurring idiocies is the way members of the congressional armed services committees, who profess to revere the U.S. military, insist on imposing their own judgments to preserve outmoded systems the military wants to cut.

"The latest example of this military pork-barrel phenomenon is the House Armed Services Committee’s campaign to stop the Air Force from retiring the aged fleet of A-10 ‘Warthog’ ground support plane, whose most recent models were built 30 years ago. Cutting the A-10s would save $4.2 billion over the next five years, allowing the Air Force to invest in systems that can protect America in the future." More here.

Taliban attacks across Afghanistan kill 21 people. AP’s Rahim Faiez: "Taliban fighters launched attacks in several Afghan provinces on Wednesday, killing at least 10 policemen and three civilians, officials said. Villagers also found the bodies of eight slain policemen who were abducted by militants two weeks ago. The violence comes as the Islamic militant group has launched its annual spring offensive promising to step up attacks against Afghan security forces in a bid to undermine the Western-backed government as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year. The Taliban also have pledged to disrupt voting as Afghans prepare for a second round of presidential elections on June 14. The first round was relatively peaceful, but no candidate won a majority forcing a runoff vote between the top two vote-getters – Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai."

Yale’s Harold Koh and the NYT’s Charlie Savage talk with Human Rights First’s Heather Hurlburt on the winding down of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.  Livestream and deets here.

The Pakistani military says it killed 60 militants. The NYT’s Salman Masood and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud: "The Pakistani military said it killed at least 60 militants, and injured at least 30, in aerial raids on terrorist hide-outs across the North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border early Wednesday. Local residents, however, said the dead included women and children. The strikes were carried out in retaliation for recent attacks by the Taliban and came a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the chief of the army, Gen. Raheel Sharif, met to review the security challenges facing the country." More here.

The Pentagon is on the move on climate change.  From Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development Daniel Y. Chiu’s Senate testimony yesterday: "… To ensure DoD
is adequately prepared to accomplish our missions, we need to consider all aspects of the global security environment and plan appropriately for potential contingencies and the possibility of unexpected developments in both the near- and longer-terms… The effects of climate change ­ such as sea-level rise, shifting climate zones, and more severe weather events ­ will have an impact on our bases and installations at home and overseas; on the operating environment for our troops, ships, and aircraft; and on the global security environment itself as climate change affects other countries around the world."

"…The longer-term impacts of climate change may alter, limit, or constrain the environments in which our military will be operating. For example, sea level rise may impact the execution of amphibious landings; changing temperatures and lengthened seasons could impact timing windows for operations; and increased frequency of extreme weather could impact assumptions about flight conditions that could affect intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities." More here.