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: Manned aircraft joins the Nigerian search; Dempsey: direct action the most expensive; Al-Qaeda journalism in Yemen; An NSA reformer is a tweeting Trekkie; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel U.S. spy planes have begun the search for the school girls in Nigeria. Lubold and FP’s Shane Harris: "The United States is using surveillance aircraft in Nigeria in the search for nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls in what amounts to the first real assistance Barack Obama’s administration has provided since ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

U.S. spy planes have begun the search for the school girls in Nigeria. Lubold and FP’s Shane Harris: "The United States is using surveillance aircraft in Nigeria in the search for nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls in what amounts to the first real assistance Barack Obama’s administration has provided since sending a small team of advisors to the country late last week.

Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed Monday, May 12, that American ‘intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support’ is being used in Nigeria in the international effort to help the government of President Goodluck Jonathan find the girls. Satellite imagery, manned jets, unmanned drones, or even ground systems can capture the kind of information the Nigerian government needs in its search for the schoolgirls, who were taken by the terrorist group Boko Haram in April… The group is believed to have hidden the girls in dense forest areas, which could complicate U.S. efforts to locate them. But analysts said that at this point, with Nigerian forces unable to locate the captives, any extra assistance would be welcome.

"Caggins declined to say what assets are being used, but drones, or unmanned aerial systems, are typically the first choice when there is a need for such intelligence collection. And the United States has a drone base at an airport in neighboring Niger, from which unmanned aircraft have taken off in pursuit of al Qaeda terrorists in Mali. CBS News reported Monday evening that a manned twin-engine turboprop aircraft — the MC-12W Liberty — has begun flying surveillance missions over Nigeria.

"… While there are some calls in Washington to send "boots on the ground" into Nigeria to help rescue the girls — actual operational troops, rather than the roughly one dozen military advisors there now — it’s more likely the focus of U.S. assistance is on intelligence gathering.

Former Africa Command commander Carter Ham to FP: "I think intelligence collection will probably be at the top of the list of what the Nigerians want… Because the first requirement is to find the girls." More of Lubold’s and Harris’ here.

CBS’ David Martin, last night, on the intelligence the MC-12W Liberty is producing: "…None of the intelligence collected by the manned aircraft has yet been shared with the Nigerians because of legal restrictions on how much help the U.S. can give to a military with a record of human rights violations." That story here.

In searching for Nigeria’s missing schoolgirls, the U.S. finds itself working with security forces that it previously condemned. The Atlantic’s Matt Ford: "On Friday, Amnesty International leveled a serious accusation: the Nigerian military knew about Boko Haram’s recent attack in Chibok four hours before it took place… Nigeria’s 130,000 active military personnel-in a country of 177 million people-bear most of the burden of fighting Boko Haram. But by many assessments, these soldiers are underequipped, undertrained, and underfunded. Rampant corruption hinders the army’s morale and effectiveness, with reports of desertions and even infiltration by Boko Haram itself. During a March visit to Nigeria, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that human-rights violations by security forces ‘created fertile ground for Boko Haram to cultivate new recruits.’" More here.

From NPR, a Nigerian-American community in Maryland protests the Nigerian government’s fruitless search efforts, here.

Why Hillary Clinton’s State Department refused to list Boko Haram as a spy group by the CS Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi, 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? 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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who’s Where When today ­- Hagel is on the road, in Saudi Arabia… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and other leaders will attend the Medal of Honor ceremony in honor of Army Sgt. Kyle White at 3pm in the White House East Room… Pentagon Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer Robert F. Hale, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller Robert Speer, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Financial Management and Comptroller Susan Rabern, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Financial Management and Comptroller) Jamie M. Morin, Inspector General for the Department of Defense Jon T. Rymer all testify before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on "Improving Financial Management at the Department of Defense" at 10:30 a.m. in Dirksen 342… Acting Chief Information Officer David DeVries participates in a senior leader panel at the 2014 Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Conference on Joint Information Environment to discuss network operations, cyber security, cloud computing and mobility at 2:45 p.m. in Baltimore… And on Capitol Hill, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is briefed today on Boko Haram.

