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.

Navy assaulting sexual assault; Dempsey, Winnefeld, up for re-confirmation; Hagel to consider streamlining POW/MIA efforts; Why is the DOD IG exempt from furloughs?; New leadership at Dempsey’s CAG; Watch the wait at the Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Today, the Navy will announce a series of new initiatives aimed to combat sexual assault. As the Pentagon scrambles to address sexual assault issues across the Department, each service is weighing in with their own, service-specific programs. While there is a sense that DOD is working hard to stave off Congressional attempts ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Today, the Navy will announce a series of new initiatives aimed to combat sexual assault. As the Pentagon scrambles to address sexual assault issues across the Department, each service is weighing in with their own, service-specific programs. While there is a sense that DOD is working hard to stave off Congressional attempts to make fundamental changes to the way the military approaches such cases, the steps are seen as genuine attempts to mitigate the problem. Situation Report is told that this afternoon, the Navy will announce that it is hiring specialized investigators to help resolve sexual assault investigations more efficiently, will begin to publish regularly information about courts-martial that involve sexual assault and will expand to the fleet a number of local programs that are thought to be effective. And since Navy officials in particular have linked sexual assault with alcohol, it will also take steps to "deglamorize" and limit sales of alcohol at Navy Exchanges with a memo it’s releasing today that spells it all out.

Also today, Dempsey and Winnefeld face the music. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and his vice, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, appear on Capitol Hill this morning at 9:30 to get re-confirmed for their second, two-year terms. No one expects the two to be ambushed by ugly questions, but they’ll face a number of critical issues. Guessing the budget, sexual assault and Syria might come up. Read Dempsey’s opener here. Read Winnefeld’s opener, here.

And in Syria, is Assad’s upper hand even stronger? The Assad regime in Syria is experiencing a comeback of sorts, as the U.S. and other countries show "a new reluctance" to get involved by providing rebel forces with the arms they need, according to the NYT. Even if Assad is not thought to be capable of controlling the entire country ever again, his ability to maintain a tight grip on power is becoming indisputable. The NYT’s Ben Hubbard, in Beiruit: "In recent weeks, rebel groups have been killing one another with increasing ferocity, losing ground on the battlefield and alienating the very citizens they say they want to liberate. At the same time, the United States and other Western powers that have called for Mr. Assad to step down have shown new reluctance to provide the rebels with badly needed weapons. Although few expect that Mr. Assad can reassert his authority over the whole of Syria, even some of his staunchest enemies acknowledge that his position is stronger than it has been in months. His resilience suggests that he has carved out what amounts to a rump state in central Syria that is firmly backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and that Mr. Assad and his supporters will probably continue to chip away at the splintered rebel movement." More here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report.

In a sea of "command think tanks," this one floats to the top – and it’s got a new director. Dempsey’s Commander’s Action Group, or CAG, has a new head, Situation Report is told. He is Army Col. Dave Horan, who hails from the National Security staff and this week started as director of Dempsey’s CAG. The CAG, of course, is that resident group of big brained officers on call who advise a commander on anything he or she needs them to. Dempsey’s group, on the Pentagon’s D-Ring, tackles anything from sexual assault issues to officer ethics to budgets to Syria. Horan has worked for Dempsey in a similar capacity when Dempsey was at U.S. Central Command, the Army’s Training Command and the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army, where Dempsey served only briefly. Horan was an Army War College fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and was a director for defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council staff before rejoining Dempsey’s team this week. He succeeds Air Force Col. Troy Thomas, who will remain on staff as Dempsey’s special assistant for now. Few would dispute that Dempsey is entitled to having a dream team dedicated to looking at the issues he confronts. But CAGs have proliferated across the military in recent years, with multiple CAGs and even some lower-level commanders having them. As budget-tightening hits – and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s 20 percent cut announced this week takes effect over the next several years – the CAG phenomenon may change. Read FP’s coverage of Dempsey’s CAG, with an interview of Thomas, from last fall, here.

