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: Concerns over Libya, Marines move in; What was Petraeus’ role in Swenson’s lost MOH file?; Dempsey: Syrian opp not ready for prime time; The fight to save the A-10; Afghanistan needs a runoff; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel The U.S. is moving troops from Spain to Sicily over Libyan security concerns. Reuters’ Phil Stewart: "The Pentagon said on Wednesday it has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily from their base in Spain as a precaution due to concerns about unrest in North Africa, bolstering the U.S. ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The U.S. is moving troops from Spain to Sicily over Libyan security concerns. Reuters’ Phil Stewart: "The Pentagon said on Wednesday it has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily from their base in Spain as a precaution due to concerns about unrest in North Africa, bolstering the U.S. ability to respond to any crisis. The Pentagon declined to single out any countries but two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American concerns were centered squarely on Libya, where armed groups and Islamists refused to disarm after the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
"The Marines are part of a crisis response unit focused on embassy security created after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"…We’re doing this as a contingency because we believe that the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a point where there could be threats,’ said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
"…Warren said the Pentagon’s decision to move the forces, along with six aircraft, followed a request from the U.S. State Department. Warren stressed that while the Marines were ‘unquestionably’ focused on the protection of embassies, he did not rule out the possibility they could be called upon for a different mission." More here.

A dangerous tit for tat situation is developing in Libya. From the Economist: "The release on May 13th of the Jordanian ambassador to Libya, who was abducted in Tripoli in April, may have set a dangerous precedent. To secure the release of Fawaz al-Itan, the government in Amman reportedly agreed to return a Libyan militant serving a life sentence in Jordan. Mr Itan, who was held hostage for 28 days after gunmen ambushed his vehicle and shot his driver, described the abduction as an "isolated incident" linked to efforts to obtain the release of Mohammed al-Drissi, who was convicted in 2007 of plotting to blow up the airport in Amman. Jordanian officials say Mr Drissi’s family, well-known among Benghazi’s militants, was involved in the kidnapping.
"The exchange is likely to further embolden Libya’s many armed groups, who have resorted to hostage-taking either for ransom or to secure the release of associates at home or abroad. Diplomats have been increasingly targeted. Since the start of the year, five Egyptian diplomats, two Tunisian embassy staff and a South Korean trade official have been kidnapped in the Libyan capital. The Tunisians are still being held. In a video aired in April, one of the Tunisians implored his government to negotiate with his kidnappers who are demanding the release of Libyan jihadists jailed in Tunis.
"Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser al-Judeh, played down suggestions of a deal over Mr Drissi, insisting that the two governments had only ‘expedited’ negotiations already underway for his transfer under the Riyadh Convention, which allows prisoners to serve out sentences in their home country. Libyan officials confirmed that Mr Drissi was returned to Libya, but would not comment on whether he was in custody or free." More here.

Meantime, the U.S. is using drones to search for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria.  The WSJ’s Adam Entous and Colleen McCain Nelson: "The U.S. has deployed unmanned aircraft in the search for more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted last month by members of a militant group with links to al Qaeda, officials said Wednesday, as the search was stepped up. The American drones will be flying over Nigeria along with a piloted U.S. reconnaissance plane as part of an effort that also includes more than two dozen specialists sent by Washington to aid the Nigerian government in the search… The U.S. decision to use unmanned aircraft was revealed Wednesday by the White House and by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel." More here.

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Who’s Where When today – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is in Israel, where he is meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Bogie Ya’alon at the Ministry of Defense and then he’s going to Hatzor Air Force Base with the defense minister to meet with U.S. and Israeli troops in Israel who are participating in a ballistic missile defense exercise called Juniper Cobra.

Meantime, China’s Army Chief of Staff is at the Pentagon today: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Marty Dempsey will host a full honors arrival ceremony for Chinese Army Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui at the Pentagon at 10:30 a.m…. Following the arrival ceremony and their bilateral meeting, Gen. Dempsey and Gen. Fang will conduct a press briefing at 1:40 p.m. in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room…Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel D. Cox delivers remarks on Air Force personnel issues at 7 a.m., in the Capital View Ballroom.

