The D Brief: Pentagon is hamstrung, Work: making a better Pentagon budget; No rose colored glasses for Hagel; A new film on Blackwater; The NSA’s creeping problem; And a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
The Pentagon is hamstrung when it comes to sending trainers to Iraq—until Congress strokes the check. Last week, the Pentagon announced that up to 1,500 trainers would go to Iraq to help train, equip and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in another turn in the American effort to bolster the Iraqis capability. But nothing will happen until Congress acts, the Pentagon’s Comptroller, Mike McCord, told Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio in an interview: “We can’t get started in any meaningful way on these train-and-equip programs without new funding and authority.”
Capaccio: “The $1.6 billion is ‘the most time-sensitive’ part of a $5.6 billion request that President Barack Obama made last week to fight Islamic State extremists, McCord said. While the president has the power as commander-in-chief to deploy American troops, paying for them to train the forces of other nations is another matter, McCord said.
‘It’s either you have the authority or you don’t,’ McCord said. ‘If you don’t have some legislative authority, we are very hamstrung.’ The Defense Department has more budget flexibility to fund U.S. operations overseas than it does when American dollars are used to train foreign troops, such as Syrian rebels and Iraqi and Kurdish forces, McCord said. Read the rest here.
Meantime, the Pentagon’s No. 2, Bob Work, laid out how budget caps are not good for the military, but in a speech at CSIS yesterday, he focused on something on which he can actually have an impact: improving the way the Pentagon makes its budget.” Defense One's Marcus Weisgerber sat in: “[Work] gave a glimpse into how he plans to change the way DOD actually makes its budget, a tedious 18-month process that in Work’s eyes has ‘kind of blended together.’ ‘We need to try to get back to more regular order in the process,’ Work said.
That is why Work is trying to bring his part of the process – inside the Pentagon – back under control. So why is this important? The process guides Pentagon planners who decide how to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
In recent years, the budget development process has been turned on its head. Morale, Pentagon sources say, is at an all-time low among these employees. And Work wants to change that.”
How the GOP plans to thwart Iran talks, Politico’s Mike Crowley and Burgess Everett, here.
Why Congress should pass a new AUMF now, by Third Way’s Peter Billerbeck and Mieke Eoyang, here.
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In Defense One: The NSA has a creeping PR problem on its hands. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports on the latest findings from a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, which “also suggests that those members of congress looking to reign in NSA powers through passage of the stalled USA Freedom Act, may have political cover to do so, especially now that the midterm elections are over.”
Also in Defense One: Are America’s Minuteman III nukes moving to a mobile platform? Ploughshares Fund’s Tom Collina and Jacob Marx updates the budgetary problems swamping the Air Force and entire U.S. nuclear triad, for Defense One.
It’s official: Moscow’s down for some good ol’ Cold War saber-rattling as a fresh set of tanks move into Ukraine. Carol J. Williams for the LA Times: “In response to NATO's "anti-Russia inclinations," the Kremlin will resume its Cold War-era practice of sending long-range bombers to patrol the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, Russia's defense minister announced Wednesday… ‘In the current situation, we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico,’ [Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu told the council, which composed of the armed forces chiefs of staff, representatives of government security agencies and civilian defense officials.” More here.
Russia says it has stopped paying attention to the “regular blasts of hot air” from NATO’s Gen. Breedlove. David M. Herszenhorn for the NYT. The Russian response to Breedlove: “‘We have stressed repeatedly that there have never been and there are no facts behind the regular blasts of hot air from Brussels regarding the supposed presence of Russian armed forces in Ukraine,’” adding, “‘We have stopped paying attention to NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove’s unfounded statements alleging that he observed Russian military convoys invading Ukraine.’” More here.
This morning, Chuck Hagel and Marty Dempsey appear before the House Armed Services Committee to talk Islamic State and the war in Iraq and Syria. Defense Secretary Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey appear this morning at 10 am.
No Rose Colored Glasses: The D Brief was told this morning by a defense official that Hagel intends to “staunchly defend the administration's strategy to battle ISIL and to demonstrate the progress we and our partners are making. He will note the challenges that remain, of course. There's no rose-colored glasses here. But he will make clear that ISIL is neither invincible nor invisible.”
