Col. Jeff McCausland (Ret.), CBS News Military Analyst, joins UTTM to discuss the Kenya mall attack and the terrorist group responsible.
Col. Jeff McCausland (Ret.), CBS News Military Analyst, joins UTTM to discuss the Kenya mall attack and the terrorist group responsible.
(Article originally published by the Carnegie Council)
The New Obama National Security Team
In the aftermath of the inauguration, the Senate has begun confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s overall cabinet and national security team for the second term. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) was easily confirmed as secretary of state and received 94 affirmative votes from his Senate colleagues with only three opposed. Confirmation hearings for John Brennan, currently President Obama’s chief counterrorism advisor, will begin in early February for him to become the new CIA Director.
President Obama’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as secretary of defense has drawn significant opposition from Republicans in the Senate and various other groups across the United States. There are five areas the opposition has focused on. First, Senator Hagel once commented about his belief that the “Jewish lobby” wielded inordinate influence on American lawmakers. While some might call this language inappropriate, Vice President Dick Cheney also used the same phrase, as have others. Clearly, anyone involved in policy development in Washington understands the significant influence wielded by the Israeli lobby. It should not be forgotten that every presidential candidate has delivered a speech at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in efforts to secure their support. Despite the fact that Hagel voted consistently in favor of military aid for Israel throughout his career, some have now taken these comments as “anti-Semitic,” which would clearly appear to be a complete distortion.
Second, he opposed a number of unilateral sanctions against Iran and argued that they would be ineffective absent coordination with our European allies and others. Senator Hagel has also said the decision to attack Iran if it fails to halt its ongoing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons could unleash unexpected consequences and must be avoided at all costs. While this would seem even to the left of the position taken by the administration, Senator Hagel attempted to make clear that he supported the president’s policy that “all options should be on the table” when dealing with Iran.
Third, in the late 1990’s, he criticized a nominee for an ambassadorial post who was openly gay. Senator Hagel argued that the ambassador’s sexual orientation could adversely select his ability to perform his duties. He has subsequently apologized for these remarks.
Fourth, Senator Hagel has said that he believes the Pentagon budget is “bloated” and reductions in defense should occur as part of overall deficit reduction.
Finally, Senator Hagel openly broke with his Republican colleagues over the Iraq War and warned his colleagues in 2002 that an invasion of Iraq could lead to chaos and a violent struggle between Shiites and Sunnis. Senator Hagel also opposed the surge in 2007. This appears to have resulted in a clear rift with his old friend Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who Senator Hagel had supported for president in 2000. Senator McCain had actually said during that campaign that if he were elected president, Senator Hagel would be a good candidate for secretary of defense.
The confirmation hearing for Senator Hagel was particularly harsh and many of his former Republican friends were extremely critical. Senator McCain appeared to take it as a personal affront that Senator Hagel did not fully agree that the “surge” in Iraq was a success. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) badgered Senator Hagel over his assertions that the Israeli lobby had influenced actions in Congress and repeatedly asked him to name one senator who had been intimidated. New elected Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) surprised the hearing by showing a video of Senator Hagel appearing on the Arab television station Al Jazeera. Senator Cruz charged that, in the Al Jazeera clip, Senator Hagel had not challenged a caller who had accused Israel of war crimes
Oddly, the confirmation hearing was much more focused on the past than the challenges faced by a defense secretary in the future. Afghanistan was only raised a few times. There was no real discussion of the use of force in the future once the war in Afghanistan is over, or defense policy priorities during a period of shrinking resources. China and the so-called “pivot to the Pacific” were not discussed in any great detail. Finally, January 27, 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the all-volunteer force which was created at the end of the Vietnam War. The next secretary of defense must examine carefully the health of that force and how to maintain it in future.
Senator Hagel’s performance during the hearing was subpar at best. One observer summed the event up well and observed that he “melted like a chocolate bar on the dashboard during a hot day.” Senator Hagel did not seem to have ready answers for obvious questions and fumbled his responses concerning Iran. He stated at one point that he supported the president’s policy of “containment” of Iran, only to have to later retract that statement.
Still, it still appears likely that Senator Hagel will be confirmed. So far, no Republican senator seems interested in filibustering the nomination, and the Democrats have a majority on the committee that will insure the nomination makes its way to the floor. Most experts believe Senator Hagel may get 55 to 60 “Yes” votes, but he only needs 51. It appears hard to believe the Senate could reject one of their own who was born in poverty, got drafted, earned two Purple Hearts in combat in Vietnam, worked his way through college, made a fortune in the cellphone business, and then entered public service. In the history of confirmation votes, over 500 nominees have been confirmed and only nine have been rejected. The last was Senator John Tower (R-TX) over 24 years ago, and he was alleged to have been a womanizer with a severe alcohol problem.
This process and the nominations the president has made so far are also instructive about the character of the new team. The first Obama administration was characterized as a “team of rivals” that included political opponents such as Hillary Clinton. It is clear now that the president wants a team that he is personally comfortable with and supports the policies he wishes to pursue. This is a “team of friends.”
Sequestration and So-Called “March Madness”
The Pentagon issued a “28 Star Letter” to members of Congress in early January that was signed by all seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All of these officers, representing all of the services and National Guard, have attained the rank of four-star general and they expressed their concern about the impact that the continuing resolution and sequestration will have on military readiness if it is implemented on March 1. All of the service chiefs and the chairman have also repeatedly made this point individually in various policy forums for many months.
For example, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert released specific details of how the Navy is reducing operational spending to comply with the constraints of the ongoing continuing resolution (CR) and imminent sequester. He pointed out that the Navy is currently on pace to spend $49 billion in FY 2013 for operations and maintenance (O&M) funds on flight hours, steaming days, civilian personnel pay, and maintenance for ships and aircraft. Because of the terms of the CR that is currently funding the government, the Navy has already begun to reduce that level of spending for the rest of the year by $4.6 billion. The CR language also requires the deferral of $1.7 billion in planned spending on new programs until an appropriations bill is passed. If sequester is implemented on March 1, as now seems probable, the Navy will reduce spending a further $4 billion.
This would have a significant negative impact on many defense industries and the economy as a whole. Companies deriving significant income from Navy O&M will see reductions in planned payments from the Navy regardless of whether or not sequester goes into effect on March 1. Congress must replace the current CR with an appropriations bill by March 27 to reverse these cuts.
If sequester goes into effect on March 1, cuts to Navy O&M will have greater immediate operational impact in terms of curtailing current and future deployments. Actions taken to comply with FY 2013 sequestration will result in only one carrier and one Marine amphibious ready group deployed, and it will be in the Pacific. Even if funding is restored in the fall, it will take nine months to recover and get second and third groups deployed. Many believe this consequence alone makes it virtually certain that sequestration cuts, should they initially occur on March 1, will be mitigated and mostly restored by May.