Doug Lamborn, the defense civilians’ best new friend. Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Republican, is seeking exemptions for furloughed workers – all of them – after scoring a victory in which the DOD has at least said it would grant exemptions to furloughed workers who are directly affected by the wildfires in Colorado. After Lamborn made the request, DOD said it would work to protect families and individuals affected by the big Black Forest fire. But Lamborn is turning it up: he wants DOD to grant permanent exemptions to all furloughed workers, and we think may be the only member of Congress pushing for same. Lamborn, in a statement – "These sequestration furloughs are unnecessary and I believe an attempt by the Obama Administration to inflict maximum pain in order to gain some perceived political advantage. My amendment would prohibit the Department of Defense from doing any more sequestration furloughs after October 1 of this year. The nation’s budget problems would be better addressed by making modest reforms to our massive entitlement programs, not by cutting the pay of hard working, middle class Americans who are strengthening our nation’s defense."

When it comes to furloughs, the DOD IG exempted itself. The Office of Management and Budget allowed some agencies to exempt themselves from the much-maligned furlough program in which civilians are forced on an unpaid vacation. So as most other defense civilians deal with their second week of furloughs, the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s office, which is independent, has exempted itself. A spokeswoman from the IG’s office this morning confirmed that the IG office was in fact exempted, saying "our budget permitted it, allowing us to continue our mission fully" and citing OMB’s directive that independent agencies – and all Inspectors General across the government due to their unique mission – were allowed to exempt themselves. But at the Pentagon, where defense leaders have had to defend the "one-team, one-fight" approach in which all the services had to furlough their civilians regardless of their budgetary situation (and Hagel himself this week defended the move, to troops) there was confusion. The DOD IG’s office’s exemption is "one of the great head-scratchers of the furlough period," one Pentagon official told Situation Report. "They have an important responsibility to investigate cost overruns, but apparently aren’t willing to chip in themselves on cost savings. A real disappointment when civilian employees like some Department first responders are subject to furlough."

From the Don’t Forget Your Pentagon Badge Department ­We’re revisiting this issue because we can. There’s a new sign up outside the Pentagon’s Metro entrance that warns visitors and badge holders who don’t have their badges that the wait to get into the building could be as much as an hour between now and Sept. 21 – the period of the furloughs. Today’s high? 96 degrees.

Reading Rosa: she swims upstream, making a case for American propaganda. FP’s Rosa Brooks wonders if Uncle Sam does a better job of journalism than the media. Wait, wuh? Brooks: "My fellow Americans, you’re a pretty weird bunch of people. I say this with love. But really, what’s up with your attitude toward government? On both the left and the right, Americans oscillate between a peculiar, irrational deference toward the government and an equally peculiar, irrational suspicion of it. On the left, a touching faith in the federal government’s ability to solve domestic social problems (poverty, ill health, etc.) by spending money is generally coupled with an absolute conviction that when it comes to foreign policy and national security, everything emanating from the federal government is a tissue of lies, probably for the purpose of covering up a sinister imperialist conspiracy and/or destroying domestic civil liberties. Meanwhile, on the right, a touching faith in the absolute rightness and virtue of the military and the absolute need to pour additional tax dollars into national security is usually coupled with an equally deep conviction that when it comes to federal spending on domestic programs, the government is a) lying, b) incompetent, and c) determined to subvert our freedoms." Read the rest, here.

A "drone" crash in Florida. A QF-4 drone crashed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., causing no injuries but backups on a closed, remote road. No word yet on the cause. But Fox quoted James Lewis, who contributes to FP, as a military technology expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "[He] said the QF-4 was likely used for target practice by Tyndall’s F-22 Raptor pilots. ‘It is an older fighter plane they have modified for use as a target," Lewis said. ‘The QF-4 is not a drone in the way we normally think of drones. It is not used for anything other than to be shot down. It is an old aircraft that would otherwise be sold for scrap.’ Read more here.

