The D Brief: Defense One’s State of Defense and the services; Yemen’s capital won’t be evacuated; A shift on Syria; Sniper a hit with “cultural conservatives” and vets; And a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address tonight. More on that below, but for now, Defense One’s staff has put together a “State of Defense” for the second year in a row, a look at the Defense Department and each of the services. Executive Editor Kevin Baron’s top: “In the Pentagon, senior U.S. military leaders often like to say that historically, they are terrible at predicting the next war, while critics argue that generals constantly are planning for the last war. Both may be true. Ironically, those same leaders have spent the last two years complaining that they are being forced to live in an era of too much uncertainty. Why do Pentagon leaders think they can make uncertainty go away? The year 2014 could not have proven more unpredictable. Maybe it’s time to start planning for the unexpected.”
What's the State of the Army? Defense One’s Ben Watson has a few answers: “…Three years after leaving Iraq, the Army is officially back. And an aggressive Russia means more American troops and tanks in Eastern Europe. With steep troop reductions still to come, many fear the force is at its breaking point.” Read more here.
Here's the State of the Navy, by Defense One’s own Stephanie Gaskell: “…With the pivot to Asia and the Pacific, increasing tensions in the Gulf and new threats in Europe, including the Black Sea, the Navy’s mission has changed but hasn’t slowed down.” More here.
How are the Marines doing? Lubold’s story here: “…While there may be lingering doubts about the wisdom of ending two large ground wars, it’s clear the political appetite for ground forces is on the wane, and that’s allowed Marines to begin to return to their maritime roots in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the other service with ground forces, the Army.” Read that here.
The State of the Air Force, by Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “…The airstrike campaign against ISIS has shined a light on how the Air Force has reorganized itself over the past decade, allowing it to perform more missions at a faster pace using a mix of old and new aircraft.” Read that bit here.
Obama remains as defiant as ever as he prepares for tonight’s address. The WaPo’s David Nakamura: “The tone and tenor of the Obama White House since Democrats suffered a crushing defeat during the November midterm elections have been anything but conciliatory and have raised doubts about whether the president can — or wants to — break through partisan gridlock before voters choose his successor next year.
The president will enter the House chamber Tuesday night for his sixth State of the Union address riding a wave of confidence driven by an improving economy and brightening public approval ratings. And he seems as defiant as ever.” More here.
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Suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, the U.S. is looking at Syria’s Assad a bit differently. For months, there has been quiet talk that the stated U.S. policy, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down, might not make sense given the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. And now, there is a de-emphasis on that stance in a variety of areas.
The NYT’s lead story this morning, by Anne Barnard, Somini Sengupta from Beirut: “…The Obama administration maintains that a lasting political solution requires Mr. Assad’s exit. But facing military stalemate, well-armed jihadists and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States is going along with international diplomatic efforts that could lead to more gradual change in Syria.
“That shift comes along with other American actions that Mr. Assad’s supporters and opponents take as proof Washington now believes that if Mr. Assad is ousted, there will be nothing to check the spreading chaos and extremism. American planes now bomb the Islamic State group’s militants in Syria, sharing skies with Syrian jets. American officials assure Mr. Assad, through Iraqi intermediaries, that Syria’s military is not their target. The United States still trains and equips Syrian insurgents, but now mainly to fight the Islamic State, not the government.” More here.
Here’s an example of that shift. Last week, we were the first to report that the Pentagon was planning to send more than 400 troops, and hundreds more support personnel, to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia for a long-awaited train-and-equip program for Syrian moderate rebel forces. Read Lubold’s story Thursday night here.
A Pentagon spokesperson last week described the purpose of the train-and-equip program thusly, making no mention of the removal of Assad: “The goal for the train and equip program is to build the capabilities of the moderate Syrian fighters to defend the Syrian people; stabilize areas under opposition control; promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Syria; and empower trainees to go on the offensive against ISIL.”
ISIS released a video today showing two Japanese hostages it says will be executed in 3 days if not paid $200 million, “directly demanding the ransom from Japan's premier during his visit to the Middle East.” AP, here.
The U.S. embassy in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa won’t be evacuated due to what looks to be an ongoing coup that has killed at least 9 and injured more than 60. NBC News, here.
