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.

Obama to redouble efforts to shutter Gitmo, reduce drone strikes; Rosa Brooks wants POTUS in her classroom; Horror in the U.K.; Is Jon Stewart goading the WH on the VA?; Hagel: build a better software program; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Today, Obama outlines new efforts to close Gitmo and curtail the use of drones. The remarks, at 2 p.m. at National Defense University, will come amid the disclosure yesterday that four Americans were killed in 2009 by drone strikes. Previously, the administration had only acknowledged that one American, Anwar al-Awlaki, had been ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Today, Obama outlines new efforts to close Gitmo and curtail the use of drones. The remarks, at 2 p.m. at National Defense University, will come amid the disclosure yesterday that four Americans were killed in 2009 by drone strikes. Previously, the administration had only acknowledged that one American, Anwar al-Awlaki, had been been targeted and killed, and only two others of the four had been known. But Obama will touch on a new policy to "sharply curtail the instances" when drones can be used to attack outside "overt war zones," the NYT reports, referring to countries like Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Obama will also essentially move drone operations from the CIA to the Defense Department.

The NYT: "While Mr. Obama may not explicitly announce the shift in drones from the Central Intelligence Agency in his speech, since the agency’s operations remain formally classified, the change underscores a desire by the president and his advisers to balance them with other legal and diplomatic tools. The C.I.A., which has overseen the drone war in the tribal areas of Pakistan and elsewhere, will generally cede its role to the military after a six-month transition period as forces draw down in Afghanistan, officials said." Obama will also explain how he is focusing his administration on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appointing a senior State Department representative to oversee transfers of detainees.

Holder claims an "unprecedented level of transparency into how sensitive counterterrorism operations are conducted." As the administration attempts to counter critics of its Gitmo and targeted-killing policies, Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed yesterday that the U.S. has killed three Americans in addition to al-Awlaki. In a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he wrote: "Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States." And: "[A] cornerstone of the Administration’s policy is one of the principles I noted in my speech at Northwestern: that lethal force should not be used when it is feasible to capture a terrorist suspect. For circumstances in which capture is feasible, the policy outlines standards and procedures to ensure that operations to take into custody a terrorist suspect are conducted in accordance with applicable law, including the laws of war."

Welcome to Thursday’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 national security stories of success or excess. And please follow us @glubold.

Law professor Rosa Brooks, who last week testified on the nature of armed conflict before the Senate Armed Services Committee, has five questions for Obama: 1: "Mr. President, what — if any — limits do you believe the 2001 AUMF imposes on the use of military force, and what basis does Congress (or the public) have for evaluating whether your administration is respecting those limits?"

2: "Mr. President, exactly how do you define ‘associates’ of al Qaeda and the Taliban? Is being ‘affiliated’ with al Qaeda enough to make an individual or organization a lawful target under the AUMF, or must that person or organization do something more to become a lawful target? If so, what’s the ‘something more’?"

3: "Mr. President, if Congress amended the 2001 AUMF tomorrow to apply only to actions taken inside the borders of Afghanistan, do you believe you would still have the inherent constitutional power (and right under international law) to use military force to protect the United States against terrorist threats? If so, why do you need the AUMF? What, if any, uses of military force are you currently undertaking that you believe are lawful under the existing AUMF but would not be lawful if they were premised only on your inherent constitutional powers?" Read the rest here.

Horror in the U.K.: The Mail Online’s headline says it all: "Blood on his hands, hatred in his eyes: 2.30pm on a suburban high street, Islamic fanatics wielding meat cleavers butcher a British soldier, taking their war on the West to a new level of horror." British authorities are now confirming that the victim was indeed a British soldier, who was apparently targeted because of his service in the appalling attack yesterday in a London suburb.

More amazing — A woman who jumped off a passing bus to assist the victim then confronted the attackers, urged horrified onlookers to videotape them. The woman, 48, said later that she told the man, who claimed to want to start a war in London that night, "Right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose." And: "I wasn’t scared. Better me than a child," she said later, according to Mail Online. Video of the man talking about the attack, the lifeless body of his victim behind him. 

