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.

FP’s Situation Report: Army intel system, slashed

By Gordon Lubold Slash: The $1.1 trillion budget deal announced last night by House and Senate negotiators includes a bludgeoning of the procurement budget of the Army’s troubled DCGS-A intel system. Situation Report has learned that the budget deal cuts by $156 million the procurement budget of the Distributed Common Ground System that the Army ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Slash: The $1.1 trillion budget deal announced last night by House and Senate negotiators includes a bludgeoning of the procurement budget of the Army’s troubled DCGS-A intel system. Situation Report has learned that the budget deal cuts by $156 million the procurement budget of the Distributed Common Ground System that the Army has fought hard to protect and defend even as officials and members of Congress raise questions about its effectiveness – and its cost. The nearly 60 percent reduction in the system’s procurement budget clearly amounts to a major defeat for the program.

At the same time, the NDAA budget bill, already passed last year, includes new reporting requirements on the system and breaks it up.

Philip Breedlove: Trim bases, not boots in Europe. The U.S. military will continue to close buildings and bases in Europe, the top American commander there told Situation Report. But U.S. troops should remain on the continent in about the same numbers they are today. Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is both commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, said budget reductions will force European Command to continue cutting back its footprint, closing smaller bases and shuttering facilities. But cutting personnel is another matter.  If the command is to continue working with America’s European allies — and responding to potential missions in places like North Africa  — the military must maintain the boots on the ground to do it, he said. Maintaining personnel means being able to build and maintain relationships that are as critical now as they ever have been.  Breedlove noted that more than 250,000 Europeans have deployed to Afghanistan since the war began. Of those, some 42,000 had been trained by U.S. Army advisers in Germany.

"As I look at the size and type of our Army in Europe, the size and type of our Air Force in Europe, what I’m most keen on is to remain engaged with our military partners so we can train with them across the full gamut because this gives us partners who will go to war with us when we need them," he said. 

Breedlove also said, re: Afghanistan: Since he took the job, one of Breedlove’s top concerns has been the NATO campaign in Afghanistan. It’s a mission that is making America’s European allies increasingly nervous, he said. The lack of a decision by the Obama administration and the Karzai government over what the size and role of the post-2014 mission isn’t exactly helping.

"Clearly there is concern about where the U.S. is going and what the numbers look like," Breedlove said. "Clearly the nations would love to have those decisions now." 

But, he said, there is "relative calm" at the moment. Germany, which operates in Afghanistan’s northern region, and Italy, which oversees operations in the West, have coordinated with other countries to give them a sense of what to expect. "The conversations settle expectations," he said. Breedlove added that after decisions are made on Afghanistan, the composition of forces, U.S.-to-coalition, will be about where they are now – 2/3rds American, ½ coalition.  Read the rest of our piece based on our sit-down with Breedlove yesterday, here.

BTW: Amid the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. is pouring $500 million into the Kajaki dam project. FP’s "Dam" Lamothe: "…The U.S. Agency for International Development recently announced it will negotiate a sole-source contract for the installation of the dam’s third and final hydroelectric turbine with Black and Veatch, the Kansas-based engineering company that has worked there for years. The project will likely cost about $75 million, according to a recent letter from John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector for Afghanistan. And it won’t be completed until 2015, well after the last U.S. combat forces leave the country. But the work to install the final turbine, said to be collecting dust at the dam since it was delivered in late 2008, will come at a tenuous time. The U.S. military no longer has control of the region, or the road they cleared in 2011 to make way for the supplies needed to complete the project. The U.S.-led military coalition has ceded control of security across most of the country to Afghan forces despite serious questions about their long-term viability." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Inside page: Read what Carter Ham thinks about poaching terrorism and "great meetings" below.

Expect delays: Bob Gates signs copies of his new book – did you hear he has one out? – at the Pentagon Thursday afternoon. And more on Gates below, too.

