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: U.S. Spec Ops forming elite units in Africa; Have the schoolgirls been found?; Shinseki, a quiet professional but maybe for the wrong time; Vets groups strike back at Burr; WH slips name of CIA officer; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel U.S. Special Operations troops are forming elite counterterrorism units in Africa to fight Al Qaeda affiliates. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt on Page One: "… The secretive program, financed in part with millions of dollars in classified Pentagon spending and carried out by trainers, including members of the Army’s Green ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

U.S. Special Operations troops are forming elite counterterrorism units in Africa to fight Al Qaeda affiliates. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt on Page One: "… The secretive program, financed in part with millions of dollars in classified Pentagon spending and carried out by trainers, including members of the Army’s Green Berets and Delta Force, was begun last year to instruct and equip hundreds of handpicked commandos in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali.

"The goal over the next few years is to build homegrown African counterterrorism teams capable of combating fighters like those in Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that abducted nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls last month. American military specialists are helping Nigerian officers in their efforts to rescue the girls.

Mike Sheehan, who advocated the counterterrorism program last year when he was the senior Pentagon official in charge of Special Operations policy: "Training indigenous forces to go after threats in their own country is what we need to be doing."

"Under the new Africa plan, the Pentagon is spending nearly $70 million on training, intelligence-gathering equipment and other support to build a counterterrorism battalion in Niger and a similar unit in nearby Mauritania that are in their ‘formative stages,’ a senior Defense Department official said. In a cautionary note about operating in that part of Africa, troubled by a chronic shortage of resources and weak regional partners, the effort in Mali has yet to get off the ground as a new civilian government recovers from a military coup last year. In Libya, the most ambitious initial training ended ignominiously last August after a group of armed militia fighters overpowered a small Libyan guard force at a training base outside Tripoli and stole hundreds of American-supplied automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, vehicles and other equipment." Read the rest here.

Nigeria says it has found the missing girls. The WaPo’s Pamela Constable: "A top Nigerian military official said Monday that the government knows the whereabouts of several hundred kidnapped girls but cannot reveal their location and cannot use force to rescue them, according to the Web site of the Ogun state television service. Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, the government’s chief of defense staff, was quoted as telling a group of visitors at his office in Abuja, the capital, ‘The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you.’ He reportedly told the group, ‘just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back.’ … It was difficult to know how specific Badeh intended to be in his statement, which appeared aimed more at reassuring his visitors, a group of Nigerians concerned about security issues, that the military was doing its job but would not use force to try and rescue the girls for fear of endangering their lives." More here.

Gunmen shoot a newspaper editor in Libya. "Gunmen shot dead a newspaper editor who was an outspoken critic of Islamists in Libya’s volatile east on Monday, in a targeted killing that came hours after he warned the Islamist-led parliament of a civil war if it didn’t bow to widespread demands to disband and allow early elections." More here.

Want to understand the different factions in Libya? Check it out on War on the Rocks, 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.

Ukraine’s next president vows to restore order and mend ties with Russia. The NYT’s David Herszenhorn: "The president-elect of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, vowed on Monday to restore order in the country’s east, which is besieged by pro-Russian separatist violence, but said he would not negotiate with armed rebels and instead would demand swifter results from a military campaign that has achieved only limited success.

"While Mr. Poroshenko has said that he would push for parliamentary elections before the end of the year, on Monday he said he saw no reason for the removal of Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk and other leaders of the interim government, which has been running Ukraine since the toppling of President Viktor F. Yanukovych in February.

"Mr. Poroshenko also promised to mend ties with the Kremlin, citing his business connections to Russia as well as his personal relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin, who has promised to respect the Ukrainian election results. ‘Most probably the meeting with the Russian leadership will certainly take place in the first half of July,’ Mr. Poroshenko said at a Kiev news conference. ‘We should be very ready tactically in approach to this meeting, because first we should create an agenda, we should prepare documents, so that it will not be just to shake hands.’" More here.

