Situation Report: Big choices for the White House; anthrax officials under the microscope; Army takes to e-publishing; more moves at the NSC and more…
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Striking out. The White House faces a stark choice in the aftermath of the airstrikes that may have lead to the death of jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Libya last weekend, FP’s Sean Naylor writes in a biting analysis. “The opportunity will be to pummel the al-Mulathameen Brigade hard before ...
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
Striking out. The White House faces a stark choice in the aftermath of the airstrikes that may have lead to the death of jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Libya last weekend, FP’s Sean Naylor writes in a biting analysis. “The opportunity will be to pummel the al-Mulathameen Brigade hard before the group has had a chance to adapt to the loss of its inspirational leader. But first, the White House and its top military commanders at the Pentagon must decide whether to make crushing the group a priority.”
The choice is hardly a given once you consider the real limitations posed by the finite intelligence and strike resources that the U.S. government can bring against all of the thorny problems Washington faces from Syria to Yemen, and practically the entire swath of North Africa.
And the ultimate results of the Belmokhtar strike are still very much up in the air. The U.S. government says that it is still trying to confirm the jihadist’s death, while the Libyan government has already declared him dead. A Libyan jihadist group named seven of its fighters who were killed in the strike, but insists that Belmokhtar is still alive.
Separately, one jihadist we know is dead is al Qaeda’s No. 2 official, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who leads the group’s Yemen affiliate. Al Qaeda confirmed on Tuesday that he had been killed in a U.S. airstrike. A video released by the group said that Wuhayshi and two other militants were killed in the hit, and that their new guy in Yemen — with a U.S. target on his forehead — is jihadist Qassim al Rimi.
Naming names. When Pentagon investigators report back to Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work at the end of this month with their assessment of how a U.S. Army lab mistakenly sent live anthrax to dozens of labs around the world, someone, somewhere, will have to be held responsible.
The question is who?
The easiest answer would be to look at the managers running the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which over the past decade has sent potentially live anthrax samples to at least 69 labs in 19 states and Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and the U.K. A systemic failure that widespread, and that long in the making, means that there is plenty of blame to go around, and the failures are the work of more than just a handful of people.
That said, there are two people who have probably been pretty busy since the anthrax scandal broke last month. Atop the chain is Army Col. Ronald F. Fizer, who has run Dugway since 2010, or about half the time that the tainted samples have been shipped out.
Dugway is a big place, however, and there are several labs that handle biological and chemical agents. Dugway spokeswoman Sheryl Grubbs tells SitRep that the anthrax all came from the lab’s Life Sciences Division, which is run by Douglas Andersen, according to stories posted to Dugway’s website.
The Life Sciences division, by the way, is just about to finish construction on a $39 million, 41,000 square foot annex to test defenses against biological weapons, a facility that will more than double the size of the current site. There’s no word from the Pentagon as to exactly when the final report will be briefed to Work, or how much of it will be released to the public.
Good morning and welcome back to another edition of the Situation Report. We’re here all week! Pass along any tips, reports, or comments to email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Fuel to the fire
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James isn’t holding back during her time at the Paris Air Show this week, telling reporters that the U.S. could deploy a squadron of F-22 fighter jets to Europe as a counterweight to Russian fighter planes that are regularly buzzing NATO ships and harassing its aircraft. “I would say the biggest threat on my mind is what’s happening with Russia and the activities of Russia, and indeed that’s a big part of why I’m here in Europe and having those discussions,” James said. The Air Force has already sent more A-10s and F-15 fighters to Europe in recent months to fly with allies on training exercises and flex a bit of muscle. The F-22 was used for the first time in the air campaign against Syria last August, dropping munitions on targets and likely helping to jam the radar systems of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.
Who’s Where When
8:30 a.m. Singaporean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Law K. Shanmugam sits down with The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons to talk about Washington’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
2:30 p.m. U.S. Coast Guard skipper Adm. Paul F. Zukunft will discuss the Coasties’ new cyber strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi let us all know that U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper was in Baghdad on Monday for a series of meetings with Iraqi officials, thanks to his Twitter account and a snappy photo of the two men wearing what appears to be the exact same suit.
Beginning this fall, U.S. Marines will start hitching rides aboard European warships traveling around the Mediterranean, a result of the relative lack of U.S. amphibious shipping options, and the Corps’ desire to hook up with allies for some training exercises. They’ll ride aboard Spanish, French, Italian, British, and Dutch ships while seeing if the European boats can handle the weight and heat of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that the Marines now refuse to leave home without.
On the move
Dr. Philip Gordon has left his role at the White House’s National Security Council as coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, and has landed at the Albright Stonebridge Group consultancy. The firm says that he’ll work in both the Middle East and Europe practice areas.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is again urging caution in the U.S. response to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, telling the AP’s Bob Burns that “at this point I just don’t think we should be giving up on the government of Iraq and its ability to conduct this campaign, with our help, without [the U.S.] taking it over.”
Beirut’s move to arm itself with billions in military aid is taking shape, with Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel announcing on Monday that a recent spending spree to buy $462 million worth of missiles and aircraft from the U.S. will arrive by the end of next year. Moqbel also said that the second shipment of French weapons funded by a massive $3 billion Saudi grant would begin arriving in Beirut in the coming months.
A teenage North Korean soldier reportedly walked across the demilitarized zone Monday morning into South Korea, Reuters says. South Korea has not confirmed the reports.
While the signing of a memorandum between the U.S. Army and Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army has received scant press in the U.S., the China Daily reports that the agreement calls for joint exercises between the two ground forces as early as next year. But the usual caveats apply. A “Chinese military leader has warned Washington to be cautious in its words and deeds on key issues involving China’s territorial integrity.”
Tokyo continues to struggle with a proposal being pushed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reform the country’s defense posture, which would allow Japanese forces to take a more active role in the world and more closely partner with U.S. forces on missile defense, maritime security, and humanitarian missions. Japan’s Lower House Commision on the Constitution has decided that Abe’s plans to revise the constitution were unconstitutional. But the nation is still expected to pass legislation in August that puts Abe’s plans into action, reports Defense News.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Aram Nerguizian drops “The Military Balance in a Shattered Levant: Conventional Forces, Asymmetric Warfare & the Struggle for Syria.”
Rand’s Alan J. Vick brings us “Air Base Attacks and Defensive Counters,” which argues that the security that American air bases have enjoyed in recent years is rapidly slipping away as adversaries develop their own long-range and stealthy strike capabilities.
The Center for a New American Security’s Ilan Goldenberg has come out with “U.S. Strategy After the Iran Deal: Seizing Opportunities and Managing Risks.”
Take a minute over your coffee this morning to check out this stunning video of Marines storming the beach in Sweden, shot from the air as they come ashore.
And there’s a special treat for those of you who have been yearning to read some of the hottest U.S. Army doctrinal papers out there. The Big Green Machine has got you covered. The service recently converted most of its manuals and doctrine papers into e-book format, making it easy for young Strategic Corporals everywhere to annoy squadmates with their iPhones or Tablets.