But no China report out this week. The Pentagon’s annual "China Report" was expected out by now but it’s unlikely it will appear until after Hagel returns from overseas.

A New CNAS report argues that the NDP should highlight six critical issues that the QDR did not sufficiently address: assessing the risks of defense cuts; restructuring the relationship between the active and reserve components; rapidly regenerating ground forces; reforming the defense enterprise; engaging with U.S. partners and allies; and ensuring U.S. technological superiority. Download it here.

At the Wilson Center this morning, Ambassador Lamberto Zannier, Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will discuss the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. Deets here.

Could Tony Blinken replace Bill Burns as Undersec of State? In the Loop’s Al Kamen, here.

Hagel is wheels down in Israel – Iran and American-Israeli security cooperation are at the top of the agenda. The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Lappin and Reuters: "US Secretary of
Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel on Wednesday and is due to meet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for bilateral defense talks on strategic and Middle East regional security issues. The two are expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, as well as Israeli-American military cooperation, which remains close. Hagel is to meet with Ya’alon at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning, where he is set to be welcomed with a guard of honor. The two will then hold a joint press conference. On Thursday afternoon, Hagel will visit Hatzor air force base near Ashdod." More here.

Yesterday in Jordan, Hagel met with Prince Faisal bin Al-Hussein, the Regent as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mashal al-Zaban. The meeting follows Hagel’s discussions with King Abdullah II in February and with General Al-Zaban in March of this year. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby in a readout of the meeting: "The leaders discussed regional security issues and noted the strength and importance of the U.S.-Jordan partnership. As a result, both sides have reached an agreement in principle to enhance Jordan’s border security, especially against weapons of mass destruction."

The Saudi King reshuffled his defense posts. From Agence France-Presse: "Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Wednesday reshuffled top defense posts, removing the deputy minister and the chief of staff, state news agency SPA reported. He also appointed his son Prince Turki as governor of Riyadh region, SPA said. Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz was removed from his post as deputy defense minister "upon his request," SPA said, citing a royal decree.

"He was replaced by Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Riyadh. The outgoing deputy minister is a son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, who served as a defense minister for nearly five decades. SPA said the king also removed the chief of staff, General Hussein al-Qabeel, who was retiring, and replaced him with his deputy. General Fayad al-Rawyli. The defense overhaul came a month after the king removed the oil-rich Gulf state’s powerful intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan." More here.

Back in Washington, the VA’s embattled secretary, Eric Shinseki, is on the hot seat today, where he faces an impatient Congress over ongoing problems at the VA. TIME’s Mark Thompson: "There’s a sword of Damocles hanging by a hair over Veterans Administration chief Eric Shinseki as he heads to Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify on the VA’s expanding secret wait-list mess. It’s an apt place for the retired four-star Army general, himself a veteran wounded in Vietnam. He finds himself in the tightest spot in his five years as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, dealing with the downstream costs of two of the nation’s longest wars. Charges-and confirmations-about VA double bookkeeping when measuring how long veterans have to wait for appointments are nothing new. But what has given the latest stories more impact are the deaths allegedly linked to the delays, the secret lists designed to hide them, and charges that the secret lists were a way for VA executives to mask shortcomings and thereby maximize their cash bonuses." More here.

Another runoff is needed in Afghanistan. With only two remaining candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election still in the running, there was a chance that the results from the election, announced today in Afghanistan, could select a winner. The seating of the new president has a lot to do with when the U.S. announces its intentions post 2014, when certain people begin to return to the U.S., and a number of other things. But alas, the results did not show a clear winner.  The NYT’s Alissa Rubin: "The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan announced the final results of the 2014 presidential election on Thursday, making minor adjustments to its earlier estimates and calling for a runoff between the two top vote getters to determine the country’s next president. The commission set the runoff date for June 14, setting the stage for a new cycle of intense campaigning.After reviewing the decision of the Electoral Complaint Commission, it became clear to us that none of the candidates secured 51 percent of the votes and the elections will go to a runoff,’ said Mohammed Yousuf Nuristani, the chairman of the commission. The commission said the front-runner, Abdullah Abdullah, won 45 percent of the votes and that the second-highest recipient of votes was Ashraf Ghani, with 31.6 percent. The third-ranking candidate was Zalmay Rassoul with 11.4 percent. Mr. Rassoul announced that he would support Mr. Abdullah’s candidacy in the second round." More here.

