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.

Stavridis: high time for the WH to make a decision on Afghanistan (the answer: 15k troops); Dempsey in Jordan; Egypt and Israel coordinate against terror; An IG report on the Osprey; Do we need an Air Force?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Stavridis to the White House: make a decision on Afghanistan already. The White House’s inability thus far to publicly articulate a commitment of troops for Afghanistan after 2014 is wreaking unnecessary havoc, we’re told by current and former administration officials. It’s making it difficult for allies to plan ahead for their forces, ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Stavridis to the White House: make a decision on Afghanistan already. The White House’s inability thus far to publicly articulate a commitment of troops for Afghanistan after 2014 is wreaking unnecessary havoc, we’re told by current and former administration officials. It’s making it difficult for allies to plan ahead for their forces, and for the American military itself to prepare for next year. Meanwhile, informed observers say that the White House’s apparent indecision or delay appears to have no political gain at home and only a political cost overseas. At home, the American public is increasingly wary of the war in Afghanistan  – only about 28 percent believe the war is worth fighting, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. Yet Obama is thought to have enough political wriggle room to make a commitment to leave some number of troops in the country to help the Afghans maintain stability, arguiong that not doing so could squander the sacrifices of those who have come before. Those defense and administration officials, speaking privately, say they are scratching their heads over the lack of a decision, whatever it may be, or why the Obama administration would allow officials to float the idea of a "zero option" – no troops after 2014 as an apparent bluff in security negotiations – only to quickly acknowledge that no such option really exists. While the bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan remains a distinct sticking point, most government officials and national security experts quietly believe the White House is undermining its strategic objectives there by remaining mum on the matter.

Enter Jim Stavridis, the former SACEUR and now out of uniform and writing on FP this morning: "Instead of waiting for months, we should move now to decide and publically reveal the commitment. Articulating the number in the range of 15,000 total troops would break the Taliban narrative decisively, making a lie of their oft-repeated trope that ‘the foreigners are leaving’; it would reassure the Afghans; it would demonstrate needed leadership to the large international coalition that is awaiting U.S. decisions. It would also encourage the conclusion of the strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan."

In conclusion: "Stating the level of U.S. and allied commitment is the right next step to ensure we optimize our chances for a positive outcome. The so-called ‘zero option’ is not an option, but rather the path to a probable mission failure. Now is the time to commit to a 15,000-troop U.S. and allied force."

Stavridis: four items on the to do list. "First, there must be an election to replace Hamid Karzai, demonstrating the consolidation of democracy in the governance of Afghanistan. This is scheduled for next spring, and it must remain on track. Second, allied troops — hopefully about 15,000 — must remain after 2014 as trainers and advisors. Third, we must fund the ANSF to the tune of about $4 billion a year, which is a bargain compared to the $100 billion or more we have been spending annually. This bill will be shared across the entire coalition, with the U.S. portion being around $2 billion. Finally, the United States and Afghanistan must quickly conclude a basic security agreement that establishes the structure and rules under which the post-2014 mission will unfold." Read his whole piece on FP, here.

Welcome to Wednesday’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.

Today at 10:30 am EST, Maj. Gen. James McConville, commander of RC-East, briefs reporters at the Pentagon. But you can watch here.

Dempsey is in Jordan. We’re told that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey just left the Palace in Amman after a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Now he’s off to meet the Jordanian chief of Defense and took meetings with the U.S. country and military team at the U.S. embassy there. Dempsey, in a statement: "We deeply value our long-standing history of cooperation and friendship with Jordan, since establishing ties almost a half century ago. Our partnership today is evidenced by our US service members flying F-16s, manning Patriot batteries and working with Jordanian forces to plan for the ongoing challenges in the region, to include the current refugee crisis."

It’s getting worse in Egypt. The NYT: "Egyptian security forces moved on Wednesday to clear two camps in Cairo occupied by supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, deploying armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas, snipers and helicopters in a sustained and bloody operation that seemed to surprise some protesters with its ferocity."

