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.

Condi had her doubts about the surge; Whither the pivot?; Budgets and nukes: Low-hanging fruit? Dempsey to China; Furloughs to be in full-swing; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold New this hour: Six Marines killed in Nevada at explosion at Army depot. NBC: "Six U.S. Marines were killed and at least eight wounded when a mortar exploded during a live-fire training exercise overnight at an Army munitions depot in the Nevada desert, military officials told NBC News. There were conflicting reports ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

New this hour: Six Marines killed in Nevada at explosion at Army depot. NBC: "Six U.S. Marines were killed and at least eight wounded when a mortar exploded during a live-fire training exercise overnight at an Army munitions depot in the Nevada desert, military officials told NBC News. There were conflicting reports about what happened. According to one account, a 60-millimeter mortar shell exploded in a tube as Marines were preparing to fire it. Another account said that the shell exploded as Marines were picking it up to load it. The accident happened at Hawthorne Army Depot, a 147,000-acre ammunition storage and training facility just east of the California line."

On the Iraq surge, Condi had her doubts, according to a new transcript of a Saturday morning "brainstorming" session in November 2006. Revealed for the first time, a new, classified transcript of a conversation between then Secretary of State Condi Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and others in his office shows there were deep divisions within the administration as to how to proceed in Iraq, where sectarian violence had crumbled the military success of the invasion three years before. Writing on FP, NYT reporter Michael Gordon quotes Rice: "’What can we really do?’ asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who wondered aloud if the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad might be "playing us for a sucker.’" Gordon: "Much of the discussion, which is chronicled in a classified transcript described in detail here for the first time, was dominated by Rice’s argument that the United States should abandon a strategy in which "nothing is going right" and instead focus on "core interests" like fighting al Qaeda and contesting Iranian influence. Instead of trying to stop the burgeoning sectarian violence, Rice suggested, the American military might concentrate on averting "mass killings" –attacks on the order of Srebrenica, the 1995 massacre in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.

Hadley pushed for the surge. "But Hadley and his aides on the National Security Council were pushing in the opposite direction and making the case for sending more troops. ‘On force numbers in Baghdad, we have never had a level of forces that historical case studies, such as those conducted by Rand, find to be necessary,’ said Brett McGurk, an Iraq hand on the NSC. "There is an argument that coalition forces are not only critical to preventing mass killings, they are also critical to establishing the conditions for a political deal."

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report, where we remember those heady days 10 years ago, at an airbase in Kuwait. FWIW, below. Our remembrance of that heady time, FWIW, below. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

Did the Iraq war begin today or tomorrow? There is always a little bit of confusion. But it was a time zone issue, of course. From Tom Ricks’ "Fiasco," page 116: "Combat commenced on March 20, 2003 in Iraq – it was still the evening of March 19 in Washington, D.C."

Link to FP-RAND conversation last week on Iraq, 10 years later, with Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, Steve Hadley and a dozen or so others who planned, executed and analyzed the war, here.

FP’s selection of the 10 most iconic images of the war in Iraq, which includes one of the statue, the crying baby girl with blood spattered on her dress, and a plane full of Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, the first unit to enter Baghdad and one of the strongest images: Getty photographer John Moore’s capture of a woman lying next to her fiancé’s gravesite at Arlington, sobbing. All here. 

Hagel, whose position on the Iraq war contributed to his confirmation troubles, released a statement this morning on the 10th anniversary, that betrayed none of that but honored the sacrifices of service members. It read in part: "The American people will always honor the sacrifices of the 4,475 U.S. service members who died in Iraq, and the more than 32,000 who came home wounded.  Every man and woman who served in Iraq carries with them the scars of war.  As we remember these quiet heroes this week we are also reminded of their families and their sacrifices, as we also honor and thank them."

The Pentagon spends $31 billion on nukes. That could be low-hanging fruit in a budget crunch, say experts. A new fact sheet being released today by the Arms Control Association looks at the money the Defense Department spends supporting 1,700 deployed strategic warheads and their associated missiles, subs, and bombers — as well as the other 3,000+ warheads in the active U.S. stockpile — and suggests options for budget savings. "The U.S. Navy wants 12 new ballistic missile submarines with a lifetime cost of almost $350 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-armed strategic bombers that would cost at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles (price unknown). The Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have been pursuing a costly, $10 billion plan for upgrading B61 nuclear bombs in Europe, which may no longer be there by the time the upgrades are finished," according to the paper.

Panel today at 9:30. A group from ACA and Stimson will talk about "sustaining U.S. nuclear forces in a tight budget" this morning and will present estimates on the "actual cost of the nuclear stockpile." The discussion will focus on the $50-58 billion in savings they suggest could be achieved between 2013 and 2022. Who? Barry Blechman, Russell Rumbaugh at Stimson, and Tom Collina and Daryl Kimball at ACA. Their new fact sheet, here. Deets of the event here.

Ash Carter is still in Asia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter wrapped up a series of meetings in the Philippines and is now in Indonesia, where today he will attend the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue with other senior international defense officials, Situation Report is told. While there he will speak on "The Rise of Asia and the New Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region."