On Wednesday, the Middle East Institute hosts a conversation with John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Deets here.

Dempsey wants to ‘rebalance the use of military power’ and talked to a reporter about it in a Q&A. James Kitfield for Defense One on Dempsey on when the U.S. should use force: "Well, I’m going to get a little philosophic with you here, but when you look at what the military instrument of power can accomplish, it is actually more effective in dealing with strength-on-strength situations than it is in dealing with strength-on-weakness scenarios. And we’re finding that a weakening of structures and central authority is pervasive in today’s world. The Middle East is a poster child for that dynamic. But if you look at almost any sector of civilization – from international organizations, to big corporations to places of worship – their authority has diminished over the past decade…"

Dempsey continues on the use of force: "…As I look forward and think about the need to rebalance the use of military power, I think we will need less direct action because it is the most costly, disruptive and controversial use of American power. By contrast, we need to do more in terms of building partners. I’m a huge advocate of doubling or even tripling our effort to build credible partners around the globe.
And I’m also a huge advocate of enabling others who have the will, but perhaps not the capability to act." More here.

Within the next 17 months, nearly 30,000 U.S. Army soldiers must be removed from the active rolls. The Amazing Jim Tice of Army Times: "Nearly 30,000 soldiers must be removed from the active rolls in the next 17 months if the Army is to make the first waypoint in a drawdown that eventually will reduce the force to 450,000, or even 420,000, soldiers. As of April 1, there were 519,786 troopers on active duty, according to the most recent accounting of Regular Army strength by the Defense Manpower Data Center. The personnel total includes 4,000 West Point cadets and several hundred soldiers who are processing for separation because of physical disability, and several hundred others who have been identified for involuntary separation or retirement because of indiscipline or selection by force reduction boards. Since the beginning of the drawdown in October 2012, Army strength dropped from 550,000 to 530,000 by the end of fiscal 2013." More here.

A cabinet minister in Kuwait resigns after the U.S. alleges he was raising funds for rebels in Syria. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung: "… In a March speech, a senior Treasury Department official said Ajmi’s appointment was a "step in the wrong direction" for Kuwait, which he described as "the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria."

The Kuwaiti cabinet called the allegations by David S. Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, "baseless and groundless" and issued a statement expressing "displeasure." It refused to accept Ajmi’s resignation when he initially offered it last month for what he said were health reasons. Cohen had charged that Ajmi ‘has a history of promoting jihad. .?.?. In fact, his image has been featured on fundraising posters" or Jabhat al-Nusra, a group of Syrian opposition fighters that the Obama administration has designated a foreign terrorist organization." More here.

As NSA reform nears the House floor, here’s the Congressman to watch: he’s a Tweeting Trekkie. FP’s John Hudson: "Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, a 34-year-old Republican, has lots of opinions. The correct name for Star Trek fans? ‘Trekkies’ — not ‘Trekkers.’ The latest installment of Captain America? A ‘fantastic’ indictment of government surveillance. Using hashtags on Twitter? Soooo 2008. But those aren’t the beliefs that have put Amash in the cross-hairs of his fellow Republicans, who have called him a ‘wacko bird,’ an ‘egregious asshole,’ someone who ‘votes more with the Democrats than with the Republicans,’ and most recently, ‘al Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress.’ Some GOP lawmakers have gone so far as to donate money to his primary opponent. Amash, in turn, uses Twitter and Facebook to call out other Republican lawmakers by name and accuse them of sacrificing core GOP beliefs for political gain." More here.

The Economist’s new 10-minute video surveys its correspondents across the world on the question: What would America fight for? Watch it here.

