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 tale of two raids; Hagel briefed two weeks ago; “Most” defense civilians return; Who is still non-essential?; Kayani calls it quits; Where is Lloyd Austin?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Two bold raids, one suspect in custody. The twin, unrelated raids, one in Libya and the other in Somalia, put a new foreign policy win on the board for the Obama White House with the capture of Abu Anas al-Liby, accused of helping to plan the bombings of American embassies in 1998 ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Two bold raids, one suspect in custody. The twin, unrelated raids, one in Libya and the other in Somalia, put a new foreign policy win on the board for the Obama White House with the capture of Abu Anas al-Liby, accused of helping to plan the bombings of American embassies in 1998 in Africa and, after the successful raid in Libya, now in a brig on a Navy ship in the Med. The raid in Somalia did not go as planned, with Seal Team Six coming up rather empty handed after the daring mission in Somalia. In neither case were American lives lost, however. FP’s Shane Harris: "Since President Obama stepped into the White House, his administration has had a rather consistent reaction when it located an accused terrorist: drop a Hellfire missile on the guy’s head. Saturday was different…Capture may be the priority, but it’s not the norm. The Obama administration has killed far more suspected terrorists and militants with drones and special operations strikes than it has brought back to face justice in the U.S. courts system. Indeed, on the same day that U.S. forces were capturing al-Liby, special operations commandos launched a strike in Somalia aimed at a senior leader of the terrorist group Al Shabab, which has claimed responsibility for the audacious assault against a shopping mall in Nairobi. The dual operations provided a stark example of the breadth of U.S. counterterrorism policy, which can encompass law enforcement actions as well as clandestine attacks." More here.

A rendition: The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono: "The capture of an alleged al-Qaeda operative outside his home by Special Operations forces in Tripoli on Saturday and his secret removal from Libya was a rare instance of U.S. military involvement in ‘rendition,’ the practice of grabbing terrorism suspects to face trial without an extradition proceeding and long the province of the CIA or the FBI. U.S. officials hailed the capture of [Abu Anas al-Liby] who was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, as an intelligence coup that will disrupt efforts by al-Qaeda to strengthen its franchise in North Africa." The rest here.

Underreported: the fact that the Somalia raid came 20 years to the day after "The Day of the Ranger," otherwise known as the Battle of Mogadishu or Black Hawk Down. Somalia had remained, notionally at least, the operational "third rail," something no one wanted to touch.

The role Hagel played. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was briefed two weeks ago from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and the Vice-Chairman, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, along with Under Secretary for Defense Mike Vickers and other senior leaders on Libya and for Somalia, respectively. Hagel made his decision to recommend action a few weeks ago to the White House, where the President ultimately signed off, a senior defense official tells Situation Report.

The raids showed what can be done in this new era of warfare – and what can’t always be done. The NYT’s David Sanger and Peter Baker: "Four vans with tinted windows converged in a comfortable Tripoli neighborhood as a leader of Al Qaeda returned home on Saturday from early morning prayers. As his wife watched with alarm from a window, the men – armed with silencer-equipped weapons, some masked and some not – smashed his car window. Within moments, they were gone, taking with them one of America’s most wanted terror suspects. Around the same time about 3,000 miles away, highly trained commandos from the same Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden slipped out of the sea and stormed into a villa in Somalia to capture another man high on America’s target list. Met by a hail of bullets and then a lengthy gunfight, they withdrew without their quarry from a country best known to many Americans as the scene of ‘Black Hawk Down.’

The latest chapter in President Obama’s efforts to combat Al Qaeda and its loose affiliates turned out to be a tale of two raids, one that succeeded and one that did not. The seizure of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, better known as Abu Anas al-Libi, from outside his home in Tripoli, where he was living largely in the open, represented a long-sought victory for the United States. But the failure of the Somalia operation underscored the limits of America’s power even for one of its most storied military units.

