FP’s Situation Report: Bergdahl in Texas; ISIS makes more progress; Few good choices for Obama; John Allen: act now; Two drone strikes in Pakistan; A former soldier reflects on Bergdahl’s apparent choices; and a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is in Texas. Bergdahl arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center from a U.S. military medical facility in Germany overnight. So begins the next phase of his "reintegration" process and, presumably, he will be reunited with his family for the first time following his release from his Taliban captors May 31. The DoD statement from Rear Adm. John Kirby at around 3:30am: " Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has arrived at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. While there, he will continue the next phase of his reintegration process. There is no timeline for this process. Our focus remains on his health and well-being. Secretary Hagel is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl receives the care, time and space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration.?
From the U.S. Army, noting that Bergdahl’s care is its primary focus but that it is also continuing its investigations into his disappearance five years ago: The Army "…will ensure Sgt. Bergdahl receives the necessary care, time and space to complete the process. Among other components of this phase, Sgt. Bergdahl will continue to receive medical treatment and debriefings. Following Sgt. Bergdahl’s reintegration, the Army will continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity," the Army said in a statement.
Also, read one of the most helpful pieces about Bergdahl from a former American soldier, Stephen Carlson, on why soldiers feel betrayed, below.
Meantime, Islamic militants are making more progress and have taken over more territory. The ISIS (and sometimes called the ISIL)’s fight across Iraq continued overnight and showed no signs of abating as the White House considers the politics, the realities and the efficacy of taking military action in Iraq after taking much pride in ending the war and bringing the troops home. Reuters’ Raheem Salman this hour: "Islamist rebel fighters captured two more Iraqi towns overnight in a relentless sweep south towards the capital Baghdad in a campaign to recreate a mediaeval caliphate carved out of fragmenting Iraq and Syria… Thrusting further to the southeast after their lightning seizure of the major Iraqi city of Mosul in the far north and the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, ISIL entered two towns in Diyala province bordering Iran.
"Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni Muslim insurgents after government troops fled their positions, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains that have long been a hideout for militants, security sources said. The Iraqi army fired artillery shells at Saadiyah and Jalawla from the nearby town of Muqdadiya, sending dozens of families fleeing towards Khaniqin near the Iranian border." More here.
Iraq is in peril and there’s not a lot Washington can do about it. FP’s Gordon Lubold and John Hudson: "President Obama said Thursday that the United States was open to using airstrikes to batter the Islamist forces that have conquered broad swaths of Iraq, but the grim reality is that the White House has few good options for preventing a vicious al Qaeda-linked militant group from advancing toward Baghdad three years after the U.S. effectively washed its hands of Iraq’s security problems.
"…Still, despite the crisis, there is little likelihood that the American government would consider putting any troops on the ground. That means that airstrikes are the only real option for a potential U.S. military intervention into Iraq as the crisis there continues to grow. That’s not a simple endeavor, however. While such a forceful approach might address the political crisis in Washington, it could have very little strategic or even tactical effect — and it would almost certainly pose enormous risks. For such strikes to be effective, the United States would need ground personnel to provide intelligence and ‘situational awareness’ to call in attacks.
"The Iraqi security forces don’t have troops capable of relaying detailed targeting information, which would likely require the Pentagon or the CIA to send small numbers of American personnel into Iraq to handle that difficult mission. Without adequate ground intelligence, the United States could run the risk of accidentally killing Iraqi security forces or, even worse, civilians." More here.
The WSJ’s Carol Lee, Jay Solomon and Adam Entous: "…Administration and military officials say they are drawing up short- and long-term options to combat the Islamist threat in Iraq. Short-term possibilities include U.S. airstrikes, intelligence-sharing and accelerated delivery of military equipment already in the pipeline. Long-term options include expanded training of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, officials said." More here.
And, the WSJ’s Entous and Julian Barnes: U.S. secretly flying drones over Iraq, here.
John Allen thinks the U.S. needs to do something about ISIS and fast. John Allen, the retired Marine four-star who cut his teeth as a warfighter in Anbar province in western Iraq as a one-star and helped lead the "Anbar Awakening" which turned the tide of war in Iraq by the time he left in 2008, spoke to Defense One’s Stephanie Gaskell about the situation there. We’re guessing it pains him to see what Iraq has become. He thinks it’s time for the U.S. to act. Allen, to Gaskell: "I vote for sooner and we must strike them with a hard blow… The U.S. will have to act to stop this onslaught. After all we’ve invested in Iraq’s stability, including nearly 4,500 American lives, we have an obligation, and indeed we have the capability, to help now… We did not ask for this emergency, but it is upon us, and this is a moment for U.S. strategic leadership. The Iraqis badly need our help, and our friends and partners in the region are, once again, turning to the U.S. for leadership and decisive action." Read her whole story here.
Meantime, U.S. spies were caught flat-footed in Iraq as jihadists seized two cities. FP’s own Shane Harris: "United States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized two major Iraqi cities this week and sent Iraqi defense forces fleeing, current and former U.S. officials said Thursday. With U.S. troops long gone from the country, Washington didn’t have the spies on the ground or the surveillance gear in the skies necessary to predict when and where the jihadist group would strike.