Heresy: Pentagon officials are thinking about doing away with housing allowance. As budgets thin, there is an undeniable push to re-examine the comprehensive package of military benefits offered to the uniforms. The reduced cost of living adjustment for military retirees was just one. Today, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman reports on another in the paper’s cover story. Tilghman with the news: "Defense officials are considering doing away with Basic Allowance for Housing in favor of a new ‘locality allowance,’ according to several officials familiar with the plan. Unlike BAH, which is linked to average rental housing costs in various areas, the new allowance would be linked to the cost of living in the areas where individual troops are assigned.

"The concept under discussion in the Pentagon also would eliminate Basic Allowance for Subsistence, offering troops a combined tax-free stipend on top of basic pay that would vary by paygrade and location, officials said. Preliminary proposals also suggest scrapping the ‘with-dependents’ rates under the current BAH program, moving instead to a simpler, flatter benefit that makes no distinction between single troops and those with families, officials said. The locality allowance concept is gaining traction at a time when top Pentagon officials have been blunt about their desire to carve long-term savings from the $20 billion spent annually to cover the off-base housing costs of about 1 million service members.

"The proposal remains in its early phases, too early to spell out in detail what the impact might be for individual troops or for the Pentagon’s budget at large. Moreover, experts say, saving money may not be the primary motivation for changing the current allowance system." More (behind one of those $%^*$ paywalls!) here.

Potato Diplomacy: Kerry gets spuds in Paris. AP’s Lara Jakes in Paris: "For some watchers of international diplomacy, the somber road to Syrian peace was overrun Monday by potatoes and furry pink hats. A swapping of delegation gifts between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov served as a distraction from predictions of elusive success in Syria…The more bizarre bout of diplomacy came over a pair of Idaho potatoes. After pictures of Kerry handing Lavrov the tubers during talks Monday morning surfaced on the Web, reporters pressed both leaders for an explanation hours later. Kerry quickly sought to disavow any deep diplomatic meaning from the spuds, explaining that he was in Idaho over the holidays when he and Lavrov spoke by phone. The Russian, it seemed, associated Idaho with potatoes." More here.

The U.S. and U.K. to the Syrian National Coalition: join us or else. BBC this morning: "Britain and the US have warned they will rethink support for Syria’s main opposition group if it fails to join peace talks, a Syrian source has said. The official from the Syrian National Coalition told reporters that the UK and the US were adamant the group must go to Geneva for next week’s talks. The coalition will hold a vote on Friday on whether or not to attend." More here.

This Just In: Rand Paul introduces bill to end the Iraq War authorization. FP’s John Hudson: "It’s been more than two years since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq. But a loophole in the 2002 Iraq War Resolution allows future presidents can re-invade Iraq anytime they want. Now, Republican Senator Rand Paul wants to change that. Today, the Kentucky libertarian is set to formally introduce a bill to repeal the Authorization of the Use of Military Force in Iraq. The bill, obtained by The Cable, has the support of a handful of Republicans and Democrats. But, in a bit of a surprise, it also has the support of the White House — at least in principle. ‘The Administration supports the repeal of the Iraq AUMF since it is no longer used for any U.S. Government activities,’ White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. ‘We understand that some in Congress are considering legislation related to the Iraq AUMF, and we will certainly examine these proposals as they come forward.’ "The war in Iraq is officially over," Paul said in a statement. "With the practical side of the mission concluded, I feel it is appropriate to bring this conflict to an official, legal end."  More here this morning.

Maliki’s deputy: it’s Maliki’s fault – and the Americans’. FP’s David Kenner, who interviewed Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq in Jordan recently: "Maliki has blamed the war in neighboring Syria for the upsurge in violence, and vowed to launch a countrywide ‘cleanup’ campaign against al Qaeda after the army drives the jihadists from Anbar. For Anbar’s top politicians, however, Maliki himself is the cause of the country’s most dangerous political crisis since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq — a former member of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party before being expelled in 1977 – told Foreign Policy that the government in Baghdad was using al Qaeda as a pretext to crack down on its political opponents…

‘Yes, I do blame [the Americans],’ he said. ‘And I expect them to do some changes in Iraq now. Not necessarily through military operations, but through political pressure and economic pressure on Iraqi politicians, to make sure that Iraqis feel that they are equal in their own country.’" Read the rest here.

