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Situation Report

As few as 5K for Afghanistan?; Why do troops want to stay there?; The security descent in Iraq; Will the Pentagon’s Jedi return?; A new breed of NatSecWonk; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Could the U.S. leave as few as 5,200 troops in Afghanistan after 2014? The answer is maybe, yes. NYT’s Thom Shanker: "After months of tense negotiations over the size and role of a postwar presence in Afghanistan, senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials say they are planning a more minimalist mission, with ...

By Gordon Lubold

Could the U.S. leave as few as 5,200 troops in Afghanistan after 2014? The answer is maybe, yes. NYT’s Thom Shanker: "After months of tense negotiations over the size and role of a postwar presence in Afghanistan, senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials say they are planning a more minimalist mission, with a force consisting of fewer combat trainers and more military managers to ensure that billions of dollars in security aid are not squandered or pilfered. The shrinking ambitions for the postwar mission reflect fears that the United States Congress and European parliaments might cancel their financial commitments – amounting to more than $4 billion a year, the largest single military assistance program in the world – unless American and NATO troops are positioned at Afghan military and police headquarters to oversee how the money is spent in a country known for rampant corruption… NATO has endorsed an enduring presence of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, with two-thirds expected to be American. That is well below earlier recommendations by commanders, but senior alliance officials say larger numbers are unnecessary given the more limited goals now being set by political leaders." More here.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan want to stay there to bring home the win. The WSJ’s Michael Phillips: "U.S. and Afghan politicians are in the middle of a heated debate over whether a small American and NATO force will remain in Afghanistan at the end of next year. But what’s a political and strategic question at the negotiating table is an emotional question at bases around Afghanistan, where soldiers watch the discussions with one eye on their sacrifices over the past 12 years and the other on the American withdrawal from Vietnam four decades ago. In short, they don’t want to go home without the win… The sense is especially sharp among elite special-operations troops. They were the first U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan in 2001, fighting alongside Northern Alliance rebels to oust the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. And they are the ones likely to form the backbone of any force the U.S. would leave in place to buttress the Afghan military and government after the bulk of coalition forces withdraw by the end of next year."

Says Maj. Gen. Austin Scott Miller, to Phillips: "There’s some ownership of this… There are people who have been here since the beginning." More here.

The Taliban Effect: Afghanistan’s ban on bikes. WSJ’s Nathan Hodge: "In several Afghan provinces, authorities attempting to stem a wave of assassinations and kidnappings by Taliban have recently introduced complete or partial bans on motorbikes. Western Herat province, a once-peaceful corner of Afghanistan that borders Iran, was the latest to impose such a ban. This August, Herat prohibited the carrying of passengers on motorbikes. ‘One of our security problems is motorcycles,’ Herat Gov. Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi explained to local reporters. ‘When two men are on a motorcycle, it’s suspicious.’" More here.

Iraq is becoming more and more dangerous. The WaPo’s Ben Van Heuvelen: "Nearly two years after the U.S. troop withdrawal, Iraq is in the midst of a deepening security crisis as an al-Qaeda affiliate wages a relentless campaign of attacks, sending the death toll soaring to its highest level since 2008. In the latest violence, nine car bombs tore through markets and police checkpoints in Baghdad on Sunday, killing dozens of people. The bloody campaign has virtually erased the security gains made in the past five years. More than 5,300 Iraqis have been killed this year. Sunday’s attacks occurred just three days before Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is scheduled to arrive in Washington, where he will take part in meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill. At the top of his agenda is a request for more U.S. help in the fight against the al-Qaeda affiliate, whose scope has grown to encompass neighboring Syria as well."

Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, to the WaPo: "We need to increase the depth and width of our cooperation, to be more agile and reflect the seriousness of the situation in Iraq… In our discussions, we will highlight the urgent need for the approval and quick delivery of military sales." More 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, because if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Will the Pentagon force 92-year-old Andy Marshall to retire from ONA – or will the Jedi Return? The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "From his office deep inside the Pentagon, Yoda has outlasted the Cold War, countless military conflicts and 10 presidential elections. But can he survive the sequester? Yoda is the reverential nickname for Andrew W. Marshall, a legendary if mysterious figure in national security circles. A bald, enigmatic 92-year-old strategic guru, he resembles the Jedi master of ‘Star Wars’ fame in more ways than one. Since the Nixon administration, Marshall has directed the Pentagon’s secretive and obliquely named internal think tank, the Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. Over his long career, he has foretold the economic collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and the spread of robotic warfare. Even so, the mere suggestion that the Pentagon might force its nonagenarian futurist to retire has sparked a backlash among Marshall’s heavyweight corps of supporters. Several members of Congress, from both parties, have dashed off letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in protest. Former Pentagon chief Donald H. Rumsfeld tweeted that it would be a ‘serious mistake’ to close the Office of Net Assessment and praised Marshall for being at the ‘forefront of strategy & transformation’ for 40 years." More here.

There’s another @NatSecWonk in our midst: Someone is Tweeting @NicerNatSecWonk. 45 Tweets, 28 followers. Description: "I generally think people in the security policy community in DC care about national security, even if I disagree with them."

Obama’s spies may have been bugging world leaders for almost five years – but he didn’t know it. The WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous: "…The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said. The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders."

And this [italics ours]: "Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them."

"…They added that the president was briefed on and approved of broader intelligence-collection "priorities," but that those below him make decisions about specific intelligence targets. The senior U.S. official said that the current practice has been for these types of surveillance decisions to be made at the agency level. ‘These decisions are made at NSA,’ the official said. ‘The president doesn’t sign off on this stuff.’ That protocol now is under review, the official added." The Journal story here.

John Kerry on Assad’s war of starvation in Syria. Writing exclusively on FP: "Just days ago in London, I listened with sadness and shock as Ahmad Jarba and leaders of the moderate Syrian opposition described how ordinary Syrians with no links to the civil war are forced to eat stray dogs and cats to survive a campaign of deprivation waged by the Assad regime… Simply put, the world must act quickly and decisively to get life-saving assistance to the innocent civilians who are bearing the brunt of the civil war. To do anything less risks a "lost generation" of Syrian children traumatized, orphaned, and starved by this barbaric war… The U.S. government has undertaken significant efforts to alleviate the suffering. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the United States has led international donors in contributing nearly $1.4 billion for humanitarian assistance. Aid has been distributed to every section of Syria by leading international agencies, including the U.N. Refugee Agency, the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and top-notch non-governmental groups." Read the rest of Kerry’s piece on FP here.

ICYMI (on Friday): The Pentagon’s Inspector General found V-22 Osprey readiness rates flawed. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "U.S. Marine Corps personnel improperly recorded data used to measure the combat readiness rate of the MV-22 Osprey made by Textron Inc. and Boeing Co. in the three years ending in 2011, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general. Maintenance personnel "improperly recorded MV-22 aircraft status information 167 of 200 times on aircraft inventory reports" and "did not adequately prepare 112 of 907 work orders that we reviewed," the watchdog agency said in a summary posted online today from a classified report. While the period coincides with the tilt-rotor aircraft’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the summary doesn’t identify the location of the aircraft for which the inaccurate readiness ratings were compiled." The rest here.


 Twitter: @glubold

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