The D Brief: A major attack in Pakistan; A giant drone-hunting blimp; What kind of a general are you?; Behind the music on the CIA briefing; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold and Ben Watson

December 16, 2014

While you were sleeping: More than 100 people were killed, mostly children, and perhaps as many were wounded in Pakistan in a Taliban attack at a school in what was described as “one of the bloodiest attacks in recent years.”  It’s a reflection of the Taliban’s enduring capability to stage sensational attacks as the U.S. and Pakistan begin to work closer together against a common enemy. “…Hundreds of students remained trapped inside the compound as security forces exchanged fire with the gunmen, officials said.

…The siege started Tuesday morning around 10 a.m. when at least five to six heavily armed Taliban gunmen entered Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. More here.

CNN: Hours after the attack, Pakistani troops were still exchanging gunfire with the militants inside the Army Public School and Degree College in the violence-plagued city of Peshawar, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the country's capital, Islamabad… By around 4 p.m. (6 a.m. ET), the Pakistani military had pushed the attackers back to four blocks of the school, military spokesman Gen. Asim BajwaI tweeted. BajwaI added a short time later that five assailants had been killed.

It was unclear, by then, how many of the military school's hundreds of students were still inside — and how many were dead and alive.” More here.

Polling from the “graveyard of empires”: In 2007, 76 percent of active duty troops told Military Times the U.S. was either “very—“ or “somewhat likely” to succeed in Afghanistan. Today, that number is just 23 percent according to a new poll. Andrew Tilghman for Military Times: “Pessimism about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has grown steadily during the past several years, and today a majority of the force thinks the war's aims were unfulfilled…

For the troops who deployed there repeatedly, the shifting goals became confusing… most troops disagree with those defense experts on the value of staying in Afghanistan. In the Military Times survey, only 28 percent of active-duty troops say the U.S. should maintain a troop presence there beyond 2016.” More here.

The Afghanistan war has cost the US taxpayer nearly $1 trillion, says Financial Times' Geoff Dyer and Chloe Sorvino, adding, “The future bill from the Afghan war is likely to run into hundreds of billions of dollars more.” Read that here.

During the Cold War, special operations were a sideshow. America’s war in Afghanistan changed that. Drew Brooks writes about the SOF mission in Afghanistan for The Fayetteville Observer, here.

Just this morning, SIGAR released two letters raising concerns about the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations – the Pentagon’s arm to promote economic stability and security. Here are two letters that, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, discuss allegations related to TFBSO practices involving “imprudent spending, profligate travel by employees and contractors and possible mismanagement.” In a second letter being released this morning, SIGAR addresses safety concerns pertaining to a natural gas pipeline in northern Afghanistan.

The letter from SIGAR to Hagel, here and to Hagel and Pentagon Policy Chief Wormuth, here.

Jack Fairweather’s new book, “The Good War” just got a great review in the Sunday Times where reviewer Max Hastings wrote: “… no British officer should be allowed to board a plane for our next war until he has read Fairweather's account of how we messed up the last one." Just this morning, War on the Rocks just posted an excerpt of The Good War, here. The review of the book in The Sunday Times, here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, Defense One's new, first-read national security newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or send us a holler at glubold@defenseone.com. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you'll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

Coming this weekend to the Capital: NORAD’s giant “drone-hunting” blimp. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker with more: “The system includes a 242-foot balloon (technically called an aerostat because it’s connected to the ground) that can stay up for a month at a time and a radar to detect — among other potential threats— drones… Why might a blimp (er…aerostat) be the answer? Altitude. The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, will fly at 10,000 feet, which allows radar waves to travel farther without running trees, buildings, etc. That enables one JLENS aerostat to effectively cover an enormous area.”

Also in Defense One: Outgoing Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma blocked the unanimous consent that the bill needed to pass. Overcoming Coburn’s move would take several days of Senate procedural maneuvering—and already much of the chamber is set to recess as early as today. Said Coburn on the Senate floor: “I’m going to be objecting to this bill because it actually throws money away… I object, not because I don’t want to save suicides, but because I don’t think this bill will do the first thing to change what’s happening.”

Almost immediately after coming off the floor, Coburn spoke to Defense One’s Molly O’Toole: "The very claim of this bill we’re gonna let outsiders, a third party, determine whether the VA [is doing its job]— that’s our job! And if we’re not gonna do our job of holding the VA accountable, you’ll see the VA just exactly back where it was."