As turmoil in Egypt unfolds, an Israeli drone strike in the Sinai suggests greater cooperation between the two countries. WSJ’s Adam Entous and Charles Levinson: "Israel and Egypt are quietly cooperating to quell Islamist militants along their border, Western officials say, a sensitive relationship illuminated by a deadly Israeli drone strike late last week inside Egyptian territory. Israel’s intervention in the Sinai Peninsula-which Egyptian officials denied, and which Israeli officials neither confirmed nor denied-would be the clearest manifestation of the high-level interaction between Israeli and Egyptian military and intelligence chiefs, according to the Western officials. Such cooperation between the U.S. allies has increased since last month’s ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, these officials say."

And: "Relations with Egypt, a source of stability for Israel before the Arab Spring, have warmed significantly in recent weeks. Israeli officials have made no secret they welcomed last month’s ouster of Mr. Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement has long-standing ties to Hamas, the Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. A senior American official described military cooperation between Israel and Egypt as ‘better than ever,’ building on ties that started improving last fall." Read the rest here.

The appointment of 19 generals as provincial governors in Egypt is getting people concerned. The NYT:  "…Of the 25 provincial governors named, 19 are generals: 17 from the military and 2 from the police. One police general has become well known for his openly insubordinate refusal to protect supporters of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist whose candidacy was advanced by the Muslim Brotherhood. An omen? "A military general appointee, Gov. Mahmoud Othman Ateeq of Sohag, a former deputy governor in Alexandria, was filmed in 2011 raising a gun at a demonstration of teachers, who can be heard begging for their lives." Read more of the NYT story here.

The Committee to Protect Journalists just released this report today on press freedoms in Egypt. Click here.

The Pentagon’s Inspector General is going to release a classified report on how much time the V-22 Osprey spends with the mechanic. Defense News’ James K. Sanborn: "The Defense Department inspector general’s audit will determine whether the Osprey’s performance "meets mission capability rate requirements, as well as how the frequency of repairs and the replacement of supply parts" affects its mission readiness, officials with the IG’s office wrote in their August newsletter. It is not clear who requested the audit, but its results will be classified, according to Bridget Ann Serchak, the IG’s chief of public affairs. She declined to provide further details. However, the process did encompass several years’ worth of data. A memorandum from the IG, dated January 2012, indicates the audit was to include V-22 operations from Oct. 1 2008 through Sept. 30, 2011." Read more here.

Swarms of tiny bug drones: the Air Force’s idea for spying on China. FP’s John Reed, at the big drone show in DC this week: "Forget the slow, noisy drones that go after today’s terrorists. Instead, picture swarms of tiny drones infiltrating heavily defended skies at will. That’s how the United States Air Force’s drone shop sees it. The air service wants drone-makers to invent tiny aircraft — nano-drones — that can fly vast distances to spy on an enemy. These bug-like surveillance bots will be particularly useful in the Pacific, an Air Force official told a Washington conference on Tuesday. Because that represents the toughest challenge for American spy planes: snooping on say, a China equipped with increasingly advanced air defenses. Remember, from China to Iran, the nations that the U.S.’s famous Air Sea Battle concept appears tailor made to fight, are equipping themselves with advanced Russian-designed radars and surface to air missiles that threaten to shoot down all but the most advanced stealth aircraft. These countries are also investing in anti ship and ballistic missiles that are designed to keep an adversaries ships and especially aircraft carriers far from their shores. One of the traditional responses to overcoming such weapons is to build fast, long-range, high-flying, stealthy aircraft capable of evading these threats. Today, at the massive drone conference going on in Washington, we heard a new, wilder idea." Read more here. (to be posted this morning.)

Meanwhile, answering questions about drones is easy when the only one with questions is Code Pink. At the big Aerial Unmanned Vehicles Systems Integrated Annual Summit, or AUVSI conference, yesterday in Washington, Lt. Gen. James Barclay, the Army’s G-8, got a taste of Code Pink’s views on drones. Barclay was speaking about drone autonomy and had promised to take questions but then was interrupted by Code Pink protester Alli McCracken, the group’s national coordinator, who unfurled a "Stop Killer Drones" banner and then demanded to know if Barclay would talk about "the innocent people who have been killed by drones." She continued, "Shame on you, AUVSI. You have the blood of innocent children on your hands. Time to ground the killer drones!" She was quickly quieted and escorted from the room. Barclay then finished his remarks and quipped that the only one who had a question had left the room (meaning McCracken) and then he left the room himself. Conference officials made him available for interviews later on.

