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: Is the White House bungling its Africa summit?; Was there a second group that attacked in Benghazi?; Air sirens and lattes in Israel; Duncan Hunter to DOD IG: there’s reason to think a ransom for Bergdahl; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel The White House is pumped about its big summit with African leaders in a few weeks. So why do so many people think it’s getting bungled? Early next month, the White House will host a historic meeting with African heads of state. It’s a big deal to the Obama ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The White House is pumped about its big summit with African leaders in a few weeks. So why do so many people think it’s getting bungled? Early next month, the White House will host a historic meeting with African heads of state. It’s a big deal to the Obama administration, which hatched the plan last year after the President visited Africa. But there’s quiet yet widespread concern that planning for it was so tightly controlled by the White House that some things got missed and this could be a missed opportunity for Washington to open a new chapter with Africa. FP’s Lubold: "More than 50 African leaders will descend on Washington in less than a month for the White House’s first-ever Africa Summit, which the administration has billed as a historic opportunity to promote its own Africa initiatives, identify trade partners, and foster much-needed counterterrorism cooperation across the continent.

"But as the administration scrambles to put the finishing touches on the event, individuals in and out of government worry that the summit, held when little of official Washington is even in town, may end up doing more harm than good. African leaders won’t be getting any one-on-one meetings with President Barack Obama, which could leave them feeling snubbed by a leader they’ve long seen as unusually invested in the continent’s future. More importantly, critics say the three-day summit, which begins Aug. 4, may represent a missed opportunity to narrow the growing gap between America’s economic ties with African countries and those of China, which has spent years building new commercial relationships across the continent.

J. Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center for the Atlantic Council in Washington, who says the White House still sees Africa through a decades-old framework in which it is viewed as an impoverished continent with country leaders traveling to Washington hat in hand rather than as nations with robust and growing economies: "The bigger picture of course is that Africa has seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the world, and numerous other countries are engaging with them on a bilateral basis," Pham said. "China has surpassed us as Africa’s biggest trading partner."

CSIS’ Jennifer Cooke on keeping up with the Joneses and the lack of a plan to hold bilateral meetings with African leaders: "When the Chinese do this, it’s red carpet, big money, investments and loans, and many bilateral conversations…They sort of pull out all the stops, and they invite everybody, and there’s no talk about human rights and democracy."

The Chinese do speed-dating: "At a summit China hosted for African leaders in 2012, for instance, the Chinese premier essentially "speed-dated" with dozens of African leaders in back-to-back, 15-minute one-on-one sessions with translators. The Obama administration’s summit, in contrast, won’t have any such meetings."

One former senior government official on the lack of bilats planned with the African leaders: "I would guess that some U.S. ambassador has had some pretty difficult conversations with heads of state to say, ‘sorry, you will not have a private meeting with the president…In some countries, those were probably some pretty difficult conversations." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Israel escalates its aerial offensive on Gaza. From the AP this morning: "Israel dramatically escalated its aerial assault in Gaza, now in its 3rd day, hitting hundreds of Hamas targets as its missile defense system once again intercepted rockets. Military spokesman Peter Lerner said Thursday that Israel struck more than 300 Hamas targets overnight, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites. That brought the total number of targets hit to 750.

"The military said it struck a car in Gaza carrying three Islamic Jihad militants involved in firing rockets, raising the Palestinian death toll to at least 75. Remnants of a long-range rocket fired from Gaza landed in a gas station in south Tel Aviv Thursday after being shot down by Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defense system. Militants have fired hundreds of rockets. No one in Israel has been harmed." More here.

Hamas’ new rocket is inaccurate, but it’s also a serious upgrade. FP’s Simon Engler, here.

Incongruity in Israel: air raid sirens and lattes, by the WaPo’s Ruth Eglash, here.

The NSA wasn’t the only one snooping on ordinary Americans, btw. FP’s Shane Harris: "Believe it or not, some officials at the National Security Agency are breathing a sigh of relief over Glenn Greenwald’s new exposé on the government’s secret surveillance of U.S. citizens. That’s because it’s the FBI that finds itself in the cross-hairs now, in a story that identifies by name five men, including prominent Muslim American civil rights activists and lawyers, whose emails were monitored by the FBI using a law meant to target suspected terrorists and spies. The targets of the spying allege that they were singled out because of their race, religion, and political views — accusations that, if true, would amount to the biggest domestic intelligence scandal in a generation and eclipse any of the prior year’s revelations from documents provided by leaker Edward Snowden." More here.

Chinese hackers are pursuing key data on U.S. workers – read this Page Oner by the NYT’s Michael Schmidt, David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, here.

