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: Militants storm a Pakistani airport; On Bergdahl Deal, where’s reconciliation?; Feinstein: no threat to Bergdahl’s life; End of a war era: TGIF closed; Square One on VA secretary; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel On the Bergdahl Deal, where’s the bigger reconciliation agreement? Among perhaps the most serious criticisms of the Bergdahl swap is the one on whether the swap should have been part of a bigger reconciliation deal with the Taliban – a deal that the administration and the military has said ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

On the Bergdahl Deal, where’s the bigger reconciliation agreement? Among perhaps the most serious criticisms of the Bergdahl swap is the one on whether the swap should have been part of a bigger reconciliation deal with the Taliban – a deal that the administration and the military has said is critical to the end of the war. But while President Obama hinted that he hoped the swap would lead to more such discussions, there is no hint now there is one afoot. The NYT’s David Sanger and Matthew Rosenberg on Page A-7 this morning: "The question is why the five were released without any commitments to a larger agreement, under which the Taliban would renounce international terrorism, and begin a process of reconciliation with the government of Afghanistan. That condition had been at the heart of the original discussions with the Taliban about a prisoner swap in 2011 and early 2012. It was abandoned last year, administration officials now say, because the Taliban were no longer interested in a broader deal – probably because the Taliban understood American forces were leaving. Now, both in Afghanistan and in Washington, there are questions about whether the release of the five men gives the Taliban legitimacy, and enhances their power over a weak government in Kabul." More here.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn’t see the threat to Bergdahl. Today was the first day since the Bergdahl story broke that there were no Bergdahl stories on the front pages of the NYT, WSJ or WaPo, signifying that while the story will remain big it’s moved into a new mode. But there was news over the weekend, including Di-Fi’s statement on Bloomberg TV that she isn’t sure Bergdahl’s life really was in danger – the chief reasoning of the White House for the urgency to get him released. Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hunter: "The Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said she’s not convinced there was a ‘credible threat’ against the life of freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl that motivated the White House to keep its plans secret. ‘I don’t think there was a credible threat,’ U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said in an interview yesterday for Bloomberg Television’s ‘Political Capital with Al Hunt airing this weekend. ‘I have no information that there was.’ More here.

Both Feinstein and Chambliss had few kind words for the White House yesterday. The WaPo’s Josh Hicks: "The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested Sunday that the White House has done a poor job of sharing information with Congress about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his recent release from Taliban captivity. ‘I think this whole sort of deal has been one that the administration has kept very close, and, in the eyes of many of us, too close,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation.’ Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the panel, said on the program that they were surprised by news that Bergdahl may have been held in a small metal cage and tortured. The lawmakers said they first heard about this in a New York Times article on Sunday.

"Chambliss said the Obama administration has ‘acted very strangely’ about Bergdahl and the prisoner swap that led to his release. ‘Nobody has made any effort to contact me from the administration, but then, you know, I learned about this [prisoner swap] after the fact,’ Chambliss said. ‘Dianne and I were both called on Monday night, after Bergdahl was released on Saturday, and told that it had happened.’" More here.

Kerry said to CNN this weekend about the Bergdahl decision: "It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, do any number of things…We would consciously choose to do that?" More here.

As Bergdahl heals, details of his captivity emerge. On Saturday, there was a Page One story about Bergdahl’s captivity and his condition that indicate he’s in rough shape. That he hasn’t even spoken with his parents yet is a sign of that. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt: "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has told medical officials that his captors locked him in a metal cage in total darkness for weeks at a time as punishment for trying to escape, and while military doctors say he now is physically able to travel he is not yet emotionally ready for the pressures of reuniting with his family, according to American officials who have been briefed on his condition.

An American official who has been briefed on the sergeant’s condition: "…Physically, he could be put on a plane to the U.S. tomorrow, but there are still a couple of mental criteria to address: the family unification piece and the media exposure piece."

"…He shows few if any signs of the malnourishment and other ailments that Obama administration officials said he was suffering when they saw a video of him that the Taliban made in December and released a month later – a video so alarming, American officials have said, it made his release an urgent priority. As talks for Sergeant Bergdahl’s release proceeded after that, his captors may have fed him better, allowed him greater movement and even brought him medical care in preparation for his departure, American officials said." More here.

That story prompted this from the Pentagon over the weekend: Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon pressec: "The Department of Defense does not comment on discussions that?Sergeant Bergdahl is having with the professionals who are providing him?medical and reintegration care. We will respect that process in all regards. As we have noted, the Army will conduct a comprehensive review to learn the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance and captivity. That process, too, needs to be respected. Our focus remains on providing him with the care he needs."

The WaPo’s E.J. Dionne on the rancor over Bowe Bergdahl: "…Yes, Obama could certainly have handled the situation better. It’s fair to question the optics of the Rose Garden ceremony announcing Bergdahl’s freedom, to wonder why the administration did not acknowledge upfront the ambiguities surrounding his tour of duty and to ask why Congress wasn’t alerted to the deal the administration was negotiating. But what’s truly astounding is how many Republicans raced to turn Obama’s commitment to bringing home a POW into an outrage." More here.

