Who is Capt. Jeremy Haynes?; Yemen on the brink; Thornberry has a plan as the Pentagon shuffles papers; France is the new U.K.; Broadwell doesn’t like “mistress”; And a bit more.
Ash Carter hosted an “enhanced” honor cordon on the steps of the Pentagon’s River Entrance early this morning to welcome Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who arrived in D.C. last night. Defense Secretary Carter is speaking right now at the Pentagon about the sacrifices that the more than 850,000 U.S. troops have made over the years in Afghanistan. He’ll single out at least two: A Navy lieutenant named Lonn Larson, currently deployed to eastern Afghanistan – and whose wife Mary Ann and young daughter, Reese, are attending this morning.
Carter will also talk a lot about Captain Jeremy Haynes, aide to Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Army general officer who was killed in an attack last year. Haynes was seriously wounded in the same attack and paralyzed from the waist down. But amazingly, the day before New Year’s Eve, the Haynes family celebrated Jeremy Haynes’ first steps since the attack. Haynes, Carter will say this morning, has resolved to pass the Army’s physical fitness test now. Haynes, his wife Chelsea and other members of his family are also at the Pentagon this morning.
Attending the event this morning: Carter and Bob Work, John Kerry (State), Jim Clapper (DNI), John Brennan (CIA), Alfonso Lenhardt (USAID), Avril Haines, (NSC) and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld (JCS).
Also attending this morning: About 200 U.S. service members handpicked from around the Pentagon who have served in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai was notoriously dismissive of the role U.S. service members played in the war in Afghanistan, blaming them for civilian casualties and the like.
In marked contrast, Ghani is effusive in his praise for what U.S. troops do in Afghanistan and thanks them repeatedly. As the Pentagon prepared for this morning’s event, the services were each asked to send at least 40 service members who had fought in Afghanistan. Others who weren’t specifically asked were told they could show at this morning’s event as well.
Obama this week is expected to announce a slowdown to the drawdown in Afghanistan. But he’s still wedded to removing all but a handful of troops by the end of next year. After first announcing his drawdown plans for Afghanistan last year, Obama is now open to tweaking the plan to allow commanders more flexibility in Afghanistan. It comes with the recognition that President Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah are both enthusiastic American partners and have urged Obama to reconsider the drawdown plan, that would have left less than 6,000 troops there by the end of the year and all but a handful in Afghanistan by the end of next year. There are now about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. But while Obama will likely announce that the “off-ramp” of troops over the next two years won’t be as steep, he doesn’t appear to be budging on the plan to remove all but an embassy-sized contingent by the end of 2016.
White House officials on Friday said the focus of the conversations over troop levels is about this year and next; but indicated that the door would be left open to consider changes to the deployment of U.S. forces after 2016.
The WaPo’s Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe: “Today, the Afghanistan war, despite increasing levels of violence, is largely invisible to the U.S. public. American casualties have plummeted in recent months as U.S. trainers have largely retreated to fortified bases. Only highly trained American counterterrorism forces venture out with any regularity.
“…Obama probably wouldn’t pay a price politically for keeping the current level of U.S. troops in the country through the remainder of his presidency. His imperative to withdraw from Afghanistan seems to be a personal one.” Read the rest here.
Ghani says ISIS is in Afghanistan. Officials and senior military officers have said this in the past – that militants from the Islamic State have spread into Afghanistan. It’s both a concerning reality and an attempt to persuade the White House that removing most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2017 isn’t in anyone’s best interests.
NBC News this morning: “ISIS is operating inside Afghanistan and eyeing the country as a strategic foothold in its broader war to establish a caliphate in the Middle East, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told NBC News. In an interview, Ghani said that Afghanistan has evidence ISIS is organizing inside the country.
Ghani, to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: "Fortunately, we've prevented them from acting… But we have sufficient evidence that they were targeting us because to their narrative, to their story line, Afghanistan is central." More here.