A tenuous truce between Houthi rebels and Yemen leadership appears to be holding this morning, Al-Jazeera reports.
As Yemen crumbles, Sen. John McCain slams the president’s framing of that country as a counterterrorism “success story” back in September. The Hill’s Kristina Wong, here.
Meantime, analysts at London’s King’s College are combing social media to build an enormous database of westerners fighting for ISIS. Mark Townsend for The Guardian: “So far the centre’s database has amassed profiles of about 700 western foreign fighters who have joined either Isis or groups such as al-Qaida’s Syrian offshoot, the al-Nusra Front. Each individual is categorised according to 72 data points, such as their birthplace or previous employment…”
Shiraz Maher, senior fellow at the center: “From an intelligence perspective, social media allows us to gauge their mood and gives opportunities to perhaps create or exploit dissent. Before social media you would have needed to have recruited spies.” More here.
On the heels of Israel’s helo airstrike on Hezbollah members in Syria on Sunday, its citizens are on high alert for retaliation both at home and abroad. The Times of Israel with more, here.
And NYTs with more on that helo strike near the Syrian portion of the Golan Heights, here.
Nearly 4,000 citizens of post-Soviet, Central Asian nations have been radicalized under the banner of ISIS—and western nations should pay particularly close attention, cautions a new report from the International Crisis Group: “Should a significant portion of these radicalized migrants return, they risk challenging security and stability throughout Central Asia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan form a brittle region, sandwiched between Russia and Afghanistan, Iran and China… [T]he EU and the U.S., should recognize that Central Asia is a growing source of foreign fighters and consider prioritizing policing reform, as well as a more tolerant attitude to religion, in their recommendations for combating the problem.” Read the full report, which just went live this morning, over here.
The White House on Friday unveiled a series of steps to increase co-operation between the United States and the United Kingdom in combating cyber threats. Our tech editor Patrick Tucker explains just exactly what this new cyber “A-Team” will be up to in the coming months—and dives into the sticky business of blocking encryption as a defense against data theft.
Al-Qaeda’s “butt bomb” has TSA increasing security measures at U.S. airports. Columbus, GA’s WTVM reports, here. Read the report from Defense One’s Patrick Tucker on those bombs AQ laid out in their latest online magazine, “Inspire,” here.
ICYMI: U.S. spies expected airliner bombs, but got Paris instead. The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris, here.
Who’s up to What – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is traveling in Europe, heading from Rome to Brussels today to begin NATO military talks… Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and other chiefs who are in town are expected at tonight’s State of the Union speech at the Capitol… Army Chief Gen. Ray Odierno and his top enlisted man, SMA Ray Chandler are attending a Purple Heart ceremony for retired Maj. and Bataan Death March survivor Jesse Baltazar in Joint Base Myer-Henderson’s Comney Hall at 10 a.m.
War, man’s best friend and 35 seconds of uplift in one TV ad: This is an award-winning, heartwarming ode to guide dogs for soldiers with PTSD that comes to us from the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation. Worth the click, here.
The Defense Department has carried out more than 75% of SIGAR’s recommendations since Jan. 2008 for a savings of more than a billion dollars, the watchdog agency says in a report that just went live this morning. The cost savings poured in from a variety of sources, including: reducing costs of a literacy training program for the Afghan security forces that netted a savings of more than $10 million; a review of Army CERP projects that returned approx. $190 million; nearly $800 million in cancelled construction on more than 100 ANSF base and facility projects—and lots more. Read the full report, here.
Libya’s military just recalled its “rogue” former general Khalifa Haftar—who’s been directing air strikes against Islamist extremists that seized the capital this summer—back to active duty. Reuters from Benghazi, here.
The Central African Republic rebels who turned over a top leader of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army to U.S. special forces two weeks ago want that $5 million award the U.S. offered for the capture of Dominic Ongwen. AP from Bangui, here.
For your ears only: Diplomat editors Ankit Panda and Franz-Stefan Gady spoke with former ISAF IJC Chief of Plans Col. James L. Creighton (now retired) about Afghanistan’s readiness for what lies ahead in 2015. That 25-minute discussion, here.
