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: A drone debate rages before a strike

The Karzai Workaround; Flynn on the ANSF; What is "even is the new up?;" Gates flashbacks and brisket ice cream; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

The Obama administration is debating a drone strike against an American in Pakistan suspected by some of plotting terrorist attacks. It’s the first time the Obama administration has actively discussed killing an American since Obama imposed new restrictions on drone operations last spring. AP’s Kim Dozier, who broke the story: "The case of an American citizen and suspected member of al-Qaida who is allegedly planning attacks on U.S. targets overseas underscores the complexities of President Barack Obama’s new stricter targeting guidelines for the use of deadly drones. The CIA drones watching him cannot strike because he’s a U.S. citizen. The Pentagon drones that could are barred from the country where he’s hiding, and the Justice Department has not yet finished building a case against him. Four U.S. officials said the American suspected terrorist is in a country that refuses U.S. military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him. And Obama’s new policy says American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, creating a policy conundrum for the White House.

"Two of the officials described the man as an al-Qaida facilitator who has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against U.S. citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.

"The Associated Press has agreed to the government’s request to withhold the name of the country where the suspected terrorist is believed to be because officials said publishing it could interrupt ongoing counterterror operations. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the classified drone targeting program publicly. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., complained last week that a number of terrorist suspects were all but out of reach under the administration’s new rules that limit drone strikes based on the target’s nationality or location. Two of the U.S. officials said the Justice Department review of the American suspected terrorist started last fall."

Noting: Dozier did not report the country in which the citizen is thought to be; neither did the WaPo, which stood up a story after Dozier’s; the NYT and the WSJ did report the individual was in Pakistan. Dozier’s story 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. Like what you see? Please 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.

The DIA’s Mike Flynn today: the ANSF can’t hold land. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "Afghanistan’s security forces are struggling to improve their combat capability as the U.S. withdraws intelligence, reconnaissance and bomb-detection technologies, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The 340,000 members of the Afghan National Army and police "have shown progress in their ability to clear insurgents from contested areas but have exhibited problems holding cleared areas long-term," Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the Pentagon intelligence agency, said in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing [today].

"Flynn’s prepared remarks, obtained in advance by Bloomberg News, underscore the fragility of Afghan security as the U.S. and its allies continue to withdraw forces and press President Hamid Karzai to sign an agreement permitting a continued international presence after this year. Flynn’s assessment is in sharp contrast to assurances by top U.S. commanders in the field that Afghan forces are increasingly ready to take over." More here.

Page One: The Karzai Workaround: U.S. military revises withdrawal plans to wait until after President Hamid Karzai leaves office. The WSJ’s Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "…The option for waiting reflects a growing belief in Washington that there is little chance of repairing relations with Mr. Karzai and getting him to sign the bilateral security agreement before elections scheduled for the spring… The military plan is the most significant example to date of how the U.S. has sought to minimize its reliance on Mr. Karzai, whose refusal to sign the security agreement amid a flurry of anti-American statements has upset Washington policy makers. The White House has said Mr. Karzai’s refusal has raised prospects that President Barack Obama will order a complete U.S. troop withdrawal this year. Afghan officials had no immediate comment.

Mr. Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have signaled their displeasure with Mr. Karzai by limiting their contacts with him. The U.S. and Afghan leaders haven’t held a videoconference call to discuss the war effort since the summer, officials said. Mr. Hagel visited Afghanistan in December but didn’t meet Mr. Karzai. Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, had a frosty meeting with Mr. Karzai in Kabul in November."

A senior U.S. official to the WSJ: "If he’s not going to be part of the solution, we have to have a way to get past him… It’s a pragmatic recognition that clearly Karzai may not sign the BSA and that he doesn’t represent the voice of the Afghan people."

"…Under the revised plan Gen. Joseph Dunford, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, put together in recent weeks, the U.S. military will have all equipment in place by July to support a post-2014 force that includes 10,000 American troops, officials said. The equipment is likely to include helicopters and limited numbers of mine-resistant troop transport vehicles. It would mainly be used to protect bases that would be used for training and advising Afghan command units, and to house American spies and diplomats. That means the Pentagon will go into the summer prepared to accommodate either outcome: a presidential decision to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan post-2014 or an order to pull all of the troops out by year-end, officials said." More here.

A lotta talk today: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivers remarks at a ceremony commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Allied Forces D-Day landing in Normandy with French President Francois Hollande at 3 p.m. at Arlington Cemetery; Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine H. Fox delivers remarks at the 2014 AFCEA WEST Conference at 11:30 a.m. EST in San Diego; U.S. Special Operations Command Commander Navy Adm. William McRaven was expected to deliver remarks on "Enabling SOCOM Partnership" at the SO/LIC Symposium and Exhibition 2014 at 8:15 a.m. EST in Washington.

