$1.3 billion for training in Iraq, Syria; Desertion charge for Bergdahl?; A 401K for the troops?; Who is “General Mathis?”; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

The Obama administration will propose $1.3 billion for training Iraqi security forces and moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS. Defense One’s own Marcus Weisgerber tells us that the White House will propose spending increase “to levels not seen since 2012” in the $585 billion Pentagon budget request it will submit to Congress this Monday which will amount to the largest baseline budget in U.S. history. Weisgerber: “…The plan, like others submitted in recent years, will ignore federal spending caps by $34 billion in 2016 and $150 billion over the next five years, according to a source with knowledge of the proposal.

The budget will include $5.3 billion to continue airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, of which $1.3 billion is for training Iraqi Security Forces and moderate Syrian rebels. It also includes $42.5 billion for U.S. operations in Afghanistan next year – less than the $53.4 appropriated for fiscal 2015 – as the number of American forces is expected to decline below the roughly 10,000 soldiers there today.” Read the rest, with cool charts diving into the administration’s budget request, here. 

And Weisgerber also takes a closer look at the budget for the nearly 70,000 special operators under SOCOM’s watch: “That 1.6 percent figure referenced by Votel is the percentage of SOCOM’s 2015 base budget ($7.7 billion) when compared to DOD’s base budget ($496 billion). SOCOM received an additional $2.3 billion in 2015 war funding known as Overseas Contingency Operations. Overall, the Pentagon received about $64 billion in war funding. But SOCOM’s budget does not include two key factors, the cost of the nearly 70,000 special operation forces and major weapons…” Read the rest of that bit on Defense One, here.

Today, the chiefs head to Capitol Hill to talk sequestration. This morning at 9:30 in the Senate’s Dirksen 106, each of the chiefs will explain to the Senate Armed Services Committee how the Budget Control Act of 2011 affects their ability to train and prepare for and execute missions. We’ll hear SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain talk about how sequestration’s steep cuts to national defense “lack any strategic justification” at a time of “accumulating threats to U.S. national security.” And we’re told that McCain will argue against the notion that domestic politics should prevent adequate funding for the Defense Department.

From McCain’s opening statement this morning: “…[T]here are still those that say, ‘Never fear. The sky didn’t fall under sequestration.’ What a tragically low standard for evaluating the wisdom of government policy. The impacts of sequestration will not always be immediate or obvious. But the sky doesn’t need to fall for military readiness to be eroded, for military capabilities to atrophy, or for critical investments in maintaining American military superiority to delayed, cut, or cancelled. These will be the results of sequestration’s quiet and cumulative disruptions that are every bit as dangerous for our national security…”

McCain will have a sympathetic audience among the service chiefs. Each of them – Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Marine Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford – are expected to lay out how sequestration has reduced their ability to maintain troop and equipment readiness over the last few years and how the demands on each of the services already go beyond what’s called the Defense Strategic Guidance document, the foundation for current U.S. defense policy.

The Chiefs still have a difficult argument to make, since many in Congress, which passed the BCA in 2011, are leery of defense spending and believe the wars are over and a peace dividend is in order. The question becomes can the Pentagon reframe the debate over sequestration and re-establish its credibility on the issue with lawmakers.

The quote McCain’s office highlighted from yesterday’s hearing from Jim Mattis: “No foe could wreak such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving.”

Meantime, are Pentagon planners responding to the evolving ISIS/Russia threat matrix that materialized since last year’s quadrennial defense review? CNAS’ Paul Scharre writes in WOTR about five items to look out for in the upcoming Pentagon budget to answer that question. That over here.

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Amman is ready to swap an Iraqi would-be suicide bomber captured in 2005 for the Jordanian pilot ISIS captured late last year. But there’s so far been no mention of any exchange for Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, despite reports to the contrary from Arabic Saraya News. AP this hour, here.

Hezbollah claims to have been behind an anti-tank missile that struck an IDF vehicle along the border with Lebanon, seriously wounding nearly 9 soldiers. NYTs Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, here.

The EU is considering a terrorist designation for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. RFERL’s Rikard Jozwiak and Carl Schreck from Brussels, here.