"The speed and ease with which well-armed and highly trained ISIS fighters took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, have raised significant doubts about the ability of American intelligence agencies to know when ISIS might strike next, a troubling sign as the Islamist group advances steadily closer to Baghdad. And it harkened back to another recent intelligence miscue, in February, when U.S. spy agencies failed to predict
the Russian invasion of Crimea.
"…The CIA maintains a presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but the agency has largely stopped running networks of spies inside the country since U.S. forces left Iraq in December 2011, current and former U.S. officials said. That’s in part because the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command had actually taken the lead on hunting down Iraq’s militants. With the JSOC commandos gone, the intelligence agencies have been forced to try to track groups like ISIS through satellite imagery and communications intercepts — methods that have proven practically useless because the militants relay messages using human couriers, rather than phone and email conversations, and move around in such small groups that they easily blend into the civilian population." More here.
Iraq War vets are distraught over what’s happening ‘over there.’ The news of how deeply and somehow suddenly Iraq has found itself in peril naturally strikes a chord with the men and women who fought there and paid so much for it. Unbelievably and probably not typically, some would go back if they could. Military Times’ Jeff Schogol: "Veterans of the Iraq War and their families are watching with dismay and alarm as Sunni insurgents overrun large swaths of Iraq, including cities like Mosul, where hundreds of U.S. troops died.
Former Army Sgt. Kenneth Mancanares to Schogol: "I completely disagreed with the decision to walk away from Iraq… Now, to be honest, I’m trying to think if there’s even a way I could get back out there. I’m sure there are a lot of guys feeling that way. I really wish that I could sign up on something tomorrow and join a volunteer group that’s going there to stand up for these people." More here.
Who is the ISIS really? The WaPo’s Terrence McCoy: "… in terms of impact, the acts of terror have been wildly successful. From beheadings to summary executions to amputations to crucifixions, the terrorist group has become the most feared organization in the Middle East. That fear, evidenced in fleeing Iraqi soldiers and 500,000 Mosul residents, has played a vital role in the group’s march toward Baghdad. In many cases, police and soldiers literally ran, shedding their uniforms as they went, abandoning large caches of weapons." More here.
As ISIS rolls toward Baghdad, the Kurds are gaining oil, ground, and power. FP’s Keith Johnson: "Amid the rubble left in Iraq by the rampage of Islamist insurgents, one group seems poised to benefit: the Kurds. Baghdad’s flailing response to the offensive launched by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham opens the door to greater geographical reach for the Kurdish region, greater leverage over the central government, and a stronger possibility of becoming a big energy exporter in its own right." More here.
BTW, Iraq isn’t about to fall. Douglas Ollivant for FP, his BLUF "…The news from Iraq is bad. There is no candy-coating that stubborn fact. But before lapsing into talk about Iraq’s imminent collapse, it might be prudent to let the situation develop for a week or so." More here.
U.S. companies are pulling contractors from Iraqi bases as the security situation crumbles, and the WaPo’s Dan Lamothe has a few extra details on them, here.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where we’re on the road, literally, (but not actually driving) and are thankful in the extreme for our little Internet-in-a-box. Still, sorry for the lateness this morning. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
An American drone hits Pakistan for the second time in 12 hours. After a lull of several months, the U.S. is using drones to hit targets inside Pakistan and these two are targeting the Haqqani network, which had been holding Bergdahl. The NYT’s Declan Walsh and Ismail Khan: "An American drone struck a militant compound in Pakistan’s tribal belt for the second time in 12 hours on Thursday, killing at least 10 suspected members of the Haqqani network in a suddenly intense resurgence of the C.I.A. offensive in Pakistan.
"The American drone strikes, after an almost six-month lull in the operations while Pakistani officials tried and failed to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, come as Pakistan is mulling a new offensive of its own against militants in the northwestern tribal belt. But early news reports on Thursday offered conflicting comments about whether the Pakistani authorities might have approved the drone strikes or worked in tandem with the Americans – a politically caustic idea in a country where the C.I.A. program is widely hated.
"The strikes, both of which were reported to have killed Haqqani operatives, also came two weeks after the release of the American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a hostage of the Haqqanis for five years. A former American military commander has suggested that Sergeant Bergdahl’s safety will give the United States more freedom to strike at the Haqqanis, who are fighting to overthrow the American-backed civilian government in Afghanistan." More here.
Who’s Where When today – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel welcomes Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Pentagon at 10 a.m… Assistant Secretary of the Air Force William A. LaPlante delivers remarks on "The Role of Industry in Air Force Acquisition" at the Atlantic Council at 10:30 a.m… Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall III and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley will conduct a press briefing at 11:30 a.m. in the Pentagon Press briefing room to talk about the Performance of the Defense Acquisition System Report, a Better Buying Power update and the Superior Supplier Incentive Program… Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is traveling domestically… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in New York celebrating the Army’s 239th birthday.