Also: Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "Current and Future Worldwide Threats" at 9:30 a.m. EST, in room SD-G50, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin and Director for Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5) Navy Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on "United States Security Policy and Defense Posture in the Middle East" at 10 a.m. EST, in room 2118, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Michael Lumpkin delivers remarks on "New Policy, Strategy and Resources for Global Posturing" at 1:15 p.m. EST, Washington Marriot, Washington, D.C.; Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet participates in a discussion on "The American Military: War and Peace, Spending and Politics" at 6 p.m. EST (5 p.m. CST), University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Neb.

A second look: A Navy admiral responds to the AP story over the weekend about the military’s "chaotic military sex-abuse record." AP’s Yuri Kageyama and Richard Lardner reported that "At U.S. military bases in Japan, most service members found culpable in sex crimes in recent years did not go to prison, according to internal Department of Defense documents. Instead, in a review of hundreds of cases filed in America’s largest overseas military installation, offenders were fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military. In about 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment."

The Navy response: Rear Adm. Sean Buck is Director of the Navy’s 21st Century Sailor Office had this to say in part: "…Unfortunately, the article provides numbers without context or background.  Without rebutting the article point by point, I want to raise a few issues that should be considered. First, it’s important to note that there are multiple offenses covered under Article 120 of the UCMJ, ranging from rape to non-penetrating contact offenses, such as groping.  Second, each case is judged on its own merits, and if there is a conviction, the sentencing is awarded based on the unique facts in that case…The truth is, only relatively recently did we begin to understand the magnitude of the challenge.   As soon as we learn, we act – and not just piece by piece, but along the entire continuum of care." More on this from him here.

How the war in Iraq never really ended. Writing on FP, Jacopo Ottaviani explains a new map that shows violence over the years: "According to the latest report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, a total of 7,818 civilians and 1,050 security forces died in violent attacks across Iraq in 2013 — making last year the bloodiest in Iraq since 2008. As the Syrian Civil War continues into its third year and militants, including al Qaeda-affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, take advantage of Iraq’s porous border, conflict has escalated again. Thousands are dying in a renewed wave of car bombs, suicide attacks, assassinations, and firefights. Violence in Iraq has swelled and ebbed since the U.S. invasion in 2003…"

The numbers: "Those numbers tapered off as the U.S. military and Iraqi government co-opted insurgents during the Anbar Awakening and surged forces to restive areas, and in 2010 the figure reached a low of 4,110 civilian deaths. From 2010 through 2012, even after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Dec. 2011, civilian casualties hovered around 4,000 deaths each year. But, with a sharp spike in attacks since Spring 2013, that lull has ended. Iraq Body Count noted in its 2013 end-of-year review that "while 1,900 civilians were killed between October 2012 and March 2013, 6,300 were killed between April and October 2013."

"…This map tracks the toll of war and terrorism on Iraq’s civilians over the last decade. It visualizes approximately 35,000 incidents from January 2003 to September 2013, drawing on data from the incidents dataset released by the Iraq Body Count. The dataset does not include any military or insurgent casualties. Every red flare represents a violent incident resulting in the death of one or more people. The brighter a flare is, the more incidents occurred in that specific time and place." Click here for the article as well as the map that shows 12 years of violence in 42 seconds.

A video emerges of the U.S. military’s grab-and-go of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, wanted for the embassy bombings, last fall. The WaPo obtained the vid. Read and watch the WaPo story here.

The Pentagon’s Vikram Singh joins the Center for American Progress. Singh will become Vice President for National Security and International Policy at CAP, which announced the move yesterday. Singh is now the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, but he is departing the building this month.

Speaking of Asia: Read here for an interview with Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of "Pacific Air Forces," on Defense News in which he says the reason why there is a delta between resources and commitment in the Pacific Pivot: "I would say that the resources have not followed the comment of rebalance into the Pacific for a couple of reasons. One, because we still have ongoing operations obviously in the Middle East. And the other reason is [because] sequestration and the cuts in defense make it actually incredibly hard to find places to pivot money to the Pacific."

What is "even is the new up?" Carlisle: "One term that was used colloquially is "even is the new up." In other words, if you do not lose any money, you are actually gaining some. So I think with respect to the Pacific, in some ways, we were protected a little bit during sequestration. We had operations and maintenance funded more than other folks. But to say that there is a swing of resources – it is just left to the decline and the rest of other areas that are in a decline because of reduced defense budget." More here

I scream, you scream we all just scream: "Brisket ice cream" brings Gates Flashbacks for the Pentagon Press Corps. A restaurant in Washington announced that it has a special new ice cream, Brisket Ice Cream, "a devilish concoction of cold cream and brined, smoked beef drippings" that is now available "off-menu" at a restaurant called Firefly. This brought immediate flashbacks to travelling with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose unyielding bias toward brisket lunches and dinners drew rolled eyes and jeers. So popular was brisket on the military jet on which he travelled that the press dubbed the plane "The Big Brisket." Some restaurant owner seems to be channeling Gates with this new ice cream. Situation Report obtained internal e-mails between Pentagon reporters regarding said restaurant. NBC’s Courtney Kube: "Did Secretary Gates open a restaurant in DC?!?"

After obtaining the e-mail, Situation Report asked Kube if she could be quoted. Kube’s response: "As long as I don’t have to review the ice cream."


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

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.