Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Pentagon to announce review of awards

What Pakistan knew about bin Laden; Rasmussen to FP: Will Russia stop there?; DOD to send troops to Libya; No "Step Nine" for Boogie; What up with the Pentagon library?; and a bit more.

Remember that comprehensive review of all military decorations and awards the Pentagon was going to do? It’ll be announced today. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, who will appear in the Pentagon briefing room today, will announce that the Pentagon will begin a "comprehensive review" of all military decorations and awards starting in June. It’s designed to take "lessons learned" from 13 years of war and apply them to the way the Defense Department hands out awards and decorations. A defense official told Situation Report that the review will "focus on ensuring that the awards program will continue to appropriately recognize all levels of combat valor as well as the sacrifices of our service members," and also that the review "will determine how best to recognize service members who impact combat operations through the use of cyber technology and remote devices."

The review stems in part from the controversy surrounding the so-called drone device which would have recognized the important work that drone operators do on today’s battlefield. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who issued the directive to create the device before he left office, was seen to have thrown a political hand grenade into the building before departing. That’s because for a military that prides itself on awards and decorations, the move caused enormous upheaval between the services and the troops. Critics thought the device shouldn’t have a higher precedence than a Bronze Star, especially that with a ‘V’ device, that recognizes valorous actions of those on the ground. So began a nasty, behind-the-scenes battle of a different kind. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived at the Pentagon last year and immediately suspended the move to create the device. But it remained unclear how it would all turn out. Now, nearly a year later, his spokesman will announce a full review of the issue.

Not a quick turnaround though. Interestingly, it will take about a year to complete the review.

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New this morning: Newly detected objects in the water draw new scrutiny on Flight 370. The NYT’s Michelle Innis and Chris Buckley: "The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said on Thursday that satellite imagery had detected floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8. But he and an Australian rescue organizer both counseled caution about the sighting." More here.

NATO chief to FP: "Our concern is that Russia won’t stop." FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "NATO’s top official acknowledged in an interview that Russia’s annexation of Crimea could not be reversed and said the military alliance was increasingly concerned that Moscow might also invade eastern Ukraine. In the interview, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Foreign Policy that Russia’s sudden conquest of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was a "wake-up call" for the 28-member alliance, which had been established to counter potential Soviet aggression during the Cold War. Rasmussen said NATO was committed to protecting Poland and other Baltic members of the alliance from what he described as an increasingly aggressive and land-hungry Russian government.

"Still, he said that it was too late to halt Crimea’s absorption into Russia or return it to the control of Ukraine’s fragile central government. NATO, Rasmussen said, was instead worried that Russia was turning its gaze further eastward and potentially preparing to seize other portions of Ukraine." More here.

In a speech at Brookings in Washington yesterday, NATO Chief Rasmussen explained why Russia’s moves are a "wake-up call" for NATO: "We live in a different world than we did less than a month ago," Rasmussen said. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung’s piece here.

Ukrainian troops are turning the lights off in Crimea. The WaPo’s Carol Morello and Kathy Lally: "Ukraine prepared to evacuate its troops and their families from Crimea on Wednesday as Russia forced the Ukrainians to abandon several military bases and facilities on the peninsula, including their navy headquarters. Ukraine said it would seek U.N. support in declaring Crimea a demilitarized zone so that its troops could be relocated to Ukraine proper, effectively acknowledging that it had lost the region despite vows it would never cede to Russia." Read the rest here.

Why the death of Chechen rebel Doku Umarov is unlikely to reduce terrorism in Russia, in the WaPo, here.

Want to know what Pakistan knew about bin Laden? The NYT’s Carlotta Gall, in the Sunday NYT Magazine, online now: "… The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned – a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation." Read it all here.

And in Afghanistan today, militants stormed a police compound and 10 are now dead. The NYT’s Azam Ahmed and Khalid Alokozay: "A series of coordinated attacks in the heart of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan left at least 10 police officers dead, including the district police chief, after suicide bombers bearing firearms stormed their headquarters early Thursday morning, officials said.

"The assault, which also left 14 police officers wounded, began around 5 a.m. on Thursday when a car equipped with explosives sped through the gate to the police compound. Six bombers stormed the facility after the initial blast, waging a three-hour gun battle within the compound, according to Fazal Ahmad Sherzad, the police chief of Nangarhar Province, of which Jalalabad, one of the country’s largest and most economically vibrant cities, is the capital. Attack helicopters from the American-led international coalition could be seen circling the area after the assault." More here.

The Pentagon will send a team of soldiers to Libya to begin a training mission for Libyan troops in Bulgaria. AP’s own Lita Baldor: "According to the official, fewer than a dozen soldiers will go to Tripoli but that number could grow as the group begins selecting the Libyan troops who will receive U.S. training. About 500 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division will train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan forces in basic combat skills as part of a larger international effort to improve security in the North African nation. The training was announced late last year, but sending a team into Libya was not. The team initially will be working with the Libyans to determine the scope and details of the training. The official said that as time goes on and the effort to select the Libyan troops expands, some additional soldiers could go to Tripoli to provide security for the team." More here.

The U.S. is going to boycott the U.N.’s drone talks. FP’s Colum Lynch: "Pakistan is trying to push a resolution through the United Nations Human Rights Council that would trigger greater scrutiny of whether U.S. drone strikes violate international human rights law. Washington, though, doesn’t want to talk about it. The Pakistani draft, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, urges states to ‘ensure transparency’ in record-keeping on drone strikes and to ‘conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations whenever there are indications of any violations to human rights caused by their use.’ It also calls for the convening of ‘an interactive panel discussion’ on the use of drones. The Geneva-based human rights council held its third round of discussions about the draft on Wednesday, but the Obama administration boycotted the talks. The White House decision to sit out the negotiations is a departure from the collaborative approach the administration promised to take when it first announced plans to join the Human Rights Council in March 2009."

