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.

Benghazi’s got legs again; What women in combat will say about sexual assault; Honoring the fallen … journalists; Stavridis’ last post; Is McHugh still Army Sec?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold New this morning: FP’s latest e-book, Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber: Riding Shotgun from Karachi to Kabul in a Pakistani Truck, by Matthieu Aikins, who spent last fall on the military supply route to Afghanistan. It’s a story as much about the harrowing life on Pakistan’s highways as it is ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

New this morning: FP’s latest e-book, Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber: Riding Shotgun from Karachi to Kabul in a Pakistani Truck, by Matthieu Aikins, who spent last fall on the military supply route to Afghanistan. It’s a story as much about the harrowing life on Pakistan’s highways as it is an anatomy lesson in the way foreign military intervention can transform a society. Published this morning, the e-book is part of FP’s Borderlands series with the Pulitzer Center. From FP: "Aikins observes how the crucial lifeline for the Afghanistan war has become wound up not only in the shady deals of Pakistani contractors and predatory police, but also in the lives of rural Pashtuns who over the last decade have left their tribal homelands for trucking jobs in droves — like the two hash-smoking brothers in whose cabin Aikins rides. In his six-day, 1,000-mile trip, Aikins confronts roadside bandits, Kalashnikov-wielding tribal patrols, and hawk-eyed toll guards (not to mention confinement in the truck’s blazing-hot cabin)." What kind of truck did he ride in? A rickety 1993 Nissan. For the book, click here. Amazon Kindle version, here.

The Benghazi has story has "new legs." Friday’s revelations about the editing of the talking points on Benghazi — including the removal of lines linking the attack to Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda — are breathing new life into the eight-month old story. Republicans now have some real traction on what amounts to a political, not a national security, story. The talk shows were bursting with punditry yesterday, including from Bob Gates, who weighed in on CBS’ "Face the Nation" (interviewed on Saturday in Williamsburg, Va.):  "Frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East. Despite all the turmoil that’s going on, with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And so getting somebody there in a timely way — would have been very difficult, if not impossible. And frankly, I’ve heard ‘Well, why didn’t you just fly a fighter jet over and try and scare ’em with the noise or something?’ Well, given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi’s arsenals, I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft — over Benghazi under those circumstances."

Gates, on sending special forces: "Sending in special forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I have read, people really didn’t know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously. And to send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think, would have been very dangerous. And personally, I would not have approved that because we just don’t — it’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way. And there just wasn’t time to do that." Full CBS transcript, here.

The WSJ "Review and Outlook" this morning: "The upshot is that the Benghazi story has new legs, despite the best efforts of White House allies in the media to dismiss it… One issue worth more examination is which U.S. and NATO military assets were available in the region to respond to the attack, and why they didn’t. The White House and Pentagon insist there was nothing within range that would have made a difference, but we also know that military officers respond to the political tone that civilian officials set at the top."

The WaPo’s Jackson Diehl, this morning on the Republicans’ pursuit of the truth on Benghazi: "A constructive discussion is there to be had. Instead, we have more bickering over words — and more dreams of frog-marching White House staffers in handcuffs."

What’s next: Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House oversight committee, is expected today to ask for depositions from the chairmen of the Accountability Review Board: Thomas Pickering and Mike Mullen.

BTW: Gates on Syria. Gates was asked what actions the U.S. could take to resolve the conflict in Syria, and Gates said that other powers in the region, some of which have a greater stake in the resolution of the conflict, are just as capable of stepping in. "Why should it be us?" Gates said. "I think our direct involvement and particularly our direct military involvement would be a mistake," he said.

Welcome to Monday’s 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 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. And please follow us @glubold — it would make our Monday.

Newseum honors fallen journalists today. A full-page notice on page A-9 of the NYT today broadcasts the Newseum’s memorial for fallen journalists. It reads in part: "Journalists take calculated risks every day to report the news. Too often, they pay with their lives. In 2012, 84 journalists in 25 countries died while covering the news. Some were targeted deliberately, while others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All were working to expand the reach of a free press around the world." Number of names on the Newseum Journalists Memorial who have died since 1837: 2,246. More here.

