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: Iran is recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria; Marines felt pressure before Osprey crash 13 years ago; News flash: Shinseki won’t resign; 500 DOD workers disciplined for sexual harassment; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel   Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight for the regime in Syria. The WSJ’s Farnaz Fassihi on Page One: "Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, offering $500 a month and Iranian residency to help the Assad regime beat back rebel forces, according ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel


Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight for the regime in Syria. The WSJ’s Farnaz Fassihi on Page One: "Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, offering $500 a month and Iranian residency to help the Assad regime beat back rebel forces, according to Afghans and Western officials. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, recruits and trains Shiite militias to fight in Syria. Details of their recruitment efforts were posted this week on a blog focused on Afghan refugees in Iran and confirmed by the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli, an Afghan religious leader in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

"A member of the IRGC also confirmed the details. ‘They [IRGC] find a connection to the refugee community and work on convincing our youth to go and fight in Syria,’ said the office administrator of Ayatollah Kabuli, reached by telephone in Qom. ‘They give them everything from salary to residency.’ Iran is offering the refugees school registration for their children and charity cards in addition to the $500 stipend and residency. Many Afghan young men have written to Ayatollah Kabuli to ask whether fighting in Syria was religiously sanctioned, his office said. He responded only if they were defending Shiite shrines. Lately, his office said he has kept silent and not even attended funerals of Afghans killed in Syria." More here.

Kerry said he’s seen ‘raw data’ indicating the Syrian government has used chlorine gas "in a number of instances" against rebels. Bloomberg’s Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Robert Hutton: "…If that’s proven, there will be "consequences," Kerry said today in London, although he added, ‘We’re not going to pin ourselves down to a precise date, time, manner of action.’ French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking in Washington on May 13, said France had "credible witnesses" testifying to 14 instances of chemical gas attacks since last October. While France had been prepared to strike Assad’s regime in the aftermath of last August’s sarin gas attacks that killed more than 1,400 people, the U.K. Parliament and U.S. President Barack Obama decided against attacking, and France couldn’t act alone, he said." More here.

Also, Kerry, annoyed that the United Nations can’t deliver aid to war victims in Syria, is looking for a workaround. Kerry, quoted by the NYT’s Michael Gordon today: "We are open to the idea of providing aid through any means that will get to the people who need it… We are very frustrated with the current process… It is not getting to people. It’s going through one gate, one entryway, and it’s going through Damascus and/or controlled by the Assad regime. That’s unacceptable. We need to be able to get aid more directly, and we’re going to work to do that." More here.

Welcome to Friday’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.

The U.S. isn’t sure Nigeria has the ability to rescue the schoolgirls. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt and Brian Knowlton, on Page One: "Obama administration officials on Thursday questioned whether the Nigerian military is able to rescue, even with international help, more than 260 schoolgirls abducted last month, giving impetus to a social media campaign calling for the United States to do more to free the hostages. That campaign is supported by some members of Congress, but has made the Pentagon increasingly uneasy. Military leaders worry that they might be ordered to send in commandos to undertake a mission they regard as unacceptably risky.

"The administration quickly offered its help to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria in taking on the kidnappers, the extremist group Boko Haram. But the United States has not sent troops, and is unlikely to do so, in part because the girls are not believed to still be in one place, and because of the risks in attempting such a large-scale rescue over a vast expanse."

The White House’s Jay Carney yesterday: "At this point, we’re not actively considering the deployment of U.S. forces to participate in a combined rescue mission." More here.

Washington is cautious on sharing intel with the Nigerians, the WaPo’s Anne Gearan and Greg Miller, here.

How to beat Boko Haram. CFR’s Isobel Coleman and Sigrid von Wendel: "…To defeat Boko Haram, the Nigerian government must mount a more effective and professional military operation (rescuing the missing girls would be a good start), but also address the underlying issues that fuel the movement. In a speech in March, Nigerian National Security Adviser Mohammad Sambo Dasuki identified regional poverty, insecurity, unemployment, and a growing youth bulge as main causes behind Boko Haram’s rise. His comments give hope that the government is ready to start fixing those problems." More here.

Who’s Where When today – Hagel returns today from his five-day trip to the Middle East… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey delivers the commencement address at 11 a.m. at Virginia Military Institute.