Also today: Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Alan Estevez and Vice Admiral Mark Harnitchek, Defense Logistics Agency testify before the House Armed Services Committee Oversight and Investigations committee on the 1033 program and the militarization of police at 4 p.m. in Rayburn… Commanding General, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick hosts a media roundtable on the topic of "USACE Response to Climate Change" at 1 p.m. at 441 G Street N.W. in D.C… Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Mike Lumpkin, Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs (Africa) Maj. Gen. James Lariviere and Joint Staff Surgeon Maj. Gen. Nadja West testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on "Combating Ebola in West Africa: The International Response" at 10 a.m… And Air Force Secretary Debbie James is the keynote speaker at the Lexington Institute today, where she will be discussing the strategic framework of the Air Force.
Speaking of Ebola: the U.S. is reducing the estimates for the number of troops it will need for the Ebola mission, from up to 4,000 to up to 3,000. Read that by the Military Times’ Patty Kime, here.
So the White House finally pulled the plug on the Jo Ann Rooney nomination for the Navy’s undersecretary. It was long suspected that this would happen but it wasn’t until, at the bottom of a White House email yesterday that it actually did. Fourteen months had gone by after she was first nom’ed, but the Senate would not confirm her. From Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “A defense source said the Obama administration is considering others for the position since it has become clear the Senate had no interest in confirming Rooney, a two-time college president who served as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness in 2011 and 2012. A new nominee for the Navy undersecretary position was not immediately announced.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had placed a hold Rooney’s nomination after the two clashed over Rooney’s position that rape and sexual assault should be prosecuted in the military’s chain of command. After several months, Gillibrand lifted the hold, but Rooney’s nomination went nowhere. Rooney also clashed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., soon expected to become the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, during the hearing. ‘I will not be supporting your nomination,’ he had said.
Defense News’ Chris Cavas has been covering this like the dew covers Dixie, and indeed wrote in October that Rooney’s nom would not go to a vote.
The writer of the film “The Hurt Locker,” Nicolas Chartier, announced he’s working on a biopic about Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Variety with more, here.
The military’s “brass ceiling” is not gone yet, and America’s servicewomen deserve better, says Marine Corps officer and infantryman Greg Jacob of the Service Women’s Action Network writing in Defense One.
How America’s shrinking Army means a lot of soldiers are feeling betrayed these days. The NYT’s Dave Phillips in Fayetteville, N.C.: “…The cuts have largely come through attrition and reductions in recruiting, and have, so far, mostly affected low-ranking enlisted soldiers who have served only a few years. But this summer, the cuts fell on officers as well, 1,188 captains and 550 majors, many who were clearly intending on making a career of the military. More are expected to lose their jobs next year.
“And for reasons the Army has not explained, the largest group of officers being pushed out — nearly one in five — began as enlisted soldiers.” More of the Times story here.
Doctrine Man pitched 20 questions to “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” co-author Joe Galloway. It’s a great interview you’ll be glad you took the time to read, here.
Take a closer look at the new Army Operating Concept with research analyst from Belvoir’s Center for Army Analysis Joshua Jones writing in War on the Rocks, here.
Iraq’s Abadi, in his first significant move to shape Iraqi forces, replaces 36 commanders. The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick in Baghdad: “…Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement late Wednesday that he was removing the 36 commanders and installing 18 others to promote professionalism and ‘combat corruption.’ The names were not disclosed, but Iraqis briefed on the plan said those replaced included the chief of ground forces, the military chief of staff and the commander of operations in Anbar Province — one of the crucial areas overrun by the Islamic State.” More here.
State clears the way for weapon sales to Iraq. From Defense One’s own Marcus Weisgerber, to The D Brief: “The State Department cleared two weapon sales to Iraq totaling almost $700 million on Wednesday, one for laser-guided missiles and the other a massive tank and vehicle logistics deal. The $600 million logistics arrangement includes support for M1A1 Abrams tanks, Heavy Equipment Tactical Trucks, Humvees, self-propelled howitzer and machine guns. State also approved a $97 million sale of 2,000 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems. The laser-guided missiles built by BAE Systems. The Iraqi Ministry of Defence still needs to finalize the sale.
