FP’s Situation Report: The rift between Kabul and Washington is making life easier for the Taliban
Air Force promotions on ice because of nuke cheating scandal; Syria's terrorism problem highlighted on the Hill; and a bit more.
If you thought the problems between Washington and Kabul didn't have impact on the battlefield, guess again. That's the basic thesis of a Wall Street Journal story published this morning. From the Journal's Yaroslav Trofimov, reporting from Kabul: "A rift between Kabul and Washington has empowered hardline Taliban commanders at the expense of more moderate leaders who had pushed for peace talks, further reducing the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the 12-year war. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decision in November not to sign a security deal with the U.S. has led to a power shift within the insurgency's leadership, bolstering the senior commanders who have pursued a military victory, according to senior officials and people close to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
If you thought the problems between Washington and Kabul didn’t have impact on the battlefield, guess again. That’s the basic thesis of a Wall Street Journal story published this morning. From the Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov, reporting from Kabul: "A rift between Kabul and Washington has empowered hardline Taliban commanders at the expense of more moderate leaders who had pushed for peace talks, further reducing the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the 12-year war. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision in November not to sign a security deal with the U.S. has led to a power shift within the insurgency’s leadership, bolstering the senior commanders who have pursued a military victory, according to senior officials and people close to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
More from Kabul: "‘Those who believe they can win militarily are now more powerful than those pro-peace elements because of certain policies that our government unfortunately has lately taken, such as the delay in signing the bilateral security agreement," said Salahuddin Rabbani, chairman of the High Peace Council, a body created by Mr. Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban. The council, many of whose members are former Taliban themselves, maintains a wide network of informal contacts with the insurgency." More here.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report, where I’m filling in for an under the weather Gordon Lubold. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll 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. One more thing: please follow me at @DanLamothe and Gordon at @glubold. You can also always reach me at email@example.com. Much obliged.
The Air Force nuclear force’s cheating scandal has put promotions for its top commanders on ice. From my story, a Foreign Policy exclusive Wednesday night: "The widening cheating scandal roiling the Air Force’s nuclear force has put all of the promotions for its senior officers on hold, including at least one colonel who had been nominated to become a general officer, Foreign Policy has learned. Col. Robert Stanley, the commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, has been nominated to pin on a star and become a brigadier general, but still needs confirmation by the Senate. His command – which operates nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles — finds itself squarely at the center of a scandal in which at least 34 of the estimated 190 nuclear officers at Malmstrom either cheated on a monthly launch officer proficiency test, or knew colleagues had gamed the system and did nothing."
It isn’t just Stanley, though. "Col. Mark Schuler, commander of the 341st Operations Group at Malmstrom, was slated to take command of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota later this year, a congressional source told FP. That move would not come with a promotion in rank, but is widely seen in the nuclear force as a career advancement that would put Schuler (pictured above at right) on track to become a general officer later. His command is part of the 341st Missile Wing, and is directly responsible for the test administrators and students who were caught cheating, according to a former missilier with knowledge of the 341st. Air Force officials declined to speculate on Schuler and Stanley’s future on Thursday. However, a spokesman, Lt. Col. John Sheets, said the Air Force is reevaluating "all senior leadership moves within 20th Air Force," the command that oversees the entire ICBM arsenal. "No final decisions have been made pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation," Sheets told FP on Wednesday." More here.
Meanwhile, James, the Air Force secretary, addressed the scandal Wednesday at an event in Arlington, Va. From Air Force Times’ Brian Everstine: "Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday the service will ‘get to the bottom’ of a systemic problem in its nuclear force, where 14 percent of officers reportedly have been at least temporarily removed from active duty after allegations of cheating on a proficiency exam. ‘We do have a systemic problem,’ James said at an Air Force Association event in Arlington, Va. ‘The need for perfection has created way too much stress and way too much fear.’ The Air Force is also looking at improving pay and career options and addressing problems such as burnout and micromanagement in an attempt to make the career field more appealing for new airmen, she said." More here.
And wait a second… Is that the Air Force secretary demonstrating a "knife-hand" in the photograph with Air Force Times’ story? Sure looks like it. What’s a "knife-hand?" Read more here.
Hagel in Poland today. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be in Poland today as part of a three-day trip that also will stop in Germany. Rear Adm. John Kirby, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday: "He will first travel to Warsaw, Poland, to meet with senior Polish officials. Poland has been a steadfast ally of the United States, and Secretary Hagel will thank them for supporting our efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and also express support for Poland’s efforts to modernize their defense establishment. He will also visit Powidz Air Base in Central Poland, where U.S. and Polish troops are working together to further Polish and regional security. The secretary will then make a very brief visit to the area of Kiszkow, Poland, where his mother’s grandparents were married before immigrating to the United States. From Poland, Secretary Hagel will travel to Munich, where on Saturday he will make a joint presentation at the Munich Security Conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on the importance of transatlantic cooperation. While there, he will also have the opportunity to meet with a number of his foreign counterparts and will be returning to Washington later that evening."