As for his hopes for lawmakers moving forward, he responded: "I think nothing changes in Washington until Americans stop sending career politicians here. That’s my answer to that."

VA Secretary Bob McDonald released a statement yesterday in support of the so-called “suicide prevention” bill, the Clay Hunt SAV Act. McDonald’s statement, via Military Times’ Leo Shane III, here.

Also in Defense One: The Senate Armed Services Committee just added three post-9/11 vets to its roster, and Defense One’s Molly O’Toole has a bit more on the broader game of committee musical chairs, here

The siege at the chocolate shop in Sydney ended with commandos killing three, including the hostage taker and two hostages. The crisis leaves a number of questions about terrorism given the black Islamic flag he made hostages put up in the window, but while he had a history of extremism, there were no clear links to organized extremism. This might be one of those times where it was three parts criminal act, one part terrorism. The BBC here.

Who’s doing what today? Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James is scheduled to take part in an online “town hall” meeting from Fort Meade’s Defense Media Activity. We’re told James is planning to give the Air Force’s 2014 year in review and “insight into the way forward as it relates to various subjects to include force management, readiness, modernization and the budget.” James (@SecAF23) will field questions from a live studio audience and via Twitter by using the hashtag #SecAFChat. Look for that streaming live at about 10 a.m. at defense.gov/live or af.mil. … President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security team later this afternoon in the Situation Room to talk threats to the U.S. during the holidays.

Also happening today: Former ambassador Ryan Crocker will be talking foreign policy at the Stimson Center beginning at noon; RSVP for that here… and the Army Capabilities and Integration Center’s director, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, drops in at CSIS at 1 p.m. to talk about what lies ahead for the Army; RSVP here, or catch the livestream over here.

The good folks at the Council on Foreign Relations just released their seventh-annual survey of escalating threats facing U.S. policy makers, called the Preventive Priorities Survey: 2015. “Of ten high-priority contingencies, respondents rated only one—the Iraq crisis—as both highly probable and highly consequential.” Read the rest, here.

Speaking of think tanks, here’s an odd one about a fake think tank out of Europe that pushes out hawkish takes on Russian foreign policy. The org is called the Center for Eurasian Strategic Intelligence (CESI), and Anton Shekovtsov of the Russia-to-English translation site The Interpreter poked around and found more than enough for a decent John le Carré b-plot. More here.

You have time for a short quiz, right? It’s the Buzzfeed kind, so of course you do. Find out which post-9/11 general you are via the military blog We Are the Mighty, here.

Are the results of the Bowe Bergdahl report being slow-rolled? The WaPo’s Dan Lamothe: “Six months after the military began an investigation into the disappearance of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his capture by the Taliban, which held him for five years, the results remain under wraps as senior Army officials determine what to do next…”

Rep. Duncan Hunter spox Kasper on the report: “Even though the process for investigating permits delays, there’s no reasonable excuse for the amount of time this has taken… Secretary McHugh should be motivated to get this done, but at this point he’s shown he’s committed to sitting on the investigation, which will get no complaints from the administration.” More here.

The NYT declares that Iraq’s Abadi has slowly won a victory – and narrowed the nation’s divide. Some in the U.S. aren’t yet convinced that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to begin meaningful work on the Sunni-Shiite divide. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that Abadi is no Maliki. The NYT’s Tim Arango has this today, here.

The closest thing to a reporter embedding in this war so far: The NYT’s Eric Schmitt aboard the carrier Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf, with this story of how “danger mixes with boredom on six hour sorties to support Iraqi troops.” Read that bit here.

On torture, most Americans say if it walks like a duck, it is a duck. But they’re also torn. A new CBS poll shows that 69 percent of Americans consider waterboarding to be torture, while 49 percent think aggressive interrogation tactics – like waterboarding – are sometimes justified. On the flip side, 36 percent of Americans think that aggressive tactics are not justified.  The new CBS poll, here.