CAP launches a new report today with an event on climate change, migration, and nontraditional security threats in China. Download the report here. Event deets here.

ICYMI – The UK released its first national strategy for maritime security, here.

Shinseki is digging in his heels. Again. US News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "Facing a wall of irate senators, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki dug in his heels. Ever the warrior, the retired Army general and Vietnam veteran defended himself against troubling reports from recent weeks that a VA hospital in Phoenix had delayed treatment to some veterans, ultimately causing as many as 40 deaths. And worse, some personnel at the facilities had allegedly tried to manipula
te the patient waiting lists to cover up the errors. At the Senate hearing Thursday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also a Vietnam veteran, described a ‘crisis of confidence toward the VA,’ on behalf of his fellow retired warriors, adding he is ‘deeply troubled by the allegations of gross mismanagement, fraud and neglect.’
But Dempsey told reporters yesterday: "‘Ric Shinseki has the skills, attributes [and] the concept of duty … He has never walked away from a fight in his entire life.’"

And to Sen. Heller, Shinseki said he isn’t resigning: "‘I came here to make things better for veterans… That was my appointment, by the president. Every day I start out with the intent to, in fact, provide as much care and benefits for the people I went to war with.’" More here.

Meantime, the military fired or disciplined nearly 500 workers for sexual harassment. That’s over a 12-month period and nearly 13 percent of the complaints filed involved repeat offenders, according to new data. The AP’s Lita Baldor: "…According to the report, there were 1,366 reports of sexual harassment filed in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, involving 496 offenders across the services and National Guard. Officials acknowledged that much like sexual assault complaints, incidents of sexual harassment are vastly underreported, and they said there will be a concerted effort to increase reporting. The report reveals that in the vast majority of the cases the victim was a young, lower-ranking woman and the offender a senior enlisted male service member, often in the same unit. The most frequent location of the harassment was a military base.

"More than half of the complaints involved crude or offensive behavior, and another 40 percent were described as unwanted sexual attention. Most involved verbal behavior." More here.

Jim Amos: The 2000 crash in Marana, Arizona of a V-22 that killed 19 Marines was the result, partly, of "undeniably intense" pressure to demonstrate the Osprey was making progress. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio with an exclusive: "The V-22 Osprey’s deadliest accident stemmed partly from "undeniably intense" pressure to show progress for the new tilt-rotor aircraft, according to the U.S. Marine Corps commandant… While the accident happened more than 13 years ago, the lessons cited in the December letter, obtained by Bloomberg News under the Freedom of Information Act, may apply to similar pressures the military is under today to prove the value of new weapons such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship in a time of defense budget cuts."

Commandant Jim Amos, in a letter to two lawmakers reflecting on the 2000 Osprey crash that killed 19 Marines: "As I reflect on the mishap I cannot ignore the charged atmosphere into which the pilots flew that night, carrying on their shoulders a critically important program… I believe they were eager to vindicate a revolutionary technology." More here.

Capaccio also had this: "The U.S. Air Force is spending about $60 million and using as many as 100 people to certify billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for launching military and spy satellites, according to the service’s top uniformed acquisition official. ‘We’ve got folks busting their butt to get SpaceX certified despite what everything in the media seems to say,’ Lieutenant General Charles Davis said in an interview." Read the rest here.

The U.S. military has repatriated 10 Pakistani prisoners from Bagram, Afghanistan. The NYT, in brief: "… An American official familiar with the matter confirmed Thursday that the transfers had taken place. The military has already transferred to Afghan control the bulk of Afghan prisoners at Bagram but has retained custody of "third country nationals," whom the Afghan government does not want to deal with. The transfers reduce the number of those prisoners to 39, according to the official. More than two dozen of them are Pakistani. Some of those just released will be detained in Pakistan, while others will be released but subject to monitoring, the official said." More here.

