Embassies in Yemen evac’ed; Will U.S. CT mission stay intact?; Assad says he’s in the loop; Three admirals censured; Chelsea Manning gets a gig; And a bit more.
Yemen is either in free fall or in transition, but overnight, the U.S., the U.K. and France all shuttered their embassies. And this morning, thousands of Yemenis are protesting Houthi rule today in Taiz and Sana. Reuters this hour, here.
The NYT’s Rod Nordland and Shuaib Almosawa in Sana: “In his first interview since the Yemeni government collapsed, the leader of the Houthi militants who control Sana, the capital, depicted his movement as eager to share power with its rivals and to reach out to the country’s traditional allies, including the United States and Saudi Arabia — even as the American Embassy prepared to shut down.
“Saleh Ali al-Sammad, the senior Houthi leader in Sana, made the remarks as a new round of United Nations-mediated talks among the Houthis and other major political parties to try to form a government entered a second day. Yemen has been leaderless since the president and his cabinet resigned on Jan. 22, citing Houthi pressure and attacks.
“The seizure of the capital by the Houthis, who are believed to be financed by Iran, threatened to further destabilize Yemen, a significant American ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, and threw into question United States counterterrorism operations there. The previous government, led by Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, supported American drone strikes against Al Qaeda, while the Houthis oppose them, raising fears that Al Qaeda will take advantage of the political turmoil.
“Mr. Sammad’s remarks, and his unusual willingness to be interviewed by an American news organization, suggested that the Houthis were anxious to climb down from the position they took on Friday, when they declared a unilateral plan for forming a new government.” Read the rest of the NYT, here.
The BBC on the U.K.’s decision to close “until further notice.” U.K. Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood: "The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days… Regrettably we now judge that our Embassy staff and premises are at increased risk… Our Ambassador and diplomatic staff have left Yemen this morning and will return to the UK."
There is no operational U.S. embassy in three places in the Middle East: Libya, Syria and now Yemen.
Throughout the crisis in Yemen, the U.S. has maintained, quietly, that while the counter-terrorism mission against al-Qaeda in Yemen had been impacted by the Houthi takeover, there was recognition by the Houthis that the U.S. mission was also in their best interests: the Shiite-based Houthis’ biggest enemy is the Sunni-based al-Qaida. There is still hope that it may continue. But early on, the U.S. had struggled to determine just who was in charge and who it should talk to, and thus the U.S. been unwilling to state any official relationship with the Houthis, at least in terms of the counter-terrorism mission.
Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters yesterday that the U.S. still has special operations forces in Yemen and that “we continue to conduct counterterrorism training with Yemeni security forces, and we are still capable inside Yemen of conducting counterterrorism operations. …I wouldn't get up here and say that there's been no adjustments made.”
The White House’s Josh Earnest, referring to the “success” in Yemen: “…the president has indicated that the counterterrorism strategy that we have successfully pursued in Yemen is consistent with the kind of strategy that we are pursuing against ISIL. And the reason for that is that it's consistent with our broader national security interests.”
Dreaming of drones: A 13-year-old boy killed in Yemen last month by a CIA drone strike told the Guardian newspaper months earlier that he lived in constant fear of the “death machines” in the sky. Drones had already killed his father and brother. Thirteen-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman before he died two weeks ago: “I see them every day and we are scared of them…A lot of the kids in this area wake up from sleeping because of nightmares from them and some now have mental problems. They turned our area into hell and continuous horror, day and night, we even dream of them in our sleep.” Read more in The Guardian, here.
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Is there a troop exodus on the horizon? With morale plummeting among the services, reforming troop benefits in line with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s recommendations could force the Pentagon’s best and brightest out, Norb Ryan of the Military Officers Association of America writes in Defense One, here.
And The 1970 Gates Commission holds lessons for getting mil comp reform right, argues U.S. Military Academy instructor and national security fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, Capt. Brandon J. Archuleta, here.
Today, Hagel and his wife Lilibet will visit the Military OneSource call center in Arlington, which provides 24/7 support for the troops and their families. We’re told that Military OneSource, established as a pilot program for the Marine Corps in 2002 and grew to include support from all of the services, received 885,179 phone calls and militaryonesource.mil had 1.7 million unique visitors in 2013. The biggest requests include: spouse education and career opportunities advice, phone calls for tax assistance and financial literacy issues, and requests for face-to-face non-medical counseling.