Warlord politics isn’t always so bad for democracy in Afghanistan, in the WaPo’s The Monkey Cage, here.

A "roof on the world:" From the intro to a National Geographic slideshow from Afghanistan: "Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz nomads survive in one of the most remote, high-altitude, bewitching landscapes on Earth. It’s a heavenly life-and a living hell." See these awesome images here.

Dempsey says that the Syrian opposition is not yet ready for the big leagues. FP’s John Hudson: "One day after the resignation of the United Nations’ Syria envoy, America’s top military officer added to the growing pessimism about the country’s future by warning that a succession of smaller-scale conflicts were likely to erupt there even if the Assad regime was ousted from power. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Atlantic Council that even if the beleaguered Syrian opposition somehow ousted President Bashar al-Assad, a development that appears increasingly unlikely, the country would still be consumed with terror, chaos and starvation. ‘If Assad took his family and all of his cronies and departed Syria today, how does that country … articulate itself?’ he asked.

"Dempsey noted that the Syrian opposition maintains no governance structure to provide goods, services and security; no force capable of holding ground to administer aid and wage attacks against the regime; and no counterterrorism capability to root out al Qaeda-affiliated groups in the country. ‘And we’re not on a path currently to provide that,’ he said." More here.

Petraeus had it last: A Defense Department Inspector General report obtained by Military Times sheds new light on the missing Swenson Medal of Honor file. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: "When Army Capt. William Swenson received the Medal of Honor last year – the first living officer to earn one since Vietnam – he received more than the traditional accolades. He also got an apology. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered the highly unusual mea culpa at the official Pentagon Hall of Hero’s induction ceremony Oct. 1
6. Speaking directly to Swenson, Hagel said: ‘We’re sorry you and your family had to endure through that.’ That was a reference to Swenson’s botched nomination packet, which got lost within U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan amid a whirlwind of politics, controversy and scandalous intrigue. The details of how Swenson’s packet got lost were detailed for the first time in a Defense Department Inspector General report released to Military Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

"The original packet was last seen after it left now-retired Army Gen. David Petraeus’ desk, when the powerful four-star commander recommended that the honor be downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross, according the IG. Why Petraeus made that recommendation is unclear; he told IG investigators that he had no recollection of Swenson’s nomination package. However, the IG concluded that other evidence "outweighed Gen. Petraeus’ testimony" and that he had, in fact, endorsed the packet with a downgrade.

"While Petraeus’ memory may have been fuzzy, he acknowledged to the IG that he knew about Swenson and the controversy the young captain helped fuel. Swenson criticized Army commanders for denying a request for airstrikes Sept. 8, 2009, when his unit was ambushed and Swenson repeatedly ran in and out of a kill zone to retrieve fellow soldiers, both wounded and dead. More here.

The Air Force intends to cut more than 20 percent of its HQ staffs within a year, Debbie Lee James told Gannett Government Media, owner of Military Times. Federal News’ Steve Watkins: "[Air Force Secretary Debbie Lee James] said the move responds to a directive issued last summer by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all military services trim their headquarters staffs by 20 percent over five years by 2019. ‘You’re going to see the Air Force do a bit better than 20 percent, a little bit more than 20 percent, and we’re going to try to do it in one year, not five years,’ James told an editorial board meeting at Gannett Government Media Corp., which publishes Federal Times, C4ISR&Networks, Defense News and the Military Times publications. Those headquarters staff reductions will affect active-duty, civilian and contractor personnel, and the bulk of those cuts will occur in fiscal 2015, she said."

James on the cuts: "So this is, again, in the theme of – to the extent that we can – get this done more quickly rather than slowly… I think it is better for people, number one. And number two, it allows us to harvest the savings more early on so we can plow it back into readiness and some of the key modernizations." More here.