The Truman Project just released the newest edition of its national security briefing book. CNP Executive Director Michael Breen in an email to the Situation Report yesterday: "The sixth edition of the Truman Security Briefing Book reflects the expertise and insights of more than 90 top national security and foreign policy thinkers across the country. These ideas are not limited to any ideology or party and we hope that everyone looking for strong, smart, and principled solutions to today’s global challenges will find it useful." Download it here.

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos replied to Walt Jones’ concerns: "I do not fear Major Weirick." By Andy deGrandpre in Marine Corps Times, here.

The Taliban’s spring offensive just began with a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan. The WSJ’s Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri: "The Taliban launched deadly attacks across Afghanistan on Monday, in a show of force that marked the beginning of the insurgency’s annual spring fighting season. At least 18 people, including three insurgents, were killed in multiple attacks that targeted mainly Afghan security forces and government employees in the past two days, officials said. Many of the victims were civilians.

"The surge in violence wasn’t a surprise: The Taliban announced last week that the spring offensive would formally start Monday. After the insurgency failed to carry out major attacks in an effort to disrupt the April 5 presidential vote, Taliban fighters were expected to redouble their efforts to prove their strength. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, at around 9 a.m., three insurgents stormed the offices of the Afghan justice department, sparking a four-hour gunbattle, Afghan officials and witnesses said. In the fighting, two security guards and two government employees were killed and three people were injured. The attackers also died. Afghan troops rescued 11 government employees who were trapped in the building during the attack, said Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, a police spokesman." More here.

A new International Crisis Group report on Afghanistan’s insurgency after the transition releases today. The report says that it’s a mixed bag for Afghanistan moving forward.  While there’s a degree of optimism about the country’s future, the overall trend is one of rising violence and insurgent attacks.  The signing of a BSA and SOFA would send an important signal at a fragile time, but they’re not cure-alls.  The complete withdrawal of foreign forces, however, would be extremely problematic. More here.

And a White Paper by IFS’ logistics expert Jeff Pike takes on the mammoth task of equipment reset after Afghanistan. The report examines what is required to bring back NATO’s some 218,000 vehicles and containers, and U.S. Central Command’s 24,000 vehicles and major pieces of equipment. The massive amount of equipment needs to not only be shipped back from Afghanistan, but also to be refitted – or reset – for continued military use. This creates an urgent requirement for ERP support that goes beyond the bounds of conventional ERP or EAM systems. Download the report here.

How America’s drone war is infecting Pakistani culture. The National Journal’s Sara Sorcher from Islamabad: "In Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, where dron
es hum overhead and militants hide, this is romantic: ‘I am looking for you like a drone, my love,’ a verse of a local folk poem says. ‘You have become Osama, no one knows your whereabouts.’ When Americans talks about drones, they envision terrorist targets in faraway lands. When Washington pundits talk about drones, they question whether push-button combat impedes intelligence-gathering or if civilians are accidental casualties. But for those who live in the areas bombarded by armed drones, shadowy U.S. warfare has infected culture. Drones, reported to have killed at least 2,500 people in Pakistan alone, are featured in the music and poetry created there." More here.

In Yemen, a battle for hearts and minds and quasi news by al-Qaeda. The NYT’s Saeed al Batati and David Kirkpatrick in Mukalla: "… After years of Western condemnation for the civilian casualties of terrorist attacks, Al Qaeda’s affiliate here is trying to turn the tables in a stream of online videos arguing that Washington and its Yemeni Army allies are the ones carelessly killing innocent bystanders in their drone attacks and military campaigns targeting suspected militants.

"The videos, Al Qaeda’s latest response to the drone assassinations of many of its leaders, seek to capitalize on growing anger over the killings of an undisclosed number of noncombatants in drone strikes. But the campaign has now taken on new resonance here since the disclosure last week that an American commando and a spy killed two armed Yemenis who had tried to kidnap them while the Americans were in a barbershop in Sana, the capital. The Americans were later whisked out of the country with the blessing of the Yemeni government." More here.

