More troops for Afghanistan; Vickers, out; "Racial Thursdays?” Will hawks put money and mouth together?; Did Tony Blinken consult on House of Cards?; And a bit more.
AP this hour: “Yemen's Shiite rebels say a pair of suicide bombers attacked two mosques in the capital Sanaa. A report on the rebel-owned Al-Masirah TV channel says the bombers attacked the Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques during midday prayers on Friday. Both mosques are controlled by Shiite rebels, known as Houthis. There was no immediate casualty report. The blast comes a day after intense gun battles in the southern city of Aden, between rival troops loyal to Yemen's former and current president, left 13 dead.” More here.
And as next week’s visit by Afghan President Ghani approaches, there is increasing likelihood that the White House will announce that most of the roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan now will remain there well into next year. White House officials have been signaling, through intermediaries, for months that it is time to rethink the plan to pull so many forces out of Afghanistan after President Barack Obama first committed to what most military types thought was a fairly steep drawdown plan. The White House, normally considered controlling when it comes to public messaging, has allowed folks like Gen. John Campbell, the top commander in Afghanistan, to openly signal that such thinking was in the works. Now it appears that next week the White House will announce a new plan that leaves more troops in Afghanistan for longer.
The NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti: “The Obama administration is nearing a decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan next year than it had intended, effectively upending its drawdown plans in response to roiling violence in the country and another false start in the effort to open peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”
“As recently as last month, American officials had hoped that a renewed push to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table would yield the beginnings of a peace process and allow the United States to stick with its plan to drop the number of troops in Afghanistan from just under 10,000 to about 5,600 by the end of the year. But those hopes have been dashed…”
“…Senior Obama administration officials broadly concluded during meetings over the last week that many of the roughly 10,000 troops and thousands of civilian contractors in Afghanistan would be needed well into 2016, officials said.” More here.
The Islamic State claims responsibility for the attack at the museum in Tunis. The WSJ’s Tamer El-Ghobashy and Radhouane Addala: “Islamic State claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a museum in Tunisia’s capital and warned of more bloodshed to come, which would extend the extremist group’s reach to one of the region’s few stalwarts of stability.
“Thursday’s claim came hours after the president of the North African nation said he was deploying the military to protect the country’s largest cities. The move added to worries among some reformers that security fears could derail Tunisia’s democratic transition.
“U.S. officials said they believed the Internet claim by Islamic State that the group was behind the Tunisia attacks was authentic, but haven’t corroborated that the group was involved in the massacre.” More here.
CNN this hour on how two suspects in the Tunisia museum attack got weapons training - in Libya. CNN: Faith Karimi and Tim Lister: “Two extremists who attacked a museum in Tunisia, killing 23 people, got weapons training at camps in Libya, an official said Friday. Most of the victims of Wednesday's attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis were foreigners.
“The suspects were activated from sleeper cells in Tunisia, Security Minister Rafik Chelly said. He did not say who activated them. ‘They left the country illegally last December for Libya, and they were able to train with weapons there,’ he told private broadcaster AlHiwar Ettounsi TV.” More here.
Flip-Flop-Flip: A day after his re-election is solid, Israel’s Bibi says he’s all for a two-state solution – it’s just not feasible yet. The NYT’s Jodi Rudoren and Mike Shear, here.
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Washington workers: you rank among those who work the most in the U.S. The WaPo’s Wonkblog and Roberto Ferdman, here.
So the Pentagon says that last year – 2014 - was the “most complex year”… since 1968. The hits came fast and furious last year – from the invasion of Crimea by Russia to the “arrival” of the Islamic State to the rise of Boko Haram in north Africa to Ebola. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko: Yesterday, the Pentagon released a news article that summarized a speech given by Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. David Goldfein at [Brookings]. The article included the line: ‘Last year was the most complex year since 1968, the general said.’
“This is an interesting way to think about complexity in the world, often described as ‘the strategic environment’ by U.S. military commanders. Here, there is no apparent effort to characterize the world precisely, objectively, or with any degree of completeness. Rather, it is by the volume of total issues that the Joint Staff decided to work on.” Read the rest of that bit here.
Mike Vickers, out. Vickers, now the Pentagon’s under secretary for Intelligence and perhaps one of the more celebrated intelligence experts – remember he was portrayed in Charlie Wilson’s War? - announced yesterday that he would be leaving government service at the end of next month after a whopping four decades of work. Defense One’s Ben Watson: “…On Tuesday, Vickers notched his fourth year as under secretary of defense for intelligence, making him the longest-serving of any of his predecessors since the post was created in 2003.
Vickers assumed the job in early 2011 after also serving as assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity and interdependent capabilities. With the 2012 election looming, Vickers took over as the White House looked to bring an end to the Iraq War—and did so in an abrupt drawdown that would precede one of the more significant intelligence lapses in recent memory with the rise of the Islamic State.”
Vickers, in a statement: “I am honored to have been able to help Presidents [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama, as well as our Defense Secretaries [Robert] Gates, [Leon] Panetta, [Chuck] Hagel and [Ash] Carter and [Vickers’ immediate predecessor and current Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper strengthen our national security.” Read the rest here.
Watch Defense One’s Lubold interview Vickers in November at the Defense One Summit, where he said that while human intelligence is key to the fight against the Islamic State, he said the Pentagon doesn’t need boots on the ground. Watch that, here.
