Situation Report: Chinese generals come to the Pentagon; Iraqi forces stop showing up for training; turnover at Pentagon continues; and lots more
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
He’s kind of a big deal. One of China’s top military officials, Gen. Fan Changlong, arrived in the United States on Monday for a weeklong trip that will culminate in the full red carpet treatment at the Pentagon.
But while Fan’s public welcome from Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday may be warm, U.S. officials say that behind closed doors, the gloves are going to come off. Carter plans to again deliver the message that Washington doesn’t like the land reclamation efforts that China is undertaking in the South China Sea. During the Shangri-La security conference in Singapore last week, Carter said that “turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty,” or allow a country to push air or maritime borders outward. It was a rebuke to Chinese claims that a rock is an island, and an island is sovereign territory.
But the Chinese delegation will be busy doing things other than ignoring American objections to their policy. They’ll head to San Diego to tour the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and check out the Naval Station North Island and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. They’ll also stop by Fort Hood in Texas, and it’s believed Fan will tour a Boeing factory in Seattle.
Wait, where is everybody? Several hundred U.S. soldiers and Marines at al Asad air base in Iraq are standing by, ready to train some Iraq soldiers. But those Iraqi troops have stopped showing up, leaving the Americans all alone at the sprawling base. FP’s John Hudson, Lara Jakes and Paul McLeary report that across Iraq, there seem to be more U.S. trainers than recruits, with only 2,600 Iraqi soldiers currently receiving training from about 3,000 U.S. military personnel.
While the training has dried up, at the G-7 summit in Germany, President Barack Obama maintained that the United States and its allies must speed up the training of the Iraqi security forces….even, presumably, if they aren’t showing up.
The Situation Report is caffeinated, fed, and ready to go. Unlike some other folks at the Pentagon, we’re staying put, and are always willing to jaw a bit. Try it out at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.
On the Move
One of the Pentagon’s top spokesmen is switching out, and his replacement is from a different service. U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren is set to step down later this month, and FP has heard he will be replaced by Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, who is currently the spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). No hard date just yet on when Warren is stepping down, but the move should come before the July 4 holiday. Davis has been at NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command since 2012, running its public affairs shop — which includes the critical Santa tracker — after a career spent mostly in Hawaii and Japan, or working on Asia-related issues at the Pentagon.
Next up is naming a spokesperson for Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who has been without one since Rear Admiral John Kirby was shown the door just days after Carter took office in mid-February. Kirby has since hung up his uniform and headed over to the State Department, where he’s delivering the message for John Kerry.
Also on the move is now-former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey, who has vacated the office he occupied since 2012 for the National Defense University in Washington. FP has learned that his possible replacement is currently being “vetted,” but until then, Cara Abercrombie will serve in the role. Abercrombie had served as former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s special assistant for defense policy, after spending time as the department’s South Asia director.
For anyone old enough to remember last week when anthrax was the biggest story around, we’re now up to 66 labs in 19 states and Washington, D.C. that were sent live anthrax spores from a U.S. Army laboratory in Dugway, Utah. There are still potentially hundreds more labs that are undergoing testing. The number of foreign countries — South Korea, Australia, and Canada — holds strong at three. Still no word on any possible firings or disciplinary action against the managers or employees of the Dugway facility.
Will the Islamic State launch a Ramadan offensive? The Muslim holiday runs from June 17 to July 17 this year, and the Institute for the Study of War reminds us that for the past three years, the Islamic State – like its predecessor al Qaeda in Iraq – has really stepped up the violence during the month-long observance.
Just before the explosive New York Times report on the history of SEAL Team 6 came out last weekend, the Congressional Research Service released an interesting little report on some of the policy and budgetary issues that the Navy’s special operators present Congress in working through the 2016 defense budget.
The Business of Defense
Huntington Ingalls Industries has been awarded a whopping $4.29 billion in contracts to build a new aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, amid promises for improved cost performance over the Navy’s last flattop, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which saw its price tag swell 23 percent from an estimate of $10.5 billion in 2008 to $12.9 billion by time its construction wrapped up, writes Sam LaGrone writes for USNI News. The Kennedy is expected to split the difference, weighing in at $11.35 billion.
That over-budget carrier build has been one of Senate Armed Services chair Sen. John McCain’s hobby horses for years in railing against a string of Pentagon acquisition disasters.
One other thing that likely won’t sit well with the senator from Arizona is the fact that the Navy is planning to pull one carrier out of the Middle East temporarily for a month or two this fall. The move will leave just one carrier in the Persian Gulf, as opposed to the two that have patrolled the waters for much of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy officials have said that long deployments and delayed maintenance programs due to budgetary issues are making the move necessary, but that two carriers should be back in action in the region come winter.
Bipartisan duo Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced a measure Monday authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The two said their plan, which would sunset in three years and repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), would be a “starting point for debate” in trying to get the White House and Congress to agree on a law that would govern Washington’s fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The White House sent over draft AUMF language in February, but both sides of the aisle said it wasn’t good enough. That doc would repeal the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War while leaving in place the vaguely-worded 2001 AUMF that allows the president to conduct “enduring offensive ground combat operations” against terrorist targets.
Staying true to his word, Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari is moving his army’s headquarters to the northern town of Maiduguri — close to the center of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, the BBC reports.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s advances — and potential retaliatory attacks by Islamic State — are making some people a little nervous. The Lebanon Daily Star reports that there’s “a flurry of internal political activity aimed at confronting a possible wave of terrorism that might strike Lebanon.”
And you thought the U.S. Army’s “dragoon rides” through Eastern Europe were cool. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Monday released some dramatic pictures of 10 of its heavy lift helicopters and gunships in the middle of a four-day, 2,000 kilometer trip from one base to another in China. We don’t really know why they did it, other than to prove that it could be done.
Who’s Where When
12:30 p.m. Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba will speak about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East at the Stimson Center.
Oh, man. Netflix has signed up Brad Pitt to play former Gen. Stanley McChrystal in a “satirical” film due out late next year called War Machine. In a line that we don’t think would leave the lips of anyone anywhere near a JSOC arm patch, the movie has been described as “a rip-roaring, behind-the-facade tale of modern war decision-makers, from the corridors of power to the distant regions of America’s ambitions,” by Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.