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: Over Bergdahl, a White House on the defense; Dunford outlines post 2014 Afg plans; Iraqis take their first F-16 today; New humanitarian aid for Syria; The FP story of a 70-year-old war crime – exclusive!; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel The special Senate briefing last night didn’t satisfy Republicans, not in the least. The Obama administration held a special closed door hearing yesterday evening in an attempt to head off the increasing acrimony over its secretive decision to swap five detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. But it’s clear thus ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The special Senate briefing last night didn’t satisfy Republicans, not in the least. The Obama administration held a special closed door hearing yesterday evening in an attempt to head off the increasing acrimony over its secretive decision to swap five detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. But it’s clear thus far that the briefing – that we first reported yesterday – didn’t sway too many folks. But some of the Republicans’ views today don’t square with their views of the past. FP’s John Hudson: "… far from pacifying GOP critics, Republicans said they are even more skeptical and still upset about not being told the deal was imminent.

Who the administration sent: "Lawmakers heard from Anthony Blinken, the deputy national security advisor, Bob Work, the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others. They showed the lawmakers a ‘proof-of-life’ video from December that the administration relied upon to determine that Bergdahl’s health was declining. (The Taliban provided the video to the administration before finalizing the deal)."

What the Dems are saying: "Although criticism from Capitol Hill Democrats is growing, most remain in sync with the White House. On Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada chastised Republicans for their rapidly evolving views on the importance of rescuing Bergdahl from the Taliban." More here.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen did an interview with the BBC’s Martha Kearney. Some former senior officials have weighed in on the Bergdahl swap, others haven’t. Those who have hint at the changing circumstances – from then to now – that gave the White House the room to make the deal today even if it didn’t have the room to make it before. Mullen didn’t say all that, but he did acknowledge that it was important to bring Bergdahl home. Mullen to the BBC: "The most important thing is that we didn’t leave him behind and that’s a sacred promise that America has to its people. And as a priority that’s at the top of the list." More here.

The video of the Bergdahl transfer doesn’t look like the movies, and there’s definitely no dramatic musical score. But watch it here.

Hagel said it’s unfair to pass judgment on Bergdahl right now. Those who believe in the deal – and count most speaking publicly for the administration right now, naturally – suggest that it’s impossible to make a judgment about an American being held captive, and that the standard must be to leave no man behind – and then deal with that individual later on. But to make a decision about a fundamental American military principle based on that soldier’s reputation is a slippery slope that doesn’t uphold the principle, they say. The AP’s Lolita Baldor in Brussels: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday it is unfair to the family of released captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to leap to conclusions about his behavior in uniform. ‘We don’t do that in the United States,’ Hagel told reporters at a NATO defense ministers meeting. ‘We rely on facts.’ Hagel said the Army will review the circumstances surrounding how Bergdahl left his unit and was captured by the Taliban, and added, ‘It’s not my place as a former sergeant in the Army to decide who’s worthy of being a sergeant and who isn’t.’… Asked whether men had died in the efforts to rescue Bergdahl, Hagel said, ‘I don’t know of any circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to get Bergdahl.’" More here.

Some Republicans urged the WH to ‘do all it can’ to get Bergdahl back before they were against it. The HuffPo’s Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein: "As soon as President Barack Obama told the nation Saturday evening that America’s only prisoner of war in Afghanistan had been rescued, Republican lawmakers and pundits began criticizing the administration on how it handled the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte on the Bergdahl deal: "With 29 percent of former Guantanamo detainees having reengaged or being suspected of reengaging in terrorism, the administration’s decision to release these five terrorist detainees endangers U.S. national security interests… It also sets a precedent that could encourage our enemies to capture more Americans in order to gain concessions from our government."

A May 22 press release from Ayotte: "As part of ongoing efforts to urge the Department of Defense to do all it can to find Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and bring him home safely, Senator Ayotte worked successfully to include a provision in the bill that presses Pakistan to fully cooperate in the search for SGT Bergdahl."

Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts appears to have deleted several statements on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from his various social media accounts.  Andrew Kaczynski for Buzzfeed, here.

Good enough to pirate directly from Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning: "’Jake Tapper Calls Out John McCain’s Changing Views On Bowe Bergdahl,’ by HuffPost’s Jack Mirkinson: "Tapper played footage of McCain decrying the deal to exchange five Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who was being held in Afghanistan. He then said, ‘Senator McCain in February sounded very different when asked by Anderson Cooper about a deal very much like this.’ Cut to new video of McCain saying that an exchange was something he would ‘seriously consider’ and be open to if it meant that Bergdahl would be returned to America." Watch it here.

And here’s what some senators who spoke to the NYT’s Michael Shear and Jeremy Peters last night said after the briefing:
"Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia,
exited the briefing visibly angry and said he left with more questions than answers. ‘I think we can all agree we’re not dealing with a war hero here,’ he said.

