Hagel expected to announce ‘drone medal’ change today; State mum on Afghan terp backlog; Ethics review: mil officers to get assessed from all angles; U.S. military expands its reach in Africa; Hagel dines out, and a little bit more.
By Gordon Lubold Hagel will announce a change to the controversial "drone medal" as early as today. A Pentagon source tells Situation Report that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will reveal the results of the analysis he directed of the Distinguished Warfare Medal as early as this afternoon. It’s likely that Hagel will change the "precedence" ...
By Gordon Lubold
By Gordon Lubold
Hagel will announce a change to the controversial "drone medal" as early as today. A Pentagon source tells Situation Report that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will reveal the results of the analysis he directed of the Distinguished Warfare Medal as early as this afternoon. It’s likely that Hagel will change the "precedence" of the controversial new medal, which now falls below the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldier’s, Airmen’s, Navy and Marine medals, but sits above the Bronze Star (and Bronze Star with a Combat ‘V’) and Purple Heart. Putting the new medal above those combat awards had caused outrage from Capitol Hill, veterans groups and, more privately, the uniforms inside the Pentagon. The so-called drone medal is likely to be awarded only in rare cases and for highly classified operations, making it akin to the awards agents receive in the clandestine service. Still, put bluntly, the award recognizes achievement with a joystick over life-risking combat on a battlefield. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement Feb. 13, shortly before he left the Pentagon, seemed not to have gone through enough of the normal vetting process. Hence the change expected today.
The source tells Situation Report about Hagel’s announcement: "He’s is expected to restructure [the medal] in a way that addresses the precedence issue and also preserves recognition for exceptional service from outside the war zones."
Why this is important – Where the medal sits in the military is a big deal in the hierarchy-hyper world of military culture because of what it says about the value placed on physical courage. But Hagel’s decision is important for another reason. If he does in fact change the medal’s precedence, it means Hagel, the former combat-wounded sergeant, will be seen as responsive – and quickly so — to concerns from inside and outside the building.
But how will the service chiefs explain their support of any change after apparently supporting the medal and its precedence the first time around — just two months ago?
Why isn’t State letting Afghan interpreters come to the U.S.? The NYT’s A-1 has a piece about how interpreters working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, including the military, are having trouble getting their visa applications processed and, as U.S. military forces withdraw from Afghanistan, risk being targeted by the Taliban. There are no real stats about the deaths of interpeters but anecdotally, the paper reports, three are killed each month. The situation mirrors the one which played out as forces withdrew from Iraq. But it also differs: there are less than a third number of visas available to Afghan terps as there were for Iraqi terps (7,500 versus 25,000). But State won’t talk about it. The NYT: "The State Department declined to comment on the number of applications submitted, the backlog or any phase of the visa approval process. Privately, some officials say the consular division has doubled resources to increase its processing ability, though that has not been publicly announced or confirmed."
Kirk Johnson, founder of the List Project, an organization that helps Iraqi refugees obtain visas: "In my opinion, the story in Afghanistan is a sorry, shabby echo of what’s happening in Iraq."
Welcome to Monday’s nothing-is-certain-but-death-and-taxes edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. 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 military stories of success or excess.
The best way to solve the problem on the Korean Peninsula? Stop talking about it. So argues Frank Jannuzi, writing on FP: "Washington’s head-on approach to Pyongyang’s nuclear program has failed for decades, and the situation has only grown more dangerous, as shown by the new reports that North Korea may have developed a warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile. The best way to resolve the ongoing nuclear crisis is to stop talking about nukes — and instead focus on advancing North Korean human rights, reorienting global attention from the North’s plutonium to its people."
DC SEEN — Chuck Hagel, his wife Lilibet, and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and his wife Julia were seen at Estadio restaurant on Logan Circle.
ICYMI: Dempsey’s senior officer ethics review is complete. Situation Report reported over the weekend that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marty Dempsey had completed his review of senior officer ethics issues and is moving forward with a plan to strengthen ethics training and infuse military education more broadly with ethics issues. The effort, which came on the heels of all the problems last year — including the resignation of former four-star David Petraeus from the CIA — is still a work in progress. But two concrete steps include the creation of a newly mandated "360-degree" assessment of officers, which will help the military to identify problem children, and new "assistance visits" — teams of experts schooled in rules and regulations who will periodically visit commands to make sure everything is ship-shape.
