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.

An attack in Herat; Carter arrives in Kabul, Dempsey in Budapest; Crushing Afghanistan retrograde; One sailor has lost nine friends to suicide; Rummy returns; and a bit more. [Presented today by Lockheed Martin.]

By Gordon Lubold The Taliban attacked the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan near the Iranian border. A truck carrying a number of attackers drove to the front gate of the consulate in the typically quiet city of Herat and with what was thought to be rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles began firing at the ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

The Taliban attacked the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan near the Iranian border. A truck carrying a number of attackers drove to the front gate of the consulate in the typically quiet city of Herat and with what was thought to be rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles began firing at the Afghan Protective forces guarding the exterior security area, according to the State Department. Soon after, the truck exploded, damaging the front gate of the facility, an official said. "American Consulate non-security personnel took shelter in safe-havens. American security personnel, along with contracted security personnel, reacted to the attack," said spokeswoman Marie Harf. There were no American casualties, but possibly some wounded Afghan police in the attack, which took place about 5:30 a.m. local time. The international community likely expected an attack of the sort around the anniversary to 9/11 but wondered aloud that if this was the best the Taliban could do, it didn’t mean much. Said one, to Situation Report this morning: "Although it generated headlines, tactically, it was a failed attack – all attackers dead, no U.S. personnel killed or wounded, no breach of the perimeter."

Ash Carter just arrived in Afghanistan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was expected to land in Kabul about midnight EST Friday. Carter will meet with ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford, senior Afghan officials and others. He’ll be focused on the security transition that completes at the end of next year and assess the progress on the U.S. military’s retrograde efforts.

"Retrograde" – drawing down the billions of dollars worth of equipment from Afghanistan – is a bear for a number of reasons. It’s hard, time-consuming, politically-challenging in that region – and expensive. Carter will be looking at some of these issues while he’s there. Some of the stuff is being sold to the Afghans, others to a number of countries interested in the gear. And of course the U.S. is bringing back what it wants to keep. Meanwhile, the U.S. is destroying everything it can’t sell or doesn’t want. Indeed, the military has destroyed some 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "The massive disposal effort, which U.S. military officials call unprecedented, has unfolded largely out of sight amid an ongoing debate inside the Pentagon about what to do with the heaps of equipment that won’t be returning home. Military planners have determined that they will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment – about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan – because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home.

"That has left the Pentagon in a quandary about what to do with the items. Bequeathing a large share to the Afghan government would be challenging because of complicated rules governing equipment donations to other countries, and there is concern that Afghanistan’s fledgling forces would be unable to maintain it. Some gear may be sold or donated to allied nations, but few are likely to be able to retrieve it from the war zone. Therefore, much of it will continue to be shredded, cut and crushed to be sold for pennies per pound on the Afghan scrap market – a process that reflects a presumptive end to an era of protracted ground wars." Read the rest here.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released a report titled "Action Needed to Reduce Waste in $4.7 billion worth of ANSF Construction Projects." That report, here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we’ll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.

Dempsey’s in Budapest.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey left late Thursday for the NATO Military Committee Conference in Budapest that includes the chiefs of defense from 28 member countries. He returns Sunday. This session, Situation Report is told, will focus on "current operations and NATO Transformation," and will include discussions on ops in Afghanistan and in the Western Balkans. Typically the meeting, which occurs three times a year, is in Brussels, with one each year being hosted by a NATO member country.

Staffers on a plane: Dempsey’s executive assistant Col. John Novalis, CAG Director Dave Horan, Aide Maj. Giliam, Special Assistant Major Martin, security, comms and medical reps.

Reporters on a plane: none.

