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.

Civilians in Afghanistan: last in, first out; Afghanistan: “no longer the sexy place to go”; A bad week for Marines; Ash is back; $50 million more for GITMO? A reprieve for DOD civilians, and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold and Kevin Baron American civilians in Afghanistan: "Last in, first out." The drawdown from Afghanistan means that not only the Pentagon but also the State Department, USAID, and other agencies working there like Commerce, Treasury and the FBI, are winding down operations and bringing their people home. The "civilian surge" was always ...

By Gordon Lubold and Kevin Baron

By Gordon Lubold and Kevin Baron

American civilians in Afghanistan: "Last in, first out." The drawdown from Afghanistan means that not only the Pentagon but also the State Department, USAID, and other agencies working there like Commerce, Treasury and the FBI, are winding down operations and bringing their people home. The "civilian surge" was always controversial because it took so long to muster and, once in place, its impacts were harder to measure. Regardless, it is now beginning to end.

In some locations, the pace of the civilians’ withdrawal is much speedier than the military’s, suggesting a rush for the exits and creating the perception that their commitment to Afghanistan is weakening. According to one agency’s plan, obtained by Situation Report, the number of civilians working in Afghanistan will begin to drop precipitously in June — far faster than the drawdown of military bases and personnel. By next April — when the Afghanistan presidential elections are scheduled and the need for civilian expertise will be critical — there will be even fewer civilians positioned around the country. Some experts believe the April election will likely be delayed by at least a few months, meaning the dearth of civilian representatives to help facilitate it will be even more remarkable. And by December 2014, the difference between the size of the military footprint and that of the U.S. government’s civilian representatives is even greater. The plan is predicated on the assumption that, in many cases, programs will have ended; in other cases, replacing civilian personnel on the ground won’t be feasible, according to the plan.

The efficacy of the surge of civilians into Afghanistan will be a Washington debate for some time, but the current plan validates the perception that civilian agencies were slow to get to the war — and now quick to get out.

"Last in, first out," lamented one American official in characterizing the accelerated departure of American civilian personnel from Afghanistan.

More on the civilian drawdown from Afghanistan, below.

Tough week for Marines. After the malfunction of a 60mm round this week caused an explosion at a munitions depot in Nevada that killed seven Marines, comes news last night of more Marines dead. This time, it’s at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., where one Marine is suspected of killing two others at Officer Candidates School before taking his own life. According to OCS’s official Facebook page, the alleged shooter apparently barricaded himself at OCS but was later pronounced dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Tough day for Col. Kris Stillings, the commanding officer of OCS
, who was previously a military assistant for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where we’re out of town to get some sun on the bones. We’re placing Situation Report in the capable hands of FP’s own Kevin Baron, author of The E-Ring, for the next week. Hit him at or us anytime at Even while we’re away, our inbox is always open — it’s just our outbox that may be a little lento. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And 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.

Obama: Iron Dome not a peacemaker. President Obama gave a speech yesterday that everybody is still talking about, urging Israelis to seek peace with their neighbors. In the address, Obama mentioned Iron Dome, Israel’s famed short-range missile defense system, which the U.S. has helped fund. The Pentagon has stood by Israel’s questionable strike-accuracy reports. But Obama reminded Israelis (and their political leaders) that the system is no substitute for peace: "And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm."

Ash Carter finished up his trip to Asia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is back in the Pentagon today after his nearly weeklong trip to Asia. On the way back, he stopped at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he visited some 150 troops and was greeted by Lt. Gen. Stephen Hoog, the senior military officer in Alaska. With an F-22 Raptor and a Stryker serving as a backdrop, Carter thanked the group for their service and coined each one. Today he’ll be focused on budget and sequester issues, as well as the new review of defense strategy.
Staffers on a plane
— Chief of Staff Wendy Anderson, Special Assistant Jonathan Lachman, Senior Military Assistant Rear Adm. Herm Shelanski, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert, and Spokesman James Swartout.
Reporters on a plane
— American Forces Press Service’s Cheryl Pellerin.

Levin breaks ranks, wants U.S military intervention in Syria. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke ranks from President Obama, and in a letter to the president co-signed with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria. "We believe there are credible options at your disposal, including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally," Levin wrote the president, on Thursday.
The Levin-McCain plan of attack –
The duo suggests establishing a no-fly zone in the north by destroying Syrian fighter jets on the ground, as well as taking out President Bashir al-Assad’s anti-aircraft systems and Scud missile batteries.

A last-minute reprieve for DOD civilians? Defense Department officials announced they were holding off on sending out furlough notices for another two weeks, as Congress appeared ready to pass a continuing resolution extending government funding through the month. DOD wants to see the numbers, first. "We have not made any decisions on whether or not the total number of planned furlough days for fiscal 2013 will change as a result of this delay," said Pentagon press secretary George Little, in a statement.