A warm relationship between the Obama administration and the International Criminal Court is in danger over new inquiries about U.S. detainee abuse. FP’s David Bosco: "Last spring, U.S. officials got a rude surprise from the Netherlands. It came in the form of a letter from Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The subject was Afghanistan, and the letter described evidence that U.S. personnel had abused more than two dozen detainees held in that country, mostly between 2003 and 2006. The prosecutor invited the U.S. government to provide information to the court about those cases and its broader detention practices in Afghanistan.
"The correspondence from The Hague set off alarm bells in Washington. With thousands of troops deployed in Afghanistan, neither Washington nor its leading NATO allies have had any desire to see the court involved there. A few diplomats from NATO states discouraged the prosecutor from pursuing a full investigation, but most simply hoped that the court inquiry wouldn’t move forward. U.S. officials had good reason for confidence that it would not.
"One former U.S. official who spoke about Afghanistan with the then-prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, in 2009 and 2010 got the impression that the court’s inquiry was a ‘box-checking exercise’ — designed in part to show that an institution often criticized for its exclusive focus on Africa was at least interested in situations outside the continent." More here.

The McLean-based ACSOR-Surveys released Afghan election polling results. Their surveys showed "a virtual dead heat" in the presidential runoff election between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, with sharp ethnic and regional differences among likely voters. But the poll also finds opportunity for substantial acceptance of the eventual outcome, with more than seven in 10 Afghans saying they’ll see whichever candidates wins as the country’s legitimate leader." More here.

Taliban fighters kill a top enlisted man in Afghanistan. Military Times: "The senior enlisted soldier for 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment has died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan, the Defense Department announced Thursday. Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Barreras, 49, of Tucson, Arizona, died Tuesday at San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas. He died from wounds suffered on May 6 in Herat province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire, according to information relea
sed by DoD.

Barreras became the top enlisted soldier for 2nd Battalion in March 2013. The unit is part of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Edward Brady, on Barreras: "Command Sgt. Maj. Barreras was my friend and battle buddy… I’ve spent more time with him than my wife since I’ve taken command. I believe that I was the luckiest battalion commander in the Army to have him as my command sergeant major… While every soldier in this formation is extremely saddened by his loss, his Bobcats are doing exactly what he would expect of us: continuing on with the mission and taking the fight to the enemy. This man would do absolutely anything and everything to ensure his soldiers came home safely."

Military Times: Barreras joined the Army in 1988 after serving in the Marine Corps for five years, according to information from the division." More here.

Workers seize a city in eastern Ukraine from separatists. The NYT’s Andrew Kramer: "Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power, dealing a setback to Russia and possibly reversing the momentum in eastern Ukraine.

"By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk. They had not, however, become the dominant force there that they were in Mariupol, the region’s second-largest city and the site last week of a bloody confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants. While it was still far too early to say the tide had turned in eastern Ukraine, the day’s events were a blow to separatists who recently seized control here and in a dozen or so other cities and who held a referendum on independence on Sunday. Backed by the Russian propaganda machine and by 40,000 Russian troops just over the border, their grip on power seemed to be tightening every day." More here.

Intel officials and Congress clash over granting Israelis access to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. FP’s John Hudson: "U.S. intelligence officials have a blunt warning for lawmakers, including California Democrat Brad Sherman: allowing Israelis to enter the United States without visas could make it easier for Jerusalem to spy on American soil. Sherman says Israel should be allowed into a visa waiver program anyway. ‘I support it,’ said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) in an interview. ‘And I’m knowledgeable about all the arguments on either side.’ For years, Israel has requested entrance into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows the citizens of foreign nations to enter the United States and stay for 90 days without having to secure a visa at a U.S. consulate. The request had been held up due to a number of concerns, including statistics showing that Israel bars significant numbers of American — especially those of Arab descent — from entering the country. More here.

Hagel said he is not aware of Israel spying on the United States. Reuters’ Dan Williams and Missy Ryan: "U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Thursday he was unaware of any truth to a media report that Israel has been spying on the United States… Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who responded to the espionage question in English, said: ‘As former head of (Israeli military) intelligence, I wasn’t allowed to spy in the United States whatsoever. And as defense minister I don’t allow to spy in the United States whatsoever.’" More here.

