Bravo Zulu: This morning at the Pentagon at 10 a.m., a golden retriever named Bravo will return to the Defense Department. At his side will be Leon Panetta, the former SecDef, who will appear at the Pentagon Courtyard for the unveiling of his official portrait – Panetta’s, that is. (Although Bravo is in the painting, too, of course, The D Brief has learned!)
Ash Carter will host the ceremony this morning and a number of other senior Pentagon types will be there, too, to see the Stephen Craighead portrait unveiling. Jimmy Panetta, one of Leon’s sons, a intel analyst and Bronze Star recipient who served in Afghanistan as a Navy lieutenant, and is now a deputy district attorney in Monterey County, Calif., will also be there. Panetta last night received NDIA’s Eisenhower Award and Medal and participated in a discussion with NDIA Chairman Arnie Punaro. More on that bit, here.
And speaking of Ash Carter, he’ll very likely hold his very first press briefing in the Pentagon today. Some Pentagon reporters have been on Ash Carter Watch, wondering just when the still-new Secretary of Defense, who started in the job February 17, would formally brief reporters in the Pentagon’s briefing room. After dismissing the popular Rear Adm. John Kirby as the Pentagon’s press secretary early on, Carter promised reporters he’d be available to them. Reporters, fairly, expected that meant he would be reasonably regular in the briefing room. It took two months, but today they’ll get their wish. Carter is expected to brief at 2:30 p.m. Watch it all right here.
Meantime: The Iraqi Prime Minister, in Washington this week, is echoing what more people are starting to think about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen: it’s a bad idea. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung: “…Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, visiting the United States, sharply criticized Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military operation in Yemen, saying it had no ‘logic’ and expressing concern that it could help trigger a wider sectarian war in the region.
Does the Obama Administration agree with Abadi? Unclear, but it kind of looks that way, even if the White House has denied it. DeYoung: “…Asked in an interview with a small group of journalists whether President Obama, with whom he met Tuesday, agreed with him that the Saudis had gone ‘too far’ in airstrikes in Yemen, Abadi said he did not want to speak for the administration. But ‘I think that we agreed on this issue,’ he said.”
The Saudis struck back, taking a mind-your-own-business approach: “The Saudis quickly responded. Asked about Abadi’s remarks at a news conference to discuss the Yemen operation, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said Iraqi officials should concern themselves with ‘what’s going on in their own country,’ where he suggested that minorities were still struggling for ‘inclusion.’” More here.
The NYT’s Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: “…The United States remains caught in a difficult balancing act as it tries to keep the Saudi air campaign in Yemen on track against Iranian-backed Houthis. But in its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, the Obama administration finds itself supporting an Iraqi military offensive that is also backed by Iran.” More here.
And Reuters’ Phil Stewart on what Abadi said about the Islamic State: “Iraq's prime minister said on Wednesday that the Islamic State remains a fierce adversary as he outlined plans during a trip to Washington to prioritize battles in the refinery city of Baiji and Anbar province, where the militants are striking back. Haidar al-Abadi, speaking to reporters a day after meeting U.S. President Barack Obama, portrayed a mixed picture of a weakening Islamic State eight months after U.S.-led air strikes against the group began in Iraq.” More here. Meantime, Tehran has a message for Congress: stop meddling. The WSJ’s Asa Fitch and Aresu Eqbali: “Iranian President Hasan Rouhani accused the U.S. Congress of meddling in sensitive negotiations on the fate of the country’s nuclear program, signaling potential new obstacles in the way of a final deal.”
Rouhani said in a speech yesterday: “What the U.S. Senate says, or what the U.S. House of Representatives want, or what the extremists in the U.S. are looking for, or what the U.S. mercenaries in the region say, it doesn’t have anything to do with our government or our people.” Read the rest here.
And when it comes to Iran, Mike Mullen likes the phrase “distrust but verify.” Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen (retired) penned a piece that posted about an hour on Politico called “Why I Like the Iran Deal (Sort of)”. It’s a rare move for Mullen, who doesn’t normally weigh in on geo-politics but who tends to believe that the future of Iran is one of the most pressing challenges of this period. Mullen wrote that the Iran deal stands as a “remarkable if incomplete achievement.”
Mullen just this morning: “As in all such deals, the devil surely lies in its details and in implementation. I like the phrase ‘Distrust but Verify.’ And yet the real significance of this agreement is broader. If successful, it portends historic opportunities for change, not only in Iran but in the Middle East as a whole.” And here’s the money quote: “There is no more credible path of reducing the likelihood of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon than this potential deal.” Read the whole piece right here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief, by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.