The government’s efforts to deter cyber attacks aren’t exactly working, says Mike Rogers. The WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima: “…it is time to consider boosting the military’s cyber-offensive capability, the head of U.S. Cyber Command told Congress on Thursday.
‘We’re at a tipping point,’ said Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, at a hearing of [the SASC]. ‘We need to think about: How do we increase our capacity on the offensive side to get to that point of deterrence?’
“Rogers noted that the command, which launched in 2010, has focused mostly on defense. But, he said, ‘in the end, a purely defensive, reactive strategy will be both late to need and incredibly resource-intense.’” More here.
Did former Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken help Kevin Spacey in House of Cards? Kinda-sorta, yeah. Read Al Kamen’s In the Loop, here.
The Army is investigating allegations from one Alaska-based unit that a platoon was told they could have “Racial Thursdays” where soldiers got a free pass to use slurs. Said one member of the unit, to Army Times’ Michelle Tan: "When I first got to my unit, someone said we should do 'Racial Thursdays' because it's been a tradition… It's something they made up where you can say any racist remark you want without any consequences. The platoon sergeant said no, but the shit is still going on."
The soldier, a staff sergeant, adds: "It's degrading to the soldiers. We've had soldiers almost fight over the crap that's going on here."
Tan writes: “The NCO, who is black, said no one has directed any racial slurs towards him because he made it clear he would not participate or put up with the practice. But he also said he felt compelled to bring the issue to the media because the unit ‘has a bad habit of sweeping things under the rug.’” More here.
ICYMI: The Obama White House sets the record for secrecy. AP’s Ted Bridis: “The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
“The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn't find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law - but only when it was challenged.” More here.
The U.S. drone downed in Syria was in a new area for U.S. aircraft – over a region known as a power base for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The WaPo’s Missy Ryan: “…The Pentagon reported it lost contact with the aircraft, an unarmed MQ-1 Predator drone, on Tuesday over northern Latakia, a province along Syria’s northern Mediterranean coast that is home to many Alawites, the minority Shiite Muslim sect to which Assad belongs.
“…Several U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the U.S. military thinks the plane had been shot down.
“One official said the aircraft was flying in an area where U.S. planes had not previously ventured, a notable development as the Obama administration juggles its efforts to weaken the Islamic State in Syria without being pulled into a military conflict with the country’s embattled leader.” Read the rest here.
Meantime, the Islamic State used a small drone near Fallujah, Iraq – before U.S. forces struck IT down. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: “…In what may be the first report of a drone operated by the extremists, U.S. military officials said an airstrike on March 17 destroyed a small unmanned aerial vehicle in the area around Fallujah.
[The Pentagon’s Col. Steve Warren] described the aircraft as a "model airplane" and a "very unsophisticated piece of equipment."
"It was a commercially available, remotely piloted aircraft, really something anyone can get."
Warren: "We observed it flying for approximately 20 minutes. We observed it land. We observed the enemy place it in the trunk of a car and we struck the car.” More here.
The German Marshall Fund’s big conference in Brussels kicks off today with nearly 400 heavyhitters to talk a bunch of issues. But all of the sessions are on the record and being livestreamed this weekend. Today, though, there are sessions with the German Defense Minister, another panel about Russia and Ukraine and more. Check it all out here. And to make it easy, here is the agenda.
Part III of Military Times’ five-part series on MARSOC (Marine commandos) focuses on how the famed unit’s 30 days in theater, the ambush and subsequent counterattack that branded these Marines war criminals – and their betrayal by one of their own. Andy deGrandpre, here.
The American Federation of Government Employees and other organizations are calling on Congress to repeal a Pentagon change that reduces the per diem and lodging expenses for military and civilian employees on long-term travel. Read their letter to the House Armed Services Committee, here.
The cost of an F-35 has dipped slightly. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: “Projected costs for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter have dipped $7.5 billion, or 1.9 percent, in the last year, primarily because of revised inflation estimates and reduced labor costs, the Pentagon said Thursday.” More here.
Lawmakers should listen to budget hawks, not defense hawks. For Defense One, Robert Gard and Angela Canterbury: “As the House and Senate unveil their fiscal 2016 budgets this week, there is “a war within the Republican Party,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently put it, over just how much money Congress will dole out to the Pentagon.
However, nobody has said why or how the currently prescribed funding levels are inadequate to deal with the threats facing the United States today and beyond, nor do they explain how throwing more money at the Pentagon will make America safer.
“…If defense hawks like McCain get their way, the Pentagon budget will balloon to as much as $613 billion using a combination of funds from the Pentagon’s base and war funding accounts. That is $90 billion more than the ceiling established by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which would ostensibly be labeled as war funding, but in reality would go to fund programs normally found in the Pentagon’s base.”
Pluswhich: “There are plenty of ways the Pentagon could spend its money more efficiently.” Read the rest, here.
But: GOP hawks need to put their money where their mouth is, writes Robert Kagan in the WaPo’s op-ed pages this morning: “…For the past few months, Republicans in Congress and those preparing to run for president have been staking out what some would call a ‘hawkish’ position on foreign policy. After flirting for a couple of years with the anti-interventionism of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), most of the party’s leading politicians have been lambasting President Obama for doing too little to fight the Islamic State and defend Ukraine while trying to strike a bad nuclear deal with Iran… So far, however, this hawkishness has been mostly rhetorical.” More here.
NEXT STORY: The Pentagon’s Top Intelligence Chief Is Out