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.

A pointed threat alert for Yemen; AQAP’s new chief is a patient man; Who did Egypt’s strongman pick to win the Super Bowl?; A new e-mail address at the Pentagon is; Dems frustrated over Syria policy; The two faces of vets; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold New drone strikes, fresh terror warnings; Al-Qaida is back on the map, and it all seems to reinforce that Yemen could be its new strategic home. AP reports that a drone strike fired at a car carrying four men in the al-Arqeen district of Yemen’s Marib province, setting it on fire and ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

New drone strikes, fresh terror warnings; Al-Qaida is back on the map, and it all seems to reinforce that Yemen could be its new strategic home. AP reports that a drone strike fired at a car carrying four men in the al-Arqeen district of Yemen’s Marib province, setting it on fire and killing all four. Officials told the AP that one of the dead is Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaida member in Yemen. It was the fourth strike in less than two weeks: three others have also hit cars thought to belong to al-Qaida leaders in southern Yemen. Coupled with the terrorist alert over the last few days and a pointed travel alert early this morning for Americans there, Yemen is now front-and-center as a source of immense concern as 19 diplomatic posts across the Middle East remain closed after communications between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in Pakistan and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who heads the al-Qaida franchise in the Arabian peninsula, were intercepted.

Early this morning, State issued a new travel warning to Americans in Yemen: get out. American personnel have already been flown out of Yemen by an Air Force C-17 transport plane. The State Department declined to say how many non-essential personnel and other government employees were flown out, nor would it say how many remain. Foggy Bottom’s statement: "The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high… If you wish to depart Yemen, you should make plans and depart as soon as possible. The airport is open and commercial flights are operating. There are no current plans for U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. U.S. citizens seeking to depart Yemen are responsible for making their own travel arrangements."

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little’s statement: "The U.S. Department of Defense continues to have personnel on the ground in Yemen to support the U.S. State Department and monitor the security situation."

We like to turn to Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Yemen at Princeton and author of "The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia," for help in thinking about the problems there.

Who is Wihayshi, this new AQAP chief? He’s soft-spoken and a "diminutive" Yemeni but who has a lot of say within the AQ organization, and his ties to bin Laden – four years as his aide-de-camp – helped him to be named to head al-Qaida in Yemen in 2007 before he was promoted to head AQAP in 2009, Johnsen told Situation Report late last night.

Who people should be talking about but aren’t: For Johnsen’s money, Qasim al-Raymi, whose mind, Johnsen says, gave birth to "many of the most diabolical plots" in recent years, is the one to watch.

Johnsen’s characterization of the threat: "Unfortunately the way we in the US have talked about the terror threat as a society AQAP doesn’t have to be particularly good or even successful to constitute a serious threat.  As a society we in the US seem to have a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism instead of weighing its risks against other potential threats.  In such an environment any threat from AQAP could be considered serious.  And the organization does appear to be growing, at least in terms of recruits."

Zawahiri pressed Wihayshi to act. Johnsen says that it’s not uncommon for a distant leader to pressure his men on the ground to act, but before they’re ready. "It happened with bin Laden and now it is happening with Zawahiri."

But: "Wihayshi is a very patient man, single-minded and devoted.  And he has, I believe, the standing to resist Zawahiri’s pressure until AQAP is ready to strike." Check out Johnsen’s article on the botched American strategy in Yemen later this morning at FP.

Welcome to Tuesday’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.