Ghani is neither brooding, or agitated or suspicious or openly belligerent: For Obama, Hamid Karzai was everything that Ghani isn’t. The NYT’s Mike Shear and Matt Rosenberg, here.
Five things to look for out of the Ghani visit, by Paul Shinkman of U.S. News, here.
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Mac Thornberry is flexing his muscles as the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – he’s proposing acquisition reform this morning at CSIS. Defense One’s own Marcus Weisgerber: “For years, lawmakers and defense officials have looked for ways to remove bureaucratic red tape from the Pentagon’s cumbersome acquisition process and find something nobody yet has: a way to save taxpayer money and get cutting edge weapons and technology to troops faster.
This week House Armed Services Committee Chairman [Thornberry, R-Texas,] will unveil plans to make the Defense Department’s procurement system more efficient, committee aids said. At the center of his initial plan is removing bureaucracy from the managers of the Pentagon’s multimillion and multibillion-dollar projects.”
“…Thornberry will reveal his proposal during a Monday morning speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, and plans to introduce the legislation later this week.”
A senior committee staff member to Weisgerber on Pentagon hierarchy: “Right now they’re not managing their programs, they’re managing paperwork between the cubicles between [the] A and the E ring.” Read the rest here.
The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp on Thornberry’s proposals: “…In previous decades, the long wait to navigate all of the Pentagon acquisition steps and paperwork — much of which was due to previous congressional requirements — was tolerable. The U.S. had a large technological advantage over potential adversaries, so it had a cushion for those delays. But that cushion has eroded, if not disappeared completely, as countries such as China and Russia have come up to speed on critical technologies including electronic warfare, surveillance, stealth and propulsion. In short, in Thornberry's eyes, the nation's security can't afford the bureaucratic drag anymore.” More here.
The Air Force may have to protect money laundering - in space. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker: “If you’re looking for the ultimate in physical security for your future assets, look up, way up. Growing fears about cybersecurity and the rapidly decreasing cost to access space has given birth to a new class of startups offering satellite-based data centers impervious to all physical hacking. What sort of information is so valuable that the average person needs to protect them in space? One answer: money. Even space vaults need guards, and in this case the brunt of that job will go to U.S. Air Force.” Read the rest of this tale here.
Speaking of Thornberry: How Congress and the White House plan to boost defense spending: ignore sequestration. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole: The House and the Senate may have found a sweet spot for their budget strategies: they’re both planning on using the U.S. war chest to give the Pentagon the money the White House requested for defense, but outside the reach of sequestration’s spending caps.” Read the rest of that here.
Republican Ted Cruz from Texas just announced his intention to run for the presidency on Twitter. @Ted Cruz: “I’m running for president and I hope to earn your support!” More here.
Meantime, the U.S. pulled the remaining U.S. forces out of Yemen as more chaos, turmoil and Houthi consolidation ensue. Over the weekend, the Pentagon announced that it was removing the remaining American forces – about 100 U.S. special operators – from Yemen as the situation there deteriorated all the more. This morning, all are out. And a United Nations envoy said Yemen, once a strong ally in the U.S. fight against terrorism, is on the verge of civil war.
Al Jazeera this hour: “Events in Yemen are pushing the country ‘to the edge of a civil war,’ the United Nations special envoy has warned, calling for all parties to resolve the escalating conflict peacefully as peace talks reach a stalemate.
“Speaking to the UN Security Council emergency meeting via videolink on Sunday, Jamal Benomar, who has tried to mediate the deepening conflict for several months, said that if immediate steps are not taken ‘the country will slide further into further violence and dislocation’.
Benomar: “In conclusion, I urge all sides in spite of rising tensions to appreciate the gravity of the situation and to de-escalate by ceasing all hostilities and refraining from provocations and using violence." Read more here.
The Islamic State has published the names of 100 U.S. service members on a Web site urging its members to kill them – using names, photos and “purported addresses” to do so. Mike Schmidt and Helene Cooper in the NYT on Sunday: “…The group said that the personnel had participated in efforts to defeat it in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Defense Department and F.B.I. officials said that they were aware of the website and were investigating the posting.