This time, Yemen’s No. 2 al-Qaida leader may just be dead. FP’s Dana Stuster: "Said al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has reportedly been killed. But unlike previous (and premature) reports of his death — and there have been many — this time the news came straight from the source, in an announcement by AQAP. Maybe this time Shihri will actually stay dead." More here.

Read "The drone that killed my grandson" in the NYT, by Nasser al-Awlaki: "I visited the site later, once I was able to bear the pain of seeing where he sat in his final moments. Local residents told me his body was blown to pieces. They showed me the grave where they buried his remains. I stood over it, asking why my grandchild was dead. Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew – that it was responsible for his death." More here.

On Iran, act now and avoid the rush, say Pickering, Luers and Walsh. The departure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the arrival of Hassan Rouhani in Iran, coupled with the distinct fear that a Shiite-Sunni conflict spills over from Syria, threatening Iran’s interests, may make this an excellent time for the U.S. to engage with Iran, argues Thomas Pickering, William Luers and Jim Walsh in a new piece published in the New York Review of Books. But this opportunity may not last. Pickering, et al: "Iran and the United States have many important differences, but an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability should be a critical priority. This could open the door to conversations with Iran regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. A functioning US-Iranian relationship could also help advance diplomatic efforts on Syria. Despite the new opportunities and incentives, the US and Iran have deep-seated and justifiable suspicions about each other. Their shared history has been one of missed opportunities and misperceptions. To overcome this distrust will require strong leadership at a time when the stakes are growing larger. Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance, and events in Syria could well move further out of control. Without a change in direction, the US could find itself in another war in the Middle East that would further weaken its economy and its political influence."

They suggest: Obama send a message of congratulations to Rouhani; the WH should indicate that it would be open to a meeting between Obama and Rouhani, maybe in September; and a new effort could begin to reach the trial agreement. Also, they recommend, that the administration establish regular, "even routine," bilateral discussions with Iran – without preconditions. Read the rest, here.

And Iraqi ambassador says: help me help you. The Cable’s John Hudson: "For months, the Obama administration has tried and failed to persuade Iraq to block flights over its territory from Iran to Syria — a corridor the U.S. believes is sustaining Syria’s military advantage over the rebels. Though U.S. officials insist Iranian flyovers present a critical lifeline for the Assad regime, Iraqi officials say they can’t stop Iran’s military airlift: Iraqi air defenses are too weak. Now, Iraq’s newly-minted ambassador to the U.S. has a plan to bridge the diplomatic impasse: Help me help you." Read that post, here.

Benghazi saga: Is George Bristol retired yet or not? In the ongoing Benghazi hearing brouhaha, Marine Col. George Bristol, who held a key post in the region as commander of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, was in a position to know something about what went down and what options the U.S. had at its disposal as the attacks on Sept. 11 unfolded. Many American officials have testified, but not Bristol, described by Marine Corps Times as a "salty Marine" whose task force was responsible for that area. The Pentagon has said Bristol cannot be forced to testify because he retired after stepping down from that command in March. But MCT’s Dan Lamothe wrote that actually, Bristol is on active duty until the end of July, when his formal retirement occurs from the Corps. Read the rest here.

And, how did Virginia attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s service as a Marine really end? The Virginian-Pilot takes a look at what Cuccinelli’s office says about his service – and what the Corps says, in the Pilot’s story, "Cuccinelli, Marines disagree on why his duty ended," here. And read the e-mail from Marine Maj. Shawn Haney to Cucchinelli’s office re: his service, here.

The Pivot

  • WSJ: U.S. seen losing to China as a world leader. 
  • NBC News (blog): North Korea to Panama: release our ship. 
  • USAT: North Korean ship has a colorful past. 
  • Noting
  • Time: About that counterinsurgency contract.
  • CS Monitor: Can special counsels for sexual assault victims in the military help?
  • Al-Monitor: The Closer: Why Ron Dermer may be Bib’s perfect peace envoy.

The Stans

  • WaPo: Flow of military gear across Afghan border halts over dispute.
  • WSJ: Malala Yousafzai is no longer seen as a hero at home in Pakistan.


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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