Big shocker: Syria has a major terrorist problem. That is what top defense officials told Congress yesterday. From FP’s own John Hudson, writing on The Cable: "The protracted three-year civil war in Syria has created an international hotbed of terrorism that threatens the United States homeland and is likely to grow even worse in the months and years to come, according to the nation’s top intelligence officials. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, joined the heads of the FBI and CIA to warn that Syria was effectively becoming the next Afghanistan — a safe haven where extremists around the world could recruit new fighters and plan new attacks against Europe and the U.S. Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that there are an estimated 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria from some 50 countries, including many in Europe. Those extremists are of particular concern to Western security services because they could theoretically use their European passports to travel to the continent freely and carry out new strikes." More here.
Clapper, meanwhile, also went out of his way yesterday on Capitol Hill to slam NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The story, from The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman: "Testifying before a rare and unusually raucous public session of the Senate intelligence committee that saw yet another evolution in the Obama administration’s defense of bulk domestic phone records collection, Clapper called on ‘Snowden and his accomplices’ to return the documents the former National Security Agency contractor took, in order to minimize what he called the "profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continued to cause". Snowden has repeatedly said he acted alone in assembling and leaking a vast trove of information on the scope of US surveillance efforts, a conclusion also reportedly reached by the NSA’s official investigation into the Snowden leaks.
And what about the journos working with Snowden? More from the Guardian: "Asked if the journalists who possess leaked surveillance information counted in Clapper’s definition of an ‘accomplice,’ Clapper spokesman Shawn Turner clarified: ‘Director Clapper was referring to anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs.’ Turner declined to be more specific." More here.
Did a retired general with a bad reputation pay to make Google his friend? Army Times’ Joe Gould noticed something unusual while researching Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, who left the service with a tarnished reputation as a toxic leader. From Gould’s story: "Google search results for the former chief of the Missile Defense Agency still connect to allegations of bullying and berating subordinates. But interspersed with these stories are rosy depictions of O’Reilly as a positive mentor and role model for soldiers. These positive characterizations appear in numerous blog posts, press releases, YouTube videos and more than a dozen social media profiles. Collectively they create an AstroTurf online presence, carpeting over O’Reilly’s blemishes. How did all of this favorable information wind up online? That’s not entirely clear, but it appears the retired general hired OptimizeUp, a company that advertises its ability to game Google’s algorithm, boosting positive information and burying the negative. Online reputation management is legal, sanctioned by Google and it’s a big business." More here.
A retired Marine Corps four-star just ripped U.S. policy in Iraq. Gen. James Conway, who retired as the service’s top officer in 2010, has no love for the way Iraq has taken a turn for the worst. He blasted the way the U.S. has handled things there – not a surprise, considering he led U.S. forces there in the notorious city of Fallujah in 2004. From USA Today’s Jim Michaels: "A blunt-talking officer who rarely seeks the spotlight, Conway described his reaction to recent events in stark terms during brief remarks. ‘It causes Iraqi and U.S. policies to look a little weak and confused in the wake of how hard we fought to get those cities back in the first place,’ Conway said. More here.
West Coast Africa piracy: Get ready for a whole new ugly. FP’s energy reporter, Keith Johnson detail the intricacies of African piracy that has taken hold on its west coast, far from Somalia. From his story: "On January 18th, a Greek shipping firm lost radio contact with one of its vessels, a Liberian-flagged, 75,000-ton oil tanker named Kerala, when it was just a few miles off the port of Luanda, Angola. What happened next is still in dispute. But maritime experts think the Kerala’s disappearance marks a dangerous new escalation of the oil-driven piracy that has increasingly tormented mariners across the infamous Bight of Benin. Maritime hijackings off of Somalia and the rest of Africa’s eastern coast are in sharp decline. But pirate attacks in West Africa have crept upward, turning the waters around the Gulf of Guinea into one of the centers of global piracy. About one out of every five reported pirate attacks last year took place in the Gulf of Guinea, the International Maritime Bureau reported, but it estimates that only about one-third of West African attacks are actually reported." More here.
Really! They’re taking away the Nerf! The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Tom Roeder caught an interesting request from commanders at Fort Carson, Colo., on Wednesday. From the blog The High Ground: "‘It has recently come to light that some prohibited items have found their way into theater in care packages delivered by mail,’ the brigade said on facebook. ‘We encourage you to continue to support your soldier downrange but would like to remind our Families of some items that are prohibited in theater.’
Items that are NOT allowed, according to The High Ground. "Alcohol beverages of any kind, pornography in any format, bow and arrow-type devices that includes slingshots, knives with a blade length over six inches (such as switch blades, ballistic, gravity, or stilettos), brass knuckles, numchucks, throwing stars, shurikins, throwing spikes, samurai swords, blackjacks, slappers, saps, riot clubs, night sticks, lead or iron pipes, explosives including fireworks, teargas, mace, pepper spray, tasers, stun guns, drugs of any kind, firearms or missile launching devices including air rifles or pistols, spear guns, blowguns, paint-ball guns, Nerf guns, or squirt guns." Is Situation Report the only one who had to look up what a shurikin is? More here.
Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent. He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone. He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy. Among his scoops, Lamothe reported exclusively in 2010 that the Marine Corps had recommended that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer receive the Medal of Honor. This year, he was part of a team of journalists that exposed senior Marine Corps leaders' questionable involvement in legal cases, and then covering it up. A Pentagon investigation is underway in those cases. Twitter: @DanLamothe
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