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: 10k or zero for Afg. and out in two years

By Gordon Lubold All or nothing: The U.S. wants to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, then draw them down by the end of Obama’s second term. The WSJ’s Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "U.S. military leaders have presented the White House with a plan that would keep 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

All or nothing: The U.S. wants to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, then draw them down by the end of Obama’s second term. The WSJ’s Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "U.S. military leaders have presented the White House with a plan that would keep 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, but then start drawing the force down to nearly zero by the end of President Barack Obama’s term, according to senior officials. The request reflects a far shorter time frame for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan than commanders had previously envisaged after the current international mission ends this year. The new approach is intended to buy the U.S. military the ability to advise and train the Afghan army but still allow Mr. Obama to leave office saying he ended America’s longest war, the officials said.

"Military leaders told Mr. Obama that if he rejects the 10,000 troop option, then it would be best to withdraw nearly all military personnel at the end of this year because a smaller troop presence wouldn’t offer adequate protection to U.S. personnel, say officials involved in the discussions.

"…The Pentagon’s approach, discussed in White House National Security Council meetings last week, encountered pointed questions from some NSC officials who asked what difference 10,000 U.S. troops would make on such a temporary basis, U.S. officials said. Vice President Joe Biden has been a leading skeptic within the administration about keeping troops in Afghanistan to train and advise Afghan forces after 2014, officials said. A senior administration official declined to characterize Mr. Biden’s position on the new Pentagon proposal, saying only that he ‘has asked questions and listened carefully to presentations’ about possible troop levels. The official said Mr. Biden will make his recommendation to Mr. Obama ‘at the appropriate time.’ Read the rest here.

It’s very likely that the Obama White House is considering a short stay for troops after 2014. Pete Lavoy, who left the Pentagon earlier this month after acting as the Pentagon’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, hinted to Situation Report that even if troops do stay after 2014, they wouldn’t be there long. Our story Jan. 7: "…there’s been a shift in thinking within the administration over just how long American forces should stay in Afghanistan. No one should expect anything along the lines of Germany or Japan, countries in which the U.S. has had and will likely maintain a large, enduring force decades after the wars there. Lavoy to Situation Report: "If we have a security presence post-2014 that does train, advise and assist, I don’t think we should be there much beyond the immediate post-2014 period… "I think we’re talking a couple of years, and no more."

Lavoy said no decisions have been made yet and that he was expressing his personal view. But Lavoy, a former intelligence analyst and expert on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region who slipped into policymaking, is generally respected for his views on the region. Lavoy, who is leaving government, was appointed by the Obama administration and spoke highly of the White House’s approach on the Afghanistan war. His views very likely reflect thinking inside the administration. Read the rest of our bit from Jan. 7, here.

And the NYT’s Jackie Calmes and Eric Schmitt with a similar story, just on troop numbers aspect, this morning: "The Pentagon has proposed to President Obama that 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan when the international combat mission there ends after this year, or none at all, senior government officials said Tuesday.

That figure, debated in recent days within the White House, is the midpoint of a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops – most of them Americans – that has been contemplated for months as the United States and its NATO allies planned for the long mission’s end. Anything less than that, the officials said, would be too few to be able to protect the reduced retinue of diplomats, military and intelligence officials that remain in Afghanistan… Both the intelligence agencies and the State Department, who would have personnel remaining in Afghanistan after 2014, back the Defense Department’s proposal, the officials said."

Said one official to the NYT: "The proposal is 10,000 or basically nothing, a pullout." Read the rest here.

Curious how Osama bin Laden escaped Afghanistan? Foreign Service Officer Yaniv Barzilai (and author of a new book, 102 Days of War) will be at Brookings tomorrow between 2-3:30 p.m. for an event in which Brookings says he will provide a detailed account of the failures in tactics, policy and leadership that enabled the escape. Event deets here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s feels-like-way-colder 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.

Here’s how Iran played the U.N. on the Syrian peace talks – and drove the U.S. crazy. FP’s own Colum Lynch and John Hudson: "U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently undertook one of the most sensitive diplomatic initiatives of his U.N. career: spearheading a plan to secure Iranian support for a political transition in Syria aimed at pushing Tehran’s long time ally, President Bashar al-Assad, from power.

"But that plan backfired, despite America’s backing. And now, even Ban’s own aides are admitting that their boss was played. On the eve of Syria peace talks, Ban on Sunday triumphantly announced a major breakthrough, declaring that Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, had promised him for the first time that his government would back a power sharing agreement in Syria. 

But the deal began imploding almost immediately after Ban issued an invitation to Iran to attend the Syrian negotiations. Within 24 hours, the Syrian opposition had threatened to boycott the session, and Ban was pressed by the State Department to rescind the invitation after Iran failed to publicly commit to what it had told Ban. Ban’s own aides acknowledged that he had mishandled the situation, raising uncomfortable questions about his handling of the affair. At a press briefing today, Ban’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, said that an "oral understanding" Iran provided to the U.N. chief was to "be followed by a written understanding. That didn’t happen." Read the rest here.

Page One: Obama’s reform plan for the NSA may be unworkable. The WaPo’s Sari Horwitz and Ellen Nakashima: "U.S. officials directed by President Obama to find a way to end the government’s role in gathering Americans’ phone records are deeply concerned that there may be no feasible way to accomplish the task soon, according to individuals familiar with the discussions. In a speech last week, Obama put the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in charge of developing a plan by March 28 to transfer control of the massive database of records away from the National Security Agency – a step aimed at addressing widespread privacy concerns. But even among U.S. officials who applauded the recommendation in principle, there is a growing worry that the president’s goals are unattainable in the near future, officials said." Read the rest here. Did Lockheed inflate the number of jobs the JSF program will create? Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "Lockheed Martin has ‘greatly exaggerated’ the number of U.S. jobs generated by the F-35 fighter jet, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program, according to a new report from a nonprofit research group. The company’s claim that it has created 125,000 U.S.-based direct and indirect jobs in 46 states ‘is roughly double the likely number of jobs sustained by the program,’ the Center for International Policy said in the report released today.