But Kurdish leaders want more weapons. The WaPo’s Missy Ryan: “Kurdish leaders in Iraq have quietly expanded a request to Washington for sophisticated arms and protective equipment to battle the Islamic State, but American officials have so far rebuffed the appeals out of concerns about defying the Iraqi government, according to Kurdish officials.” More here.
Syria is increasingly dominating Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy, and officials are sending mixed signals about a possible revision. CNN’s Elise Labott: “President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, senior U.S. officials and diplomats tell CNN. The review is a tacit admission that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take the group's fighters on in Syria, without also focusing on the removal of al-Assad, was a miscalculation.
“Meanwhile, other sources denied to CNN that Obama has ordered a review, but admit there is concern about some core aspects of the strategy. A senior administration official, responding to a CNN report, says there is an ongoing discussion and ‘constant process of recalibration.’” More here.
More from Marcus on foreign sales: The Royal Australia Air Force plans to add up to four more Boeing C-17 cargo planes to its fleet of six aircraft. The U.S. State Department cleared the $1.6 billion sale on Wednesday. “The proposed sale of additional C-17As will further improve Australia's capability to deploy rapidly in support of global coalition operations and will also greatly enhance its ability to lead regional humanitarian and peacekeeping operations,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement. Australia recently used its C-17s to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants in northern Iraq.
Sailors aboard the USS Ross are harassed during a port call in Istanbul yesterday. Military Times’ Kent Miller and Jeff Schogol: “Anti-American protesters shouting "Yankee, go home!" roughed up two or three U.S. Navy sailors in Istanbul, Turkey, near where the destroyer Ross is docked on an inlet of the Bosphorus Strait in the Black Sea. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called the attack "reprehensible" in a statement posted Wednesday on Facebook.
‘We understand that local law enforcement have suspects in custody,’ said Mabus, who was in Ankara on Wednesday morning to meet with the Turkish government. ‘We commend this swift action and are certain that those who did this will be held accountable.’” More here.
More sailors in trouble, this time they’re Egyptian: “Terrorist elements” set ablaze an Egyptian navy ship in the Med, injuring 5 and leaving eight Egyptian sailors still unaccounted for, a military spox said today. Amro Hassan for the LA Times: “All four boats used by the assailants were destroyed after air and naval reinforcements were called in, Samir said, and 32 attackers were arrested.” More here.
Right place, right time: Fox News’ airs the first interview with bin Laden shooter Rob O’Neill, who said it was “just luck” he was the shooter. Watch it here.
There’s a reason why we got into writing about the military some years ago: we were fascinated by this distinctly different culture right there inside our own country. And the gap between people like us who have never served and people like those in the military who often live in isolation from the rest of Americans seemed so wide at times, we became hooked. So this bit on Diane Rehm the other day – flagged by former wingman Nathaniel Sobel for The D Brief would be a good listen, ICYMI. The abstract for Diane Rehm Nov. 11: “Only 5 percent of Americans have a direct tie to our military. This disconnect often leads to misperceptions about veterans. How to bridge the civilian-military divide, and valuing the contributions of veterans beyond the battlefield.” Listen to the conversation, with Starbucks’ Howard Schultz and the WaPo’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran, here.
Journalist Bette Dam, author of “A Man and a Motorcycle: How Hamid Karzai Came to Power” has a new film out on the life of Mullah Omar called “The Last Caliph of Afghanistan.” You can watch it here, but just a heads-up: you may want to brush up on your French or German first.
Hezbollah in Peru? The Times' James Hider relays reports from Peruvian papers that Mossad agents may have tipped off an alleged Hezbollah explosives tech who was arrested in Lima late last month. More, here.
Here’s a short two-minute video report from the U.S.-Mexico border, where drones keep watch over the vast tracts of land border agents, camera towers and ground sensors simply can’t cover. AP, here.
Also on video: ABC checked in on U.S. and Liberian efforts to get the first Ebola treatment unit up and running in Liberia—in this report from Tuesday, here.
A new screening process could help prevent military suicides, the NYT’s Benedict Carey on what a new study says, here.
NEXT STORY: Has China Finally Reached Great Power Status?