Beyond McCain: Now Dems are increasingly frustrated with the administration’s Syria policy – and they’re taking it out on Dempsey. The Cable’s John Hudson: "It’s not just Republicans who are now openly wondering whether America’s top general is being too timid on Syria. In a letter obtained by The Cable, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, calls into question Gen. Martin Dempsey’s gloomy analysis of U.S. military options in Syria. Specifically, the leading congressman asks whether the Pentagon overlooked an option to fire a limited number of cruise missiles in order to wreck Assad’s air force. ‘While I do not profess to be a military expert, it is clear that this analysis does not fully reflect an even more limited option that some have advocated, which would involve cruise missiles or other stand-off weapon strikes,’ Engel writes in a letter addressed to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The letter by Engel, a New York Democrat, adds a bipartisan gloss to the mounting frustration in Congress over the Pentagon’s proposed options in Syria. All last week, Dempsey faced withering criticism from Sen. John McCain for a letter he sent to the Arizona Republican and Sen. Carl Levin detailing the military options in Syria — options that McCain said exaggerated the cost of intervention in Syria in both treasure and blood. ‘In my many years, I have seen a lot of military commanders overstate what is needed to conduct military action for one reason or another. But rarely have I seen an effort as disingenuous and exaggerated as what General Dempsey proposed,’ McCain said.

So, why didn’t Dempsey include options for more limited stand-off strikes: A senior defense official told Hudson told Dempsey doesn’t believe limited stand-off strikes will tip the balance in Syria, so he didn’t include them in his analysis. The senior defense official: "The context in which the general provided those options was what might tip the balance in Syria. A host of lower-end options for the use of military force are clearly available. But to what end?"

Ryan Crocker would come out of retirement to help in Syria. Defense One’s Stephanie Gaskell (a.k.a. "Defense Two,") on Ryan Crocker’s views on Assad and Syria: "[Crocker], the retired career diplomat known for his work as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and in many of the world’s hotspots, says he would travel to Syria to try to intervene in the civil war there ‘in a heartbeat.’ Crocker told Defense One in an interview that he’d come out of retirement again– he’s now the dean of George Bush’s School of Government and Public Services at Texas A&M University — "if I were asked officially," but he also predicted that the now disjointed and out-gunned Syrian rebel forces ultimately would fail. Crocker: "I have never liked the idea of freelance diplomacy, for non-officials going into Syria. Some journalists do, God bless them. What picture we do have of the place comes from those brave souls, but I would only do it if I was asked… If I was asked, I’d do it in a heartbeat." But Crocker, who’s resume rivals that of many hardened combat veterans —  he has served as ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan — knows that ending the war in Syria won’t be easy, if not impossible. He told Gaskell: "We need to be extremely careful before we take positions that may come back to bite us."

osd.pentagon#^%*&*$(&! That’s the address we’ll write when we’re trying to contact the Pentagon’s duty officer – the public affairs watch officer at the Pentagon– until auto-fill takes over. Yesterday, the Pentagon switched from the logical to this: adding 39 inexplicable characters to the new duty officer e-mail address and making everyone nuts.

Egypt’s Sisi used to be an exchange student at the U.S. Army War College, but he didn’t necessarily care much about the Super Bowl. FP’s David Kenner and Gordon Lubold: "In 2006, Professor Stephen Gerras hosted a Super Bowl party at his house for the foreign military officers who were taking his courses at the U.S. Army War College. As the Pittsburgh Steelers clobbered the Seattle Seahawks, Gerras kept one eye on a partygoer who wasn’t paying much attention to the game — Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, currently the most powerful man in Egypt. ‘My mother had come to help with the food, and she’s this almost 80-year-old Italian mother,’ Gerras said. ‘And he grabs her and gives her a tour of all the things in our house that are written in Arabic, and the religious significance of it. Nobody else that I’ve ever had has ever felt the need to do that.’ Some officers use their year at the War College to relax a bit — they have been plucked out of their military hierarchy, after all, and the senior generals who determine their professional advancement are absent. Gerras, who served as Sisi’s faculty advisor and was his professor in three courses at the War College, said his former pupil was nothing like that. And it went far beyond one Super Bowl party."

Gerras added: "He was smart, his English was very good, and he was very serious… He would be the most serious [military fellow] that I’ve had."

Meantime, despite Sisi’s rhetorical broadsides against the Muslim Brotherhood – and the U.S. –  a senior administration official said told us: "…U.S. officials insist their communications channel through Sisi remains strong. According to one U.S. official with knowledge of the dialogue between President Barack Obama’s administration and Sisi, the message they reiterate ‘is that we believe in a strong relationship, a strong Egypt.’ However, the official added, the United States realizes how the situation on the ground could damage that relationship. But: "If things get out of hand [in Cairo], it’s going to be very difficult for us." Read our whole piece on FP, here.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ imminent purchase of the WaPo, which is huge, does not affect Foreign Policy, which is owned by The Post Co. FP is not part of the sale and will remain a property of The Post Company (albeit soon under a different corporate name) along with,, a string of television stations and real estate holdings.