Pentagon seeks another $50 million to keep GTMO prison open. The Obama administration will request $49 million to build a new prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports. "The project appears to be a proposed replacement for Camp 7, where so-called high-value detainees who were formerly held by the Central Intelligence Agency — like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described architect of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — are housed."
Even detainees think Obama gave up on GTMO —
U.S. Southern Command’s Gen. John Kelly said on Wednesday the hunger strike being staged by prisoners is a cry for attention. "What we’ve learned is that the detainees had — and the
ir attorneys presumably had — great hope that the facility would be closed. You know, President Obama has attempted to do that certainly. And they were particularly put off, I’m told, that when the president has really made no mention of closing the facility, he said nothing in his inauguration speech. And this is them bringing this up to us, that nothing in the inauguration speech about closing it, nothing in the State of the Union. You know, he’s not re-staffing the office that was, you know, focused on closing or transferring. So from that they have decided, obviously, that they — they need to be heard perhaps more than they have been."

Gen. John Allen appears Monday at Brookings. He’ll do a discussion on Afghanistan at 10 a.m. Mike O’Hanlon moderates the event.

Flournoy and Campbell named co-chairs of CNAS board. Michèle Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy, and Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, have been named co-chairs of the Center for a New American Security’s Board of Directors, CNAS announced formally yesterday. Campbell and Flournoy, of course, founded CNAS in 2007. They replace former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who will remain on the board. 

Defense budget: Lemons from Lemonade. AEI’s Mackenzie Eaglen says the budget crisis is a chance for real Pentagon reform that tackles the "structural drivers" of costs, in a new report issued Thursday: The problem is Pentagon budget cutters are focusing on the wrong things instead of "the primary drivers of DoD spending," she argues, which include "excess bureaucratic overhead, unused infrastructure, and unbridled personnel costs."

DOD gets a thumbs-sideways on rare earths. An industry advocacy group gives mixed reviews to DOD’s latest strategic materials report. Good for the Pentagon, says the Strategic Materials Advisory Council, for giving higher priority to rare earth materials that are critical for things like batteries and guidance systems, but don’t stockpile from China in the meantime. Short answer: Buy American. This report, the group complains, "does not take meaningful action to ensure a secure supply chain for these materials."

The drawdown of civilians from Afghanistan, con’t.

The strategic impact of civilians’ accelerated departure from Afghanistan is unclear, said another U.S. official.

"The consequences aren’t yet known," the individual told Situation Report. But it’s already evident to civilian agencies that the accelerated drawdown poses a problem for the work that many want to continue doing. "As the volume of stuff that civilians are expected to do will increase as the military draws down, this is a knee-jerk, pendulum reaction to where form is driving function, as opposed to function driving form," said an official.

Some believe the White House, which announced the military drawdown of 34,000 troops by next year, is pushing to end U.S. involvement there and wants to curtail civilian deployments. The American official, however, believes the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is driving the rush out. A spokesman for the embassy in Kabul said there was no one available to speak about the issue for another week and therefore would not have a comment.

How the "golden hour" is driving the civilians’ departure. The military is slowly closing bases across the country as part of the planned drawdown of military personnel and their footprint. As of March 1, ISAF, the war command in Kabul, had closed more than 247 bases, leaving about 180 bases still open. ISAF has already transferred more than 380 bases to the Afghan government. But that’s creating new challenges for the civilians, who rely on the military’s support for security and even for medical evacuation. Over the last few years, the Pentagon created what’s called the "golden hour," the amount of time required to get injured personnel to a medical facility to receive medical care. But as bases close, it’s not possible to meet the golden hour requirement in more and more of the country. Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko expressed the problem himself in testimony last month: "This means that the safe zone or ‘bubble’ around these medical facilities extends about as far as a 20-minute helicopter ride. As troops continue to withdraw, the amount of territory in Afghanistan that falls outside these security ‘bubbles’ will increase. Accordingly, the number of U.S. funded projects and programs that can be monitored and overseen by U.S. personnel will decrease."
Where are all the up-and-comers?
Young "up-and-comers" at State and AID, as well as more seasoned civilians attempting to revive their careers, used to push to get positions in Afghanistan. But it isn’t that way any longer. "Now you don’t see the up-and-comers anymore," one official told Situation Report. Other civilians don’t think the "age generalization" is completely true – but agree that Afghanistan is "no longer the sexy place to go."

There have been notable exceptions to the idea that civilians have not had an impact. They include people like Carter Malkasian, a State Department representative, who speaks Pashto and was embraced by Afghans in Garmser district for the personal sacrifices and risks he took living among them and convincing tribal leaders to return home — thus helping to create more stability there.

But generally speaking, the civilian surge will not go down as a bureaucratic success story. Highly-paid civilians were sent there, sometimes with little to do. "In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the civilian answer to the surge was to throw people at the problem, without going through a military style analysis of needs and mission to match resources against," said a U.S. official who works with the military.

"The surge was not particularly effective on the civilian side," said Tony Cordesman of CSIS, who returned from Afghanistan within the last week. "It wasn’t well organized, people weren’t used properly in the field, and they are going to be pulled back rapidly after the campaign season."  

Droning On

Global Thermonuclear Warfare


Middle East War Drums

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

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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