"Senator Ayotte said she remained concerned about what she called the five ‘high risk detainees. ‘I’m not satisfied with their ability to prevent them from re-engaging in the fight,’ she said. ‘I think that is one of the things that worries me most.’

"Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, said senators pressed the briefers – top officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff – on whether Mr. Bergdahl deserted in 2009. But the senator said they gave no answer.

Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota: "‘…They expressed concerns for his safety, no question about that’… although he added that officials did not say the threat to Sergeant Bergdahl was ‘imminent.’" More here.

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ay’s edition of Situation Report
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Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Romania… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in Normandy and will speak at Utah Beach this evening… Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos continues his trip in the UK… Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert is in France today for meetings with his French counterpart and will this evening join sailors from the USS Oscar Austin and veterans to lay a wreath at the U.S. Navy memorial at Utah Beach; Greenert will also join military leaders tomorrow to participate in the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

So this American lawyer found new evidence about one of World War II’s most notorious war crimes – seven decades after D-Day. Check out FP’s own Shane Harris with this exclusive story, just posted this morning: "…Three years ago, [McCay Smith, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s National Security Division] obtained a copy of a once-secret ‘escape and evasion report,’ in which one Lt. Raymond Murphy describes in precise detail how he bailed out of his flaming B-17 bomber over Avord, France, on April 28, 1944, and survived for the next four months behind enemy lines before making his way to England.

"Murphy had been part of a mission to attack a German-held airfield less than six weeks ahead of the D-Day landing at Normandy, which marks its 70th anniversary this Friday. Amid the harrowing stories of the airman’s hard parachute landing, his efforts to avoid capture by German soldiers, and his exploits with French Resistance fighters, Smith spotted two barely legible lines, handwritten in pencil, at the end of the neatly typed document: ‘About 3 weeks ago, I saw a town within 4 hours bicycle ride up the Gerbeau farm where some 500 men, women, and children had been murdered by the Germans. I saw one baby who had been crucified.’

"Smith, a self-made World War II historian with an outsized passion for document research, concluded that based on Murphy’s description of the scene and his location at the time, the young airman had seen the aftermath of a notorious massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, a town in west-central France. On June 10, 1944, four days after the Allied landing at Normandy, a unit of the Waffen-SS, the Nazi Party military wing, descended on the village and killed 642 men, women, and children. It was one of the largest mass murders of French civilians during the German occupation, and an act of retribution against the townspeople for their perceived assistance to the French Resistance and the invading American forces." Read the rest of this tale here.

The Iraqis are pumped about the delivery of their first F-16 today in Texas. The flow of hardware to the Iraqis is underway and in addition to the Apache attack helicopters they’ve been getting, the Iraqis are also taking ownership today of their first F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter. It’s a momentous occasion for the Iraqi government as it eyes a variety of equipment in the U.S. military showroom. The F-16, which will remain in Texas until later this summer, marks the beginning of the Iraqis having the capability to defend their own border, protect their own airspace and help them to conduct their own counterinsurgency operations. It’ll be the first time the Iraqis have had the capability since before the Kuwait invasion. They’ll have three planes by September, and by next year they’re expected to take delivery of 18 planes, and another 18 by 2016.

Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily to Situation Report in a late night interview last night: "It’s a significant juncture for us… I think it’s complimentary capabilities with the Apaches will provide us with air superiority… This to us is a small step to provide us with some comfort."

Meantime, the U.S. is angry at France for defying it and going through with the sale of a warship to Russia. The WSJ’s Stacy Meichtry: "France is preparing to train hundreds of Russian seamen to operate a powerful French-made warship this month, defying calls from the U.S. and other Western allies to keep the vessel out of the Kremlin’s hands, people familiar with the matter say. More than 400 Russian sailors are scheduled to arrive on June 22 in the French Atlantic port of Saint-Nazaire to undergo months of instruction before piloting the first of two Mistral-class carriers back to Russia in the fall, said one of these people. The training is a pivotal step that deepens France’s commitment to fulfilling the $1.6 billion contract to supply Russia with the carriers, which are built to launch amphibious attacks." More here.

In Brussels, Joe Dunford described Obama’s plans for Afghanistan. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung, from Brussels: "President Obama’s plan to remove all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 "is not a zero option .?.?. not a withdrawal plan," the commander of U.S. and international forces there said Wednesday. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said the plan he expects to implement, following Obama’s announcement last week, is a "transition" that bears no resemblance to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Under the plan, nearly 14,000 U.S., NATO and other international troops will remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat forces at the end of this year. Components of that number, according to a senior U.S. military official, include 12,000 conventional troops made up of about 8,000 from the United States and 4,000 from NATO members and others who will train and advise Afghan security forces.