Also today, Mission Accomplished? President Obama today will declare victory over Ebola in West Africa and will announce that all of the U.S. military personnel deployed there will return by April 30. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum and Julian Barnes: “[Obama] is expected to announce plans on Wednesday to withdraw most of the American troops assigned to battle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and declare that the U.S. military effort has been successful, officials said. The president’s decision effectively signals the end of the five-month military mission to help contain the spread of the deadly virus in West Africa. Over coming weeks, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the U.S. military is expected to pull out most of the 1,300 American forces currently working in West Africa, where officials believe the crisis has largely been contained.” More here.
A new DARPA program could revolutionize the way troops maintain situational awareness on the battlefield, giving them “the ability to sense threats more than half a mile away (1,000 meters) and to understand the location of all of their team even in environments with degraded communications and no GPS,” Defense One tech editor Patrick Tucker reports, here.
A White House program in this year’s budget request could significantly reduce the need to interrogate combatants by mapping cognitive processes like deception with far greater accuracy. It’s called the BRAIN initiative, and neuroscientist Bobby Azarian lays it all out in Defense One, here.
Meantime, uncertainty in Yemen—along with the death, confirmed yesterday by the Pentagon, of former Guantanamo Bay detainee-turned-ISIS recruiter in Helmand, Abdul Rauf—is jeopardizing the White House’s plan to close Gitmo. AP’s Deb Riechmann: “Besides Rauf, one or more of the five Taliban detainees swapped for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may have already been in touch with members of the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network. Qatari officials promised to monitor the five former Taliban officials' activities and keep them from traveling outside Qatar for a year. That year ends May 31 and lawmakers are wondering what will happen to them…” More here.
The U.S. won’t investigate Kayla Mueller’s death because there is no evidence that a Jordanian strike killed her, as ISIS claims.
Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, to reporters yesterday: “We see no indication -- we have no indication that there were civilian casualties as a result of those strikes or collateral damage… we've also said that this was a legitimate target, a known weapons storage facility that ISIL had been using.
Kirby continued: “…let's not forget in whose hands this woman died. And let's not forget who's ultimately responsible for it: ISIL.”
Over the weekend, Foreign Policy published a story indicating that Mueller’s family had opposed a U.S. military mission to rescue Kayla, and so the plan was scrapped before it ever reached President Barack Obama. But The Daily Beast yesterday debunked that report. TDB’s Shane Harris (formerly of FP): “…The family tells The Daily Beast that they asked the Obama administration to keep them in the loop about any planned military mission—a request that officials granted, according to a Mueller family spokeswoman. ‘The family requested to be notified in advance if there were to be a raid, and also just to be kept apprised of their efforts. And the White House agreed,’ the spokeswoman said. It was ‘not true’ that the family had asked officials to forgo a rescue mission, she added.” Read the rest here.
Kayla Jean Mueller’s family released a powerful, heart-breaking letter she sent while in captivity a little less than a year ago. ABC News’ Meghan Keneally: “In the emotional letter, she does not say anything negative about her captors, writing that she is ‘completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.’ Instead, she puts the brunt of her emotional turmoil on herself. ‘If you could say I have 'suffered' at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through,’ she wrote.” More, including the letter in full, here.
Foreign fighter update: Foreign fighters are streaming into Syria at “unprecedented numbers,” AP’s Ken Dilanian reports. That includes at least 3,400 from Western nations for a total of roughly 20,000 fighters from around the world. Dilanian: “..Intelligence agencies now believe that as many as 150 Americans have tried and some have succeeded in reaching in the Syrian war zone, officials told the House Homeland Security Committee in testimony prepared for delivery on Wednesday. Some of those Americans were arrested en route, some died in the area and a small number are still fighting with extremists. The testimony and other data were obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.” More here.
Phrase of the day: “Enduring offensive ground forces.” The White House has briefed lawmakers on its draft of a new war powers authorization to fight ISIS. Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin: “The president’s AUMF for the fight against Islamic State would restrict the use of ground troops through a prohibition on ‘enduring offensive ground operations,’ but provide several exemptions… including the 3,000 U.S. military personnel now on the ground in Iraq, would be explicitly excluded from the restrictions. After that, the president would be allowed to deploy new military personnel in several specific roles: advisers, special operations forces, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to assist U.S. air strikes and Combat Search and Rescue personnel.” Read the rest, here.