"’The real figure, based on standard estimating procedures used in other studies in the field, should be on the order of 50,000 to 60,000,’ the Washington-based center said. The number of jobs generated by the $391.2 billion program has been a key selling point for Lockheed Martin in mustering support in Congress. Led by a 39-member "F-35 Congressional Caucus", lawmakers fully funded the 29 jets the Pentagon requested in this year’s defense budget. Lockheed Martin spokesman Michael Rein said the company stands by its figure, saying its derived from detailed U.S. subcontractor numbers and a standard methodology for estimating how many indirect jobs are created by one direct job: "This is an art more than a science," Rein said, disputing the center’s report in a telephone interview. The numbers don’t include any direct jobs overseas. Lockheed Martin’s U.S jobs numbers "can easily be a called conservative when you talk about the number of jobs worldwide," he said. More here.

From the report "Promising the Sky," by the Center for International Policy’s Bill Hartung: "Similarly, the company’s claim that there is significant work being done on the F-35 in 46 states does not hold up to scrutiny. Even by Lockheed Martin’s own estimates, just two states – Texas and California – account for over half of the jobs generated by the F-35. The top five states, which include Florida, Connecticut and New Hampshire – account for 70% of the jobs (see appendix Table 2 for further details)…Eleven states have fewer than a dozen F-35-related jobs, a figure so low that it is a serious stretch to count them among the 46 states doing significant work on the program. These states are Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Delaware, Nebraska, North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana and Wyoming."

And, Hartung on Lockheed’s political influence: "In addition to mustering support from members of Congress by capitalizing on the locations of F-35 work, contractors on the project attempt to buy ac- cess and influence by making generous campaign contributions to key members of Congress. The four most important F-35 contractors – Lockheed Martin ($4.1 million), BAE Systems ($1.4 million), Northrop Grumman ($3.5 million), and United Technologies, the parent company of F-35 engine-maker Pratt and Whitney ($2.1 million) – have made a total of $11.1 million in campaign contributions in the 2011/2012 and 2013/2014 election cycles, the vast majority to key members of the armed services or defense appropriations committees in the House and Senate, or to members with F-35 work being carried out in their states or districts.

"The biggest recipient of donations from these four firms during the past two election cycles has been House Armed Services Committee chair Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), with $218,650 in contributions. His top contributor in the current cycle has been Northrop Grumman,?at $28,700; and his top contributor in the 2011/2012 cycle was F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin, at $75,700." Read the report here.

Confirmed: An American drone crashed last week in Yemen. Shuaib Almosawa, writing for FP: "Yemeni officials said that an American drone crashed last week in a deserted area in eastern Yemen. Three military officers, attached to a military brigade in al-Mahrah province, said that one of their brigade teams was tasked early Thursday, Jan. 16, to fetch the drone wreck that is now with the brigade near the crash scene. The United States has used drones to attack suspected militants of the local branch al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered the most dangerous affiliate of the global al Qaeda network. An officer with the 123rd Infantry Brigade under the command of the local ‘Axis,’ or local military headquarters, in the town of al-Ghaydah, said that his commander tasked a team on early Thursday morning to fetch the wreck after Bedouins informed him of the crash a few hours earlier. "First, the Bedouins saw it catch fire while still in the air. Then it fell immediately to the desert," said the military officer, who spoke anonymously, citing the "sensitivity" of the matter.

"Since 2002, the United States is estimated to have conducted more than 86 strikes against suspected al Qaeda militants, according to the Long War Journal, a website that tracks the covert drone program based on international media outlets and Yemeni local reports. The estimated death toll of suspected al Qaeda members has reached 396, while the civilian death toll has numbered approximately 100. Late last year, a U.S. drone targeted a wedding convoy in al-Bayda province, killing nine civilians and at least three militants who locals said were part of the procession." Read the rest here.

If you thought shutting down the American power grid would be hard – you’d be wrong. Adam Rawnsley, on FP:  "If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to cybersecurity, you know that the security of power grids is a top concern. It’s kind of a disturbing threat, given that almost every other critical infrastructure supporting modern life is dependent on keeping the juice flowing. Well bad news, cyber worrywarts. New research shows there’s even more for you to fret about.

A new study published by West Point’s Network Science Center shows how hackers can cause blackouts by targeting a relative handful of small substations — the often-overlooked and poorly-defended parts of a power grid. The research, authored by Paulo Shakarian, Hansheng Lei and Roy Lindelauf and sponsored by the Army Research Office, argues that this kind of a strategy can cause a chain reaction of power overloading known a cascading failure." Read that bit here.

First thing you do, lie and tell them you’re a journalist. Because journalists don’t mind at all.  As a Marine captain in Iraq, Elliot Ackerman lost men fighting jihadis, The Daily Beast writes at the header of a new piece. But then he found himself breaking bread with a former adversary in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Ackerman, writing on The Daily Beast: "The night before, Abed and I had agreed. When I met Abu Hassar, we’d lie and tell him I’d been a journalist. We drove out of Gaziantep early that morning, stopping on the outskirts of town to pick up a twenty-piece box of baklava, Abu Hassar’s favorite. Then we took the autobahn, a newly completed feat of Turkish engineering, past the city of Urfa and to the refugee camp in Akçakale, a town less than a mile from the border where Syrian artillery rounds occasionally landed. ‘It’s going to make talking about Iraq a bit awkward,’ I said, looking at Abed as he drove." Read the rest 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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