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A well-coordinated terrorist attack on the Karachi airport kills thirteen. The NYT’s Zia Ur-Rehman and Salman Masood in Karachi: "In a ferocious terrorist assault that stretched into Monday morning, suspected Islamist militants infiltrated Pakistan’s largest international airport in Karachi, waging an extended firefight against security forces that resulted in 23 deaths and shook the country’s already fragile sense of security. Explosions and gunfire rang out across the airport through the night as police and security forces battled with attackers, and passengers waited anxiously in a nearby terminal and in airplanes stranded on the tarmac. Just before 5 a.m., after five hours of siege, the military reported that the last of 10 attackers had been killed.

"The chief minister of Sindh Province, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, told reporters that in addition to the 10 attackers, 13 other people had died, including 10 members of the Airport Security Forces and a flight engineer with Pakistan International Airlines, the state airline. ‘They were well trained,’ he said of the assailants. ‘Their plan was very well thought out.’ There was no claim of responsibility for the assault, which was the most ambitious of its kind in Pakistan since Islamist militants attacked a navy air base in central Karachi in 2011. Initial suspicions fell on the Pakistani Taliban and related Islamist groups that have become increasingly strong in the past two years in the city, a sprawling megalopolis of 20 million people and a major commercial hub." More here.

And, gunmen destroyed a NATO oil tanker in Pakistan. Agence France-Presse: "Gunmen in restive southwest Pakistan on Sunday fired bullets at an oil tanker carrying fuel bound for NATO troops in Afghanistan, setting the vehicle and a car ablaze, police said. The attack highlights the continuing dangers facing the US-led coalition as it winds down operations in Afghanistan with 51,000 combat troops due to pull out of the country by the year’s end. Sunday’s incident occurred around 200 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Quetta – the capital of Baluchistan – a province rife with Islamic militancy, sectarian violence and ethnic insurgency. ‘Two gunmen riding a motorcycle intercepted a NATO oil tanker in Dera Murad Jamali city and fired bullets at it,’ local police official Ali Gohar Lehri told AFP. ‘The tanker and a car close to it caught flames,’ he added. ‘The driver and cleaner of the tanker and all passengers traveling in the car jumped out of their vehicles to save their lives.’ The attackers escaped the crime scene. Another police official confirmed the shooting." More here.

If they are hauling off the TGIF from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, you know the Afghanistan war is over. Agence France Presse’s Dan DeLuce, on how life ‘behind the wire" seems far from the war: "…Home to thousands of soldiers and civilians and round-the-clock military flights, Kandahar and Bagram resemble mini-cities, with strict rules that seem out of place in a war zone. While soldiers must carry their assault rifles around the base, the speed limit is a modest 25 kilometres (16 miles) an hour and seatbelts must be worn at all times. If caught speeding, a soldier or a civilian contractor can expect a session with the provost marshal, who will inform the appropriate senior officer or supervisor."

"…some of the shops and eateries are closing again — but this time it’s because of the imminent departure of most of the NATO force by a year-end deadline. At Bagram, the fried-chicken outlet Popeye’s shut down on June 1. And at Kandahar, a pizzeria and a French cafe that sold baguette sandwiches have been torn down. This week a dump truck carted away the remnants of the TGI Friday’s restaurant.

One NATO officer to DeLuce: "When they close TGI Friday’s, you know the war’s over." More here.

Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, back Sunday from his 12-day ’round-the-world trip, hosts a welcome ceremony for Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work at the Pentagon… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in Poland visiting senior leaders in the Polish Army and American soldiers from 173rd Airborne Brigade conducting training in Poland…. Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos remains on his trip in Europe.

Back to square one on a Shinseki replacement. The White House appeared to want to tap the head of the Cleveland Clinic to take over the VA after Shinseki’s recent departure. If there was ever a job that could inspire someone to serve their country, it is this one. Problem is, no one wants it. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Stephen Koff, in Washington: "Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, has ended speculation that he might become secretary of veterans affairs, telling the White House that he has decided to stay in his current job. President Barack Obama asked Cosgrove last week to consider taking over the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs…"

Cosgrove: "… As a physician, veteran, and hospital chief executive, I have great respect for the care provided to the veteran community and for those who work to care for them… This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, but I have decided to withdraw from consideration from this position and remain at the Cleveland Clinic, due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here." More here.

The VA is skedded to release an audit of its hospital scheduling practices today. More on that bit from the WaPo’s Josh Hicks this morning here.

There will be a hearing today on manipulation of records at the VA by the House Veterans Affairs Committee; deets here.

For FP, how history, greed, and nepotism are preventing the continent from securing itself against al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and other threats by Michela Wrong, here.

Wartime weapons are arriving on Main Street. The NYT’s Matt Apuzzo in Wisconsin: "…As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s ‘long season of war,’ the former tools of combat – M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more – are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice. During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.

"The equipment has been added to the armories
of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of ‘barbering without a license.’" More here.