No “nudge-nudge, wink-wink:” Assad claims he’s in the loop when it comes to the fight against ISIS. In an interview, with the BBC, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was aware, perhaps through a third party, like Iraq, about the U.S.-led airstrike campaign against ISIS. Assad also claimed not to ever have used barrel bombs, which was seen as one of the more incredible things he said. But on intel-sharing, the Pentagon denied stridently that it was sharing information, directly or indirectly, with the Assad regime.
Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby to reporters yesterday: “Let me try to be real clear here. We are not communicating or coordinating our military operations with the Assad regime. We're not doing it directly, and we're not doing it indirectly.”
Kirby was asked several times and repeated the same thing. To a question as to whether Iraq might be doing this on its own, without tacit knowledge from the U.S., Kirby said: “We do the very best we can everywhere we operator to protect information as best we can.” The BBC interview with Assad, here.
“Back to the 20th Century:” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the House of Commons yesterday that what’s happening in Ukraine “resembles, to all intents and purposes, a small scale conventional war.” But, like the U.S., he downplayed the likelihood a military solution can end the conflict, and will delay additional sanctions until next Monday. His statement, here.
Who’s doing what today: SecDef Chuck Hagel welcomes the Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, to the Pentagon at 1:50 p.m. … the Senate Armed Services Committee talks Afghanistan with former Ambassadors James Cunningham and Ryan Crocker as well as former SOCOM chief Eric Olson and Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. That gets under way at 9:30 a.m. …
The House Armed Services Committee talks “Alternative Budgets and Strategic Choices” with Nora Bensahel, Ryan Crotty, Tom Donnelly, Todd Harrison and Jim Thomas at 10 a.m. … Fleet Forces' Adm. Philip Davidson morning keynotes the AFCEA/USNI Western Conference and Exposition in San Diego at 11:30 a.m. (EDT) … HASC’s subcommittee on personnel hears the final recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission at 1 p.m. … and SASC has their own hearing with the MCRMC at 3 p.m.
And beginning today: The Air Force Association’s three-day Air Warfare Symposium kicks off in Orlando—even though the real show doesn't start until tomorrow. Agenda for that, here.
Meantime, the House Armed Services Committee introduced a bill last night to provide $1 billion in lethal arms to Ukraine’s military, while their counterparts on the senate side are working a similar angle. The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp, here.
Also today: The Concerned Veterans for America will announce today the addition of Senators John McCain, Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to its 26 “February Fixing Veterans Health Care Task Force” lineup—which already includes House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. RSVP for that over here.
The Fat Leonard case is still singing: Three Navy admirals censured for their role in the massive corruption scandal. Defense News’ Chris Cavas had it first, we’re told: “Three flag officers have become the highest-ranking officials thus far punished in the Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) bribery and corruption scandal, each receiving a letter of censure from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
Rear admirals Mike Miller, Terry Kraft and David Pimpo were all punished for conduct during the January to July 2006 deployment of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Miller was the strike group commander, Kraft the carrier's commanding officer, and Pimpo the ship's supply officer on that cruise.” More here.
The Navy is considering broadening its presence off the coast of Australia while expanding exercises with India. WSJ’s Rob Taylor: “The U.S. had already identified warships to form a so-called Amphibious Ready Group, including a large assault carrier and two smaller helicopter carriers, that would likely be a regular presence in Darwin… [Navy Chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert] also supported expansion of the annual Operation Malabar exercise involving submarines, surface ships and aircraft from the U.S. and India, which has been expanded to include Japan and, more recently, Australia as nonregular participants.” More here.
Sorry, the job’s been filled: Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) is the Guardian’s newest columnist. Fishbowl DC’s Brianna Ehley: “The Guardian U.S.’s Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner took to Twitter Tuesday to announce that Chelsea Manning will be contributing pieces to the British newspaper from the Fort Leavenworth prison “on the subjects of war, gender, and freedom of information.” Manning, a former U.S. soldier convicted of violating the Espionage Act in 2013 for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More here.
NEXT STORY: US Vacates Embassy as Uncertainty Grows in Yemen