"Best Tweet and graphic about Bezos buying the WaPo," as per Jim Romenesko, here. We’ll save you the click: From Marc Ambinder: "Based on your previous purchases, Jeff Bezos, you might also like: The Los Angeles Times, the Orlando Sentinel, Newsweek."

Ash Carter: Get us out of this ditch, Congress! Ash Carter told USA Today that troop cuts and civilian layoffs aren’t out of the question as the Pentagon confronts 2014. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has already outlined the possibility of reducing the force as well as a 20 percent cut to headquarters personnel across the Defense Department, which will likely result in reductions of the civilian force. The Pentagon’s No. 2 – Ash Carter, Deputy Secretary of Defense – put a little more meat on the bone in an interview with USAT’s Tom Vanden Brook: "Ashton Carter, the deputy Defense secretary, told USA TODAY on Monday that unless Congress and the White House reach a deal to avert the cuts, the Pentagon will have to make a series of tough and dangerous cuts in military and civilian personnel. The cuts, known as the sequester, call for about $500 billion in defense cuts through the end of the decade. ‘We can’t rule out reductions in the civilian workforce and involuntary separations of military personnel,’ Carter said. ‘That’s something none of us wants to do. But again if you have to have reductions this fast and this steep you have to go where it is possible to get money that fast. Those are not the most strategically and managerially sound places.’ Carter: "We need the support of Congress to get out of this ditch."

Jeffrey Sinclair sex case: panel selection begins today. The court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, charged with forcing a subordinate to perform oral sex on him and threatening to kill her if she said anything about the affair, was scheduled to begin around 9am today at the Fort Bragg, N.C. court house. Panel selection is expected to take a few days. The trail begins Sept. 30.

The two portrayals of veterans. The NYT’s At War blog posted an important analysis of how veterans are portrayed by the media and society – one, a disciplined, healthy and hard-working force, versus a broken, troubled institution full of people with mental problems after more than a decade of war. Former soldier David Eisler writes: "While advocates and groups are making the case that businesses should hire veterans because they are mostly of the first type, their voices are often undermined by the widespread belief that most veterans fall into the second category, which is only true for a minority. For those without serious issues, the perception that all veterans are struggling has become a stigma that has been difficult to shake. Survey after survey suggests that the United States military is one of the most respected institutions in American society. A Gallup poll in January indicated that 74 percent of Americans are satisfied with country’s military strength and preparedness. The military is the only institution to see a notable gain in public confidence since Gallup began taking measurements in the 1970s, while other institutions like big business, the church and Congress have seen their numbers steadily decline. Another recent survey from Harvard’s Institute of Politics showed that among young Americans, the military is the only national institution to maintain its level of trust in the last three years, while trust in the media, Wall Street and all levels of local and federal government has dropped."

But society is good with that 1 percent serving, it appears: Eisler continues: "But while institutional confidence and trust remain high in abstract terms, the military as a profession struggles to convince much of society that it is a desirable profession. Although military recruitment has broadly met its goals despite the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Pew Research study found that 43 percent of people without a family member who had served on active duty would not recommend the military as a career. I suspect that a large part of that view is a result of concerns that most veterans come home forever scarred by their experiences."

He concludes: "The truth lies somewhere in between. Military service changes everyone in some way, and while some veterans face significant challenges as they move to civilian life, others emerge stronger. Both sides vying for control of the story could vastly improve the national conversation by acknowledging the other side’s existence. Trying to brand us as the "New Greatest Generation," as some have forcefully done in recent years, is not enough. Only by accepting that the portrayal has two sides can we help veterans and civilians talk to each other at a level above stereotypes and first impressions." Read the whole thing, here.


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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