Hackers shut down utilities on at least three continents, according to formerly classified report. Inside Cybersecurity’s Chris Castelli: "Utilities on at least three continents have been "penetrated or shut down" by hackers and insiders, according to a formerly classified 2008 presidential directive on cybersecurity that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and released today by privacy advocates. The Electronic Privacy Information Center disclosed a redacted 16-page copy of National Security Presidential Directive 54, which former President George W. Bush used to set U.S. ‘policy, strategy, guidelines, and implementation actions to secure cyberspace’ and to launch the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative." More here.

Israeli military officials caution the political echelon against cutting security ties with the new Palestinian unity government.  Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome: "…‘We need the PA to be demilitarized, without strategic partners and effective enough to deal with their needs in countering terror,’ a top officer on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Staff told Defense News. The officer cited the oft-repeated operational policy of Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff, who supported security ties with the US-funded, Jordanian-trained PA Security Forces. ‘Gabi Ashkenazi said the more they do, the less we do. This is still in effect,’ he said." More here.

The U.S. is sending stealth bombers to Europe. Air Force Times’ Oriana Pawlyk: "The Air Force has further beefed up its bomber presence in Europe, deploying two B-2 stealth bombers for military exercises in the region. The B-2 deployment is another show of Washington’s effort to reassure allies in the region amid Russia’s recent bluster. The aircraft are assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing out of Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. On Sunday, they joined three B-52 Stratofortress aircraft already deployed to RAF Fairford, a British air base west of London. All five of the aircraft are capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Adm. Cecil Haney, commander, U.S. Strategic Command in an Air Force, said in a news release: "…‘This deployment of strategic bombers provides an invaluable opportunity to strengthen and improve interoperability with our allies and partners… The training and integration of strategic forces demonstrates to our nation’s leaders and our allies that we have the right mix of aircraft and expertise to respond to a variety of potential threats and situations.’" More here.

The US completes a large-scale exercise in the Middle East, even with its amphibious forces stretched. Stripes’ Hendrick Simoes in Jordan: "Although officials insisted the annual multinational Eager Lion exercise that ended here Sunday was unrelated to sectarian violence across Jordan’s borders, regional tensions nonetheless affected the course of the two-week exercise. Just days after the exercise began, the USS Bataan was ordered to the coast of Libya to be ready for a possible evacuation of U.S. personnel amid escalating fighting there. Officials said the ship’s departure had minimal impact on the exercise. ‘Bataan’s departure was demonstrative of the inherent flexibility of our amphibious forces,’ Brig. Gen. Gregg Olson, commander of Task Force 51/59 and in charge of the amphibious forces deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes." More here.

The Pentagon’s Derek Chollet pushed the Italians to spring for the F-35. From the remarks of Assistant Secretary of Defense Chollet: "…I am aware of the significant debate here surrounding Italy’s procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  In times of economic austerity, it is natural for government leaders to look at large expenditures to determine if possible savings can be found, either by cutting the program or by restructuring it in some way.  The United States is going through this difficult scenario as well, as we face our own budgetary challenges.
"As the Italian government and Parliament review their options, and as the government drafts its ‘White Paper on Defense,’ I ask that the investment in the F-35 be considered from two perspectives — what the F-35 brings to Italy in terms of capability; and what the aircraft gives Italy in terms of return on its economic investment.  

"First, to be among our most capable NATO Allies, and to be prepared to respond to emerging and future security threats — including those in Italy’s back yard — Italy needs to invest in top-tier capabilities that are interoperable with other NATO Allies, including the United States.  The F-35 provides a next generation- power projection capability and ensures our joint and coalition partners can operate shoulder-to-shoulder’ in future conflicts." More here.

The U.S. Navy reported Saturday that two American warships had rescued nearly 300 people from boats in the Mediterranean Sea after one of the small craft began to sink.  The LA Times’ Roger Ainsley: "…The amphibious assault ship Bataan and guided missile frigate Elrod responded after receiving a report from an Italian military aircraft that had sighted six small vessels, the Navy said in a statement… It was not immediately clear who the people were. However, refugees by the tens of thousands, many from sub-Saharan Africa, have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in recent years, often in craft that are dangerously overcrowded and not seaworthy. More than 100 migrants died early last month when three boats sank in the Mediterranean." More here.

Egypt’s Sisi takes office to a cool reception from the West. Reuters’ Yasmine Saleh and Maggie Fick: "Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised to rule Egypt in an inclusive manner after he was sworn in as president on Sunday but gave no indication he would reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood movement he removed from power nearly a year ago. In an inauguration ceremony with low-key attendance by Western allies concerned by a crackdown on dissent, the former army chief called for hard work and the development of freedom ‘in a responsible framework away from chaos.’

"… Security in Cairo was extra tight, with armored personnel carriers and tanks positioned in strategic locations. Sisi said combating terrorism woul
d be his top priority for the time being, a reference to Islamist foes he describes as a threat to national security. ‘As for those who shed the blood of the innocents, there will be no place for them in this path,’ Sisi said in his first speech to the nation. ‘And I say it loud and clear, there will be no soft stand with anyone who resorts to violence or whoever wants to delay our march towards the future that we want for our children.’"





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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