If this happens it could actually cost the Navy more money in the long term. Those companies dependent on O&M funding for ship maintenance are bound to take losses in the near term and their subsequent prices will reflect this. However, these dips could present buy opportunities when the work finally is done. The Navy estimates that delaying ship maintenance two years results in the Navy paying 2.6 times for the same work when the maintenance finally is performed.
Still, as the month comes to a close it appears very likely that sequestration will occur. Senior officials, including chairman of the House Budget Committee Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), have already stated that they believe this will occur. Some Republicans have called for delaying the planned spending cuts in defense while increasing cuts in other areas of the federal government. Democrats have called for any cuts to be balanced to some degree at least with increased revenues. The Pentagon has already begun laying off most of its 46,000 temporary and term employees and cutting maintenance on ships and aircraft in an effort to slow spending before nearly $50 billion in new cuts are due to go into effect on March 1.
On January 2, President Obama signed a $633 billion defense bill for next year, despite serious concerns about the limits Congress imposed on his handling of terror suspects and lawmakers’ unwillingness to back the cost-saving retirement of aging ships and aircraft.
President Obama had threatened to veto the measure due to a number of concerns, but relented because he couldn’t pick and choose specific sections. However, in a statement, the president spelled out his concerns about restrictions on his ability to carry out his constitutional duties as commander-in-chief. Specifically, he complained that the bill limited the military’s authority to transfer third-country nationals being held at a detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan. He also took issue with restrictions on his authority to transfer terror suspects from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by members of Congress,” President Obama wrote. He said the section of the bill related to detainees in Afghanistan threatened to upend that tradition, and could interfere with a president’s ability, as commander-in-chief, to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active combat theater.
President Obama promised when he took office four years ago to close the prison at Guantanamo, but Congressional opposition from Republicans and some Democrats have prevented him from fulfilling that vow. The law limits his authority to transfer terror suspects to foreign countries or move them to the United States. President Obama has insisted he still believes Guantanamo should be shuttered because operating the facility “weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and strengthening our enemies.” The president said his administration will interpret the bill’s provisions, and if they violate the constitutional separation of power, he will implement them in a way to avoid that conflict.
The law puts off the retirement of some ships and aircraft, and President Obama warned that the move could force reductions in the overall size of the military as the Defense Department faces cuts in projected spending. It also included cuts in defense spending that the president and Congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, along with the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan.
The new budget does authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department, and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The measure is about $29 billion under the current level, largely due to smaller amounts for Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are legitimate concerns as previously suggested over sequestration and the rapid reduction in defense spending, it is also important to note that the U.S. defense budget exceeds the spending of the next 10 countries combined, and most of those states are American allies. Defense spending is roughly 18 percent of all annual federal outlays.
In addition to increasing spending for security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly September 11, 2012 raid in Libya, the measure tightens penalties on Iran in an effort to thwart its nuclear ambitions. The legislated sanctions would hit Iran’s energy, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors as well as Iran’s ports, blacklisting them as “entities of proliferation concern.” The bill would impose penalties on anyone caught supplying precious metals to Iran and sanctions on Iranian broadcasting.
As suicides among active-duty soldiers have accelerated, the bill also allows a commander officer or health professional to ask if a member of the services owns a firearm, if they consider the individual at risk for either suicide or hurting others. The bill includes a Senate-passed provision sponsored by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that expands health insurance coverage for military women and their dependents who decide to have abortions in cases of rape and incest. Previously, health coverage applied only to abortions in cases where the life of the mother was endangered. The measure includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.
International security issues
Visit of President Karzai to Washington
Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington to meet with President Obama and his national security team in early January. Four things were high on the agenda for these meetings:
Prior to the meeting, General John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, put forward his recommendations for residual force levels. It is widely believed that the general’s recommendations included three options that are a function of the capabilities to be retained: 6,000 troops, 10,000 troops, or 20,000 troops.
Option #1: With 6,000 troops, defense officials said, the American mission would largely be a counterterrorism fight of special operations commandos who would hunt down insurgents. There would be limited logistical support and training for Afghan security forces. U.S. forces would be concentrated in one base only: Bagram. This is the “Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) is on its own” option.
Option #2: With 10,000 troops, the United States would expand training of Afghan security forces. On top of the troops from option #1, this would provide an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to support training and mentoring in the ANSF. These troops would essentially continue the deployment of training teams currently in place. Some troops would be assigned to ANSF training bases and others would be partnered with ANSF units in the field. In addition to training and mentoring, this option would confer some ability for ANSF units to call in NATO airstrikes. This number of troops is similar to US troop levels in 2003-2004.
Option #3: With 20,000 troops, the Obama administration would add some conventional army forces to patrol in limited areas. On top of the troops from option #2, this option adds 10,000 troops (about one or two brigades) of conventional army forces. It is unlikely that they would be used for patrolling, since the number of troops would be insufficient for that purpose. A more useful function would be a quick reaction force to bail out ANSF units if they got into trouble during specific operations. There would be either one or two major U.S. bases: Regional Command-East in Bagram, and a possible second base at Regional Command-South at Kandahar. This number of troops is similar to U.S. troop levels in 2005-2007.
In the aftermath of the meeting, it is clear that the Obama administration decided on a smaller American “footprint” and a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces than some in the Pentagon might have desired. The Obama administration appears poised to keep 6,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014. This is fewer than previously reported, and most of them would be confined to fortified garrisons near the capital, leaving Afghan troops largely without American advisers in the field to fight a still-powerful insurgency. A force of 9,000 or fewer U.S. troops will be unable to provide any significant advisory, training, mentoring, or combat support programs for the ANSF.
It is also important to realize that the ANSF will be reduced over the next two years. The downsizing of the ANSF is a consequence of two important decisions made by the U.S. and other International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nations. First, at the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012, the U.S. and other ISAF nations decided that the ANSF security budget would be reduced from the current $11 billion per year to $4.1 billion per year by the end of 2017. (The U.S. would contribute $2.3 billion, allies would contribute $1.3 billion, and the Afghan government would provide $500 million per year.) Since this new funding level is not enough to support the current force of 352,000 troops, the ANSF would have to shrink to 228,500 troops according to the NATO summit communiqué. The preliminary model for a future total ANSF size, defined by the international community and the government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, envisages a force of 228,500, with an estimated annual budget of $4.1billion. This would be reviewed regularly against the developing security environment.
The process of building the ANSF began in 2003 and was accelerated starting in 2008 in conjunction with the surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Today the ANSF, including army, air forces, border guards, and police, is close to a previously planned goal of 352,000 troops. In addition, the Afghan army had planned a complete force structure: armor, artillery, special operations forces, aircraft, logistics, training, intelligence, medical, et cetera.
Given the decisions on the budget and U.S. troop levels, the current size of the ANSF is unsustainable, and a complete force structure cannot be achieved. Therefore, it is no surprise that the buildup of the ANSF has stopped and downsizing has begun. By 2017, the ANSF will be smaller, lighter (fewer heavy weapons), and less well-trained. It also will likely have fewer combat service and support assets. This raises a very serious question: If a force of 352,000 Afghan security personnel plus 100,000 U.S. troops and nearly 40,000 allied troops has not defeated the Taliban, what can Afghanistan expect after this force has been reduced to 228,500 Afghan security personnel and fewer than 9,000 U.S. troops?
