The Cable

Situation Report: Anthrax math; Navy drone worries; the continuing debate over body counts; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson The never ending math equation. For the third time in less than a week, the Defense Department has increased the number of labs to which it suspects it may have accidentally shipped live anthrax. And officials have all but promised that the numbers will go up. In a Wednesday ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

The never ending math equation. For the third time in less than a week, the Defense Department has increased the number of labs to which it suspects it may have accidentally shipped live anthrax. And officials have all but promised that the numbers will go up.

In a Wednesday afternoon briefing at the Pentagon that saw one top Defense official snap “don’t focus so much on the numbers!” and the department’s second-highest ranking official try time and again to bolt from the podium only to get sucked in by another shouted question, there’s really only one thing we can say for certain: The Pentagon is scrambling, and things look like they’re only going to get worse.

So far, we know that a U.S. Army lab in Utah inadvertently shipped total of 10 live samples of anthrax to at least 51 labs in 17 states, three countries, and Washington, D.C. More potentially live samples — it’s not publicly known how many — are still being tested.

There’s so much more to unpack here, but given the way this story has unfolded this week, we can only leave you with the latest, and promise updates. Lots of updates.

Don’t overthink it! The U.S. Navy desperately wants to start issuing contracts for its high-tech carrier drone – dubbed the X-47B – but the Pentagon’s bureaucracy is holding the sea service back. At last that‘s what Navy officials say.

The Navy has been working on the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance Strike program (UCLASS) program for years, and the drone has already flown off aircraft carriers and refueled in the air during testing. But members of Congress and Pentagon brass have worried over whether it is stealthy — and deadly — enough to avoid advanced Chinese radars and punch through sophisticated air defenses.

The official order to start building the birds “has been ready to release now for over a year,” Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, director of air warfare, told reporters Wednesday. “We have lost this time to put that technology to work. That’s where my frustration is.”

Despite the delays, the program is going to happen. The worry over China’s growing air defense and sea projection capabilities is too high, and political demand for new technology is too great, for it to fail. Evidence: the Senate Armed Services Committee last month funded $725 million for the UCLASS and a parallel Navy carrier-based drone program in 2016.

That has no doubt made X-47B maker Northrop Grumman happy, while the folks at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics – who have been working on similar programs – should be polishing up their proposals soon.

It’s another day of the Situation Report, where we too would like a couple hundred million dollars to fund our own unmanned newsletter writing program. Proposals and tips can be passed along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Who’s Where When

9:30 a.m. Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry at the Atlantic Council.

Get smart. Former Marine Col. Mark Cancian, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, delivers a nice little four-minute YouTube primer on how the U.S. funds its wars.

Russia

The weather has warmed up in Ukraine, as has the fighting, Reuters reports. Russian-backed rebels and government forces engaged in some of the heaviest fighting in months, using tanks and heavy artillery.

Russia’s “black budget” — money that has been authorized but not directed at any specific, publicly-acknowledged program — has doubled to $60 billion since 2010, Bloomberg reports in an analysis of how Moscow is trying to kickstart its economy by spending its rubles on tanks, missiles, and other new weaponry.

Iraq

While Washington may be hesitant to work with the Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, there really isn’t much of a choice in the fight against the Islamic State, report FP’s David Kenner and John Hudson. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen — Washington’s point man on holding together the international coalition that’s focused on defeating the extremists — said in Qatar on Wednesday the militias have an important role to play in liberating Anbar province, so long as they “take command from the central authority.”

South Korea

According to the Associated Press, South Korea has successfully test-fired a domestically built ballistic missile that has the range to reach all of North Korea.

Philippines

In a bold statement in Tokyo on Wednesday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino compared China and its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea with Nazi Germany, “which pressed for territorial conquests around the time of the outbreak of World War II,” the Japan Times reports.

And finally….

Sometimes even the generals and diplomats just can’t help themselves.

In a Wednesday interview on French radio, the U.S. State Department’s No. 2 official, Antony Blinken, claimed that more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since last August’s start of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

His claim is the latest in at least six months of senior U.S. officials repeatedly ignoring the official line that body counts aren’t as important as political progress and non-sectarian thinking on the ground in Iraq.

The real number, of course, is unknowable, since no one is on the ground counting the corpses, and the Defense Department has been loathe to issue casualty estimates in its bombing effort.

The issue has come up repeatedly as the White House insists that there is no military solution to the problem of the Islamic State. American officials have maintained that while they’re committed to the bombing campaign and the train and assist program in Iraq and Syria, the only way to defeat extremism is to engage communities and push for reconciliation between the warring sectarian factions.

When asked about the body count issue by FP, Pentagon spokeswoman Cdr. Elissa Smith said on June 3 that the number of fighters killed “is not a metric being used by this department as a measure of overall success.”

But sometimes the statistics are just too tempting to ignore. In January, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones created a stir when he estimated that about 6,000 jihadist fighters had been killed in airstrikes. And in March, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin told a congressional committee that by his estimate, airstrikes had killed about 8,500 fighters.

And now in June we’re up to 10,000, in a fight in which we’re not keeping a body count.

 

 

 

 

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