Also today, from 10-10:30am, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosts a Twitter conversation on the fast-moving situation in Iraq with members of their Syria and Iraq programs. You can join the discussion and tweet your questions @USIP with #USIPIraq. Deets h
Afghans are still pretty pumped about tomorrow’s vote. The U.S. Institute of Peace’s Shahmahmood Miakhel for FP, here.
And at 9 a.m. this morning, presidential contender Dr. Ashraf Ghani will address the Center for National Policy on the eve of the Afghan elections. Last minute RSVP here.
For CFR, Stimson’s Mona Yacoubian describes conceivable contingencies stemming from the civil war in Syria that pose serious threats to Lebanon’s stability. Given the United States’ strategic interests in precluding the further spread of regional instability, protecting the security of Israel, and denying jihadists ungoverned territory from which they could threaten the U.S. homeland, she argues that the United States should take steps to lessen the likelihood of renewed conflict in Lebanon. Among other measures, Yacoubian recommends that the United States deepen intelligence sharing so as to have better insight into Lebanon’s internal politics, intensify diplomacy to tamp down sectarian tensions and promote reconciliation in Lebanon, address Lebanon’s mounting socioeconomic ills with greater resources and strong coordination with regional allies, and bolster support for the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, with special focus on the needs of children. Read the report here.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft has not yet demonstrated sufficient reliability improvements, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, tells reporters after an F-35 management conf. by Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio and Laura Curtis, here.
If you missed this last week in the WaPo, you should read it. If you didn’t miss it, maybe read it again. A former Army officer is reading the writing on the wall on military benefits and makes a courageous point. Tom Slear for the WaPo in "I’m an Army Veteran and my Benefits are Too Generous:" "… Though I spent more than five years on active duty during the 1970s as an Army infantry officer and an additional 23 years in the Reserves, I never fired a weapon other than in training, and I spent no time in a combat zone. I returned to active duty for five months in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, but I was assigned to the Pentagon. My hazardous duty consisted of a daily drive on New York Avenue before its upgrade.
"Despite the extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly half of the 4.5 million active-duty service members and reservists over the past decade were never deployed overseas. Among those who were, many never experienced combat. It’s a fact of warfare called the logistical tail.
"…These jobs are important. Battles are won based on logistics just as much as tactics. But these support jobs aren’t particularly hazardous. Police officers, firefighters and construction workers face more danger than Army public affairs specialists, Air Force mechanics, Marine Corps legal assistants, Navy finance clerks or headquarters staff officers. And yet, the benefits flow lavishly. While on active duty, I received medical care without any premiums or co-pays, a substantial housing allowance, a small stipend for food, and a base salary that by today’s pay scale would be $5,168 a month."
He concludes: "…budget deficits are tilting America toward financial malaise. Our elected representatives will have to summon the courage to confront the costs of benefits and entitlements and make hard choices. Some "no" votes when it comes to our service members and, in particular, military retirees will be necessary. We can afford it." More here.
A former soldier who’s not being coaxed by Republican strategists writes genuinely about what it feels like when another soldier wonders off. Stephen Carlson on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for Task & Purpose: "…From titanic battles that shaped world events for generations, to patrolling a dusty, mountainous border in central Asia, every soldier is going to ask themselves, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ This was as true at Gettysburg and Normandy as it was in Paktika province, when Bergdahl took a stroll off his outpost in 2009.
"…It is hard to keep any ideals or hope in the face of appalling waste, wanton brutality, and bureaucratic and political idiocy, even if at heart I really did want to help the Afghans, just as Bergdahl apparently did. My unit in 2006-2007 was more concerned with racking up a high Taliban body count on the border than any development or reconstruction, but even our half-hearted efforts at helping the locals were usually for naught. A freshly built school, little more than a couple of retrofitted shipping containers, was blown up overnight. Solar-powered street lights in the local bazaar were shot out one by one. Roads, the eternal lack in Afghanistan, were turned into IED crater-riddled death traps. The list goes on.
"…Bergdahl was fed up, pissed off, and ready to leave, which made him about as exclusive as Walmart. If he was done, so be it. He could have refused to patrol, and they would have sent him to the rear on make-work until they could discharge him. He could have walked into the command post smoking a joint, and ditto. He could have shot himself in the foot and been at Walter Reed in a matter of days. He could have gone on leave and pulled his disappearing act at home.
"Bergdahl could have done all these things, and that would have been the end of the matter. Instead, he took the most asinine, selfish, and borderline treasonous course of action possible. He simply sent his personal effects home and wandered off, leaving his unit to hold the bag.
"What the Golden Rule is to Christianity, ‘Don’t be a Buddy Fucker’ is to the military. If you can’t be motivated to make things better for the people stuck in the same dirt pile you are in, then at the very least, don’t make things worse. This is the glue that binds a platoon of disparate individuals from all walks of life together, and it is the only thing that makes life in the infantry bearable. Don’t Fuck Your Buddy. A simple rule." More here.