AFRICOM’s Gen. David Rodriguez said a full-scale counterinsurgency plan across four countries would be needed to turn the tide against Boko Haram. Defense One’s Kevin Baron and Molly O’Toole report R4’s visit yesterday at CSIS and from Capitol Hill: “’I think it’s going to take a huge international and multinational effort there to change the trajectory,’ Rodriguez said… [Nigeria’s] military is made up of some 90,000 active duty and 20-25,000 reserve components – ‘For a country of 180 million people, that’s disproportionately small,’ said Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center… ‘Boko Haram has led ISIS the last three years in atrocities…It puzzles me to this day that Boko Haram does not get the attention that ISIS has … Paris got way more attention than the people of Baga ever did, even though the destruction of Baga was an extinction-level event.’” That here.

Meantime, today there is a hail and farewell for Hagel even though he’s not leaving just yet. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey all host a farewell ceremony for outgoing SecDef Chuck Hagel today at 4 p.m. at Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Secretary of State John Kerry, other senior administration officials and lawmakers are all expected to attend along with combatant commanders, service chiefs and “Hagel alumni,” including those with whom Hagel served in Vietnam, we’re told. Today’s ceremony will include a  19-gun salute and Hagel’s final review of the troops.

In recent days, Hagel, who relishes surprise visits around the Pentagon – including in his first days in office – has been trotting around the building to thank folks. He’s made stops in the mailroom, the loading dock and to see Pentagon police officers on watch. Check out the photos of his Pentagon Walk Arounds, here.

And here’s a retrospective of Hagel’s tenure in the Pentagon since he arrived in February 2013, here.

Though his big ceremony is today, Hagel is expected to remain in office until his successor, likely Ash Carter, is confirmed. The announcement of Carter’s confirmation hearing was made official yesterday for next Wednesday, Feb. 4; he could be confirmed very shortly thereafter, even by the end of next week.

Who else is doing what today? SOCOM acquisition executive “Hondo” Guerts speaks at the Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition at 8 a.m. …Deputy SecDef Bob Work talks the Pentagon’s offset strategy at an event hosted by CNAS and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation at DC’s Willard InterContinental Hotel Ballroom at 11:30 a.m.

On the Hill: All service chiefs have a 9:30 a.m. hearing on sequestration with the Senate Armed Services Committee… the House Armed Services Committee hears about the Pentagon’s effort to keep pace with changes in tech—Frank Kendall and Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay of the Joint Staff are slated to begin testimony at 9:30 a.m. … Senate Judiciary hears the nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general at 10 a.m. … the House Committee on Veterans Affairs examines “the cost and quality of VA care” at 10:15 a.m. … and the Senate Homeland Security Committee talks cyber protection and information sharing at 2:30 p.m.

Social media companies need to step up their counterterrorist propaganda game. Former Ambassador to the U.N. and current CEO of the Counter Extremism Project Mark Wallace called on social media companies to take a more active role in preventing extremists from using their platforms to radicalize, recruit and incite violence during a hearing on the evolution of terrorist propaganda yesterday before the HFAC Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonprofileration, and Trade. A copy of his testimony can be found here.

A long-awaited report proposing big changes to military compensation is set for a Thursday release, and Andrew Tilghman previews the findings for Military Times: “The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will propose detailed legislation to phase out the current 20-year cliff-vesting pension payable immediately upon leaving service…The plan calls for Congress to create a hybrid system that includes a smaller defined-benefit pension along with more cash-based benefits and lump-sum payments. A significant portion of troops’ retirement benefits would come in the form of government contributions to 401(k)-style investment accounts…” More here.

Here’s the Center for New American Security’s Philip Carter and Katherine Kidde’s “primer” on the compensation reform issue, here.

Meantime, the good kind of spotlight: Former Navy PAO and wounded veteran Karen Jeffries has just been highlighted by the largest volunteer organization, Points of Light, for her work linking wounded vets with therapy and service dogs through her work leading Veterans Moving Forward. Read all about Karen’s work with VMF, here.