From our story, Saturday: Despite an increasing number of investigations against senior officers, defense officials are quick to point out that only a small number of them are ever substantiated, and even those represent a small number of officers. Regardless, maintaining the public trust is the highest priority, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, director of joint force development for the Joint Staff, told Situation Report. "If one individual can impact how people view one thousand people on the issue of trust, you have to do everything you can," said Flynn, who along with other senior officers on the Joint Staff helped conduct the review. "When you are talking about trust, it is probably the one area where you have to have zero defects."
A senior officer to Situation Report: "We need to do a better job making sure our senior folks and especially their staffs are well aware of the rules and regulations," said one officer who did not participate formally in the Joint Staff review. "Very, very few people are trying to do anything bad like have an affair, pass classified information, or abuse their people — the vast majority are good leaders trying to comply with very complex regulations on travel, official gift exchanges, and support."
From another senior officer, who fears the Pentagon, in an attempt to minimize the problem by emphasizing how few officers ever get into trouble, could sweep the issue under the rug: "I’m not worried about us overreacting too much. I think the greater risk is conveying a message to [society, Congress, and the enlisted corps] that we’re really OK, that, yeah, we had a couple of bad guys but the rest of us are just fine."
Not sure if the joke worked. From SNL’s Weekend Edition, Seth Meyers: "It was announced this week that because of the budget sequester the Navy has canceled New York’s annual Fl
eet Week, in which dozens of large ships dock in the city for the week. So heads up ladies that’s an ice cream man hitting on you."
AP reported Friday that the Navy spends between $7 and $10 million on average for the annual event in New York. That includes docking fees, fuel costs, security, hotel rooms, and transporting large ships and airplanes to New York. While it’s true it’s hard for the Pentagon to justify such expenditures when it is cutting other programs — and, potentially, furloughing civilian employees — Fleet Week generates an estimated $20 million for New York City in tax revenue, and hotel and restaurant spending.
The U.S. military is increasingly leaning on Niger to help it expand its operations in Africa, and why Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou is important to the Pentagon. Niger is becoming an important partner to the U.S. military in North Africa as the Obama administration expands its counterterrorism operations in the region. Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, frets about a possible spillover of violence into his country from Mali to the west and Libya to the north, reports the WaPo this morning, but sees a number of benefits in cooperating with the U.S. military.
Issoufou: "Today, everyone agrees with the links between security, democracy and development… for the short term, the solution is military, but for the long term it is development."
WaPo: "The Pentagon is deepening its military involvement across Africa as it confronts an expanding array of terrorism movements and guerrilla groups. In doing so, the U.S. government has become dependent on several countries with checkered democratic records. That in turn has lessened Washington’s leverage to push those countries to practice free elections and the rule of law." The U.S. military is also deepening its involvement in other countries. Djibouti: "…President Ismail Omar Guelleh has ruled unchallenged over his tiny country since 1999 by marginalizing political opponents and confining journalists. Still, the U.S. government has embraced Guelleh as a friend because he has allowed the Pentagon to build a major counter-terrorism base on his territory. Uganda: "In Uganda, where Yoweri Museveni has served as president for 27 years, U.S. officials have objected to the persecution of gay men and lesbians and other human-rights abuses. But Washington has kept up a generous flow of foreign aid. It also pays Uganda to send troops to war-torn Somalia and lead a regional hunt for Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army." Kenya: "In Kenya, U.S. diplomats warned there would be unspecified "consequences" if the country elected a fugitive from the International Criminal Court as its new president. Kenyans did so anyway, and the Obama administration has hesitated to downgrade relations because it needs help on counter-terrorism." Ethiopia: Human-rights groups have also accused the U.S. government of holding its tongue about political repression in Ethiopia, another key security partner in East Africa.
You might want to read "The Strange Case of the White Jihadist of Timbuktu" on FP, here. It’s the story of a HARALD DOORNBOS and JENAN MOUSSA: "Gilles Le Guen seemed like France’s worst nightmare. He was a white Frenchman who could move around the country at will and had pledged his loyalty to al Qaeda’s branch in North Africa. He had even fought alongside the jihadists during their occupation of northern Mali. But the story may not be so simple: Al Qaeda began to suspect that he was, in fact, a spy sent by France to infiltrate its ranks, and it launched an investigation to determine his true loyalties."
- WSJ (editorial): U.S. intelligence keep underestimating the nuclear threat from North Korea.
- AP: North Koreans mark key holiday, oblivious to tensions.
- Reuters: World military spending dips in 2012, first time since 1998.
- Bloomberg: Defense contractors spinning off divisions as budget axe falls.
- Duffel Blog: Marine celebrates historic, six-month marriage.
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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