Who’s Where When today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is travelling in the U.S. on a two-day trip and today is at Eglin Air Force Base in Fla… Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is also traveling domestically.  He attends a Council of Governors meeting in Nashville… And Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is on his way to California for a I Marine Expeditionary Force change-of-command ceremony in California tomorrow…  

Also today – The Senate Armed Services Committee will grill the likely next commander of the Afghanistan war, Gen. John "J.C." Campbell, and consider the nominations of Adm. Bill Gortney, for U.S. Northern Command, and Lt. Gen. Joe Votel for Joint Special Operations Command. That’s all at Dirksen G-50 at 9:30.

Read John Kerry’s piece in Politico about why ambassadors should be confirmed like military nominees, here.

And also today – As The Hill’s Martin Matishak and Kristina Wong report, Hagel could make an announcement on the fate of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter while visiting Eglin after the plane was grounded late last week after a June 23 fire aboard one plane at the Florida base. Matishak and Wong: "Hagel is set to meet pilots at Eglin Air Force Base, where a June 23 blaze aboard one of the planes sparked an investigation of the F-35’s engines. The Marine Corps version was due to participate in a pair of air shows in Great Britain this weekend." More here.

There’s one more thing to think about today – how much is the Pentagon charging the Health and Human Services Department to house migrant children at places like Lackland Air Force Base, Texas and other places? Thousands of children from Latin America are now living on U.S. military bases and the Defense Department is essentially charging HHS for the service. But we hear some Republicans are concerned about the cost and may ask about it this afternoon at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this afternoon at 2:30.

Congress asks the Pentagon to probe whether the U.S. paid cash for Bergdahl. Lubold’s story: "…Conspiracy theories about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s May 31 release from being held in captivity by the Haqqani network are rampant and many lawmakers and Americans wonder why the administration traded five Taliban warriors for one American soldier.

"One particular question lingers: Did anyone in the government pay ransom, attempt to pay ransom, or use a third party to pay ransom, to win Bergdahl’s release? The Obama administration flatly says ‘no’ and that it was never even contemplated.

"But the lawmaker, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., a former Marine, says he has enough information to make him think the government may have shelled out as much as $1.5 million for Bergdahl. The soldier was rescued by U.S. special operators in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan after being held prisoner for nearly five years. Bergdahl apparently wandered off his small combat outpost in Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. An investigation into whether he deserted his unit is underway. He is in a ‘reintegration phase’ at an Army medical facility in Texas where he has begun to return to a normal life, even going so far as to eat out. He has made no public statements."

WH spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in an email to FP: "We did not pay cash for Sgt. Bergdahl’s recovery, we have no information that anyone else did, and we did not consider paying for recovery as a part of these negotiations." More here.

Meantime, read about the Air Force’s fight to keep it’s B-1 bomber, by Helene Cooper of the NYT, here.

Today, IAVA joins House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller to introduce new legislation to combat veteran suicide. Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) will today introduce the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, billed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America as "significant legislation" that will combat veteran suicide. Miller will be joined by Susan and Richard Selke, parents of Clay Hunt, a U.S. Marine who died by suicide in 2011; Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA CEO and Founder; Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.); Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); and veterans of the post-9/11 wars.  More here.

And last night, Carter Ham, former Africa Command commander, appeared on Charlie Rose. He talked Africa, Libya and how he hopes that country will right itself, and Iraq, in which he served between 2004 and 2005, and how he views what’s happening there, as most veterans of the Iraq war do, as "heartbreaking." Ham, who had been one of few senior officers to go public about his personal struggles after his warzone deployment in order to help remove the stigma for those with post traumatic stress disorder and other postwar maladies, also talked on Rose about how he had become a "bad husband, father and friend" in those days and how he overcame those issues with the help of an Army chaplain. The show will appear here soon.

Meantime, was there a second group that attacked in Benghazi? AP: "Newly revealed testimony from top military commanders involved in the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks suggests that the perpetrators of a second, dawn assault on a CIA complex probably were different from those who penetrated the U.S. diplomatic mission the evening before and set it ablaze, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens…"

"The second attack, which killed two security contractors, showed clear military training, retired Gen. Carter Ham told Congress in closed-door testimony released late Wednesday. It probably was the work of a new team of militants, seizing on reports of violence at the diplomatic mission the night before and hitting the Americans while they were most vulnerable." More here.

Army leaders must defend what to many is a flawed intelligence system. AP’s Ken Dilanian: "Gen. John Campbell, the army’s vice chief of staff and nominee to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan, cited his son’s experiences as a soldier there to answer a senator’s tough questions last year about a troubled intelligence technology system. But after an inquiry from The Associated Press, the Army acknowledged this week that Campbell misspoke. He also omitted key facts as he sought to defend a $4 billion system that critics say has not worked as promised. Campbell will likely face more questions about the intelligence system at his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

"…Army leaders, including Campbell and his boss, Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno, have circled their wagons around the Distributed Common Ground System, known as DCGS-A (pronounced DEE-cigs-ay), a network of crash-prone software, sensors and databases that was supposed to allow troops to process and integrate intelligence from a variety of sources, from electronic intercepts to overhead imagery to spy reports. A series of independent government reports have pointed to significant weaknesses in DCGS-A." More here.

