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: ISAF rebukes Afg release of detainees

Karzai holds a presser; Tarnishing brass: generals doing the wrong thing again; Are U.S. veterans selfish?; "Fake Admiral Kirby" and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

"A major step backward:" The ISAF command in Kabul is condemning Afghanistan’s decision to release 37 "dangerous" detainees from the Parwan Detention Facility. From the strongly-worded ISAF statement issued late last night from Kabul: "United States Forces-Afghanistan has learned that under direction of the Afghan government, the Afghan Review Board, led by Abdul Shakoor Dadras, has ordered the release of the first 37 of 88 dangerous individuals under dispute who are legitimate threats to security and for whom there is strong evidence or investigative leads supporting prosecution or further investigation. This extra-judicial release of detainees is a major step backward in further developing the rule of law in Afghanistan. The ARB is releasing these individuals without referral to an investigative body or the Afghan justice system despite the fact that the U.S. has disputed these 88 cases.

"Of the 88 detainees under dispute, 40 percent have participated in direct attacks wounding or killing 57 Afghan citizens and security force members and 30 percent participated in direct attacks wounding or killing 60 U.S. or coalition force members. The U.S. has provided extensive information and evidence on each of the 88 detainees. The disputed cases contain strong evidence of violations of Afghan law or strong investigative leads requiring review by the Saranwal for prosecution or further investigation by the National Directorate of Security." ABC News story from this morning here.

ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford is reportedly headed to the White House today to talk Afghanistan. Dunford and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Jim Cunningham recently met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, presumably to talk about the bilateral security agreement and other issues in advance of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech tomorrow night. That speech, long thought to be the vehicle through which Obama would announce his plans for Afghanistan after this year, may or may not contain any major announcements.

After the WSJ reported late last week that the White House was considering a 10,000-or-nothing option and that the idea was to clear all troops out of Afghanistan two years after Obama left office, the LATimes’ David Cloud reported over the weekend that Dunford is planning to go to the White House today to make the case. Cloud: "To make the deployment more attractive to a skeptical White House, Dunford says the 10,000 should pull out by 2017, when Obama leaves office, according to two officials, who confirmed a Wall Street Journal report. The Pentagon previously had favored deploying the troops for a decade." More here.

Meanwhile, Karzai held a presser over the weekend after his meeting with Dunford and Cunningham. A few choice bits from a translated transcript provided by ISAF:

Karzai: "We want a close relationship with the U.S. but not at the cost of Afghan life.  In exchange we want security for Afghans; otherwise, they should go.  Our country has a 5,000 year history.  A lot of foreigners have come and gone.  Our country has its own history and honor."

Karzai: "Twelve years ago, we witnessed U.S. forces defeat Al Qaida within a matter of months.  I assure you we want them to be here, but have a honest relationship with us. 

The elections will be held on time.  They tell us that 90% of the election sites are safe and ready to open."

Karzai: (in answer to a question from a reporter): "We have been in contact with US about the BSA.  Some people here say, just "sign the agreement without any conditions," but, if I do this, and then there is bombing in our country, who will get blamed?  Do you think we should sign the BSA? ((asked the reporter))

Reporter: "Yes, because all these years we took aid from foreign countries and we want to establish security in this country."

A senior State Department official told Situation Report Friday at a reporter’s roundtable that an abrupt withdrawal is not a good idea. "I think what we’re talking about and what the Bilateral Security Agreement is supposed to establish is a long term security partnership and a responsible drawdown progressively over time, rather than an abrupt and total departure."

Welcome to Monday’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.

Counting on the Zero Option: Will the U.S. lose its capabilities to launch drone strikes against al-Qaida if the U.S. pulls completely out of Afghanistan? Intel agencies are scrambling to find an answer. The NYT’s David Sanger and Eric Schmitt: "… Until now, the debate here and in Kabul about the size and duration of an American-led allied force in Afghanistan after 2014 had focused on that country’s long-term security. But these new concerns also reflect how troop levels in Afghanistan directly affect long-term American security interests in neighboring Pakistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials. The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year." More here.

Tarnished brass: A spate of general officers behaving badly is a headscratcher for the Pentagon – or maybe it isn’t. According to a Page Oner by the WaPo’s Craig Whitlock this morning, a commander at the 82nd Airborne, Martin Schweitzer, met a member of Congress and then couldn’t resist zipping out an e-mail after the meeting referring to her as "smoking hot" and referring to explicit sexual acts. Another lectured his troops about having a "zero tolerance" for sexual assault but Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts himself was under investigation over allegations that he had physically assaulted one of his mistresses on multiple occasions [italics ours].