The continued presence of American and allied forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014 has also been affected by so-called “green on blue” attacks. Insider attacks on coalition forces have risen steeply over the past two years. In 2012, they caused 15 percent of coalition casualties, as compared to 6 percent in 2011; and 2 percent or less in preceding years. They have become an important part of Taliban strategy, as the coalition drawdown continues in anticipation of the complete handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces in 2014. A BBC report noted that in 2012 “a quarter of the British troops who died in Helmand, were killed in such attacks” and that all six of the British troops killed during the latest six-month tour of duty have died this way.
In the aftermath of President Karzai’s visit, President Obama made several additional announcements at the closing press conference. He discussed the possibility of negotiations with the Taliban as a means to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict. In that regard, the president announced that an office for these discussion would be opened in Qatar in the near future. The Afghan government has also held preliminary discussions with Taliban representatives in Paris. Still, few experts believe that there is much likelihood of even beginning real negotiations in the near future. The president also announced that U.S. forces would shift to a new mission later this spring—training, advising, and assisting with ANSF in the lead. This clearly seems to indicate an accelerated withdrawal of remaining forces between now and the end of 2014 and a lower residual force after that date.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party suffered serious setbacks during Israeli national elections. While Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist ally, the Yisrael Beiteinu party, will still retain the largest voting bloc in the 120-seat Knesset with 31 seats, they lost a quarter of the seats they had previously held. The surprise winner was a new centrist party, Yesh Atid, led by a former Israeli television host, Yair Lapid. His party garnered 19 seats in the election.
The newly elected Knesset is now evenly split, with 60 seats each for right-wing ultra-Orthodox parties and center-left and Arab parties. Netanyahu will still remain as prime minister and likely seek to form a coalition that will include Yair Lapid. The election campaign focused more on domestic issues in Israel, including the economy and the growing divisions between the ultra-Orthodox communities and others in Israeli society. One big issue was the fact that Orthodox Jewish young men are exempt from military service. It will be interesting to see in the weeks ahead what effect this election and the new government has on relations between the Israeli leadership and the new Obama national security team, as well as how it affects ongoing concerns in Washington and Tel Aviv over the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program.
The Conflict in Syria and Speech By President Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech in early January that had been trumpeted as an offer to seek a political solution to the ongoing civil war. Sadly, his remarks actually seemed to reduce any possibility of negotiations in the near future. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized President Assad’s speech as disappointing and not contributing to a solution that could end the violence which has wracked Syria. American officials characterized President Assad’s plan for a national reconciliation conference as “detached from reality” and merely an attempt to cling to power. President Assad asserted that he would not negotiate with “terrorists,” which is how he has characterized the rebels in the country since the onset of the civil war.
The humanitarian disaster continues to grow. Over nearly two years of unrest and violence, the United Nations now estimates that 60,000 Syrians have been killed. Nearly 600,000 Syrians have registered or are awaiting registration as refugees in neighboring countries, while an additional 2.5 million persons are internally displaced, and 4 million people inside Syria are in need of assistance.
Yet it appears unlikely that any action by the international community will occur in the near future. Both Russia and China continue to block any effort to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian regime in the Security Council of the United Nations. Russia has endorsed the efforts of the UN special representative for Syria, but has declared that any proposal that has as a precondition the departure of President Assad will be opposed. Over $1.5 billion has been pledged by a group of donor countries and regional organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees affected by the ongoing violence.
There have also been continued growing concerns about Syrian chemical stockpiles as the situation has deteriorated. President Obama and many other world leaders have warned the Assad regime repeatedly that the use of such weapons against Syrian rebels or civilians was a “red line” that might result in international action. Israeli leaders have also argued that as Syria descends into chaos, the possibility that these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups or be transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon cannot be ignored.
In response to these growing concerns, the Israeli air force conducted airstrikes against targets close to the Syrian-Lebanese border in late January. One target is believed to have been a convoy that was transporting SA17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah. The second target was a “scientific research center,” now identified as the Centre D’Etudes et de Recherché Scientifique. It was further reported that warehouses at the research center, stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons, were destroyed in the strike. Syria denounced these raids in the United Nations and both Iran and Hezbollah announced their support and willingness to take additional actions to come to the aid of Damascus.
In addition, Israel has taken several steps in response to the growing Syrian crisis, including deploying its Iron Dome batteries that are designed to intercept missile attacks to the northern portion of the country. Many experts fear that the airstrikes by Israeli, growing numbers of refugees, and expanded violence within Syria, coupled with increased instability in the region, could result in a wider conflict.
The United States has made a modest increase in its forces in the region in response to this growing crisis. U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense command from Europe and the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, as well as members of the 32nd AAMDC from Ft. Bliss, Texas have deployed to Turkey. They represent two Patriot missile batteries and are part of a NATO response to a request from the Turkish government to augment its security in light of the ongoing civil war in Syria. Many experts believe this could be the first step in the possible creation of a “no-fly zone” over Northern Syria.
French Military Involvement in Africa
France conducted two military operations in Africa. In one, French commandoes conducted a daring raid in Somalia to rescue a French hostage that was being held by the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab. Unfortunately, the mission failed and at least two commandoes were killed. It was later reported that the hostage was also killed.
French forces also came to the assistance of the government of Mali in its efforts to stem the advance of Islamist rebels who are affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The rebels had been successful over the past several years and had assumed control over a large portion of the country. They had installed Sharia law in the northern areas of the country and threatened to topple the existing government.
France employed both ground forces and airstrikes. It also worked with several other countries in the region to provide forces to aid the Malian government in its efforts against the Islamist rebels. As a result, President François Hollande announced expanded security measures in France to counter any attempt by terrorist groups sympathetic with the rebels. By the end of January, French forces had entered Timbuktu, as well as Kida, which was the last major stronghold for Islamist militants.
In the midst of the French deployment to Mali, a group calling itself either the Masked Brigade or Those Who Sign with Blood Brigade stormed a natural gas drilling facility at Amenas, Algeria and took a number of Algerian and foreign hostages. This is a remote site that is roughly 1,000 miles from Algiers, the Algerian capital. The leader of the group, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was not physically present in Amenas, stated in a video that the operation was in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali, and the decision by the Algerian government to allow French military aircraft to transit Algerian airspace. Belmokhtar is believed to be affiliated with AQIM and is widely known in the region for his involvement in drug smuggling, weapons, hostage taking, and extortion,. He has at times been referred to as “Mr. Marlboro.”
The standoff ended when Algerian special operations forces stormed the facility. Forty-eight hostages, including three Americans, were killed, as well as 29 militants. It is believed that the group intended to blow up the facility and kill all of the hostages in the process. This would have not only galvanized public opinion but would have been a serious blow to the Algerian economy, since the site provides roughly 10 percent of the natural gas exported by the country.