George Casey on Iraq: patience, patience. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes: "The head of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time of the critical second battle of Fallujah said he shares the frustration of many military veterans as the city falls under the control of militants, but counseled patience. Casey, in his first invu since the start of the crisis in Anbar: "The men and women of the American armed forces did everything they could for the Iraqi people in the time we were there and Fallujah was the exclamation point on that whole effort." More here.

Hillary is a Hawk: How Gates’ book shows HRC to be a "strikingly hawkish voice" in the Situation Room. Time’s Mike Crowley: "As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues-Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid-Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

"Former administration officials also tell TIME that Clinton was an advocate for maintaining a residual troop force after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq-an issue of renewed interest given al Qaeda’s resurgence there. They also describe her as skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a "containment" policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail. Jane Harman on Hillary: "The Democratic party has two wings-a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing." Read the rest here.

Tom Ricks writes on the way Gates rolls. Here are a few gems from Gates’ book, per FP’s Ricks: "Don’t always show your hand: ‘I believed that I would maintain maximum leverage in the process … if the other players did not know exactly what approach I supported.’ And: Get real. ‘I’d been around long enough to know that when the head of a cabinet department says his organization has no problems, he is either lying or delusional.’ And: "Not new, but well put: ‘This tactic of using high-level reviews to buy time was one I would use often as secretary.’ And: Know what you want out of a meeting before you go into it. ‘A meeting in the Situation Room was never just another gathering for me: outcomes were important, and I always had a strategy going in.’ And: Get on top of acquisition. If you don’t, ‘Congress will fuck it up.’" Read the rest of ‘em at Ricks’ blog, The Best Defense, here.

Former Africa Command commander Carter Ham spoke at Stimson the other day about poaching in Africa, what the military’s contribution could be, and why "great meetings" can undermine the cause. Ham, at Stimson: "Now I’m not arguing that countering poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking ought to be viewed through a military lens, though I do believe there is a role for the military in this effort."

"…I don’t suggest that I have all the answers, or even many of them. I do know that without what we military types have come to call a ‘plan of action with milestones’ we’ll continue to work hard, in good faith, but won’t achieve what all of us in this room so desperately desire."

There is "growing evidence" of the connection between poaching and illicit networks and international crime, he says: "I think the other change, and one that, at least to me necessitates urgent action, is the growing evidence of the linkages of poachers and traffickers with other illicit networks and international crime. There is clear evidence that Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is killing elephants, at least in part, to fund their activities. My guess is that other terrorist and extreme organizations, if they are not already profiting from poaching, will find the potential for money irresistible. It’s just too attractive. And at present, it’s a lucrative, relatively low-risk endeavor that offers high payoff. If I’m right, that will bring the resources of national and international law enforcement and intelligence capabilities to the fight. And, they are needed."

Ham on why he hates "great meetings" and why a big meeting in London soon on poaching shouldn’t be one:" During his talk the other day, Ham told the story of a high-level meeting he attended in Baghdad during the early days of the Iraq war. Afterward, staffers all gave each other notional high-fives, congratulating themselves on holding such a tremendous meeting, taking on all the big issues and working through the agenda. Ham didn’t agree: "No directions had been issued, no decisions had been made. Well, that’s probably not entirely true. I think they decided when the next meeting would be."

"Is that what we want from London? I think not. There is too much at stake. There are too many committed leaders. The urgency has never been greater. And, the time is now."

Ham’s favorite African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." His parting thought on combatting poaching: "It is time for us to go far to stop this dangerous, destructive criminal activity. It is time for us to go together." Intro page to Stimson’s new report on poaching, 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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