Many in Homs feel as if the civil war in Syria has ended. The LA Times’ Patrick McDonnell: "On the long-militarized edges of Syria’s Old City of Homs, volunteers Monday took down walls of cinder block and brick that had long served as shields against snipers hidden in the ruins of the rebel-held ancient quarter. ‘For us, the war is over,’ said Firas Alabdallah, an engineer helping to collect material for use in a cemetery for pro-government ‘martyrs.’ The Syrian war is certainly not over. Broad swaths of the country remain contested or under opposition control. But to many in Homs, once dubbed the ‘capital’ of the Syrian uprising, it does feel like the end." More here.

A top Israeli intel official will meet with Dianne Feinstein today in an attempt to quell the allegations of Israeli spying in the U.S. Newsweek’s Jeff Stein:  "…Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who holds the intelligence portfolio in the Netanyahu government, vehemently denied reports by Newsweek last week that Israel ‘has been caught carrying out aggressive espionage operations against the American targets for decades,’ long after it pledged to stop recruiting spies here in the wake of the 1980s Pollard affair. The incidents were kept quiet, Newsweek reported, because senior American policy makers did not want to provoke a public rupture with its close ally. For U.S. officials, complaining about Israeli operations was, one source told Newsweek, ‘political suicide.’" More here.

Russia keeps its distance after Ukraine secession referendums. The NYT’s Neil MacFarquhar: "Russia stopped short on Monday of outright recognition of the contentious referendums organized by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, Russian-speaking provinces of southeast Ukraine, instead using the results to intensify pressure for a negotiated autonomy for those provinces. The separatist leader of the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk wasted little time in announcing that his province wanted to join Russia, but the question seemed to be whether Moscow was interested. Russia avoided any suggestion that it would react to the results with the same alacrity seen after the Crimean Peninsula referendum in March. Within hours of that vote, President Vladimir V. Putin declared that Russia was annexing Crimea, part of southern Ukraine that had once been part of Russia." More here.

In Ukraine, fascism returns to the continent it once destroyed. Timothy Snyder for TNR: "…The pluralist revolution in Ukraine came as a shocking defeat to Moscow, and Moscow has delivered in return an assault on European history. Even as Europeans follow with alarm or fascination the spread of Russian special forces from Crimea through Donetsk and Luhansk, Vladimir Putin’s propagandists seek to draw Europeans into an alternative reality, an account of history rather different from what most Ukrainians think, or indeed what the evidence can bear. Ukraine has never existed in history, goes the claim, or if it has, only as part of a Russian empire. Ukrainians do not exist as a people; at most they are Little Russians. But if Ukraine and Ukrainians do not exist, then neither does Europe or Europeans." More here.

How a Special Ops legend made me a better reporter. Alex Quade for RTDNA: "As a lone, woman war reporter covering U.S. Special Operations forces on combat missions downrange, an unexpected mentor came into my life. This unlikeliest of sources hated reporters. Despite that, he ‘chose’ me, treated me as an adopted SON, and taught me everything I need to know that matters. Love him or hate him, everyone respected Medal of Honor recipient Col. Robert L. Howard (or ‘Mean ol’ Ranger Bob’ as I liked to call him) for his bravery during five tours in Vietnam, mainly with the Studies and Observations Group.  He was one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history; nominated for the Medal of Honor three times." More here.

Duncan Hunter is pressing U.S. authorities to secure the release of Andrew Tahmooressi, an American citizen and Marine Corps combat veteran who is currently imprisoned in Mexico.  In a letter to Hagel, Rep. Hunter asked that the U.S. suspend cooperation with the Mexican military in a "number of areas."  Rep. Hunter also wrote Homeland Security Secretary Johnson or information on Mexican military and law enforcement incursions on the border. Read the letter to Hagel here, and the letter to Johnson here.


Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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.