The Pentagon pushes to allow Manning to transfer to a civilian prison for gender treatment. USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook and Kevin Johnson: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved an Army request to transfer national-security secrets leaker Pvt. Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison that could provide her treatment to transition to a woman, Pentagon officials say. Manning’s lawyer blasted the announcement, saying it was a ‘strong-arm’ attempt to force Manning into dropping her request for the treatment. ‘The Secretary approved a request by Army leadership to evaluate potential treatment options for inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria,’ Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. The soldier, formerly named Bradley Manning, was convicted of sending classified documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence and is eligible for parole in seven years." More here.

The Daily Beast’s Brandy Zadrozny blasts FOX’s coverage of the Manning transfer, here.

The NYT’s Editorial: stop discrimination in the military: "Three years after the demise of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ an estimated 15,000 members of the military still must lie about themselves in order to go on risking their lives for their country. When Congress eliminated the law against gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, the Pentagon left in place an equally unfounded prohibition on transgender people… [last graf]: Addressing issues like privacy and housing is not rocket science. It happens in civilian workplaces all the time. With the right leadership, outbreaks of intolerance can be minimized. If Mr. Hagel is still trying to make up his mind, his boss, President Obama, can make it up for him. The question is how fast can the armed forces join the modern world on this issue, not whether they should. The time for lame excuses is long past." More here.

Senators gear up to preserve A-10 in FY15 defense budget. Stars and Stripes’ Travis Tritten: "Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Brandenburg says he probably never would have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan if not for the A-10 Warthog. The Silver Star recipient and former joint terminal attack controller stood beside powerful Senate lawmakers Wednesday and urged the Air Force to back off a proposed retirement of the aircraft, saying it is uniquely capable of providing close air support, saving the lives of American troops on the battlefield. The news conference, which included Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was the most recent push by lawmakers on Capitol Hill to block the Air Force 2015 budget proposal to phase out the hard-fighting aircraft, known for the belch of its massive Gatling gun and its ability to fly slow and low to support of infantry on the ground." More here.

Pakistan is only now beginning to learn how to collect evidence needed to track and prosecute the terrorists in its midst. Sara Sorcher’s second dispatch from Pakistan for the National Journal: "When he first heard gunshots, Raza Rumi, a prominent Pakistani TV anchor and columnist, was checking Twitter. He thought the pops were celebrations at a nearby wedding, until he looked up from his cell phone to see the telltale flash of a submachine gun. ‘I said, ‘Oh shit, they’ve come for me.’ The vocal critic of religious extremist groups, who frequently went on air to decry the killing of Shiite Muslims in the predominantly Sunni country, narrowly escaped his would-be assassination in Lahore. His driver did not. ‘We all have to die one day,’ Rumi tweeted that day, March 28. ‘But my brave driver, a sole breadwinner of his family, was sprayed with bullets meant for me. Why? Why?’  Rumi and the victims of other terrorist attacks and targeting killings in Pakistan might finally start getting some of those answers.
"Inside the first state-of-the-art forensics lab in Pakistan, experts helped local authorities match the empty bullet casings from the crime scene with the Kalashnikov rifles and guns used by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The evidence linked militants from the group, which targets Shiite Muslims, to the attack on Rumi’s car-and to a string of 19 other shootings in the Punjab province. The gunmen were arrested, and, faced with tangible forensic evidence, they confessed." < b>More here.

Court papers show that the phone companies pushed back against the NSA. The NYT’s Charlie Savage: "In 2009 and early 2010, a telephone company raised questions about the legality of the then-secret National Security Agency program that is systematically collecting records of Americans’ calling habits, according to court documents declassified on Wednesday. The disclosure reveals for the first time that a phone company pushed back against the bulk collection of its customers’ calling records, adding a new chapter in public understanding of the secret history of the program. The episode also calls into question a statement by Judge Claire Eagan of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The statement, made in an August 2013 opinion, left the impression that no one had raised any legal concerns about the program. Just two months earlier, the program’s existence had become public after leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden. Judge Eagan’s opinion did not just conclude that the program was lawful, it also suggested in an aside that no company had ever balked." More 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.

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