Dunford aims at Russia; How many F-35s?; 21.5 million compromised by OPM; Big Army’s troop cuts; Lessons from Colombia; And a bit more.
It’s not the Islamic State or China, but Russia that’s the top threat to the U.S., Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers at his Senate confirmation hearing to replace Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, you’d have to point to Russia…If you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. The main reason? Nuclear weapons.
An erratic North Korea and increasingly militant China rank above the Islamic State, or ISIS, on Dunford’s list of threats to the U.S. homeland; but, he cautioned hawks, “You can’t attack those issues in sequence.”
“Thursday’s hearing was mostly a friendly event for Dunford, one that included as many partisan shots between lawmakers as questions for the nominee himself,” Military Times reports. It was actually softer than that, even for today’s pro forma confirmation hearings that show little actual oversight teeth.
“General, I think you’re an outstanding choice. The president could not have chosen a better person,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., before asking his first question of the nominee.
On Ukraine: “From a military perspective,” Dunford said, “I think it’s reasonable that we provide that support to the Ukrainians, and frankly without that kind of support then they’re not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression.”
On whether or not it’s time to embed American special forces troops with Iraqi units to fight ISIS, he largely deflected, telling Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions: “…without appearing to be evasive, what I would really like to do, if confirmed, is to have the opportunity to get on the ground, speak to the commanders, and, frankly, provide, you know, a more comprehensive recommendation to how we can move the campaign forward in Iraq without focusing on one or other of the factors.”
On drawing down forces in Afghanistan, where he led the campaign in 2013-14: Dunford agreed with the panel, promising his advice to the White House would “be based on the conditions on the ground,” rather than a blind calendar. Graham and the GOP bench lately has renewed that talking point criticism, though President Barack Obama has always said the timeline was conditional. More here, The Guardian reported.
Finally, the Pentagon is reconsidering how many F-35 Joint Strike Fighters it will buy. That admission constituted perhaps Dunford’s most surprising answer to lawmakers’ pre-hearing questionnaire, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports. Dunford wrote, “Given the evolving defense strategy and the latest Defense Planning Guidance, we are presently taking the newest strategic foundation and analyzing whether [the long-sought purchase count of] 2,443 aircraft is the correct number.” That makes Dunford the first senior-level defense official to acknowledge that the total F-35 buy could change — which would instantly further increase the taxpayer price of each F-35 built. For a bit more on how Dunford’s nomination could affect the DOD’s future weapons, head over here.
We’re at 21.5 million OPM victims now—that’s the most recent count of Americans believed to have caught up in two colossal hacks at the Office of Personnel Management. The number, which has been constantly revised upward for almost a month now, includes nearly everyone who had a federal background check conducted through OPM since 2000. And even people who underwent a background investigation before that may be affected, but OPM said Thursday that is “less likely.”
The hackers’ haul swept up “Social Security numbers, residency and education information, employment history, health information, criminal histories and financial histories” as well as “notes and data obtained by investigators in interviews, as well as personal information of immediate family members” for potentially millions of military personnel, Military Times reports.
But wait, there’s more: “…fingerprints, detailed financial and health records, and computer usernames and passwords that applicants used to fill out their security-clearance forms online,” The Washington Post reports.
“The CIA, largely appears to have been shielded from damage, especially for employees who have never worked at any other agency” although “some U.S. officials have said that a foreign spy service might be able to identify U.S. intelligence operatives by scrutinizing the OPM files,” WaPo adds. “Names that appear on rosters of U.S. embassies but are missing from the OPM records might, through a process of elimination, reveal the identities of CIA operatives serving under diplomatic cover.”
“I am committed to the work that I am doing at OPM,” Director Katherine Archuleta said. She and her agency face two class-action lawsuits and multiple calls for her resignation or outright removal, the New York Times reports.
Iran talks have devolved as Iranian officials last night accused the U.S. and Europeans of “13th-hour” backtracking, the Wall Street Journal reported. The latest twist follows U.S. negotiators’ warning to Tehran reps on Thursday that Washington is not ruling out the possibility of walking away from a process that’s taken another “counterproductive” turn.
“Suddenly everyone has their own red lines. Britain has its red line, the U.S. has its red line, France, Germany,” an Iranian official complained to Reuters. “‘We’re pushing,’ said [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry when asked if there would be a deal this weekend. Yes, ‘Off the balcony,’ quipped Federica Mogherini, the top EU diplomat convening the talks, prompting a smile and a wave of the finger from Kerry,” according to AP.
Meantime, the Obama administration is working $6 billion in military hardware sales to assure Middle Eastern allies should Iran consent to a deal any time soon, Bloomberg reports. Radars, Hellfires, helicopters—it’s all on the table in pending deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
From Defense One
The Iran deal may live or die with one man: New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who appears to be caught between liberals, who want to side with the administration, and hawks skeptical of rapprochement with Tehran, National Journal’s Alex Rogers writes.