The United States and Britain provided assistance to France during their military operations in Mali. The U.S. Air Force provided refueling support, logistics, troop transport, and intelligence sharing. It is also reported that the U.S. military is preparing to establish a base for drones in northwest Africa to increase surveillance of Islamist extremist groups operating in the region. There appear to be no plans at present to deploy armed drones to this base.
African countries and members of the international community have now pledged $455 million to assist an African-led military intervention in Mali. This may allow most French forces to largely depart in the near future but the threat posed by Islamist groups will continue in Mali and the region. Most experts fully believe that weak governments across North Africa, porous borders, and large supplies of weapons offer AQIM and related groups an opportunity that they will likely attempt to exploit. While the Malian government with French support may have reasserted control over the urban areas of the country, Islamist rebels will likely still be able to operate from the countryside.
Media Security Issues
The following are a brief summary of the major national security issues that the media focused on during the month.
Tensions Rising on the Korean Peninsula
The UN Security Council voted for additional sanctions against North Korea in the aftermath of the December launch of the Unha3, a long-range rocket. The launch was viewed as a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions. In the aftermath of this decision, North Korea has issued new threats against South Korea and the United States. It described the expansion of the sanctions as an act of war and appears to be preparing for a new nuclear test. North Korea also argued that the successful launching of a satellite into space by South Korea was a provocative act that would increase tensions on the peninsula.
Border Violence Between India and Pakistan
Two attacks occurred along the Line of Control in Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Pakistan accused India of a cross-border raid in the disputed Kashmir territory, killing at least one Pakistani soldier and critically wounding another. But Indian officials say their troops fired across the border after being attacked from Pakistan.
These were the first such attacks in a number of years and resulted in casualties on both sides. India’s defense minister condemned the killing of two Indian soldiers and vowed that there would be a response. Still, most experts believe the incident is unlikely to seriously affect the peace process that has dramatically improved diplomatic ties between the two countries. It is still important to remember that most experts believe the border between India and Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous locations on the planet.
General Allen Cleared by Department of Defense Inspector General
Marine General John Allen, commander of U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, had been the subject of a Department of Defense inspector general (DODIG) investigation over emails he allegedly sent to a Jill Kelly, volunteer female social aide to CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida. This was part of the larger investigation concerning an extramarital affair that former CIA director Dave Petraeus had with a woman who wrote his biography and who had exchanged correspondence with Kelly.
As a consequence, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced in December that Allen’s nomination to become NATO supreme allied commander (SACEUR) had been temporarily placed on hold. The DODIG announced that Allen had been cleared, and the Obama administration reinitiated his nomination to the Senate. Allen is scheduled to be replaced by Marine General Joseph Dunford in mid-February. Dunford recently served as deputy commandant of the Marine Corps and curiously has no previous experience in Afghanistan.
DOD Lifts Ban on Women in Combat
Secretary Panetta announced that the military would remove all restrictions from females serving in combat assignments and associated military occupational specialties. The secretary gave the services until 2016 to implement the decision or present analysis why women should continue to be blocked from certain combat specialties.
Supporters of this decision believe this is a question of equality, and a lawsuit had been filed by a female Army colonel and command sergeant major against the Department of Defense in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. Opponents have traditionally opposed females in combat assignments due to concerns about its effect on overall combat effectiveness. They argue that women in large numbers cannot meet physical fitness requirements (such as upper body strength), and that it would have an adverse impact on males in such units who might tend to try and protect females as opposed to being mission-focused. Other concerns have been physical hygiene during extended combat tours, sexual harassment, danger of female soldiers becoming prisoners of war, and pregnancy. It will be particularly interesting to see how this debate is conducted for the assignment of females to special operations units, such as SEALS, Rangers, Delta Force, and Special Forces. The military also announced that female helicopter pilots could now serve in the elite special operations aviation unit, Task Force 160, that flew the mission which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden
As we look ahead I would make the following final comments.
Confirmation Hearings and Senate Votes
As previously noted, John Brennan will appear for his confirmation hearings in early February. He will be asked very difficult questions about his involvement in rendition and decisions with respect to waterboarding detainees. It is also very likely that the use of drone strikes against terrorist groups in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere will be raised.
Continued Budgetary Crisis and Sequestration
Sequestration looms on the horizon and is scheduled to be implemented on March 1. It will be interesting to see if either party entertains a serious effort to resolve this crisis or spends the majority of the next month trying to blame its political opponents. Furthermore, the nation will begin to see the serious economic consequences that sequestration may have on a still fragile economy.
Possibility of a Nuclear Test by North Korea
It appears very likely that North Korea will conduct a third nuclear test in the next few weeks. While this will increase tensions on the Korean peninsula, it may also have a positive benefit. It will provide a much clearer idea of how far the North Korean program has progressed.
Egypt in Turmoil
Thousands of Egyptians throughout the country have demonstrated against the government of President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi’s opponents have even taken to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand his overthrow and carried their protest to the doors of the presidential palace. As many as 65 people have been killed in violent clashes since January 25. This prompted the head of the army to declare the state is on the verge of collapse. Those opposed to the government are furious with the new constitution drawn up since Morsi came to power after Hosni Mubarak was ousted two years ago. This new wave of the Arab Spring could have dramatic consequences should Egypt collapse into the type of civil violence we are now witnessing in Syria.
Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
(Article originally published by the Carnegie Council)
The Republican convention in Florida had as bookends two hurricanes—Isaac and Eastwood. Isaac threatened the actual conduct of the event and raised anxieties in the Republican leadership that the American people would focus their attention on the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf region rather than the speeches in Tampa. The second “hurricane” raised concerns that the most talked-about speech at the convention would not be Governor Mitt Romney’s, the party’s presidential nominee, but rather an awkward one by 82-year-old actor Clint Eastwood. Still, after several days of speeches and pageantry, the convention nominated Governor Romney and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the party’s candidates for president and vice president.
Paul Ryan was a somewhat surprising choice for vice president. He is most well-known for his chairmanship of the House Budgetary Committee and proposals for federal spending reductions. His acceptance speech was well-received, but revealed little about his thoughts on foreign or defense policy. Overall, when it comes to these issues, Ryan has a very limited record from his time in Congress. A few days after the announcement that he would serve as Governor Romney’s running mate, Ryan delivered a speech in New Hampshire in which he remarked that, for him, “overseas . . . means Lake Superior.”
Clearly, he supports traditional Republican Party positions—robust defense spending and opposition to many of President Obama’s foreign policy proposals. It is believed that Ryan accepts advice from experts at the American Enterprise Institute who argue that a reduction in federal entitlement programs is required to insure adequate funds are available for defense. This is also in line with Governor Romney’s proposals that Pentagon spending should be set at 4 percent of the nation’s GDP. In a statement on government spending relating to the Republican Party’s federal budget proposal, Ryan called for, over the next decade, restoring half of the $487 billion in defense spending reductions announced by President Obama in January.