Chinese Gen. Fang and Dempsey spared in a Pentagon presser – but also announced steps towards deeper U.S.-China military cooperation. CNN’s Jim Sciutto: "The United States and China put on sharp display Thursday their continuing differences over territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, disputes that are now boiling over into violence. In a joint news conference at the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, described their private discussions as ‘refreshingly frank’ and ‘constructive’ before expressing opposing views of who is to blame for the broadening tensions. China and Vietnam are currently locked in a standoff after China installed an oil rig on an island in the Paracel chain (jointly claimed by the two countries), sparking protests in Vietnam, including violent attacks on Chinese and ethnic Chinese residents.
"Fang said, ‘We do not make trouble but we are not afraid of trouble,’ adding ‘in matters of territory, our attitude is firm. We won’t give an inch.’
"Dempsey countered, ‘We have to acknowledge there are territorial disputes,’ including ‘what exactly is the status quo and who is seeking to change it.’
"…Despite the differences that exist over these issues, Dempsey announced that China would participate in the bi-annual Rim of Pacific naval exercise that takes place in Hawaii. Dempsey also announced a secure video conference link between him and Fang will be established later this year." More here.

Japan seeks military muscle, and scale back restrictions on its use of military power since WWII. The NYT’s Martin Fackler: "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be about to take one of his biggest steps yet to nudge Japan away from its postwar pacifism after a government advisory panel recommended Thursday that constitutional restrictions on the military be eased to allow Japanese forces to come to the aid of allied nations under attack.

The panel, which was appointed by the Abe government, called on Japan to adopt a new legal interpretation of its war-renouncing Constitution that would permit an expanded role for its military, the Self-Defense Forces. Those forces have been strictly limited to protecting Japan’s own territory and people since they were created soon after World War II.

"The reinterpretation would allow Japanese armed forces to act in limited cases even when Japan is not at risk, such as by shooting down a North Korean missile headed toward the United States, something it cannot legally do now. The proposed change would also allow Japanese forces to play a larger role in United Nations peacekeeping operations, the panel said. Though Japan has sent troops to peacekeeping operations since 1992, they act under severe constraints. If accepted, it would represent a fundamental shift in the stance of Japan’s military." More here.

Meantime, ICYMI: Kim Jong-un has an Air Force One. From Chosun Ilbo earlier this week: "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju traveled in Kim’s own airplane to an air base to watch a combat flight contest, the official Rodong Sinmun daily reported on Saturday. The daily carried photos showing the Kims arriving at the base, the first time that the dictator’s aircraft has been shown in public. The plane is a Russ
ian-made IL-62 emblazoned with the North’s official name and flag and a big star symbolizing Kim on its tail wing."

The joke around the Pentagon: Does the North Korean president called it "Air Force Un?"

Meantime, sorry, we can’t quite shake the zombies yet. The zombie story we did the other day nearly broke our Internet machine. But Lt. Col. Dan Ward had a great piece in 2012 for Breaking Defense about how the Pentagon should prepare its acquisition practices for the zombie apocalypse, here.

Why Washington and Silicon Valley must work together to truly understand the world. Kalev Leetaru: "One of the most striking revelations of the Edward Snowden disclosures has been the single-minded focus of the U.S. intelligence community on collection: on hoovering up all global communications, but with the concept of analysis — of what to actually do with all those communications — relegated to an afterthought. Gleeful bragging and schoolboy taunts of hacking coups permeate the disclosed documents, but discussion of how the captured data can actually be used is far more mundane and subdued. The thrill clearly lies in the chase of new data, rather than in the actual analysis of the material obtained. In fact, an image emerges of a community struggling merely to read its highest-priority intercepts, let alone assess their contents." More here.

And, for the National Interest, Josh Kerbel also asks if the IC can keep up with the changing game, here.

What will ENLIST Act do to the defense bill? Defense News’ John Bennett: "An influential conservative political organization is urging Republican members to vote down a House Pentagon policy bill if it includes an immigration measure. In a blast memo released Wednesday, Heritage Action — the political arm of the Heritage Foundation think tank — urged GOP members to kill the chamber’s 2015 national defense authorization bill if the so-called ‘ENLIST Act’ is attached. That measure would give young, undocumented non-US citizens a green card if they enlist in the US military. Some hawks like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon support it, but want it to move separately and under the auspices of the Judiciary Committee. But there is speculation it might be offered as an amendment to the NDAA, which sources say could hit the House floor next week." More here.

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

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