There’s a reason the QDR has been in limbo. Defense officials yesterday announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Pentagon to take a second look at its defense strategy, the one President Barack Obama announced himself more than a year ago at the Pentagon. That strategy, which helped create the "pivot to Asia" – or rebalancing – will probably not be completely overhauled. But with fewer resources, the Pentagon now must see if it can afford what Obama set out to do last year. But a separate exercise, the Quadrennial Defense Review, the congressionally mandated look at the department’s capabilities, strategi
es and focus, is entirely predicated on the defense strategy now getting a second look. But the QDR has been held up as the officials waited for the new secretary — and then, once Hagel was in the building, his guidance on how they should proceed. The Pentagon’s announcement yesterday of a review of the defense strategy, called "The "Strategic Choices and Management Review," will look at "all past assumptions, systems and practices," and will define the major decisions to be made in the next decade "to preserve and adapt our defense strategy, our force and our institutions…under a range of future budgetary scenarios" [italics ours]. "The results of this review will frame the Secretary’s guidance for the fiscal year 2015 budget and will ultimately be the foundation for the Quadrennial Defense Review due to Congress in February 2014," according to a statement from the building. The whole thing is due May 31.

Point man for the review? Ash Carter, deputy secretary of defense, working closely with Gen. Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Tony Cordesman of CSIS today will talk about his recent trip to Afghanistan. He will talk about the "critical role of a change of government" and making transition work – the changes in the threat assessment, strategy and the approach to shaping the Afghan National Security Forces and the serious economic risks inherent in the transition process, Situation Report is told. Today at CSIS at 9:30.

Here are some "broad options" for cutting Defense Department spending, according to the CBO. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report that looks at options for trimming the DOD budget to "align projected costs with available funding." The CBO found that the cost of implementing DOD’s plans through 2021 would exceed the funding allowed under the budget caps "by a large margin," and that the Pentagon will have to cut back on its forces and activities more and more each year to meet those caps. Also, "policymakers could reduce costs by cutting the number of military units, funding to equip and operate the units — or both." Read "Approaches for Scaling Back the Defense Department’s Budget Plans," available here.

Dempsey’s pretend convo with the Ayatollah: What are you thinking? Gen. Dempsey spoke yesterday at CSIS, reports the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron, and talked briefly about what he would ask Iran’s supreme leader if he had the chance: "If I had a chance to sit with the ayatollah, I would ask him what exactly you are hoping to achieve… I’d like to hear it from him," Dempsey said. "What it is that they believe the future holds for the region?"

Dempsey also said the American commitment to security in the Persian Gulf remains strong, despite the uncertainty around the Pentagon budget. The U.S. and the Gulf region, which includes Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman, have shared interests. "I came here today with a message of assurance – a little peace of mind in the context of uncertainty," he said. Dempsey’s speech here.

Also, Dempsey’s headed to China. Kevin also learned of an upcoming trip Dempsey will take to China next month. Details are few this far out, but staffers are working it out now.

Situation Report corrects — When we attempted to answer our own question, "Who is Juan Garcia?" in yesterday’s edition, we goofed. Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia was a Texas state representative, not a member of Congress. Apologies for the error.

Furlough notices are going out for defense civilians. Sequester means as many as 800,000 DOD civilians will be forced to take unpaid leave between now and September, equating, typically, to one day off per week for 22 weeks. The furlough does not affect uniformed military. This week, furlough notices were sent to civilian employees of the Defense Department, and those employees have seven days from the day they received them to appeal those notices or otherwise reply. Between March 29 and April 24, "furlough decision letters" will be sent to employees, and then the actual furlough period begins April 25. The furlough period extends for 11 pay periods, between April 21 and Sept. 21. "These dates," said a Pentagon spokesman, "are subject to change."

Remembering Iraq. There will be a lot of remembering about the war in Iraq today, some selective, some expansive, some emotional, some political. Here¹s mine, in brief: It was 10 years ago today that we were an embedded reporter, positioned at Al Jaber Air Base across the border from Iraq in Kuwait, feeling like we picked the short straw since we were embedded with a Marine Harrier squadron when we really wanted to be with a unit on the ground who would actually cross the L-O-D. After some awkward days of relationship-building – ­ the first ones under the formal embedded media program -­ the Shock and Awe campaign began. But from where we stood, it felt like neither. The Harrier pilots with whom we were embedded feared talking to the media could spoil their shot at the show and we were blinded to what was really going on on the ground: our soda straw view of the war came from a place where Haagen Dazs was available in little containers in the Air Force cafeteria and the only sense of war was the pounding explosions far away – and the occasional false alarm that required us to put on our gas masks and run for cover.

The war, such as it was, didn¹t feel like much until four days after it all began. That¹s when a small group of reporters went to the neighboring air base to cover the memorial service held for four Marines killed in a helicopter crash ­ the first casualties of the war. We stood in a packed hangar, listening to fellow Marines, failing to hold back tears, as they spoke of the dead men. At that moment, all the hassles of the embedded media program, the bad Internet, the long, dark walks to the head in the middle of the night and the antiseptic-ness of modern conflict fell apart. War became real.

Weeks later we¹d hear something else about that day that told us all we needed to know about the disconnect between Washington and the field. The Marine color guard who had attended the service in the hangar had worn white slings over their cammies – ­ the wrong color, apparently, they should have been black – and a sergeant major at headquarters Marine Corps who had seen images from the service had sent an angry message back: even during war, Marines were supposed to be in uniform.

The Stans

  • CNN: Pakistani officials arrest man in connection with Daniel Pearl slaying. 
  • AP: Taliban rescind offer of peace talks with Pakistan.
  • AP: Dunford: Team working to resolve issues that anger Karzai.
  • VOA:U.S., Afghanistan, struggle to agree on Special Forces.
  • NYT: Objections to U.S. troops intensify in Afghanistan.


Emerging Conflict

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

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