Ryan, like Governor Romney, has criticized Obama for his policies on Afghanistan. Both argue that the president has made decisions on the war based more on politics than military necessity, but they have provided few details so far on how they would prosecute the war differently. Ryan voted in favor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as supporting military intervention in Libya. He also voted against the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy that barred gay men and women from serving openly in the U.S. military. Finally, like Governor Romney, Ryan has also frequently voiced his strong support for Israel.
In his acceptance speech at the convention, Governor Romney also did little to reveal the direction his administration might take in foreign affairs or defense policy outside of the issues already mentioned. He has previously endorsed the plan to link the Pentagon’s base budget to the nation’s GDP and to provide 4 percent of GDP annually for defense. The Pentagon’s current base budget (absent the costs for the war in Afghanistan) for 2013 stands at about 3.5 percent of GDP and an increase to 4 percent would mean roughly $100 billion more in defense spending. Some experts have calculated that the Romney proposal would amount to $2.1 trillion in increased spending for defense over the next decade based on projections for the American economy. Clearly, the governor’s proposals for defense spending, when coupled with additional tax cuts and a cap of 20 percent overall on federal spending, would lead to a dramatic reordering of the nation’s fiscal priorities. Furthermore, few economists believe that these plans could lead to dramatic reductions in the nation’s deficits in the next decade.
Governor Romney mentioned Iran three times in his speech and reiterated his previously stated view that Russia poses a major threat to American interests in future. He never mentioned Iraq and also failed to discuss the war in Afghanistan at all in his remarks. This was truly surprising. It might be the first time in the nation’s history that, when receiving the nomination for president, a major party nominee ignored an ongoing war that was taking the life of one American soldier daily. One can only imagine that he and his advisors believe that the American people have become largely disconnected from the conflict and, consequently, remarks about the war were unlikely to attract additional support for his candidacy. Still, it would seem appropriate for the nation to know how the next chief executive would manage this conflict, which he will certainly inherit.
At this point, it appears clear that the Republican leadership do not envision foreign and defense policy as being major issues in the November election. They appear little concerned that, as one observer noted, the Romney-Ryan team has the least foreign policy experience of any ticket since Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren in 1948. The only speech at the convention that focused on these issues was delivered by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. She only mentioned Iraq in passing and also failed to mention Afghanistan, but still attempted to make a case for a robust American defense and foreign policy. But in interviews following her speech, she was unable to find any major disagreement with the decisions taken by President Obama.
The First Openly Gay Military Officer is Promoted to General
Colonel Tammy Smith was promoted to brigadier general (BG) and became the first openly gay person to attain flag rank in the U.S. military. This occurred roughly one year after the military ended the DADT policy. Many experts have been surprised how smoothly this transition has occurred. A number of problems that some foresaw have failed to occur. There has not been a significant reduction in recruiting nor a large number of serving officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) announcing that they were departing the military due to this change in policy. No major incident has been reported that involved attacks on gays by members of the military.
Furthermore, it is interesting to consider that the military and the Department of Defense have made a number of efforts to recognize and support the efforts of gay service personnel. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta delivered a speech in which he underscored the efforts of gay service members during the nation’s wars. The Pentagon organized a gay pride event in June and further allowed service members to wear their uniforms during a gay rights parade in July.
BG Smith married her partner shortly after the end of the DADT policy in a ceremony in Washington. She was promoted by her spouse who is active in the gay rights effort. Smith attempted to downplay the significance of her promotion. Those who have served with BG Smith appeared uniform in their belief that she was a high quality officer who was now being recognized for her efforts throughout a long career and potential for future service. Any observer would have to conclude that, with over 20 years of service, BG Smith had overcome several barriers in her career. When she entered the military in the early 1980’s, women were a clear minority, and the number of positions in which they could serve were limited. Today over 25 percent of the U.S. military are women, but it is important to point out that they are not as well-represented in the ranks of general officer.
INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES
Developments in Afghanistan
The situation in Afghanistan remains serious and problematic to many as the United States plans to reduce the overall number of its troops to 68,000 by the end of September. This comes at the same time as changes in the senior leadership of the Afghan government, as well as continued so-called “green on blue” attacks by members of the Afghan security forces against American and NATO troops. These have killed a number of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers.
In early August, Afghanistan’s parliament, in a session that was aired on national television, voted to sack its two top security ministers, Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister General Besmillah Mohammadi, for failing to respond to rocket shelling from Pakistan. The men will stay in their posts until replacements are announced and, at this time, it appears that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in no hurry to do this. The Pakistani military has shelled Afghanistan several times this year, which has enraged Afghan authorities.
The vote to dismiss occurred shortly after the 2,000th American was killed in action. It is interesting to consider that American forces fought in Afghanistan for nine years before suffering their 1,000th casualty. The second 1,000 fell during the following 27 months, which is a gruesome testimony to the intensity of fighting following President Obama’s decision to send 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010.
During August, there were a number of attacks by members of the Afghan security forces against NATO troops. Three Americans were killed in a single attack by an Afghan working with U.S. forces during the training of Afghan Local Police (ALP) in Helmand province. This was the 20th such attack in 2012. In all, these attackes have resulted in the deaths of over 30 American and NATO troops, accounting for roughly 13 percent of all ISAF casualties during the current year. This compares with 11 such attacks during the entirety of 2011. Furthermore, 75 percent of these “green on blue” shootings have occurred since 2011. They have also occurred throughout Afghanistan, as opposed to being primarily in one or two provinces. August ended with three Australian soldiers killed in an attack by an ALP member.
These attacks are clearly a significant concern to the Obama administration as America reduces its number of troops. Secretary Panetta phoned President Karzai in early August to discuss the problem. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later flew to Afghanistan to get an update on progress in the war and to also speak to American, NATO, and Afghan leaders about these attacks. American leaders must be concerned that if such attacks continue, the dwindling support for the war among the American people could more dissipate even more rapidly. It would also seem to undermine the suggested strategy post-2014 that calls for a dramatically reduced American military presence in Afghanistan mainly focused on the continued training and support to Afghan forces. Such a strategy would place a much larger percentage of that force in daily direct contact with Afghan units.
Using biometric data, measures have been taken to better vet recruits for the Afghan Army, National Police, and Local Police. Currently, U.S. forces maintain a database of over 1 million Afghans in terms of biometric data. Each recruit is supposed to be certified by the elders of his village or tribe prior to enlistment, and so-called Afghan “guardian angels” or bodyguards have been provided to some American and NATO troops involved in advising or training Afghan units. General John Allen, ISAF commander, has also directed that American troops serving closely with Afghan forces carry a loaded weapon at all times. Despite all of these efforts, the number of “green on blue” attacks has continued to rise.
At the end of August, ISAF announced a suspension in the training of the ALP as a number of the “green on blue” attacks had been initiated by members of the police force. The creation of the ALP had been a strong recommendation of General David Petraeus and followed a similar approach that had been successful in Iraq. It was not widely supported by the Karzai government, who feared that it would result in weapons and training either being lost to the Taliban or local warlords. It calls for the training and equipping of local police in villages throughout the country. This also means that these forces are the most likely to be infiltrated or intimidated by the Taliban.