ICYMI: Read FP’s Lubold and Harris’ March 18 story on an internal Pentagon report on how the Army’s DCGS system is flawed, here.

Berlin is scratching its head again at Washington – a second spy has emerged: The NYT’s Alison Smale in Berlin: "Anger at Washington mounted Wednesday with the disclosure that American intelligence agents were suspected of having recruited a second spy in Germany, this time linked to its Defense Ministry, prompting even robust allies of the United States to suggest that a fundamental reset was needed in one of the most important of trans-Atlantic partnerships." More here.

Maliki accuses the Kurds of aiding Sunni extremists.  The WSJ’s Maria Abi-Habib and Joe Parkinson in Baghdad: "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s allegation came after the semiautonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, which is pressing for independence, capitalized on a Sunni extremist assault by seizing territory for themselves, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Then last week, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani asked the region’s parliament to hold a referendum on independence. The moves have sparked an outcry from Baghdad, as well as Washington, which both fear the country will be partitioned along both sectarian lines-by the Sunni Arab extremists-and along ethnic lines by the Kurds." More here.

Why is a barbaric medieval caliphate so much better at social media than Washington? Kori Schake for FP: "The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is running a brilliantly effective social media campaign. With the group rebranded as the Islamic State (IS), its grisly messaging gets attention and discourages resistance to its military operations, both where it is fighting and among countries that might be inclined to intervene against it.

"…Hashtag diplomacy as a medium favors both the quick hit and the use of ridicule. Sensational pictures and statements are what gets noticed. Status quo institutions, like the U.S. government, are at a disadvantage competing against the producers of spectacle." More here.

How the U.S. ignored warnings from the Free Syrian Army that ISIS was about to take over a Syrian city along the border – then it happened. The commander of the FSA battalion near the Syrian border city of Der al Zour, to the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin, about the warnings to U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power: "[The U.S. officials] showed an understanding of the situation but there was no movement at all… There’s no clear American position in that part of Syria. We told the Americans we are going to fight ISIS and ISIS is close to us, but they did nothing." The story, here.

Opinion this morning in the WSJ on the Pentagon playing "hardball" with No Easy Day author Matt Bissonnette, by Nancy Walbridge Collins and Michele Malvesti, their BLUF: "When those entrusted with the nation’s secrets seek to publish their experiences, they are required to participate in the system’s checks and balances. By doing so, these authors not only protect themselves (and their proceeds), they also safeguard the larger national-security infrastructure from which all Americans benefit. By circumventing the process and violating his nondisclosure agreement with the U.S. military, Mr. Bissonnette potentially jeopardized national security and forfeited sole ownership of his story." More here.

FP’s story by Lubold July 3 that first reported the Pentagon was going after No Easy Day author Matt Bissonnette, here.

Could the LCS survive an attack? The Pentagon’s top weapons tester wonders. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "The Navy’s $23 billion Littoral Combat Ship is less able to survive an attack than other U.S. warships, according to the Pentagon’s top weapons tester. Revised standards adopted for the vessel intended to operate in shallow coastal waters ‘continue to accept the risk the crew would need to abandon ship under circumstances that would not necessitate that action’ on other vessels, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing and evaluation, said in a letter to Senator John McCain." More here.

So Jesse Ventura is suing the estate of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, killed on a rifle range in 2013, alleging that a barroom brawl Kyle wrote about in his 2012 book was fabricated. The WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, here.

Read "Murder by Drones: where is the cost-benefit analysis," about U.S. counter-terrorism policy in Pakistan, in Dawn, here.

Why Abdullah Abdullah has reason to be suspicious. David Leith, author of the blog Fifty State of Blue, provided this analysis to Situation Report: "This election was always going to be close. In the first round, Abdullah Abdullah won 45% of the vote, to Ashraf Ghani’s 31%. The third major candidate, Zalmai Rassoul, got 11%, and threw his support to Abdullah. So the stage was set for what was expected to be a close election. In the end, the preliminary results were anything but. Abdullah ended up with 44% of the vote in the runoff; Ghani with 56%. The question is, how did Ghani end up winning by so much?" Read more later today, here.

Afghanistan’s Dilemma, by the NYT’s editors: "Abdullah Abdullah, one of two candidates for president of Afghanistan, and his supporters are pushing the country toward a dangerous point by calling the election a coup and threatening to establish a parallel government. He is correct in demanding that charges of rampant electoral fraud be thoroughly investigated. But stoking outrage among his supporters with incendiary language does nothing to ensure a credible and peaceful outcome. The better course is to join his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, in ensuring an outcome that Afghans can believe in." 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.

More from Foreign Policy

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.