This sailor lost nine friends – to suicide. Stripes’ Leo Shane writes about a Petty Officer 2nd Class in the Naval Reserves who has lost nine-count’em-nine friends to suicide. Shane: "The first suicide was in 2007. Mike Little was preparing to head to Iraq for a year when he heard that his close friend, a National Guardsman who had inspired Little to join the military, had killed himself. The second was before Little deployed to Afghanistan, about two years later. He couldn’t go to the funeral because he was due on a plane. The next three came during the naval reservist’s yearlong deployment in Afghanistan. Another suicide happened just as he got home, in late 2010. He’s up to nine now. "At this point, I’m taking it personally," he said. "I deployed twice, I came home, I struggled. I feel responsible that I didn’t reach out to them. Maybe if I had …’ Little, a petty officer 2nd class in the Naval Reserves, fought his own battle with suicidal thoughts and won, as much as any person still struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress can say they’ve won. He has trouble sleeping. He calls the Veterans Crisis Line almost weekly. He can’t stop thinking about the others who didn’t make it." Read the rest of this incredible story here.

A mystery munition contributes to the confusion around Syrian chemical attacks. FP’s John Reed: "The world finally agrees that Bashar al-Assad used poison gas against Syrian civilians. Beyond that basic fact, riddles remain. No one is quite sure about exactly what kinds of chemicals his regime used, where precisely the Syrian military has struck, and when. Now, there’s another seemingly ill-fitting piece to the confusing jigsaw puzzle. Mysterious rockets found at the scene of some of the alleged gas attacks may be conventional weapons that produce injuries that can resemble those resulting from a chemical attack. A few weeks ago, Killer Apps displayed this video, titled ‘Chemical Massacre,’ showing what appear to be Syrian Republican Guard troops in Damascus firing a rocket in late August that looks incredibly similar to the odd-looking munitions found at the scene of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria over the last year, including those around Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed as many as 1,400 people. Read the rest here.

Duncan Hunter wants to be sure the U.S. government determines how Syria is getting all its chemical weapons. Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Republican from California, is asking Secretary of State John Kerry to see what "exterior sources" have helped to build Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons in recent years. In 2003, then Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton said Syria was "dependent on foreign sources" for "key production equipment," and two years ago, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated in its report that "Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements" of its chemical weapons program. In a letter to Kerry obtained by Situation Report: "As you continue working towards a solution, I urge you to make every effort to identify the foreign sources that have contributed necessary production equipment to Syria, as well as seek clarity on the methods that have permitted the transfer of these resources," Hunter wrote to Kerry Wednesday. "In particular, dual-use exports to Syria should also be examined, as well as any added protections considered." Read the whole letter, here.

McDonough defended the White House’s decision to halt a push for military action in Syria to Republican House members yesterday. The WSJ, again: "Nearly two dozen House GOP lawmakers in their first term met in the West Wing of the White House for almost 90 minutes to discuss the situation in Syria, according to lawmakers present. Mr. McDonough told the Republican group that the administration thought Russian diplomats could be effective at persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to surrender his arsenal of chemical weapons, given the two countries’ strong ties, lawmakers said. "They defended the fact that Russia had taken the lead," said Rep. Roger Williams, a former professional baseball player and car dealership-owner. Administration officials said that ‘Russia’s the best friend of the Syrians – who better to talk to [Syria]…than their best friend?’ said Mr. Williams in an interview after the meeting. While the Texas lawmaker said he thought international negotiations could be a good first step, he objected to the United States’ role on the sidelines. ‘We’re not leading the negotiations,’ he said. ‘We came in it from the back door, rather than leading it.’" Read the rest here.

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers says transferring Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to international control is possible – especially with Arab League troops on the ground. National Journal’s Sara Sorcher: "Despite calling the available options to secure Syria’s chemical weapons ‘pretty awful,’ [Rogers], R-Mich., said it was possible to transfer the country’s massive stockpile to international control–especially with Arab League troops on the ground. ‘I do think you can get a good percentage of them, because the Assad regime is also worried these things could fall in the wrong hands and could be used against the regime,’ Rogers told the Intelligence and National Security Alliance summit on Thursday…Rogers insisted there’s no need for U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. Instead, the Arab League is ‘willing to provide the support we need, including troops to go in and help secure those weapons systems, because they know how dangerous it is if it proliferates around the Levant,’ he said. Read the rest here.