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A new Chu for the Pentagon’s Personnel Office? The Pentagon's Personnel and Readiness office isn't the sexiest, highest-profile office within the Pentagon. But it has outsized influence on the nearly 3 million troops who serve, since it oversees everything from pay and compensation to housing, healthcare, education and military supermarkets.
“But for the last six years, the office has seen its leaders come and go rather quickly, contributing to a perception in and outside the Pentagon that the office has not been effective in taking care of what senior leaders often call the military’s most precious resource: its people. Not since David S.C. Chu served as personnel under secretary from 2001 to 2009 has the office had any meaningful continuity in its top job. Chu served longer than his nine successors—combined. The office’s turnover reflects broader problems that have created the perception that it is a graveyard for innovative thinking.
“Enter Brad Carson, a former Democratic member of Congress from Oklahoma who has held key positions in the U.S. Army, including as undersecretary of the service, until he was appointed as acting undersecretary for the P&R office this month. Carson is taking over just as the Pentagon grapples with shrinking budgets and this increasingly front-burner need to reform its personnel system.
“In an interview with Defense One, Carson said he is looking forward to the challenges and believes P&R can help shape the force for decades to come. But the system has to be more flexible than it is now, and that will require change.
Carson to the D Brief: “This is a huge moment in the Defense Department where people are seriously thinking about what the force will look like 10 or 15 years from now… They are getting their heads above the hurly-burly of 15 years of war… [to see how to create] a flexible personnel system that meets the needs of millennials.”
Carson’s selection stems in part from the degree to which Defense Secretary Ash Carter is focused on some of the internal issues at the Pentagon, and many will welcome that attention.
Here’s what Bob Gates wrote about “P&R” in his book, “Duty”: “…Virtually every issue I wanted to tackle with regard to health affairs… wounded warriors and disability evaluations encountered active opposition, passive resistance, or just plain bureaucratic obduracy from P&R. It makes me angry even now.” Read the rest of Lubold’s story here.
BTW: NBC News has just altered its account of just who kidnapped NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. The New York Times, which did reporting around the 2012 kidnapping, contributing to the change in NBC News’ understanding of the issue. The NYT’s Ravi Somaiya, C.J. Chivers and Karam Shoumali: “NBC News on Wednesday revised its account of the 2012 kidnapping of its chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, saying it was likely that Mr. Engel and his reporting team had been abducted by a Sunni militant group, not forces affiliated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.” That story here.
Richard Engel, in a statement: “…About a month ago, we were contacted by the New York Times. The newspaper had uncovered information that suggested the kidnappers were not who they said they were and that the Syrian rebels who rescued us had a relationship with the kidnappers.” More here.
Contrary to what Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin reported, Mike Nagata isn’t going anywhere, CENTCOM says. U.S. Central Command issued a rare “correction to the record” late last night that said this: “Contrary to an article published by Bloomberg View today, Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata will continue to lead the U.S. Syria Train and Equip program and there is no effort underway to replace him. Any speculation to the contrary is inaccurate.”
The Hill’s Kristina Wong: “‘...The statement came after a Bloomberg story on Wednesday said Nagata was leaving the position as the commander of Special Operations Command Central in May or June… The reports of him leaving caused concern on the Hill.
“Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Bloomberg on Tuesday, ‘We need to know why this change is taking place…It doesn’t make sense to me. When you have a job with that level of responsibility, there should not be a time frame.’” Read the rest, here.
The Army is making the women trying to qualify for Ranger School meet every male standard, Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes from the Fort Benning: “Of the 138 women to have entered all four pre-Ranger School courses since January, only 20 have made it all the way to qualifying for Monday’s first day of Army Ranger School, the intensely punishing, three-phase, two-month combat leadership school whose graduates have the privilege of donning the gold and black Ranger tab. Well over half of all of those who start Ranger School fail to make it past the first four days.
“‘There is a lot of rumor and speculation...A lot of misinformation,’ said retired Army Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger. ‘What we wanted to do was to inject fact into a largely fact-free environment.’” Read the rest, here.
The D Brief corrects: Last week we ran an item we picked up from War on the Rocks in which we said authors Nora Bensahel and Dave Barno were with CNAS, the Center for a New American Security. The two sometime ago left CNAS. They are now with the School of International Service at American University. We regret the forget.