There are several reasons that might explain this dramatic increase in attacks. First, this may be due, in part, to the fact that a larger percentage of ISAF troops present in the country are now directly involved with the training, organizing, or equipping of Afghan security forces. Consequently, they are in more direct daily contact with their Afghan counterparts.
Second, a number of these attacks are clearly in response to individual differences between lone Afghans and their American counterparts that may be further exacerbated by particular incidents, such as the burning of the Koran or the killing of Afghan civilians by an American non-commissioned officer earlier this year.
General Allen, ISAF commander, also stated his belief that the fact that Ramadan occurred during August may also be a contributing factor. The combination of fasting and a high level of operations during the month may have exacerbated tensions in some cases.
Finally, the Taliban announced a new strategy to either infiltrate the Afghan security forces or persuade those already in uniform to support their cause. Taliban leader Mullah Omar even released a video in which he claimed the success of the Taliban strategy with these attacks. In each case, the Taliban have been quick to take credit for the attacks, though in some cases investigations suggest that they may not have been involved. ISAF leaders have stated that they believe roughly one-quarter of the attacks are due to Taliban infiltration.
It would actually be better in many ways if, in fact, the Taliban were truly behind the majority of these attacks. This would imply that the problem can be addressed through better vetting of recruits and counterintelligence efforts. If not, then American forces and their NATO partners may be faced with a more serious issue, which is the result of the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan for over a decade and perhaps a growing impatience among the Afghan population. This could significantly undermine the president’s strategy that calls for not only the removal of the vast majority of forces by the end of 2014, but also the creation of a smaller residual force that would remain in Afghanistan for a number of years working closely with indigenous forces.
The number of American and allied forces in Afghanistan continues to shrink. The coalition has now closed 202 bases in the country as part of the drawdown of forces and transferred a number of them to Afghan control. These bases ranged from very small isolated checkpoints to larger one that housed hundreds of soldiers or Marines. Overall, NATO and U.S. forces now operate about half as many bases in Afghanistan as in October 2011, when they manned roughly 800.
Finally, it was reported that Badruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent group, had been killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan. He was thought to be the deputy to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group’s operational commander and was believed to be a member of the ruling council for one of the four Taliban regional commands. He had been added to the U.S. list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for his ties to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Badruddin was also believed to be in charge of kidnapping for the Haqqani network and had overseen the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in June 2011. This was one of five drone attacks that occurred over a few days in this remote portion of Pakistan. Another one resulted in the death of the emir of the Turkistan Islamic Party.
Since arriving in office, the Obama administration has placed an enormous emphasis on the use of drone attacks to combat insurgent networks in Pakistan. Over 200 drone attacks have been launched since 2008, as compared to only about 50 during the entirety of the Bush administration. Some experts suggest over 2,000 Taliban fighters have been killed in these attacks, with the majority occurring against targets in North Waziristan. Roughly one-quarter of all these attacks have been against the Haqqani network.
Continued Crisis in Syria
The conflict in Syria drags on and the casualties continue to mount. August was the bloodiest month yet in this 23-month-long conflict. Syrian opposition groups claim that over 5,000 people were killed in August, which is more than one-fifth of the roughly 23,000 that have been killed since this conflict began. This is now clearly a civil war and any suggestion to the contrary is totally misplaced.
Most experts now believe that neither the sudden departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, nor the collapse of his regime would end the conflict. The absence of a coherent rebel “government” implies that many of the groups fighting the regime now might turn on each other even if government forces ceased their attacks. Furthermore, the minority Alawite sect that supports President Assad would likely continue the struggle even in his absence, as they would calculate that any new government that would emerge would wreak vengeance upon them. At this juncture, it appears that the government and the rebels are deadlocked with neither having sufficient combat power to assure victory.
The number of refugees fleeing to Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon continues to mount. UN officials estimate that over 100,000 Syrians fled their country in August and thousands more are internally displaced. The total number of refugees that have fled Syria is now believed to exceed 250,000. This raises the fear that, if the war continues, it could eventually spread and involve other nations in the region. Most experts also appear to believe that absent a large-scale intervention, the war could drag on for a number of years.
Russia and China continue to block any attempt by Western countries to seek greater action by the UN. Many observers have ascribed Moscow’s opposition to its desire to continue to sell military equipment to Syria and maintain its naval presence at the port of Tartus. Russian military sales to Damascus, however, were reported to have only amounted to roughly $6.5 billion since 2005. Most of these purchases were for the Syrian air force and air defense network. It has also been recently revealed that Russia had suspended its delivery of the advance S-300 mobile air defense missile system to Syria. The Russian navy’s logistical facility at Tartus is also relatively small. This facility consists of two floating moorings, a couple of warehouses, barracks, and a few buildings. It is estimated that no more than 50 Russian sailors are deployed at the base and it may actually have a greater symbolic that military value.
Consequently, many experts now appear to believe that Moscow’s opposition to any UN-sponsored intervention is largely due to a fear that, not only would it mean the loss of a client and ally, but it would also be a further demonstration of Russia’s weakening status as a major power. It also may be due to an increasing concern that the Arab Spring has further served to destabilize the region and raised the possibility of renewed terrorism or insurgent attacks in the North Caucasus.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon selected Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN special envoy for Syria following the resignation of Kofi Annan. Brahimi is also the representative of the Arab League. The mandate for the UN observer mission in Syria was ended in mid-August, but a liaison office to support efforts for a political solution was retained in Syria. Still, even Brahimi has publicly admitted that the possibility of any type of a solution is increasingly unlikely with each passing day.
Ongoing Crisis With Iran
The “slow-moving crisis” with Iran continues as the recently enacted oil sanctions against Tehran begin to take a toll on that nation’s economy. Recent statements by Israeli leaders have caused some in Washington to believe that the possibility of an Israeli attack against Tehran prior to the U.S. elections is “50-50.” In response to, at least, this increased level of rhetoric, the Saudi government has publicly stated that it would shoot down any Israeli aircraft over its territory en route to or returning from a mission over Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that he may not notify Washington before launching an attack against Tehran. Many Israeli defense experts are openly worried that Iran continues to reprocess nuclear material and to move more of its efforts into hardened facilities near the holy city of Qum. They argue that Tehran will soon enter a “zone of invulnerability,” and the military option for Israel will disappear. Clearly, such an attack could further destabilize a region that is already beset with a large conflict in Syria, which has pitted many of the Gulf States against both Syria and Iran. Such an attack could also have a dramatic impact on the American presidential elections and thrust foreign and defense policy to the forefront.
Media Security Issues
Murder Trial in China
The trial and conviction of Gu Kailai in Beijing for the alleged murder of a British businessman drew significant media attention. She is alleged to have killed her business partner who was assisting her in a series of criminal business ventures involving graft and corruption. Gu is the wife of Bo Xilai, who was a senior member of the communist Chinese inner circle and believed by many to be destined for eventual membership on the Politburo. The trial has revealed the extent to which senior Chinese officials have used their positions for personal financial gain as well as assisting in the advancement of their family members in Chinese society.