The honeymoon’s already over in Ukraine reports FP’s Jamila Trindle, here.

But yesterday, Ukraine launched an airstrike on pro-Moscow rebels. The AP’s Peter Leonard and Nataliya Vasilyeva: "Ukraine’s president-elect said Monday he wants to begin talks with Moscow and end a pro-Russia insurgency in the east, but the rebels escalated the conflict by occupying a major airport, and the government in Kiev responded with an airstrike. As darkness fell in Donetsk, a city of about 1 million in eastern Ukraine, it was unclear who was in control of the airport. Hundreds of fighters of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic had been brought by trucks to a wooded area on the fringes of the airport, many of them armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles. At least one warplane streaked over the city, firing flares, and explosions were heard from the direction of the airport.

"Early Tuesday, the DPR said on its Twitter account that a truck carrying wounded from the airport area came under fire and that the driver was killed. The rebels, who declared independence for Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region after a hastily called and dubious referendum two weeks ago, regarded Sunday’s election of candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko as president to be illegitimate." More here.

Meantime: Quiet professional versus digitally savvy, vocal veterans, or why Ric Shinseki isn’t the perfect fit at VA for these wars. The WaPo’s Greg Jaffe on Page One: "In other wars, in other eras, Eric K. Shinseki might have been an ideal fit to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs through a crisis. He’s
run some of Washington’s biggest and most complex bureaucracies. He knows what it’s like to fight back from life-changing war wounds, having lost half a foot to a land mine in Vietnam. He prefers to stay out of politics and work on problems quietly and in the background. ‘He’s not a political infighter. That’s absolutely not him,’ said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a long-time mentor. ‘If you asked him to define the perfect public servant, it would be a quiet professional…

"Shinseki also has had to balance the demands of traditionally staid, old-line veterans groups, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with a new generation of digitally savvy and increasingly vocal veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Younger veterans groups have adopted many of the lessons of today’s fast-moving, hyper-partisan political campaigns to raise the pressure on Shinseki and the VA.No group exemplifies this shift more clearly than Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is based in New York and has about 270,000 members who have signed up for its e-mail list. IAVA’s 45-person staff – most of them younger than 30 – is small compared to the larger, more established veterans organizations. Like the traditional veterans groups, IAVA is nonpartisan." More here.

Veterans groups strike back at Sen. Richard Burr. The NYT’s Jonathan Weisman: "An ‘open letter’ from a senior Republican senator to the nation’s veterans in which he castigates the leadership of veterans’ organizations prompted a brutal war of words over the Memorial Day weekend, including a promise from the Veterans of Foreign Wars that its ‘hat in hand’ approach to Congress will turn more combative. The controversy over delayed access to care at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals veered, over the weekend, away from allegations of incompetence at the top of the agency toward a broader fight over resources and the future of government health care for an expanding pool of veterans. The issue carries risk for Republicans because they could be left with a politically difficult effort to privatize at least some veterans’ health care or to pump more money into a system covering about 2.8 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an option veterans groups have demanded but Republican leaders have resisted.

"…The open letter, from Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee – and the groups’ responses – pushed the conflict into the open. Mr. Burr, angry that only the American Legion has called for the resignation of the veterans affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, accused the groups of being "more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle" than in helping members. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America hit back hard." More here. Read the letter here.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, with ABC’s Martha Raddatz this weekend, on what he’s thinking on Memorial Day as he walked through Arlington Cemetery: "We’re celebrating the sacrifices of them – but them are us – and we gotta remember that." Watch here.

Charlie Mike: How one veteran spent the weekend. For the WaPo, Lt. Col. Mike Jason: "…Many of us will do everything possible to avoid fireworks and crowds; they are just not that much fun anymore. Then, as the evening wears down, there will come that moment when the lump in my throat becomes so large that I cannot breathe anymore. At that moment, I will find a spot far away from everyone. I will tighten the black metal memorial bracelet on my wrist, look up at the stars and cry unashamedly.

