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.

Furlough decision soon; What the assassination of a general in Syria tells us about Iranian influence; Could the Onion goad the WH?; Lippert’s first day as Hagel’s right hand man; Bruce Butler to the Navy League, and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold On furloughs, a decision soon. Pentagon press secretary George Little yesterday again acknowledged that each of the services were confronting a different math problem and that some services didn’t need to furlough their civilian workers while other did have to. "To be totally straightforward, the math does work for some services to ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

On furloughs, a decision soon. Pentagon press secretary George Little yesterday again acknowledged that each of the services were confronting a different math problem and that some services didn’t need to furlough their civilian workers while other did have to. "To be totally straightforward, the math does work for some services to avoid some furloughs, at a minimum… For other services, it is harder." Regardless, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants a "one team" approach and the Navy (and Marine Corps) which doesn’t need to furlough workers to balance their budget in the same way as the Army does, will essentially have to take one for the team. It’s "one team, one fight," Little said. A decision on furloughs and how many days DOD civilian workers will be forced on unpaid leave, is pending but is expected soon. Situation Report was the first to report on the Navy and Marines’ not needing to furlough their civilian employees April 11. Read that here.

Yesterday was day one for Mark Lippert. The special assistant, or TSA, for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reported for duty yesterday. He was welcomed to the front office by the boss at the senior staff meeting, where Hagel also thanked Marcel Lettre, who had served as acting TSA since Hagel arrived. We’ve been told Lettre is expected to continue to serve at the Pentagon in a senior job that will be announced in the "near future." Lippert, as Hagel, has a full plate, from managing the strategic assessment, to Syria and North Korea. But as the elbows grow sharper inside the building and the services push for their share of a smaller pie, Lippert’s biggest job may be to help his boss herd the cats – and keep the peace.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report where we take quiet note of the two-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for defining, animating, and driving so much of the way our readers still look at the national security environment today. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a 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.

Iran’s influence on Syria is "extensive and expensive:" Out this morning is a new, joint report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War that deepens our understanding of the role Iran is playing in Syria. It says Iran has conducted an "extensive, expensive and integrated effort" to keep the Assad regime in power and in return is laying the groundwork to retain Syrian territory to pursue its interests in the region if and when Assad falls. According to the report, provided to Situation Report in advance of its publication this morning, the Iranian security and intelligence services’ assistance to the Syrian military have evolved "into an expeditionary training mission using Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces, Quds Force, intelligence services, and law enforcement forces." The deployment of the IRGC "is a notable expansion of Iran’s willingness and ability to project military force beyond its borders," says the report, written by Will Fulton, Joe Holliday and Sam Wyer, and titled simply "Iranian Strategy in Syria."

But the report’s analysis digs into the significance of the assassination of Iranian Brig. Gen. Hassan Shateri, killed in Damascus while traveling to Beirut in February after having travelled to Aleppo. Shateri was a senior Quds Force commander who had been operating covertly in Lebanon in 2006 – and had also worked in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report concludes: "Western media has missed the significance of Shateri’s assassination. Reporting on his death highlights his activities in Lebanon, both because he was assigned there most recently and because of the location and manner of his death. But Shateri was not simply a supporter of and rebuilder of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Rather, Shateri was a senior, covert Quds Force operative whose assignments ranged from the Hindu Kush through Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean. His involvement in the Syrian conflict is further indication of the depth of Iran’s commitment to its interests in Syria and the grand strategic importance it places upon that conflict. Shateri’s presence in Syria also raises broader questions about how Syria fits into Iran’s global force projection strategy. A forthcoming paper published by AEI’s Critical Threats Project and the Institute for the Study of War will address the depth of Iranian involvement in Syria and the implications of the difficulties the Syrian regime is facing for Iranian regional and global strategy." Read the full report here.

The Onion is covering Syria, darkly. As the U.S. assesses intelligence on chemical weapons use in Syria and the first shipments of food and medical supplies to the opposition arrive, the Onion‘s coverage of the conflict and the American response is some of the most biting out there. The latest piece on the parody site is headlined "‘Help Has To Be On The Way Now,’ Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed." "Reported" out of Homs: "As Syrian military aircraft rained chlorine gas on his community Tuesday, local man Amir Najjar, 36, reportedly assured himself that military and humanitarian aid from foreign governments must certainly be racing toward the country at this very moment to protect him and other helpless civilians." Said the man: "Even if I do not survive, at least I can die knowing that someone is currently stepping in to prevent any more grotesque and inhumane loss of innocent life. After all, the international community fully recognizes that anything less than decisive action would be completely immoral and unconscionable."

But this is for real: Assad’s forces in Syria are said this morning to be pushing farther north to crush the resistance in Homs. From the NYT: "The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and draws its information from activists in Syria, said loyalist forces on Thursday had regained control of the strategically placed Wadi Sayeh district in the center of Homs. Rebel forces have controlled parts of Homs, Syria’s third biggest city, for more than a year. The fighting in there has ranked among the bloodiest since the conflict began about two years ago. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed."

Meanwhile, AFP announced new security guidelines for its journalists covering Syria. A memo from Agence France-Presse explains that the agency is "reinforcing its procedures" for covering the conflict. "Conditions inside the country are extremely dangerous and many journalists have been killed, injured or kidnapped since the conflict started." A contributor to AFP’s video service disappeared in November 2012. AFP now stipulates that all journalists working for service in Syria must have volunteered to cover the conflict and must have taken an AFP-approved hostile-environment training course.