Hey, mil peeps with one foot out the door: Keep in mind the very real possibility that you will work harder for your Next Job outside of the uniform, Army National Guard aviation officer Mike Denny writes over at Task & Purpose, here.

Cyber’s profile is rising: Recruiting firm Benchmark Executive Search just added five new members to its National Security and Cyber Advisory Board—including former commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command, retired Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez. More about the board and its new members, here.

Michelle Obama, unveiled. In Saudi Arabia. For the ceremony for King Abdullah, there was a little bit about the fact that the First Lady did not wear a veil in a country where women typically wear niqabs. Not Mrs. Obama. More on that here.

And did a Saudi TV station blur Mrs. Obama’s face initially? Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin on that bit, here.  

Watch three-and-a-half minutes of Shiite militiamen of the Badr Organization fighting ISIS, from Vocativ’s Lindsey Snell and Jake Simkin dodging sniper fire in Iraq’s Diyala province, here.

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, members of the SASC tried to establish concerns about global threats and invited heavyweights, who said the White House has been “strategy free” for awhile. U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman: “An absence of clear policies from the White House makes it impossible for the U.S. to achieve any sort of victory in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region, according to three former top military officers who oversaw recent wars there. ‘[We need to] come out from our reactive crouch and take a firm, strategic stance in defense of our values,’ retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis said to Congress Tuesday morning. ‘America needs a refreshed national security strategy,’ he added, saying that it must look beyond the string of crisis “currently consuming the executive branch.’

“The notoriously blunt combat commander and former head of U.S. Central Command was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside retired Navy Adm. William Fallon, also a former CentCom chief, and former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane.” More here.

Enough careful stepping: Former DIA chief Mike Flynn says it’s time the Obama administration stop avoiding the term “Islamic militants” and treat ISIS like it did the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Daily Beast’s Kim Dozier: “[Flynn] said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy… “There are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity…Retreat, retrenchment, and disarmament are historically a recipe for disaster.’” Read the rest here.

Former CENTCOM Commander Johnny Matthis, er, Jim Mattis, testified yesterday before the SASC. But to anyone listening in the audience, it sounded as if Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, pronounced it “Matthis,” as in Johnny. It’s like someone who pronounces “Massachusetts” as “Massachusess,” or the senators who call Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno “General Odare-no.”

The Army’s Mark Milley will decide to charge Bowe Bergdahl with desertion, NBC reported yesterday, causing a full court press from the Pentagon. NBC’s longtime Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported Tuesday morning that the general officer who will determine Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s fate, Gen. Mark Milley of the Army’s Forces Command, will charge Bergdahl with desertion. Bergdahl wandered off his base in Afghanistan in 2009, was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before the Obama Administration negotiated to swap him for five detainees from Gitmo. NBC’s story, likely true, isn’t yet true – NBC emphasized that Milley will charge Bergdahl, but hasn’t necessarily yet. The Pentagon, struggling to ensure that “command influence” or other factors don’t undermine justice for Bergdahl, said no decision has been made.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, attempting to “put a fork in this right now” for reporters:  “No decision has been made with respect to the case of Sergeant Bergdahl. None. And there is no timeline to make that decision. And General Milley is not being put under any pressure to make a decision, either way. It’s certainly not on any timeline. So, I just want to make that very clear.”

Meantime, researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory may have found a way to help thwart Chinese and North Korean hackers notoriously fond of malware as an attack tactic. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more on the “program that can read malware’s mind,” here.

While racing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu may have backed himself into a corner in his relations with the White House, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes: “Faced with this conundrum—an American president who he believes is willing to strike a flawed deal with Iran—Netanyahu has made the second-worst choice he could make. He has not attacked Iran, which is good—an Israeli attack holds the promise of disaster—but… Netanyahu chose to make a desperate-seeming end-run around the president and attempted to appeal directly to Congress to oppose a decision Obama has not yet made.” More here.

Joe Dougherty leaves RAND for Lockheed. Dougherty, a media relations officer at RAND, is leaving Friday for Lochkeed Martin, where he’ll be handling media relations for the firm’s Littoral Combat Ship program. 

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