David Rohde says the U.N. Security Council’s failure to recognize the 1995 Bosnian massacre at Srebenica as genocide is the latest signal of the world body’s impotence. Rohde recounts the horror, and failure, of the West to intervene with military force collectively and decisively. “Srebrenica, though, showed how a flawed international effort can sometimes make things worse.” Russia’s veto Wednesday of the word genocide, “suggests that more division and half measures are likely to come.” His story, via the Atlantic.
I always feel like, somebody’s watching me. So, next Thursday, July 16, join us for a discussion on the DOD Insider Threat Program. Technology Editor Patrick Tucker will sit down with Patricia Larsen, co-director of the National Insider Threat Task Force, and Mark Nehmer, deputy chief of implementation at the DOD Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center with the Defense Security Service. The event begins at 8 a.m. EDT, at the CEB Waterview Conference Center in Arlington, Va. Register for your spot here.
Read more about insider threats, in our new e-book that takes you deep into the subject here.
Welcome to Friday's edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Find our subscribe link here. (And if you want to view today’s edition in your browser, you can do that here.) And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
America’s air campaign against ISIS affiliates extended to Afghanistan, WaPo reported from Kabul yesterday: “Tribal elders and provincial officials in [the eastern province of] Nangahar said a U.S. air campaign, conducted in conjunction with Afghan security forces and intelligence agents, has been underway in the province for two weeks. U.S. drones and fighter jets have been deployed regularly, officials said.”
The Nangarhar strike, “which the U.S. military said occurred Tuesday — killed more than two dozen Islamic State militants, according to local media reports.”
Your weekend #LongRead: One of Washington’s proudest accomplishments in Afghanistan since 2001—the sweeping gains made in the areas of literacy and education—appear to be based on “often outright lies, as the government peddled numbers it knew to be false and touted schools that have never seen a single student,” in a Buzzfeed investigation published yesterday.
More “due outs” than answers from Big Army’s big cuts media round table yesterday at the Pentagon. The U.S. Army made waves this week when USA Today reminded everyone of the service’s intent to cut nearly 60,000 troops and civilians by the end of fiscal year 2017. And yesterday, Army officials had a chance to explain their thinking behind the cuts and what capabilities would be lost. But most reporters left the roundtable session with only a list of the stateside numbers—hat tip to The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp for sharing—which did not add up to the 40,000 troop reduction Army officials teased earlier this week. It did not include tallies for overseas reductions despite repeated Army warnings that imminent cuts will affect “nearly every Army installation in the continental United States and overseas,” according to Brig. Gen. Randy George, director of force management in the Army G-3, or operations cell.
What is known: “Right now, the Army plans to cut 15,000 soldiers in fiscal 2016 for an end-strength of 475,000. Another 15,000 will go in fiscal 2017, and another 10,000 in fiscal 2018 for an eventual end-strength of 450,000…and shrink its two-star and higher headquarters by 25 percent,” Army Times reports. “The Army continues to analyze which 17,000 civilian jobs will be cut, George said. More information is expected in the next 60 to 90 days, he said.”
The culprit: Sequestration, of course.
What’s the difference, anyway? Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, tells The D Brief: “The big question the Army needs to answer is why this cut matters. What can an Army of 490,000 do that an Army of 450,000 cannot? What mission or scenario or contingency will the Army not be able to support with a force of 450,000? And if the Army doesn’t have a compelling answer to that question, then 450,000 may not be the bottom.”
BRAC is back? Congress might have the stomach for a new round of base closures, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “The notion that this was completely unacceptable, which existed about a year ago, is not there anymore,” Smith told reporters Thursday.
The U.S. Air Force just sent B-52s to Colombia for training, a measure of the South American nation’s “enduring importance to our national security,” Marine Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, said Thursday, according to Air Force Times. Colombia is widely celebrated in the U.S. special operations community as one of America’s few counterinsurgency success stories. But as numerous current and former special operations troops tell the D Brief that success in Colombia took decades to achieve—and even though the work continues to this day, all of it was accomplished in a nation with established infrastructure and relative stability in the state’s governance structure.
None of those conditions applied to America’s counterterrorism wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is reflected in Washington’s reluctance to send in teams of overt special operators to the frontlines in Iraq; as well as the Pentagon’s eagerness to hand over rural security in Afghanistan to local police from the U.S. special forces manning regional stability hubs—called Village Stability Operations platforms.
These more ideal conditions for counterinsurgency are worth considering. AMarine Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers Thursday embedding special operations forces with just any host nation, Iraqis included, “can always help make foreign allies more effective.”
And to that end, you may elect to devote time this weekend reading former Green Beret and VSO architect Lt. Col. Scott Mann’s post in Small Wars Journal last July on 13 points for “Bypassing the Graveyard of Empires.” Even if you don’t agree with all the ideas Mann posits, his lessons from the counterinsurgency work in Colombia are well worth heeding.
Finally today: An overdue admin note. On Wednesday, we noted that Brad Carson could remove the “acting” qualifier of his title as defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness. Truth is the White House only announced Carson’s formal nomination for the job, and the Senate still has to confirm him. Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a great weekend.