"We will wonder whether we could have done more, why it wasn’t us and what we could have done differently. Could we have trained better? Could we have gone right and not left? We will beat ourselves up until we have no more questions, no more scenarios to play out. We will wipe our eyes and listen to those friends above, in the stars, tell us, simply and clearly: ‘Charlie Mike.’ Continue mission. And then I will rejoin my family and friends and, in honor of my fallen battle buddies and their families, get on with it, Charlie Mike, and have a "happy" Memorial Day." Read the rest here.

Would 10,000 troops in Afghanistan even be enough? The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin: "Pressure is mounting on President Obama to keep at least 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for years to come. Some top intelligence and military officers now fighting that war say the number of troops under consideration by the White House should be just enough to prevent al Qaeda from re-establishing a safe haven. Others aren’t so sure that even the 10,000 can keep the terror group and its allies at bay." Read the rest here.

Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan but was mum on a post-2014 presence. FP’ Lubold: "White House aides said President Obama’s surprise trip to Afghanistan Sunday was all about thanking the troops, not politics. But the Memorial Day visit was his first there in two years, and it comes at a time when the commander-in-chief has been openly struggling to decide on the future course of the war and when the administration itself has been battered by a growing controversy over how his Department of Veterans Affairs is taking care of the nation’s veterans.
"Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul early Sunday morning in the dark. After receiving briefings from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top American commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador Jim Cunningham, Obama told a crowd of waiting troops that he wanted to honor their service and their families’ sacrifices. He told them Americans think of them all the time. And he told them, to applause, that ‘for many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan.’
What he didn’t say: "But he didn’t tell the troops, part of the 33,000 currently in Afghanistan, how many of them would remain there after the end of the year, when the United States is slated to turn over all security responsibilities to the Afghan government. He did, however, suggest that he planned to leave a small number of American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. The White House had hinted that it was prepared for a full U.S. withdrawal as it grew increasingly frustrated with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai over his refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement, or BSA, that is required to keep American forces deployed in Afghanistan.
"…Beyond the vexing questions about troop levels and missions, Obama still has to find a way of working with Karzai during the Afghan leader’s last months in office. Washington and Kabul have
abandoned any attempt to hide the frayed relationship between the two leaders. Obama didn’t meet with Karzai during his short visit to Afghanistan, and Karzai declined Obama’s invitation to join him at Bagram. Karzai’s office released a brief statement hinting at the cold relations. ‘The president of Afghanistan said that he was ready to warmly welcome the president of the United States in accordance with Afghan traditions… but had no intention of meeting him at Bagram.’" More here.

Meanwhile, the White House blows the cover of the CIA chief in Afghanistan. FP’s Shane Harris: "The Obama administration inadvertently revealed the name of the top CIA officer in Afghanistan to members of the press on Sunday, a rare and embarrassing breach of security procedures meant to shield the identities of U.S. spies working on dangerous missions overseas. The name appeared next to the designation ‘chief of station,’ the term for the top CIA officer in a particular country, on a list of 15 officials who participated in a military briefing with President Obama during a surprise visit to Afghanistan over the Memorial Day weekend. The White House gave the list to a Washington Post reporter traveling with the president, who then disseminated it in a standard press pool report to 6,000 journalists, including foreign media organizations, not traveling with Obama.
"…It was unclear how the officer’s name was included on a list of other officials meeting with Obama, including prominent ones such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford. The Post reported than when its journalist noticed the CIA officer’s name on the list, he inquired with administration officials, since it’s not common practice to reveal the identity of CIA officers. The Post reported that White House officials initially raised no concerns, because the names had been supplied by military officials, and presumably vetted for release. But when the White House realized the mistake, officials scrambled to issue a new release without the officer’s name." More here.