The Pentagon’s motorcycle unit is over: true need vs. good to have. The D Brief has learned that this month marked the official end of something at the Pentagon you might not have ever thought about: the Pentagon police force deactivated its “Motors Unit.” There used to be a three-motorcycle unit that cruised the Pentagon, issuing tickets and sometimes providing escort services to VIPs coming in and out of the Pentagon “reservation.” But no more. As of April 4, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency deactivated its Motors Unit in an “ongoing effort to achieve efficiencies, while maintaining the robust protection mission at the Pentagon.”
From PFPA: “As a law enforcement and security agency, we are always assessing our security measures to ensure they effectively meet our mission. In light of the many budget cuts and pending fiscal shortages, some serious decisions had to be made in regard to the staffing and logistical priorities within the Pentagon Police Directorate, where ‘a true need’ versus ‘good to have’ have to be differentiated.
“The maintenance and replacement costs of maintaining motorcycles; however, was not cost effective, when, in most cases, the services performed by the Motors Unit could be provided by officers in a patrol car. The current members of the Motors Unit served with distinction during their time with the unit and will be reassigned within the Pentagon Police Directorate.” The times they are a changin’, no?
BTW: do you pronounce the name of the Pentagon’s police force, with the initials PFPA, “P-F-P-A” or do you say “PIFPA?” Turns out the force likes it be called “P-F-P-A,” with the letters spelled out. But for whatever reason, most folks still call it, somewhat lovingly, somewhat mockingly, “PIFPA.”
The Fat Leonard corruption scandal continues to widen as yesterday we learned an eighth Navy officer was added to the list of those convicted. WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: “Lt. Cmdr. Todd Dale Malaki, 44, a former supply officer based in Asia, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery… [as Malaki] admitted to feeding classified ship schedules and other sensitive information to Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian defense contractor who squeezed out competitors to become the primary supplier of goods and port services to U.S. Navy ships in Asia.
“Investigators had targeted Malaki for months. His offenses were described in detail in court records when Francis pleaded guilty in January, but his name was redacted from the documents.” More here.
Money meant to address VA staffing shortages could be used to complete the nearly $2 billion medical facility in Aurora, Colo., WaPo’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux: “The 184-bed hospital is expected to replace an outdated and crowded facility in Denver. But the project is already $1 billion over budget and includes what even VA’s leadership has called ‘extravagant features,’ including a $100 million atrium and concourse that veterans groups say is a waste of resources.” More here.
The high demand for cyber threat information has feeds a competitive marketplace that’s more limiting than helpful—and that needs to change as soon as possible if nations and institutions adjust to this 21st century threat, former NATO Commander Jim Stavridis writes in The Hill, here.
ISIS captured three villages yesterday in an assault on the outskirts of Ramadi that caused another exodus of Iraqi residents and troops, McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero and James Rosen report: “Government forces were responding with heavy bombardment from military aircraft, but the outcome of the battle was uncertain as night fell. Thousands of residents and troops were reported fleeing the city... An Iraqi official in Ramadi…said militants had pushed to within 500 yards of the provincial command center but were then killed by U.S. airstrikes, part of what the official described as a trap the Iraqis and Americans had set for the Islamic State fighters.
“A statement on the Central Command’s website referred to the combat in Ramadi as a clearing operation, suggesting that the Iraqi troops had held off the encroaching Islamic State fighters.” More here.
Filling Iraq’s ranks with U.S.-trained Sunni tribal fighters has proven to be an enormous challenge, The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp reports, here.
Who’s up to what today? PACOM Chief Adm. Sam Locklear and Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti talk the Asia-Pacific with the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. … Defense Secretary Ash Carter is set to speak at the Panetta portrait unveiling at 10 a.m. this morning… a little more than 2 hours later, he welcomes the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to the Pentagon… Air Force Secretary Debbie James is in Colorado and today will deliver an address at the Space Symposium at 1000 local time, followed by a media roundtable with Gen Hyten. This evening she is attending the Air Force Academy's Take Back the Night event marking Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month.
Also today: The Stimson Center talks the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) annual report on current trends in military spending at 3 p.m. (register for that here) … the Center for a New American Security tackles the rebalance/pivot to Asia today from noon to 4 p.m., with Sen. John McCain keynoting and DOD’s Kelly Magsamen giving off-the-record remarks (more here).
And in the evening: Gen. Marty Dempsey, Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Gen. Frank Grass will be at the Ritz-Carlton tonight in Pentagon City for the annual Military Child of the Year awards. That gets under way at 5 p.m. A bit more on that, here.