Submariner gets home from deployment and proposes to his boyfriend. The Day of New London: "After six months aboard the USS New Mexico (SSN 779), MM2 2nd class Jerrel Revels stepped onto Pier 31 at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton Monday afternoon, took to one knee, and proposed to his partner, Dylan Kirchner. The proposal comes two years after the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" – the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members passed in 1993. Revels, originally from Texas, met Kirchner, of Plainfield, through mutual friends last September. ‘It kind of tickled my mind every now and then that (he would propose) but I never expected this,’ Kirchner said. ‘I didn’t really care everybody was around. It felt just like the two of us.’ Read the rest at The Day, here.

Are acid attacks becoming more common in East Africa? Two men in a remote area of Zanzibar rode up on a scooter, smiled, and then poured acid on two British teenager volunteers there, severely burning their faces, chests and hands, and then rode away. The NYT: "No suspects had been arrested by Tuesday afternoon, and the motive for the attack remained a mystery, Musa Ali Musa, Zanzibar’s regional police commissioner, said in a telephone interview. But the ordeal raised questions about religious tension that has bubbled up in unexpected pockets of East Africa, and about whether acid attacks – a particularly nasty type of assault that can leave victims disfigured for life – may be spreading to places where there is no history of them… Conservative Muslims and Western visitors have long coexisted peacefully on Zanzibar. But in recent months, there have been several violent episodes with religious overtones, mostly targeting Christians. In February, a Roman Catholic priest was shot to death, and a church was burned. Last year, another priest was shot and wounded, and several churches were burned, Mr. Musa said. "It’s a very sensitive issue," he said." NYT story here.

Click bait! FP’s Twitterati 100 – who to follow in the foreign policy (small f, small p) as well as Foreign Policy (big f, big p) Twitterverse. Click right here.

The Air Force is trying to figure out why Global Strike Command failed its inspection. The Air Force is scrambling to determine just why an internal inspection of a Montana base found errors that resulted in a failing grade for the nuclear missile unit – another in a string of problems with the service’s management of nuclear weapons. Reuters reported that "the failed inspection at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana does not pose any safety risks to the U.S. nuclear, Air Force Global Strike Command Commander Lieutenant General Jim Kowalski said in a statement. The August 5-13 evaluation of the 341st Missile Wing covered operations, maintenance, security, safety and support activities and received unsatisfactory rating after making ‘tactical-level errors during one of several exercises,’ the statement said."

Meanwhile, acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning got on a plane immediately we’re told. Fanning, the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian who is currently acting as Air Force Secretary until the Obama administration’s nominee can be confirmed, jumped on a plane within 24 hours to head to Montana to meet with Global Strike commanders in person to better understand what’s going on out there. It’s in contrast to years past, where the Air Force was seen as too slow to respond to problems with its management of nuclear weapons – and ultimately contributed to then Defense Secretary Robert Gates removing its leadership at the time. On Fanning, one Pentagon official told us: "He knows that it’s about grabbing an issue, taking responsibility, and quickly fixing problems.  Let’s hope his example rubs off on the cadre of Air Force general officers who have taken some knocks in recent years for sluggishness in confronting some major lapses." For the Reuters story, click here.

Speaking of which: Does America even need an Air Force? Michael Auslin, writing on Breaking Defense yesterday, says absolutely. Auslin: As sequestration forces the Pentagon to consider truly transformative cuts to the U.S. military, the knives are coming out even more readily than usual in a town known for fierce infighting. Today’s budget environment has created an open season on traditional concepts of roles and missions. Service leaders have become far more vocal in warning about the potential of a 1970s-style hollowed out force, or the potential need to shed certain capabilities in order to protect core functions.

"In part, the services are working in a vacuum created by the lack of strategic direction coming from the White House. The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance was not strategic and failed to provide any practical guidance for responding to the key challenges facing U.S. core interests. As a result, a growing sense of ‘anything goes’ is pervading an increasingly hyperbolic defense discussion. An extreme example of that is a piece by Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. Entitling his piece "America Does Not Need the Air Force," Farley asserts that the U.S. Air Force was unnecessarily separated from the Army in 1947, that its core functions can be handled by both the Navy and the Army, and that its existence is an example of the worst form of redundancy in U.S. defense organization. Instead, it should be disbanded and rolled back into the ground forces, while letting the Navy keep its air arm."

Read Why America does not need an Air Force, here. Read Why America does need an Air Force, 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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