"… Rhetoric aside, though, the Obama administration has largely refused to supply U.N. experts with details about the classified U.S. drone program, which has killed hundreds of suspected militants in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries over the past decade. Independent investigators say the strikes have also killed thousands of civilians, including large numbers of women and children, a charge the White House — without providing evidence to the contrary — denies." Read the rest here.

No "Step Nine:" Boogie didn’t actually say he was sorry to Hagel. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke to Hagel yesterday after the U.S. criticized Yaalon’s criticism of American foreign policy – a hot topic this week. Yaalon and Hagel, said to be close, discussed the issue briefly and Yaalon clarified his stance to Hagel. But he didn’t actually apologize for what he had said earlier this week – as is being widely reported in Israeli press. A defense official tells Situation Report: "While Yaalon did in fact clarify his comments by restating his firm comment, it would be inaccurate to say he apologized."

Hagel pinchhitted for Biden yesterday at the Business Roundtable, but he wasn’t coaxing folks to divest from the region in the aftermath of the Crimea crisis. Hagel hosted the Business Roundtable yesterday in Washington, speaking to as many as 100 CEOs from top American companies around the country. Vice President Joe Biden had been scheduled to speak to the group, but had to pass due to his trip. Hagel spoke to three themes, Situation Report is told: the budget, the danger of sequestration returning in 2015, and the gratitude the Defense Department has for those American firms who employ veterans. "We make veterans in the Department of Defense," Hagel told the group by way of explaining how he feels responsibility for their futures after they leave the service. He encouraged top companies to do more for veterans.

One thing he didn’t talk about, we’re told, was Russia and Ukraine. Although he mentioned the uncertainty the crisis presents to the world, he did not talk to them about divesting themselves from the region, according to a senior defense official who cited "false reporting" on the meeting yesterday. "That’s not at all what he was doing."  Hagel will host a smaller group of CEOs at the Pentagon this spring, we’re told.

"Personally skeptical." Hillary Clinton expresses doubts about an Iranian nuke deal. The WaPo’s Philip Rucker: " Hillary Rodham Clinton cast doubt on the interim nuclear agreement with Iran, saying in a muscular policy speech here Wednesday night that she is "personally skeptical" that Iran’s leaders will follow through on a comprehensive agreement to end their march toward nuclear weapons. Still, the former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate told a pro-Israel audience in New York that she stands behind the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran, and she commended the work of her successor, John F. Kerry." Full story here.

What’s up with the Pentagon Library? Good question we’re glad you asked. We reported in Situation Report in May 2013 that the "way ahead" for the Pentagon’s library was unclear and that defense officials were looking at reducing its services or closing it altogether amid, according to an internal memo at the time, "fiscal realities." But the library’s fate is still in limbo, we’re told. The library, adjacent to the Pentagon conference center, located just outside the actual building, was part of the Pentagon renovation of that area completed some years ago. A Pentagon spokesman told Situation Report that the Defense Department is "continuing to review" the library issue, but in a statement it looks less like defense officials think the library should be closed. Instead it sounds like there are plans to make it a better service. No word on how funding cuts at the Department could affect the library, which some people are surprised to hear even exists.

The statement to Situation Report: "We are continuing to review how the Pentagon Library can better serve the Department as a more modern information service, capable of providing a full range of information services to meet customer needs utilizing state of the art technologies. This modernization effort — which would include a more robust digital presence, and a focus on delivery of digital information products coupled with the preservation of its most important print-based collections — remains in the planning and coordination stages."

Kandahar, and the true test of the Afghan elections next month. The WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov: "The election campaign is sweeping the Taliban stronghold, fueled by hopes that the April vote could bring better governance after 12 years of rule by President Hamid Karzai, whose brothers have long dominated Kandahar.

"These expectations, coupled with successful U.S. and Afghan offensives that pushed the Taliban into remote districts, have brought unusual peace to the country’s second-largest metropolis. Should voters’ hopes be dashed through fraud, however, Kandahar’s hard-won calm could quickly collapse, many locals warn. ‘Nowadays, the Taliban are quiet because all the people want free and fair elections,’ said Mohammad Daud, an elder of the Alokozai tribe in Kandahar’s giant Loy Wala neighborhood, where Taliban assassination squads roamed freely a few years ago. ‘But if people are forced to vote for someone, if there is government interference, and there is no change, people will be fighting again.’ Kandahar is no stranger to vote-rigging. In 2009, as Taliban violence in the city and surrounding districts scared off voters, government officials stuffed ballot boxes across the province." More here.

Reading Pincus: For transport planes, the confusing world of budget cuts, politics and base closings. Pincus in the WaPo: "Closing military bases and consolidating operations to save money are not simple moves. Take the Air Force’s constantly shifting plans to move 10 of the 20 C-130J Super Hercules transport planes. Stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., the planes are part of the Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing and are used primarily for tactical airlift missions. Plans for where the planes and their crews should move have changed repeatedly, and at a head-spinning pace. In February 2012, the Air Force announced that it would relocate Keesler’s 10 C-130J aircraft to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. It was part of a long-term plan to save about $480 million. At that time, Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.), who represents the area, told a local TV station, ‘We’re just going to ask the tough questions and .?.?. if they don’t have the right answers, I think it’s going to be safe, because we have to protect Keesler’s mission.’ Tough questioning turned up that moving to Dobbins would require larger hangars, which would require more money." More here.




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