“It does not appear that the information had been hacked from government servers. One Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that most of the information could be found in public records, residential address search sites and social media.” More here.
The German Marshall Fund’s Brussels forum was held over the weekend and Michele Flournoy and Gen. Phil Breedlove, of NATO/EUCOM, talked about the future of conflict. Watch that here.
Also from the GMF Brussels forum, Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports that Russia is still pouring arms into Ukraine. That bit, here.
France is the new U.K. Agence France-Press’s Dan De Luce: “Once a source of irritation for the United States, France has nudged aside Britain to become the US military's key European partner.
The growing ties between the two militaries were on display this month when France's top military officer, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, hosted his US counterpart, General Martin Dempsey, aboard France's aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. The French flagship, which arrived in the Gulf in February to take part in US-led air strikes on the Islamic State group, is operating under US command — a first for the French naval forces.
“…One French officer boasted to AFP: "France at the moment is the most activist, most engaged European ally."
Over the past decade, France initially sought defense partners inside the European Union but found itself frustrated with Germany's more cautious view of military power.” Read the rest of De Luce’s story here.
The U.S. must “pummel” ISIS, writes Colin Dueck and Roger Zakheim in The National Interest: “…The rise of ISIS, together with its demonstrated brutality, have triggered a sea-change in American popular attitudes, at least on this particular issue. One Quinnipiac poll from March 4 found that 62 percent of all Americans now support the use of U.S. ground troops versus ISIS, as against only 30 percent who oppose. So a two-to-one majority of U.S. public opinion today supports not only the use of force, but the use of American ground troops against the Islamic State. The majorities supporting U.S. airstrikes are even more overwhelming.” More here.
Can U.S. service members bridge the military-civilian divide when they become more public figures? Military Times’ Oriana Pawlyk: “…experts warn that the way Iraq and Afghanistan veterans often are portrayed in mainstream media, movies and TV shows doesn't necessarily enhance the public's perception of veterans — and often makes veterans feel even more alienated. Military and civic leaders have discussed for years the military-civilian ‘gap’ — the social and cultural disconnect between those who have served and those who have not — in various studies, articles and other venues.” More here.
Air Force Secretary Debbie James honored Sen. Orrin Hatch’s fallen brother on Friday. We missed running this on Friday morning – apologies. But The Hill’s Kristina Wong covered the event, at which James celebrated the service of Hatch’s brother, Jesse, who was killed during World War II. Wong: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), now 81, was just eight years old when his brother was killed in World War II. However, it left a lasting mark on the rest of his life. His brother, 20-year-old Jesse, was an Army corporal serving as a nose turret gunner when his B-24 bomber went down over Austria.
Just weeks after his family received word, a streak in young Hatch's hair turned completely white, and stayed that way until all of it turned white many years later. Jesse was first reported missing in action. ‘My mother believed that he would come back,’ Hatch said. The family would receive confirmation two years later.
“…[James] presented Hatch and his surviving sisters Frances and Jessica with shadow boxes honoring Jesse's service. Within one shadow box was a picture of Cpl. Hatch and his nine other fallen crew from the 15th Air Force, 451st Bombardment Group, then based out of Castellucio Airfield, Italy.
Said Air Force Secretary James: "Men of this unit were ordinary men. They were ordinary airmen, but they rose to extraordinary heights 70 years ago.” More here.
The Pentagon announced the deployment of a Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS, to the Korean peninsula on Friday. But Pentagon officials insisted that this was planned more than a couple of years ago and had nothing to do with any new threat on the peninsula. Also, the systems are being deployed across the Army – not just to South Korea. DoD, here.
Whatever happened to… Paula Broadwell? One thing, the former girlfriend of Dave Petraeus doesn’t like the word “mistress.” The Charlotte Observer’s Peter St. Onge, here.