"Thanks in part to the Bin Laden raid in Pakistan by SEAL Team Six in 2011, many Americans have become accustomed to the triumphs of Special Forces and see them as a substitute for the larger-scale military operations that characterized Iraq and Afghanistan for so many years. The disparate results in two corners of North Africa over the weekend served as a reminder of the uncertainties and dangers inherent in any form of warfare." Read the rest here.

Is there an African Pivot now? The Atlantic’s Hilary Matfess, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at 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. Remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.

He knew they were coming: the story you didn’t know, the one about al-Shabab’s attack on the U.N. in Mogadishu earlier this year. FP’s Colum Lynch: "It started on an uneventful day in May 2013, three weeks before the United Nations’ newly-minted special representative, Nicholas Kay, was due to arrive in Mogadishu. Kay’s presence would inaugurate a new era of international support for Somalia’s Western-backed government, which was not yet one year old. Behind closed doors, a U.N. security analyst received a troubling intelligence tip: Al-Shabab, Somalia’s then-dormant Islamist militant group, which would orchestrate the bloody Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi just a few months later, was plotting a sophisticated terrorist strike against a list of Somali government facilities and outposts of its African and Western allies. The prime target, however, was the U.N.’s humanitarian compound in downtown Mogadishu."

Lynch’s detailed account of the attack itself: "It was nearly 11:30 a.m., when Abdiqadir Abshir Mohamud, a Somali security guard, peered out from his station at Guard Tower #1 and noticed a suspicious vehicle approaching the U.N.’s front gate. Instinctively, he picked up his radio and sent out an alarm to his colleagues. Before he had time to fire, the suicide bomber drove up to the front gate and triggered an explosion that blew a steel door from the compound entrance. In an instant, Mohamud was dead, killed by the force of the blast. The scene inside the U.N. compound was immediately chaotic. Ibrahim Hassan Abdille, a Somali security guard posted at the front gate and his supervisor, Arshur Hussein Hashi, were injured by the blast. Shaken badly, Hashi crawled on his hands and knees for cover. The last thing he saw before he passed out was a militant entering the blown-out entrance and one of his guards, Dahir Abdulee Mo-alim, lying mortally wounded. Bayhal Mohamed Osman, another Somali guard, survived the explosion, taking cover behind a row of concrete Hesco barriers that formed an inner wall of security separating the majority of U.N. staffers from their predators. His training had taught him to anticipate a second stage of attack. "When I heard the first boom, I knew they were coming," Osman later told U.N. officials." The rest of Lynch’s story here.

The Pentagon will once again swell with civilian workers today. As the government shutdown stumbles into its second week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement Saturday means most of the 400,000 defense civilians who were furloughed are returning to work today. Some House Republicans, including Rep. Buck McKeon of California and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had urged Hagel to expand the definition of what workers were exempted from being furloughed under the government shutdown. But Hagel was attempting to cross his ‘T’s and dot his ‘I’s. Only after careful consultation with the Department of Justice and his own general counsel did he feel comfortable issuing an order for most of those furloughed to return to work today. Of the roughly 9,200 federal civilians at the Pentagon, about 90 percent of them, about 8,200, were on furlough and will return to work today.

Chuck Hagel’s plane slowed down on Friday so he could finish two important video teleconference meetings. On his return from Asia on Friday aboard the E-4B "Doomsday" plane, the digital map showing the plane’s flight path through Illinois and Indiana showed it turning its heading toward Texas at one point. At the same time, the "Time to Land" clock counter on the cabin wall, which typically counts downward the time before touchdown, started to increase in time, drawing some attention after 12 hours of flight. But the plane wasn’t headed to Texas, at least not for long. A senior defense official told Situation Report that Hagel was on secure video teleconferences, one for furloughs and another for Afghanistan. Indeed, the Secretary was ensconced during most of the ride home.  Pilots had to add flight time in order for the Secretary to finish his calls and so took the long way back to D.C.