"To reach Obama’s announced total of 9,800, the United States will also deploy a counterterrorism force of about 1,800, according to the official. The figures are the first approximate breakdown of the U.S. forces. ‘The president’s decision" on overall troop strength ‘for us starts the detailed planning for the [counterterrorism] mission,’ the military official said." More here.

Criticism over the U.S. troop withdrawal emerges from beyond the G.O.P. – there are worries that the schedule is too rigid and too compressed. The NYT’s Michael Gordon here.

Billions worth of equipment will be left in Afghanistan, a country with a legacy of foreign invasion. U.S. News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "About half of the U.S. military vehicles still in Afghanistan – worth billions of dollars – aren’t coming home, and instead will be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by 2016, officials say. An even higher percentage of the rest of the remaining equipment also will be scrapped or left behind." More here.

At the White House, Sloan Gibson,
the new acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, said the VA has reached out to all the Phoenix-area veterans.
Stripes’ Travis Tritten: "Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday his department has contacted all 1,700 veterans caught up in a hospital wait-list scandal in Phoenix and is working to immediately eliminate long treatment delays nationwide. Gibson met with veteran groups and spoke publicly for the first time since taking over from retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, who resigned Friday over widespread scheduling abuses at VA hospitals and clinics that have been blamed for 40 veteran deaths in Arizona. But even as Gibson offered reassurances, new details emerged that VA health care facilities in the Midwest also kept 10 off-the-books waiting lists – with two being acknowledged as a health threat to patients." More here.

Obama’s ‘don’t do stupid shit’ foreign policy is far from the audacity of hope. FP’s David Rothkopf: "According to multiple reliable sources, on Air Force One during President Barack Obama’s recent Asia trip, he spent some time talking with his traveling press corps about his approach to foreign policy. He was defensive and, by one account, ‘fuming.’ He felt that the criticism of his approach was unfair. He had clear ideas about how to manage America’s global interests. In his own words, they centered on a single concept: ‘Don’t do stupid shit.’

"…How far we have come from the audacity of hope; yes, we can; the soaring expectations framed by the brilliant oratory of the president’s Cairo speech on relations with the Muslim world; his Prague speech on eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide; and his Oslo speech when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, ‘don’t do stupid shit’ is a comedown even from his expectation-lowering remarks in the Philippines on that same Asia trip in which he limned his vision for a foreign policy that consisted mostly of ‘singles’ and ‘doubles.’" More here.

Who’s zoomin’ who? When the government official asks the think tanker for advice – who is influencing who? Brookings’ Jeremy Shapiro on the Up Front blog: "…Having been on both sides of the table for these exchanges, I have some sense of what all of this pomp and circumstance mean. It is not what it seems, but it is nonetheless important and does have a role in the policy process. The idea of this meeting is not to bring outside ideas into the government. To the senior government official, an outside idea-even a good one-is like a diamond ring on a desert island: abstractly valuable but practically useless. Regardless of his vaunted status, he feels in his daily existence penned in on every side by political and resource considerations that outsiders simply refuse to acknowledge. As he nods appreciatively and appears to hang on every word the thinkers spout, he is, in fact, hiding his tired familiarity with all of their arguments and his deep-seeded belief that every idea he hears is either politically impossible or already being attempted (or both)." More here.

The United States announces additional humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis. From the State Dept. Press Office: "Secretary of State John Kerry announced today the United States is providing more than $290 million in additional U.S. humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the war in Syria.  With this additional funding, total U.S. humanitarian assistance since the start of the crisis will reach more than $2 billion, helping over 4.7 million people inside Syria, more than 2.8 million refugees in the region, as well as host communities in the neighboring countries affected by the crisis. The United States remains committed to delivering humanitarian assistance through all available channels – including UN, international, non-governmental, and local humanitarian organizations –  to get aid to those in need in Syria, no matter where they reside or have sought refuge." More here.

The Big Zero: Kerry weighs in on Syria’s elections. The WaPo’s Liz Sly in Beirut: "On a rare, unannounced visit to Lebanon, Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared the election ‘meaningless’ and said it would have no impact on U.S. policy. ‘The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,’ he said, noting that many areas of the country did not vote, because they are under rebel control, and that meaningful opposition contenders were not allowed to participate. ‘Nothing has changed between the day before the election and after,’ he added." More here.

The results of a test of the GMD interceptor could affect the schedule for deployment of 14 additional interceptors. Defense News’ Paul McLeary: "The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency is planning to conduct a new test launch of its troubled Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor before the end of June, almost a year after the last failed launch of the controversial program. The ultimate success or failure of that test could have huge implications for when the US might deploy 14 more ground-based interceptors to protect the country against the threat of long-range missile attack from a foreign power. During a panel discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday, the head of the Missile Defense Policy office at the Pentagon, Peppino DeBiaso, would only say the test would happen ‘shortly,’ though other defense officials have already confirmed the test would happen in June." 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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