Many experts believe that this has seriously embarrassed the Chinese leadership at a time when they are undergoing a leadership transition. Hu Jintao will step down as president in the near future and will be replaced by Xi Jinping. There is also some concern that this could result in a greater role for the military in Chinese society and national security decision-making.
Suicides in the U.S. Army
The release of the monthly data on the number of suicides in the army revealed a worrisome increase. The deaths of 26 soldiers in July were listed as “potential suicides.” This raises the total to 116 for 2012 with 26 so far having been confirmed as actual suicides. This compares to a total of 165 for all of 2011. In the National Guard and reserves, there were 71 “potential suicides” for the year as compared to 118 throughout 2011.
Sadly, the number of suicides has continued to climb despite the efforts of army leaders to dramatically increase their efforts to combat this problem over the past several years. A number of reasons have been presented by experts. First, there is stigma for many soldiers who admit behavioral health issues. Second, that after 11 years of war the Army has become a “tired force” that is now beset by increasing concerns in the ranks about reductions in the force, budget cuts, et cetera. Third, soldiers, particularly in the National Guard and reserves, are not immune from the economic woes of the country.
Surprisingly, there were a number of stories in the media about official misconduct that affected all of the services. The air force is still reeling from the reports of sexual misconduct by male drill instructors at Lackland Air Force base against female enlisted recruits. Two non-commissioned officers have been convicted, and a significant number of non-commissioned officers await court-martial. The base commander at Lackland was also relieved as part of this scandal.
The Pentagon announced that army General “Kip” Ward, the first commander of AFRICOM (United States Africa Command) was under investigation for misuse of government funds and official travel. The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General has been conducting this investigation for nearly a year, and its report has allegedly been provided to Secretary Panetta. The investigation is reported to suggest that General Ward had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish travel, hotel accommodations, et cetera for himself and his wife while in command. Ward could be forced to retire as a major general and repay the government for these fraudulent expenses.
The navy revealed that the commanders of 13 ships had been relieved of their commands this year. Six were specifically relieved for misconduct. Commander Michael Ward II of theUSS Pittsburgh, a nuclear attack submarine, was removed from command when it was revealed that he had had an affair while married. The women had become pregnant, and Commander Ward had gotten a friend to try to convince her that he had been killed in combat in an effort to escape the ensuing scandal.
While these transgressions have no clear connection, senior military officers in all of the services must be concerned over the impression this conveys not only to military personnel worldwide, but also to the opinion of the American public. The military continues to enjoy high levels of support among the American people, and incidents like these can only serve to damage this reputation.
As we look ahead I would make the following final comments.
The American Elections
Clearly the onset of the American presidential campaign following the Republican and Democratic conventions will command the attention of the nation over the next 60 days. At this juncture, it appears the economy and potentially social issues will be central to the success of either President Obama or Governor Romney. Still, the world does not necessarily operate with clear respect for the American election calendar and events in Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, or even the South China Sea could quickly intrude.
War in Syria
The war in Syria will continue unabated and any chance for a political settlement seems increasingly remote. The growing refugee crisis and potential for a widening conflict may increase calls for a military intervention by the West. Still, at this juncture it appears unlikely that Russia and China will allow any such effort by the United Nations to sanction the Assad regime. It is also clear that the Obama administration is very unlikely to wish to be embroiled in this conflict prior to the November election. European leaders are also confronted with an array of economic challenges and popular weariness after the long war in Afghanistan and the conflict in Libya that lasted far longer than many experts expected.
Congress will reconvene for a few days in September and has the opportunity to confront the problem of “sequestration,” or the automatic cuts in the defense budget of an additional $500 billion over the next decade that are due to commence in January. Polls indicate that over 70 percent of the American public want this problem addressed. Still, it appears unlikely that Congressional leaders will find the willingness to compromise in the heat of an election campaign. Consequently, this issue is likely to be addressed in a “lame duck Congress” that will convene following the elections.
Possible Attack by Israel Against Iran
It would appear that if Israel is going to conduct airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it will do so in September. Waiting until October not only further complicates the mission and provides Tehran more opportunity to harden its sites, but it also would place the attacks so close to the American elections that they could have a clear impact on the result. This might result in a backlash from either candidate once elected.
Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
(Article published courtesy of the Carnegie Council)
International Security Issues
Killing of al-Qaeda Number Two
The killing of al-Qaeda’s number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi, by a drone strike in Pakistan in early June was another serious blow to the terrorist organization. He was the latest in over a dozen senior al-Qaeda leaders killed in the past year since the SEAL attack on a compound in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The United States has now carried out an estimated 254 drone attacks on targets in Pakistan since President Obama was inaugurated. This compares with only 47 drone strikes during the entire eight years of the Bush administration.
There was a $1 million reward for information leading to al-Libi. He was a Libyan by nationality who was described as al-Qaeda’s “theological hardliner” and “insurgent theologian.” Al-Libi had filmed numerous propaganda videos urging attacks against American targets. He had successfully escaped from a prison at the Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan in 2005. It is believed that since he assumed the role of second in command for al-Qaeda, he was responsible for the group’s day-to-day operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as managing outreach to the terrorist group’s affiliates worldwide.
Pakistan remains in a political crisis as the government’s ruling political party and coalition partners try to find a solution to the Supreme Court’s ouster of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Currently, the seat of prime minister is occupied by Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who was elected on June 22.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States remained both difficult and mixed during June. Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, announced that the two countries appear to be edging closer to a deal on the re-opening of critical NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. But at nearly the same moment, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta observed that the United State is reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan serving as a safe haven for terrorists attacking American forces in Afghanistan. He also confirmed that the United States would continue to use drones to strike terrorist safe havens on Pakistani soil despite serious objections by the Pakistani government.
Pakistani leaders were also clearly annoyed by the recent visit of Defense Secretary Panetta to India, in which he was obviously on a mission to deepen relations between Washington and New Delhi. During his stay, the defense secretary urged India to take a more active role in Afghanistan.
Reorganization and Reductions in the British Army
In early June, I attended the annual Land Warfare Conference in London hosted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the largest defense think tank in the United Kingdom. This event drew senior military officers from a number of NATO nations, including General Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. It is widely supported by both British and American corporations and, consequently, senior representatives from defense industry also were in attendance.
The conference had several themes. First, all speakers began their presentations with an analysis of the emerging security environment. Second, it was clear from the onset that the British government was using this event to unveil its plans for what was characterized as the largest reduction and reorganization of the British Army since World War II. Third, senior allied officers, representatives from industry, and defense academics provided their perspectives on the challenges of contemporary international security.
The context for the conference was also fascinating. It occurred with the backdrop of growing fears about the continued viability of the euro, and the impact that economic challenges, particularly in Greece and Spain, might have on economic growth across the continent. Consequently, it was clear from the beginning that economic austerity was central to any discussion of future defense spending.