Furloughs hit the Army in Afghanistan. A memo from an O-6 obtained by Situation Report tells Army civilians working in Afghanistan for the Human Terrain System that "until further guidance, all HTS employees, to include those deployed to Afghanistan, will no longer conduct business outside of the normal 40-hour work week. Effective immediately, employees are not authorized to work overtime or comp time hours." Read the memos here and here.

As many as 1,000 civilians who work sexual assault prevention for the DOD will be exempted from having to take unpaid leave this summer. In an effort to signal they are serious about preventing sexual assault, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey are exempting civilians who work across DOD on behalf of sexual assault prevention, in a story first reported by Politico late Tuesday evening. We also now that the number who will actually be exempted is greater than 500 and as many as 1,000, Situation Report is told by a defense official. Such exceptions include full-time sexual response coordinators and sexual assault victim advocates in the active and reserve componen
ts. SAPR program management staff at the Component Headquarters level will be exempt from the furlough program, which is expected to affect as many as 800,000 DOD civilians who now must take 11 days of unpaid leave between now and Sept. 30.

Will Jon Stewart single-handedly goad the Obama administration into fixing the VA? Unclear. But his darkly funny criticism has been effective. After Monday’s episode of "The Daily Show," we’re told some Dem political types were hanging their heads pretty low around the Pentagon. Stewart is supposed to be their cheerleader! But on this front, he’s become to the Obama administration a prickly thorn who is only saying what even administration officials agree is true: Obama pledged to fix the problems at the VA in 2009 and they seem only to have gotten worse. And VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, placed in that job with much fanfare, has been there since 2009.

In Monday’s segment, "America’s Heroes Return: Operation Enduring Wait," Stewart took Obama and Hagel to task, even putting up a "Hagel Advent Calendar" — a reference to the secretary’s appearance on Capitol Hill more than a month ago, when he promised to marry the VA’s computer system to the Pentagon’s currently incompatible system within 30 days. If the Obama administration approached fixing the databases the same way it did during the campaign, the problem might be fixed, Stewart argued with characteristic zeal. "Motherfucker! You could clear up this VA thing in a month? Eich. Clearly the lesson appears to be that if we could take the same urgency, enthusiasm and clarity of vision you need to get elected to government, and apply those to governing, can we fix some problems? Yes we motherfucking can." Watch the episode, here.

Hagel met with Shinseki and Mikulski and others to discuss the way ahead in fixing the backlog of veterans’ claims and the big seam between the DOD and the VA. The Pentagon announced yesterday that it would create a seamless software system by the end of the year with the aim of reducing the wait time and backlog of veterans’ claims. At what was billed as a roundtable discussion yesterday on Capitol Hill, Hagel and Shinseki agreed to create a new healthcare management system that would remove the seam between the two agencies and begin to reduce the persistent problems war veterans face. But the system will still be two distinct ones, not just a sole, integrated one, much to the chagrin of some members of Congress who have asked that one system be created in the past. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine expressed disappointment, according to a story in the WaPo.

"It appears to back an interoperable approach over an integrated one," Michaud said. "An integrated electronic health record is something that Congress mandated years ago and has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on." Meanwhile, each agency will identify a "high-level person" whose sole focus will be on fixing the problem, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee that hosted the meeting yesterday. "Secretary Hagel is so designating that person.  We look forward to working with that person.  They have been now meeting frequently, and they’re going to do that every 60 days.  The committee is going to insist on metrics of accountability, where we get reports every two — every two months, as well."

Hagel: "We’ve got a ways to go.  We get that.  But we’re moving in the right direction.  It will be done.  And I want to assure you, as I have Secretary Shinseki and members of Congress, that DOD will be a full partner, a responsible partner, understanding our piece of this, and we intend to be successful."


  • Breaking Defense: Coast Guard says sequester means $1 billion more of cocaine floods into U.S.
  • NYT: Women were secretly videotaped at West Point, Army says.
  • Aviation Week: USS Freedom cuts short its first underway. 
  • Small Wars: The infantryman’s half-kilometer reconsidered.
  • McClatchy: Did the Pentagon cry wolf on sequester?   

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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