 Go behind the scenes at last week’s rare CIA presser that AFP’s Dan De Luce says the briefing had all the tension of an anxious and uncertain wedding: “Many of us had been inside the building before, but never in such conditions. For occasional intelligence briefings, a small number of reporters are given access to officials who cannot be quoted by name, and there are no live television feeds…

Unlike a typical press conference at the White House or the State Department, the first few rows were cordoned off for CIA officials. ‘A buffer zone,’ in the words of one journalist… Allowing news cameras inside its headquarters was strong gesture towards openness – but it was also clear the transparency would only go so far. After the event my photographer colleague, Jim, had to show all of his photos to his minder. She nixed four of them.” More here.

Former CIA-er Lindsay Moran, in Politico, about the book she wishes she’d written, here.

The sheer speed of the way in which the CIA hired two contractors for their experience in “nonstandard” interrogation raises questions about the agency process that led to its policy on torture. The behind-the-music on the hiring of James Mitchell, a former Air Force explosives expert, and later on, his partner, Bruce Jessen, also an Air Force officer, who “designed, led and directed the interrogations and became the prime advocates for what is now widely considered to have been torture.” The NYT’s James Risen and Matt Apuzzo on Page One: “…In the process, they made tens of millions of dollars under contracts that their critics within the C.I.A. warned at the time gave them financial incentives to repeatedly use the most brutal techniques. The C.I.A. has said it hired Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen because their experience… But the government’s own experts favored the traditional approach to questioning prisoners. And the Senate report makes clear that the speed with which Mr. Mitchell was brought into the program — less than 24 hours elapsed between the time his name was floated and that first cable — meant there was no time to analyze whether his approach was best.” More here.

The State Department went dark yesterday from a power outage. Also hit: the Federal Reserve, GSA, OPM, Labor, FDIC, Park Police… AP, here.

A bad day for Marines even if this has nothing to do with them: One Marine has been charged with killing a transgender woman in the Philippines. From AFP: “…Prosecutors found probable cause against Pvt. First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton and decided that he used ‘treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty’ against his alleged victim.” More here.

…And the search is on for another Marine after the killing of six near Philly. “A manhunt is underway for a former Marine reservist who prosecutors say went on a shooting spree early Monday killing six family members, including his ex-wife, and wounding a teen in three towns across Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.” More here.

Monday morning analysis after the Cromnibus: Congress reworked 10 percent of the Pentagon’s procurement budget. Defense News’ Paul McLeary and Brad Peniston: “Congressional committees tweaked nearly 10 percent of the money that the Pentagon requested for its fiscal year 2015 appropriations accounts before the ‘cromnibus’ spending bill was passed on Dec. 11 — resulting in $4.4 billion in additional procurement and research and development projects — an analysis of the budget shows. Of the 812 budget lines for procurement appropriations — as tallied by VisualDoD — lawmakers added $6.9 billion to 60 programs while taking money away from 229 other programs, for a total cut of $2.9 billion. Overall, that works out to a net $4 billion increase in funding over what the White House and Pentagon had originally asked for earlier in the year.” More here.

Ash Carter may have just been handed his first big “affordability problem” at the Pentagon. The Navy’s plan to replace its Ohio-class nuclear subs is on path to cost $23 billion more than initial estimates, a review from the Congressional Budget Office shows. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, here.

…And, Carter is under no illusions about the security dynamics at play in the Asia-Pacific, where the Pentagon will continue to deliver on the president’s multi-faceted pivot to the region, argues Iraq and Afghan war veteran Adam Tiffen, now with the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.

So here at The D Brief, we’re all about “ICYMIs.” – that’s In Case You Missed Its – items that might not be in the here and now but are nonetheless interesting. But yesterday’s was admittedly a bit of a stretch – we ran an item from about how the U.S. had just promoted its first Vietnamese-American to become a general. But Brig. Gen. Viet Luong’s promotion and the item we ran about it was actually in August. Apologies for the confusion. Here’s the item again just in case you’re still interested, though, here.


By Gordon Lubold and Ben Watson // Gordon Lubold is a senior military writer for Defense One. Before that, he was a senior national security writer for Foreign Policy magazine and foreignpolicy.com, where he launched and authored the widely-read Situation Report newsletter, sent to 150,000 readers in the foreign policy and national security community each day. Prior to that, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he writes on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular “Morning Defense” early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including CNN, MSNBC, CSPAN and others, and radio programs such as “Diane Rehm" and “To the Point,” a syndicated broadcast on NPR. // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge.

December 16, 2014

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2014/12/d-brief-dec-16/101331/