Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Will suspending joint ops make the Afghans step up?

Interviewing the radicals blamed for killing Chris Stevens, the seven deadly sins of John Brennan, and more.



Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of FP’s Situation Report. Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at

Could suspension of joint operations in Afghanistan have a clarifying effect on the Afghans? Some Afghan watchers believe that ISAF’s move could force Afghans to come to grips with a problem that they are best suited to confront. It may be a little like the 2014 withdrawal date. Many, including some current and former military commanders have privately criticized President Barack Obama for announcing the withdrawal at all. But many also believe that it has forced the Afghans to begin to seriously grapple with governance and security issues, knowing that soon enough, they will be on their own.

Could the suspension of some joint operations, in response to the spate of insider attacks have the same effect? Maybe. In Kabul last month, U.S. commanders told Situation Report that, ultimately, green-on-blue attacks were a problem the Afghans had to take on. Quiet but increasing pressure by the U.S. was being put on the Afghans to reverse the troubling trend. Now, ceasing most joint operations may force the Afghans to step it up. They are now expected to agree to conduct more surveillance of their own people, to better vet them in the first place, and to take greater responsibility for the security threat posed by insurgents infiltrating their ranks.

Jim Dubik used to train Iraqis. As the commanding general of the U.S. training mission in Iraq in 2007-2008, he was lucky enough not to have to confront these kinds of insider attacks. But he agrees that, while it is not just an Afghan problem, Afghans are in the strongest position to do something about it. "When this kind of stuff happens, you go right down to the squad leaders and the platoon leaders, who know their soldiers the best," he told Situation Report. "There is no doubt that at the junior level of leadership in the Afghan forces, people are known to each other; this is really a learning opportunity for the ministers of Defense and Interior and the leadership of the Afghan Army and Policy, from top to bottom," Dubik said. "This is a chance for them."

Meanwhile, China to the U.S. military: I think we can make it. During a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie said he thinks the U.S. and China can make the relationship work. Gen. Liang: "we need to constantly accumulate and build trust between the two militaries. We need to have a better understanding of each other’s national policies and strategy and doctrine. We need to build trust, gradually reduce suspicion, and…constantly [sic] to various channels and mechanisms of communications and dialogue. We need to adopt a frequent, open and inclusive mentality. Let us talk more, coordinate more, and cooperate more, so as to constantly raise the level of trust between the two defense forces." If he means it, it’s music to the ears of worriers in the Pentagon.

What’s a common threat for the U.S. and China? Answer: pirates. The U.S. Navy told Situation Report that it is participating in counter-piracy exercises with the PLA’s Navy near the Horn of Africa this week. It is the first bilateral counter-piracy exercise ever conducted between the two countries, in fact. The two navies are doing visit, board, search and seizure exercises. And why not? "We have common regional and global security challenges, and we are able to jointly address those by training together," said Cmdr. Chris Stone of the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, in a statement released by the Navy.

FP Exclusive: In an interview, the group accused of the attack in Benghazi says it wasn’t them. The radical Islamic group, Ansar al-Sharia, says they are not linked to al-Qaeda but instead is a katiba or brigade, that was founded earlier this year and comprises about 250 men. After fighting last year as members of different brigades, the group came together to establish Ansar al-Sharia "with the goal of supporting sharia [Islamic law] as the frame of reference in Libya." Mary Fitzgerald, who spoke with by phone with the group, reports: "For supposedly radical Islamists, the two leaders have surprisingly mundane day jobs. Zahawi is a 39-year-old Benghazi native who runs a shop selling electrical appliances, while Tarshani, 38, works in construction."

"The Seven Deadly Sins of John Brennan." FP columnist Micah Zenko deconstructs the counterterrorism adviser’s claims that the administration wants to kill all of al Qaeda, that it seeks to capture rather than kill suspected terrorists, and that it doesn’t kill civilians.

The laws of cyber war? Harold Koh unveils U.S. position: international humanitarian law, laws of war apply to cyber attacks:

Is the move toward Asia "counter-productive"? Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos spoke at the Atlantic Council last night about the Marine Corps, the health of the force, and the pivot to Asia. He was asked if the "signaling" toward Asia is "counter-productive" because it sends a bellicose message at the same time the rhetoric the U.S. wants to hear is all about building a strong, trusting relationship with China. "People want to imply that because we’re shifting to the Pacific that that portends a confrontation with China, actually it’s just the opposite," Amos said.

Amos, who returned recently from a trip to the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Australia, calls the pivot more "relationship building" than anything else. Australia, he said, is an important ally. Right now there are about 200 Marines assigned to Darwin. When the timing is right — just when is to be determined — the Marine Corps will have far more. "We will eventually get up to about 2,500 Marines in Darwin," he said. "That’s out in the future," he said.

What you didn’t know: Amos just built a log cabin in Boone, N.C.

Speaking of Marines… The U.S. and Japan reached an agreement that permits the MV-22 Osprey to begin flight operations in Japan after the safety of the aircraft was "reconfirmed," according to a statement issued by Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. The Japanese, and the Okinawans in particular, grew worried after two recent accidents, including one in Florida and another in Morocco that killed two. Little said Panetta placed a "high priority" on reaching the agreement. "The Osprey will provide a critical capability that strengthens the United States’ ability to defend Japan, perform humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and fulfill other Alliance roles," Little said. "With twice the speed, three times the payload and four times the range, the Osprey will make a major contribution in upgrading the capabilities of the Alliance."

Welsh: Someone needs a hug. The Air Force rolled out its new chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, at the big Air Force Association’s annual convention at the Gaylord outside Washington and reporters asked him what the wolf closest to the door is: what’s the immediate job for the service? Welsh’s answer, "hugging the force," E-Ring’s Kevin Baron writes. Welsh said airmen and women are tired from so many years of war. But the Air Force is going to inject morale into the service, he said.

"For the next 5 to 10 years, we’re not going to see a whole lot of new things appearing on ramps all over the Air Force, which kind of makes you feel good, if you’re in Air Force. It’s going to take a while for those things to appear and populate in a way that makes the whole Air Force feel like that they have new equipment so that they can get excited about [it]."
Welsh walk-off: "Air power, it’s good for what ails you."

Are the Air Force’s cyber-warriors glorified IT folks? The AF’s Welsh isn’t sure. But before the service plunges into performing numerous cyber-security roles, he wants to know what’s expected of the service, and what airmen and women who do those jobs really need to be doing, writes Killer Apps’ John Reed. Welsh’s response to the question: "I don’t know of a really stated requirement from the joint world, through U.S. Cyber Command in particular, as to what exact kind of expertise they need us to train to and to what numbers to support them and the combatant commanders," Welsh said.

Mitt Romney flubs the Iranian threat. In May, Romney said if he were Iran, if he were a "crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.’" Writing on FP, Joe Cirincione deconstructs the errors in the statement, noting that the international community has been working to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, not a radiological one: "The Federation of American Scientists has calculated that a mere 41 grams (1.4 ounces) of cesium-137 in a dirty bomb could contaminate most of Manhattan. By contrast, it would take 1,460 tons of low-enriched uranium to get the same levels of radiation."

Eleven Years and Counting


In Asia in the Heat of the Moment

The Geopolitical Foe


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. Twitter: @glubold

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.