While a bellicose Russia awaits final word from France on the suspended delivery of two Mistral-class assault ships, it’s worth taking an inventory of Moscow’s navy. The short story: They’re on the verge of collapse, writes War Is Boring’s David Axe: “Today the Russian navy possesses around 270 warships including surface combatants, amphibious ships, submarines and auxiliaries… Of the 270 ships, just 125 or so are in a working state. And of those 125, only around 45 are oceangoing surface warships or submarines that are in good shape and deployable… By comparison, the U.S. Navy possesses some 290 warships. Pretty much all of them are well-maintained, deployable, oceangoing vessels.” Read the rest, here.
Moscow just ended a nuclear security agreement with Washington that the U.S. had already spent some $200 billion fostering, with another $100 million set aside to continue through 2015. Boston Globe's Bryan Bender, here.
Lithuania’s Defense Ministry just gave its citizens a 98-page guide on how to respond to invasion. RFERL's Andrius Kuncina and Daisy Sindelar with more, here.
A South Korean group distributes anti-North leaflets despite calls to refrain. Reuters, here.
Former Pentagon Chief of Staff Mark Lippert, now “Ambassador Lippert” as he is the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, and his wife Robyn just had a baby boy.
From Lippert’s Facebook page: “Welcome newest member of the Lippert family! Mom & son are great! Full name TBD post 사주 process; Korean middle name! Thanks Severance Hospital and Dr. Cho!”
In its opening weekend, “American Sniper” brought in vets and rural conservatives – and more than $105 million. The WSJ’s Ben Fritz and Dan Molinski: “…Its success is the strongest evidence yet that audiences including veterans and cultural conservatives who are more concentrated in the South and Midwest feel underserved by Hollywood and will turn out in droves for movies that are inspiring, patriotic and sincere. Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures also had surprising success last month with the historical military drama ‘Unbroken’ and last year with the Afghan war movie ‘Lone Survivor.’” More here.
Noting: The Pentagon, which is approached routinely by Hollywood to support their movies, never heard anything from Director Clint Eastwood or his production company. There’s no such requirement, of course, but moviemakers filming movies about the military typically want some level of support – filming on military bases, or on Navy ships or to using other military hardware. Defense Department help also ensures that an actor portraying someone in uniform doesn’t wear his ribbons upside down. An enduring trend: Moviemakers who don’t need to use can’t-get-anywhere-else hardware are increasingly turning to private technical advisers to make sure they get the other elements of a military movie right. Such advisers have been around for years, but we understand Hollywood is embracing them all the more these days.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Paul Rieckhoff’s review in Variety of ‘Sniper:’ “I’ve seen just about every film about the Iraq War ever made. I’ve produced and associate produced a few. I even appeared in one (for about a millisecond). And without a doubt, ‘American Sniper’ is the single best work of film about the Iraq War ever made.
“Now, it’s not the most complex film. Not the deepest film. Not even the most provocative. But in terms of storytelling, action, emotion, production and performance, attention to detail and especially the frighteningly accurate soundscape, there’s been nothing else close that’s been made since my platoon entered the war in Iraq in 2003. It’s a cinematic bull’s-eye.” Rieckohoff’s review, here.
Michael Moore attempted to explain his tweet that snipers aren’t cowards, here. As part of the wave of criticism Moore faced, New Gingrich suggested Moore “spend a few weeks” with the Islamic State or Boko Haram.
ICYMI: There is no unemployment crisis for veterans, writes former Marine officer and current chief executive of the national vet recruiting company, RecruitMilitary, in the columns of The Washington Post: “Although post-9/11 veterans did have a higher rate of unemployment than the overall workforce last year — which was at 6.2 percent — the disparity is more attributable to the relative youth of those in this group rather than their military experience… Yet lawmakers are harnessing bipartisan good intentions to pass [the Hire More Heroes Act] whose most significant legacy would be to increase the federal deficit by nearly $900 million... The most powerful force motivating firms to hire veterans is the need to find the right employees. Although savvy companies may apply for tax benefits or other perks tied to hiring veterans, in most cases they do so for personnel they would have hired anyway.” More here.