Mapping it all out in Africa. FP’s own John Reed of Killer Apps was struck by the 10 troops the U.S. announced it was sending to A
frica and how it was all adding up to a larger American troop presence in Africa over the last decade. "You’ve probably heard about the 2,000-troop hub at Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, and the 100 special operators hunting Joseph Kony. But less is known about the handful of U.S. drone bases scattered across the continent and the dozens of exercises involving hundreds, if not thousands, of American troops." Click here for Reed’s interactive map of Africa in which you can see just how much the American military presence in Africa is. There are a bunch of other cool clicks on that post if you’re trying to learn about what the U.S. is doing in Africa.

Now we know why Petraeus picked USC to begin his coming out party. AP reported early this morning that David Petraeus had accepted a part-time teaching gig at the University of Southern California and will help "mentor students who are veterans" as part of his Comeback Tour, which began last month at a veterans event at USC and which we first reported in March here. "P4" as he’s known to those close to him will "teach and participate in seminars on such issues as international relations, government, leadership, information technology and energy," according to the AP. This is on top of the teaching gig he accepted at the City University of New York and a likely role at an equity firm.

Want to know what the top Army general, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, thinks about the Asia pivot and Asia generally? The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron did, too. Click here to find out what he said. 

The military’s new recruits: Galaxy, iPhones. DOD is expected to grant security approvals for the Samsung Galaxy smartphone as well as the iPhone and iPad in the next few weeks, according to the WSJ this morning. "Both companies have been pushing hard to win over U.S. defense agencies, some of the government’s most security-conscious customers. That market is small and still largely dominated by Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerrys, so the new security approvals won’t likely translate into any immediate, big sales or new customers. Still, the approvals are among a handful considered to be the gold standard in communications security. Passing muster at the Pentagon can go a long way in making other security-minded customers — such as bankers and lawyers — feel more comfortable using the devices." Read all about it, here.

Helmand is booooorinnng. A McClatchy story out of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province this morning captures the challenge the Marines there face as Afghans assume more combat responsibilities and Marines find themselves sitting on their hands. "For years, the Marines have fought and died in Helmand, a hot, dusty province in Afghanistan’s south that’s earned a bloody place in corps lore, right beside the likes of Anbar province in Iraq. It’s been by far the deadliest province for the U.S.-led coalition, where more than 900 international soldiers have been killed, including more than 350 Marines. But the days of heavy combat and casualties in Helmand are over, at least for conventional American troops. And soon that might be true across Afghanistan. In the next few weeks, Afghan security forces are expected to reach one of the biggest milestones of the 11-year-old war: They’ll officially take the lead in the few remaining pockets of the country where they haven’t already."

The changes in Helmand: "Marines are no longer walking the harrowing foot patrols that once were common in much of the province. Instead, they mainly work on large bases, teaching and mentoring Afghan security forces, and simply packing up to leave. Some Marines are still exposed to risk, including those who run supply convoys and help clear the roads of bombs, and at least 30 have been wounded this year in the northern part of Helmand. But it’s the Afghan army and police that are doing the real fighting in the province — and taking the bulk of the casualties."

Will Afghanistan and Pakistan kiss and make up? Unclear. But the recent meeting of Afghan and Pakistani leaders with SecState John Kerry in Brussels "marked a renewed effort by the Obama administration to get these two South Asian nations to resolve hostilities that have fueled the war in Afghanistan," writes Daniel Sagalyn on FP. "The meeting came at a time when American officials believe that after years of supporting militants who were trying to undermine the Afghan government — and as U.S. forces prepare to leave the region — Pakistan has changed its approach to Kabul and has become more cooperative in seeking a political solution to the conflict raging next door, American officials say. However, even as they insist there is a new approach, those same officials acknowledge there has been no ‘measurable change’ in support for the combatant groups U.S. and allied troops confront in Afghanistan."

Welcome Bruce Butler to the Navy League. The League just named Butler to be its new national executive director this week, replacing Dale "Kid" Lumme, who went to become EVP of Decision Lens. Butler will lead a "talented headquarters staff" to support the League’s nearly 50,000 members. From the League: "A native of Mission San Jose, Calif., Butler is a retired Navy Captain with 29 years of leadership and management experience. He holds several naval specialty qualifications, including acquisition and operations analysis, and served his last tour leading the Navy’s Office for Business Transformation and Process Improvement. His academic credentials include Masters’ degrees from the University of San Diego and the National War College. Butler also served as a professor and Director of Strategic Studies at the U.S. Army War College. He was the Defense, Naval, and Coast Guard Attaché to the Republic of Argentina and deployed on five expeditionary and combat deployments, logging more than 4,000 flight hours." Thursday morning fact: the League is 111 years old.


  • NYT: McRaven charts new course for SOCOM. 
  • Battleland: Who knew the Pentagon had bad habits?
  • Military Times: Article 32 for senior leaders in diver deaths at Aberdeen. 
  • Washington Times: (Inside the Ring) Russia builds up, U.S. builds down. 
  • Haaretz: Former IDF chief: CW must be met with response in Syria. 
  • US News: Marines to Osprey air-to-air refueling this summer. 
  • Foreign Affairs: What to read on the Caucasus.


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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