A scam with a twist: we got this email but didn’t respond to the offer. "Hello, I am Sgt. Charles Stanley (currently on tour of duty in Helmand province, Afghanistan). I need your assistance in Re-Profiling some amount of money. I will like to keep it discrete until I am sure about you helping me in this mutually beneficial venture. It is risk free and fails proof. Contact me via my personal email below for further information. I sincerely plead with you; do not reply to my official email as all incoming mails passes through the United States army main security server. That can get me into trouble please. Send to this my private email only."

After returning from Afghanistan, Obama honors the fallen at Arlington on Memorial Day – but the VA scandal looms. The LA Times’ Connie Stewart: "Hours after President Obama returned from a surprise visit to American troops in Afghanistan, he paid tribute to the nation’s fallen defenders on Memorial Day. During his visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Obama was accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, and several officials, including Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who has been under fire for delays in getting veterans VA medical care. Obama alluded to the controversy, in which some VA hospitals allegedly falsified documents to hide the fact that some veterans had to wait months or even years for care — contrary to VA policy that requires an appointment within 14 days… ‘We must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve,’ the president said." More here.

From POTUS’ speech: "…Over that century and a half, in times of war, in times of peace, Americans have come here — to pay tribute not only to the loved ones who meant the world to them, but to all our heroes, known and unknown.  Here, in perfect military order, lie the patriots who won our freedom and saved the Union.  Here, side-by-side, lie the privates and the generals who defeated fascism and laid the foundation for an American Century.  Here lie the Americans who fought through Vietnam, and those who won a long twilight struggle against communism. And here, in Section 60, lie men and women who gave their lives to keep our homeland safe over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan." Full remarks here.

ICYMI – Phil Klay for the WSJ writes that too many Americans assume that troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan must be traumatized, here.

The New Yorker posted Philip Gourevitch’s foreword to Bedrooms of the Fallen, by Ashley Gilbertson. Gourevitch: "Imagine Chicago empty. Picture the city perfectly intact, and nobody in it. Not a soul, we say, to describe such abandonment. Empty, we say, deserted. And yes, there would be nobody there-no bodies to be seen-but the souls of the missing people would permeate the place they’d left behind. All those buildings full of rooms, all those rooms full of stuff-and the rooms and the stuff brimming with the presence of absent life. You would have to visit everybody’s room to feel the enormity of the loss, an impossible mission, and an impossible feeling. Chicago is a city of 2.7 million people, and that is why I’m asking you to imagine all of them gone-because 2.7 million is the number of men and women in America’s military services who have died in our wars since the country took up arms to win its independence on the battlefield." More here.

Gen. John Kelly has taken aim at an amorphous ‘chattering class’ within the Pentagon and beyond who’ve questioned the mettle of today’s Marines. Marine Corps Times’ Andrew deGrandpre: "…It’s become a mission, the general told Marine Corps Times, one fueled by the loss of his Marine son more than three years ago in Afghanistan; the obligation he feels to comfort and reassure others who’ve also lost friends or loved ones; and a firm desire to mute the criticism he’s heard directed at so-called millenials, a loose title assigned to those born during the 1980s and ’90s. Such disparagement is not only unwarranted, Kelly said, it’s utterly baseless.

"‘I can’t count the number of times that I saw them in firefights, in Fallujah and Ramadi and other places, and I would just stand there in wonderment, thinking to myself: ‘There’s absolutely no reason on this earth why any human being would do what they’re doing,” Kelly said. ‘Every human being naturally would want to protect themselves, crawl in a hole, get down. And they don’t.’ That’s how Iwo Jima was taken. Guadalcanal. The Chosin Reservoir. If the Marines today are doing exactly the same thing their dads did in Vietnam, and their granddads did in Korea and World War II, then how in the hell can we say that they’re not as good?’" More < a href="">here.