Will the waiting game turn into a crying game? Defense officials insist that the delay in striking Syria, if it comes, that has allowed the Assad regime to disperse its chemical weapons stockpiles and other targets around the country  will not hamper the U.S. military’s ability to strike them. But meet Unit 450, the secretive Syrian military unit that’s reportedly moving Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles around the country. The WSJ’s Adam Entous, Julian Barnes and Nour Malas: "A secretive Syrian military unit at the center of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program has been moving stocks of poison gases and munitions to as many as 50 sites to make them harder for the U.S. to track, according to American and Middle Eastern officials. The movements of chemical weapons by Syria’s elite Unit 450 could complicate any U.S. bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks, officials said. It also raises questions about implementation of a Russian proposal that calls for the regime to surrender control of its stockpile, they said. U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons are located, but with less confidence than six months ago, U.S. officials said… Unit 450-a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that manages the regime’s overall chemicals weapons program-has been moving the stocks around for months, officials and lawmakers briefed on the intelligence said. Movements occurred as recently as last week, the officials said, after Mr. Obama said he was preparing to launch strikes."

Alawite all the way through: "The unit is in charge of mixing and deploying chemical munitions, and it provides security at chemical sites, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. It is composed of officers from Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect. One diplomat briefed on the unit said it was Alawite from ‘janitor to commander.’" The rest of the story, here.

Mike O’Hanlon’s analysis in the WaPo about the "consensus" in the military about Syria – or lack thereof. O’Hanlon: "Retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, in his Sept. 6 commentary, "A war the Pentagon doesn’t want" [Washington Forum], makes some valid points about the challenges the Obama administration has encountered – and, at times, created – in its approach to Syria. He may be right that this is a war that most officers in the military, like most Americans, don’t want. But greater scrutiny should be given to his suggestion of a widespread consensus within military ranks that the president’s handling of this crisis has been incompetent." Read it here.

Is the U.S. facing another "east of Suez" moment in the Middle East? Writing on FP, Will Marshall: "In the late 1960s, Britain signaled the end of its long run as a world power by withdrawing from major military bases east of the Suez Canal. Today, as the White House confronts the crisis in Syria, could America be facing its own ‘east of Suez’ moment? The historical parallels aren’t exact. Britain was an empire; the United States isn’t — despite the tendentious polemics of inveterate anti-Americans, from Noam Chomsky to Glenn Greenwald. Britain had already been surpassed by bigger superpowers by the 1960s. That hasn’t happened to America and isn’t likely to happen in the foreseeable future. But the debate over intervention in Syria has illuminated large and growing cracks in the internationalist consensus that has underpinned U.S. global leadership since World War II. That consensus has been strained to a breaking point by feral partisanship and by a Republican Party increasingly in thrall to libertarian ideas. As a skeptical Congress awaits a possible vote on President Barack Obama’s proposal to use military force against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the big question is whether the United States can still muster the internal cohesion to play a decisive role in world affairs." Read the rest here.

Want to learn about the totality of the work that the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction did? SIGIR produced a video, published just yesterday, that shows the work done by SIGIR’s Stuart Bowen, Jr. and his team between 2004 and 2013. The video, we’re told, focuses on a trip taken by Bowen to Baghdad in March 2013. Maybe not "click bait" exactly, but still. Watch it here.

He’s baaack. Rumsfeld is signing his books at the Pentagon next week. Don Rumsfeld will be at the Pentagon’s Food Court Sept. 18 to sign copies of his books, "Rumsfeld’s Rules," published in May, and "Known and Unknown," published in 2011.

Another Blue Pill Moment: Wes Clark, working the club scene and back in Page Six: "Now that 68-year-old retired Gen. Wesley Clark is dating 30-year-old online entrepreneur Shauna Mei, the decorated warrior is hanging out with a hipper, younger crowd. Clark, who recently filed for divorce from his wife of 46 years, Gertrude, was rumored to have attended the Burning Man music festival a few weeks ago. And Tuesday night, Clark was spotted in a corner booth at uber-exclusive Meatpacking District hot spot Provocateur. More 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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