Is John McHugh no longer Army Sec? What up NYT? In a piece published over the weekend by the NYT, investigative reporter Ian Urbina writes (boldface ours): "The actor James Franco at U.C.L.A. John M. McHugh, the former Army secretary, at the State University of New York at Oswego. The commentator Ben Stein at the University of Vermont. All are notable figures who were invited to participate in college graduations in recent years, only to withdraw or be disinvited in the face of campus protests." We’re pretty sure McHugh is still Army secretary, yup: His bio, here. Thanks to the friend of Situation Report for pointing this out, btw. Full story here

Fair winds and following seas: Jim Stavridis uses Facebook to sign off. Adm. Stavridis, who was one of the first senior combatant commanders to take social media seriously — updating his Facebook page himself — signed off today on his page thusly: "To the entire Allied Command Operations team, thank you for a wonderful four years! My wife Laura, our daughters Christina and Julia, and I have
enjoyed every day of our time here in Europe. We have traveled throughout this vast region, and in every nation we’ve been welcomed by our friends, allies and partners. At the end of the day, what Allied Command Operations represents is a chance to create partnerships and build bridges in this turbulent 21st Century in a way that creates security for our families and our nations. We are truly ‘Stronger Together.’"

Our story on Stavridis and other top officers’ use of FB, in another life, at the CS Monitor, in January 2009, here. Number of "likes" on his page: 10,667.

Stavridis’ change of command as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe was today in Mons, Belgium; the one for European Command was Friday in Stuttgart, Germany. He will vacation and retire formally July 1 and start at Tufts University’s Fletcher School in mid-July.

More evidence the military seems to let sexual assaulters off too easy: From the lede of the WaPo’s page-one story today by Craig Whitlock: "Military recruiters across the country have been caught in a string of sex-crime scandals over the past year, exposing another long-standing problem or the Defense Department as it grapples with a crisis of sexual assault in the ranks. In Alaska, law enforcement officials are fuming after a military jury this month convicted a Marine Corps recruiter of first-degree sexual assault in the rape of a 23-year-old female civilian but did not sentence him to prison. In Texas, an Air Force recruiter will face a military court next month on charges of rape, forcible sodomy and other crimes involving 18 young women he tried to enlist over a three-year period. Air Force officials have described the case as perhaps the worst involving one of its recruiters. "In Maryland, Army officials are puzzling over a murder-suicide last month, when a staff sergeant, Adam Arndt, killed himself after he fatally shot Michelle Miller, a 17-year-old Germantown girl whom he had been recruiting for the Army Reserve. Officials suspect the two were romantically involved, something expressly forbidden by military rules." Full WaPo story, here.

Juliette Kayyem: Hagel’s test on the sexual assault issue comes Wednesday, when the services report their plans to integrate women. The homeland security expert turned columnist turned Pulitzer Prize winner writes today: "Let’s dispose quickly of the obligatory disclaimers that most men in the military are law-abiding and honorable, and that the Pentagon has made significant efforts to prevent sexual assault and provide support to its victims. But for all the fixes proposed by the Pentagon and a Congress that has rightfully lost patience, the only real solution will come with the complete integration of women into an armed services that has, for too long, treated them as second-class citizens. Sexual misconduct is a symptom, not a cause, of an institutional culture built around rules prohibiting women from equal status…. There’s no penalty for the service branches to miss this week’s deadline, but failing to keep to a generous timetable in the midst of a flood of damaging new revelations would send a terrible signal."

Talking Turkey and Syria

The Stans

  • The Hindu: 10 civilians killed in roadside bomb blast. 
  • Xinhua: China praises Pakistan’s smooth elections. 
  • National Journal: "Stable instability:" NATO’s plan for Afghanistan post 2014.
  • Washington Times: Medics treat Afghans to treat their own. 
  • Bloomberg: Leaving Afghanistan a $7 billion task for U.S.

  • The Pivot
  • NYT: North Korea names armed forces minister.
  • ABC: Rodman plans new North Korea trip, seeks to free American.
  • Reuters: Greenert, in Singapore, puts cyber-security on Navy’s radar. 


  • Defense News: SOCOM pushes ahead with aircraft, vehicle plans.
  • AOL Defense: Why Congress should condemn IEDs.
  • Duffel Blog: Army says beatings will continue until morale improves. 

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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