Still on furlough: The Early Bird. Since Hagel announced the return of "most" civilians from furlough, it was a question – who isn’t returning? Turns out, the "POMA" (Pay our Military Act) doesn’t include people from legislative affairs, chief information officer’s office, the Office of the Inspector General and public affairs. So as Congress continues in its failure to pass a budget, some defense legislative people are still not on hand; information technology civilians are still at home, and the Act also deems the Office of the DoD Inspector General to be non-essential as well. Who else isn’t covered? Many in the Pentagon’s public affairs apparatus.  Civilian media spokespeople, speechwriters, photographers and community relations folks will remain on furlough. And that includes the folks at the Early Bird, the widely-read early morning e-mail highlighting articles on defense, which will stay dark for now.

The really non-essentials. Outside the Beltway’s James Joyner: "First, there’s something extremely awkward about calling back 90 percent of your civilian workforce. Under the earlier sequestration furloughs (which occurred before I entered federal service) and this past week’s shutdown furloughs, there was at least the solidarity that came with virtually everyone being declared ‘unessential.’ Indeed, there were constant jokes at the conference from those of us who teach at professional military education programs, Congressional Research Service researchers, and other furloughed employees who traveled on our own dimes about our shared fate. Now, though, we’re going to have a relative handful of our ranks who are going to be declared not only "unessential" but told that they do not ‘contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.’ That’s a morale killer. More of his bit, here.

Twitter of the times: no Sunday football for many troops: "@PaulRieckhoff: Many overseas troops have no football today. Good for Howie for bringing it up. #FOXNFLKickoff #EndTheShutdown #IAVA"

On Rachel Maddow, last week, the GOP "flounders" to describe why again the government is shutdown. Watch it here.

Pakistan’s Kayani to retire. Long thought to be in the works this fall, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – considered a longtime friend to the U.S. military, and to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen in particular – is calling it quits. The announcement of his retirement means that he would not be appointed to another senior military job in a move thought to bolster democracy in the "coup-prone nation," as The WSJ termed it this morning. The WSJ’s Saeed Shah: "The army’s chief for six years, Gen. Kayani was credited with overseeing the U.S. ally’s first democratic transfer of power, after this year’s elections. He also launched the first serious operations against Pakistani Taliban militants in the troubled north west, in 2009… Gen. Kayani’s announcement came just days after Pakistan’s military and civilian officials had said he was lobbying the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for an extension in his service or another senior job inside or outside the armed forces. One possibility, these officials had said, was promoting Gen. Kayani to the military’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a largely ceremonial post that would have been endowed with new powers. Some officials believe that Gen. Kayani may yet be given temporary additional charge of the Joint Chiefs job, which falls vacant on Monday, until he retires as army chief on Nov. 29. He had also discussed two key civilian jobs with the government: becoming its defense adviser or ambassador to the U.S., which appear to remain possibilities, officials said. In 2010, the previous government had reappointed Gen. Kayani to a second three-year term as army chief, the most powerful job in the country’s military." More here.

Dawn’s Iftikhar Khan in a page oner:"For days now, Islamabad had been witness to speculations that like the PPP government that came earlier Sharif too had succumbed to pressure (be it military or American) and agreed to give Kayani an extension. The rationale for this was no different from the one presented in 2010 – continuation of policies and a stable environment which was needed as the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan and Pakistan battled militancy." More here.

Who’s Lloyd Austin? The U.S. Central Command commander who has barely made a peep since being confirmed for still the most important combatant command jobs there is, turned up in Kabul over the weekend. Austin is told Pakistan will help facilitate the Afghan drawdown. IHT: "…The US commander, while terming Pakistan as a vital partner for regional security, appreciated its role in facilitating the drawdown. General Austin said that consultative forums like DCG had helped cement our military to military relations aimed at improving peace and stability in the region. He added that continued support in training, education and the Coalition Support Fund would act as tools necessary to keep relations on solid footing. General Austin who called on Secretary for Defence Lt Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik, and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shamim Wayne in Islamabad on Friday." More here.

A few small pics of him published by DOD’s DVIDS, 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

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.