Reading Pincus: In the game of fiscal football, the National Guard Association is dancing in the endzone. The WaPo’s Walter Pincus: "If congressional approval of the fiscal 2015 defense budget were a football game, the first quarter ended Thursday when the House passed its version of next year’s authorization bill. Although three quarters remain, the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) has already done a lot of dancing in the end zone. When it comes to lobbying, most in the news media are focused on corporations and other contractors and their campaign contributions to legislators. NGAUS and veterans groups show their significant clout in pressing for opposition to many of the cuts sought by the White House, top Pentagon officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff." More here.

Tech giants spend billions more than defense firms on R&D. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "Tech giants Microsoft, Google and Apple invested more than five times the amount spent by five of the largest US defense companies on research-and-development (R&D) projects in 2013, according to data compiled by a noted defense analyst. But the five defense companies – Boeing Defense, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, all of which were in the top 10 of the 2013 Defense News Top 100 defense companies list – collectively spent about $800 million more on internal R&D in 2013 than they did in 2012, according to the data. In all, the three big tech companies spent $18.8 billion more than the defense companies on these R&D projects in 2013, according to data compiled by Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners. Over the same time frame the five defense companies spent a total of $4.1 billion on R&D projects, while Google spent $8 billion, Apple $4.5 billion and Microsoft $10.4 billion." More here.

Thai general says the coup has the King’s backing. The NYT’s Thomas Fuller: "Thailand’s military junta said Monday that it would stay in power ‘indefinitely’ and that its rule had been endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the monarch for nearly seven decades who has semi-divine status in the country. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who overthrew the elected government on Thursday, said during a news conference that the military would create a ‘genuine democracy’ but gave no time frame for doing so. ‘It will depend on the situation,’ he said, before hastily leaving a podium as he was questioned by reporters." More here. 

Flight 370 likely ran out of fuel and crashed in the Indian Ocean. The NYT’s Keith Bradsher and Michelle Innis: "Raw satellite transmission data from the vanished Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, released on Tuesday by the Malaysian government, provided further evidence that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after flying south and running out of fuel. Malaysia and Inmarsat, the global satellite communications company, released the data after weeks of pressure from relatives of the mostly Chinese passengers and from the Chinese government itself. The Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation released the data as the country’s prime minister, Najib Razak, was on his way to China for an official visit. The final satellite transmission was an automated request from the aircraft for another so-called electronic handshake. ‘This is consistent with satellite communication equipment on the aircraft powering up following a power interruption,’ the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a separate statement. ‘The interruption in electrical supply may have been caused by fuel exhaustion." More here.

Japan’s Abe lays out an assertive foreign policy agenda. The WSJ’s Gerard Baker and Jacob Schlesinger: "Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out an assertive foreign policy agenda, saying he hoped to accelerate maritime aid to Vietnam amid its territorial standoff with China and host Vladimir Putin this year despite the Russian president’s isolation from the West. Beijing’s ‘unilateral drilling activities’ for oil in waters claimed also by Hanoi have led to ‘heightening of tensions,’ Mr. Abe told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Friday. ‘We will never tolerate the change of status quo by force or coercion,’ added the Japanese leader, who has assiduously courted Southeast Asian leaders during the past year and offered himself as a counterweight to China’s muscle-flexing. As part of his broader strategy to rearrange the region’s power balance, Mr. Abe also signaled a desire to keep alive his diplomatic overtures to Russia." More here.

Today marks 100 days to go until the NATO summit in Wales. From a Situation Report reader: "This September 4-5, Wales will host the largest gathering of international leaders ever to take place in Britain as the UK hosts the biennial NATO summit. President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, and President Hollande are expected to attend along with leaders and senior ministers from around 60 other countries.  This will be the first NATO Summit since Chicago in 2012, and the first NATO summit in the United Kingdom since Margaret Thatcher welcomed NATO leaders to London in 1990. For more on the Summit, visit here and here. Follow us on twitter @NATOWales."


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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