Whitlock has more:  "The embarrassing episodes are described in previously undisclosed files of military investigations into personal misconduct by U.S. generals and admirals. Along with about two dozen other cases obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, the investigations add to a litany of revelations about misbehaving brass that have dogged the Pentagon over the past 15 months and tarnished the reputation of U.S. military leadership. Since November 2012, when an adulterous affair felled David H. Petraeus, the CIA director and most renowned Army general of his generation, the armed forces have struggled to cope with tawdry disclosures about high-ranking commanders… The subject is painfully sensitive inside the Pentagon, where many generals and admirals say they are appalled but reluctant to openly criticize their peers.

Said an Army brigadier to Whitlock, commenting on the spate of cases: "It’s just offensive when you see people do some of the things we’ve seen. It’s just completely offensive…As officers, we ought to be held to a higher standard. Some of this stuff you’re seeing with folks is just completely unacceptable."

Read the report on Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts here.

Read the report on Brig. Gen. Martin Schweitzer here.

Read the report on Brig Gen. David Uhrich here.   

First in SitRep: The Institute for the Study of War is publishing a paper by Valerie Szybala this morning titled "Assad Strikes Damascus" about the regime’s attempts to re-take its own capital last year and how the rebel offensives in July and August of last year threatened the regime’s control of Damascus. From ISW’s Kim Kagan: "Szybala also demonstrates how America’s failure to respond to the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus fundamentally undermined the Free Syrian Army and the gains the opposition had made inside of Damascus over the summer 2013. And she describes the regime’s campaign design and execution in Damascus to implement its starvation into submission plans. Despite these advantages, the regime is not able to defeat the opposition decisively in Damascus. Assad is playing a longer game, aimed at legitimizing his rule in international eyes through presidential elections in June 2014."

The Syrian regime, running out of options: "…Earlier in the war, the strength of the Syrian military was at a low point and it demonstrated that it did not have the manpower to hold one major city and attack another at the same time. By the fall of 2013 it was maintaining successful operations simultaneously in Aleppo and Damascus, a clear indication of how much the regime’s forces have actually been strengthened. Yet even as these augmented forces continue to attack, the regime is showing signs of its limitations. Neither side in Damascus is currently positioned for a decisive victory on the ground.

"It is likely that the violence and destruction will continue well into 2014. There are a number of conceivable actions that could change this trajectory and hasten the end of the war in Syria. A serious effort – most likely by Saudi Arabia – to arm the rebels with heavy weapons and train them in significant numbers could allow the rebels to finally gain the upper hand…"The Syrian regime’s longer-term strategy for retaining power is focused on holding elections in June 2014. Presidential elections are held every seven years in Syria, and Bashar al Assad has given clear signals that he intends to run in the Syrian presidential election this summer." Read the whole report at ISW’s web site this morning here.

FP’s James Traub asks, if American nation building is dead, what nation remains at home? Traub: "I have spent the last three weeks teaching a class on nation-building (with Bruce Jones, director of the Center on International Cooperation at NYU). Our students, who had come to Washington from NYU Abu Dhabi, were very enthusiastic about the subject. I, however, am having my doubts. My chief conclusion from the experience is that the American experiment in state-building, to use the less jingoistic name for the subject, which began 20 years ago in Haiti and the Balkans, has come to an end. We may soon look back upon it with mingled awe and dread, as the British do upon the Raj." Read the rest here.

Al-Qaida goes corporate. The NYT’s Ben Hubbard: "The letter bore the corporate tone of a C.E.O. resolving a turf dispute between two middle managers. In formal prose and numbered lists, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, directed one of the group’s affiliates in Syria to withdraw to Iraq and leave operations in Syria to someone else. The response was unequivocal. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, declared that his fighters would remain in Syria ‘as long as we have a vein that pumps and an eye that blinks.’ It was the first time in the history of the world’s most notorious terrorist organization that one of the affiliates had publicly broken with the international leadership, and the news sent shock waves through the online forums where jihadists meet. In no uncertain terms, ISIS had gone rogue." More here.

Time’s Mark Thompson asked the question a lot of people are thinking but not sure they want to ask out loud: Are veterans selfish? Thompson: "It’s an impudent question, but one that naturally surfaces given the outrage rolling in from assorted veterans’ groups as Congress and the Pentagon seek ways to trim government spending that sometimes affects those who have volunteered to fight America’s wars. It’s also the predictable downside to enlisting only 1% of the nation’s citizens to fight, and possibly die, to strive to achieve national goals. When presidents and congresses insist on waging war with no shared sacrifice, it should come as scant surprise that those who have done all the sacrificing squawk when their expected benefits end up on the chopping block.

Thompson: "…But it is disquieting. It suggests that the nation is developing a military caste, separate and apart from the nation. It seems the military is in danger of becoming just another special interest group." Do read the rest here.

Meanwhile, the "100,000 Jobs Mission" reached its goal seven years early, we’re told this morning – companies hired 117,439 military veterans. We’re told that the coalition, of which J.P. Morgan Chase is the founder, has grown to 131 companies. Maureen Casey, director of Military and Veterans Affairs at JPMorgan Chase: "Reaching this important milestone is great news for veterans and employers alike… We have been able to make a difference in the lives of so many of our nation’s veterans, and those veterans bring tremendous skills and experience to the workplace." Situation Report reported late last year that the coalition announced it will double its original hiring goal to a total of 200,000 U.S. military veterans by 2020. More info here.

It’s getting real: a fake Twitter handle for Pentagon Pressec John Kirby. There is now a "Fake Admiral Kirby" Twitter handle for Pentagon Presssec Rear Adm. John Kirby, which means he’s totally arrived. Choice tweets by @zorching over the last several days: "Missed opportunity. Hagel should have said we are zorching those ships to the black sea…Hey why is @matrabechault [French reporter for Agence France-Presse Mathieu Rabechault] get called on by the French MOD? He is one of ours. That will make this a 3+1. He is ruining everything…Mental note: Got to get Hagel to keep answers under 15 minutes!… I am not going to call on you @lbaldor [AP’s Lita Baldor] at 2+2 news conferences if you do not ask at least one relevant question to country/topic at hand!… And our favorite, but we swear we are not "Fake Admiral Kirby:" Why is this SecDef always late for press conferences? Adm. Mullen, he was always on time. Did I say that out loud?"

Ima let you finish: In case you missed it the other day, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interrupted Jane Harman during an interview about the NSA when she had to stop her mid-sentence to break the news: Justin Bieber had been arrested in Miami. Mitchell: "Uh, Congresswoman Harman, let me interrupt you, Congresswoman, let me interrupt you just for a moment, we have some breaking news out of Miami… Justin Bieber has been arrested on a number of charges…" HuffPo’s Jack Mirkinson: "We would LOVE to know what was going on in Andrea Mitchell’s head when she was forced to cut off a discussion about the NSA for breaking news about Justin Bieber’s arrest." Video here.

Speaking of public affairs, the Air Force announced a replacement for the retiring Col. Les Kodlick. Her name is Col. Kathleen Cook, Air Force Space Command Public Affairs Director, and she will replace Kodlick on February 28, when Kodlick retires. Kodlick, in his e-mail to "PA Professionals:" Colonel Cook is a superlative PA who is well respected around the Air Force and across the career field; her leadership and command experience are downright impressive.  She has led at the Joint, MAJCOM, and Wing levels and commanded at the group and squadron.  Many of you also will be interested to know she started her career as an enlisted Airman Musician trumpet player; how cool is that!… She’s smart, astute, direct and most importantly she cares deeply about Airmen and our profession.  You’ll know what’s on her mind, and she’ll challenge you to be your best. Congratulations Kathleen, I am proud of you.  As Carol and I transition, I do so knowing our career field is in great hands! Keep charging and God Bless! Les A. Kodlick."

Tunisia approved a new Constitution. Members of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve the country’s new Constitution on Sunday night, finally completing a two-year drafting process and opening the way to a new democratic era three years after the uprising that set off the Arab Spring.

The constitution passed with 200 votes of the 216 members present in the assembly, easily obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority needed for ratification. Legislators rose to their feet, greeting the result with applause, victory signs and some tears.

The assembly had already voted for the charter’s individual articles during sessions over the past three weeks, with some intense bargaining between the main political groups over last amendments. A final reading and vote on the entire document was needed to complete the process. ‘Some did not get what they wanted but it was a constitution of consensus,’ the assembly speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, said ahead of the vote. In the end, only 12 assembly members voted against the charter and four abstained." 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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