The global security setting. The conference began with an overview presentation by Julian Miller, deputy national security adviser to Prime Minster David Cameron, on the nature of contemporary threats. Miller observed that, in the aftermath of Iraq and the planned departure from Afghanistan by 2014, all nations who were contributing forces must now carefully reconsider their defense priorities in the light of widespread economic challenges. He further stated that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq might not necessarily be the models for the future. This has become a recurrent theme in recent commentary by senior government officials, military officers, and defense analysts who have begun to question whether or not counterinsurgency should remain a centerpiece for future defense thinking.
Miller further argued that national security planning in the United Kingdom focused on four likely challenges: (1) a massive cyberattack on the nation, (2) a large scale terror attack, (3) a humanitarian disaster, and (4) a major military threat to the nation’s population or territorial integrity. He further observed that these threats and the nature of the emerging security environment demanded a “greater precision” in the application of force. Consequently, senior military leaders in Western countries must insure that advice is candid and includes a clear statement of the risks associated with various policy options. The adherence to a “HOOAH” attitude that posits an ability to accomplish any task is not helpful or appropriate. Finally, a “whole of government” approach to dealing with security questions is essential. This must include a careful calculation of those places and issues that are of significant national interest. This must also include a careful and realistic determination of goals.
Subsequent speakers expanded on the discussion of emerging security issues. They suggested that, in light of the ongoing conflict in Syria, political unrest in Russia, and economic turmoil across Europe, the international community may now be moving into a period where the concern about the continuing strength of larger states may become a greater concern than failed or failing states, which have been a focal point since perhaps the end of the Cold War.
This is further complicated by two emerging realities. First, there is a greater dispersion of power among a number of emerging powers around the globe that have disparate interests. As a result, there will be a growing “ambiguity” of relations. Important trade and investment relations may occur between states that do not and probably will not have a positive security relationship.
Second, we are witnessing a movement away from the legitimacy of centralized governments due in part to the so-called “democratization” of information. One speaker suggested that these factors, coupled with reduced resources, will require military officers and defense experts to tolerate “greater shades of gray” when involved in contingency operations. It should also force us to carefully consider “who needs to act” during any crisis. Western policymakers may need to adopt greater patience that allows for smaller deployments and greater dependence on local military forces and government officials.
A very sobering presentation was delivered by the head of humanitarian assistance from the British Foreign Office. For example, Somalia is now a nation that has been beset by warring factions for over two decades with over 3 million people living in total poverty. It now produces over 60 tons of cocaine annually and piracy that emanates from its shores costs the international community over $10 billion every year. More broadly, over 206 million people globally were affected by some form of natural disaster during 2011. Scientists now predict that, based on changing weather patterns due to climate change, this number could rise to 375 million people by 2015.
The reductions and reorganization of the British Army. The British Army will shrink from its current strength of 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, its lowest level since the Boer War. In addition, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will be each be reduced by 5,000. The Cameron government argues that it can maintain the army’s effectiveness at these reduced levels by doubling the reserves, or Territorial Army, from its current level of 15,000 to 30,000 during this same period. This is part of a larger plan referred to as “Army 2020” that will call for the use of reserve units more routinely in overseas contingencies and the integration of reserve and active units into combined formations. The result will be a total of one air assault and three armored brigades that are totally manned by active forces and seven infantry brigades that are a combination of active and reserve formations.
The British Army leadership did argue that the plan does include increased spending for equipment. The government will spend roughly £4.5 billion for new army vehicles, including an upgrade for the warrior armored personnel carrier and purchase of the scout vehicle. An additional £1.8 billion will be spent over 10 years on reserve forces.
A senior French officer in attendance also pointed out that, under the terms of the Lancaster Treaty between the United Kingdom and France, plans exist for the creation of up to two brigades of combined forces. One would be commanded by a French officer and the other by a British officer. Still when pressed on the utility of this plan or any discussions of joint procurement of equipment for these units, there appears to be little interest in either nation.
Two issues appear crucial for the reorganization. First, the basing solution for British forces will be key, especially in light of the return of the remaining units of the British Army of the Rhine that are still in Germany by 2020 and the need to expand available training space for the expanded Territorial Army. Obviously, this could be dramatically affected by the impending referendum in Scotland on independence, which is scheduled to occur in late 2014. While this would have a serious impact on the army, it would have a nearly disastrous effect on the Royal Navy, since all of Britain’s nuclear submarines operate from bases in Scotland.
Second, the integration of the Territorial Army as units into large active/reserve formations will be a change in culture not only for the British military, but the society as well. It was clear that many British defense experts are very skeptical of this plan. For example, Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies stated, “It is not clear that any new blueprint can make up for a fundamental loss in quality and capability.” Furthermore, it was also very clear that many British officials are very concerned about what impact these reductions will have on the so-called “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain in future.
The violence in Syria continued to increase. In early June, troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were accused of killing at least 78 people at Mazraat al-Qubeir, near Hama. UN observers in the country suspended operations on June 16 due to the escalating violence. President Assad has now acknowledged that his county is in a “state of war” following fighting between rebels and Syrian army units near Damascus. Despite the deaths of over 14,000 Syrians, Assad has continued to argue that the fighting was in response to terrorists and criminals. On June 28, the pro-Assad television studio was bombed and two bombs exploded outside the Palace of Justice in central Damascus.
On July 18, the tensions racheted up even further as anti-Assad rebels bombed a national security building in Damascus killing four top Syrian government officials, including the regime’s defense minister and deputy defense minister, who was also Assad’s brother-in-law. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a leading Arab voice against Assad, called the attack a “tremendous blow” to the Assad regime.
Since the beginning of the uprising against President Assad, 16 months ago, countries neighboring Syria have seen a trickle of defectors and deserters from the regimes forces. Recently this trend has greatly increased to include high ranking military officers. During one two-week period in June, a Syrian general, two colonels, a major, and a lieutenant defected to Turkey, along with 33 other soldiers. In late June, two brigadier generals and two colonels announced their defection in an opposition video.
That same day, a Syrian air force pilot, who was both a colonel and a squadron commander, defected with his plane to Jordan. This was the first member of the Syrian air force to defect. Defections from the air force are seen as particularly dangerous to the Assad government as only strong regime loyalists were allowed to join. Following this desertion, the Syrian air force was essentially grounded. Reports of other pilots defecting to Jordan were denied by Jordanian officials; however, the country has been reluctant to release any details on ranking officers seeking asylum within its borders.
On June 22, a Turkish F4 reconnaissance jet was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire 13 nautical miles out over the Mediterranean Sea. The search and rescue mission sent to find the downed aircraft was then fired upon. Syrian officials claim this was not an act of aggression, but that the plane was mistaken for an Israeli jet in Syrian airspace. Turkey claimed that the plane was shot in international air space as Syrian air space ends at 12 miles.
Turkish officials later admitted that the plane had dipped into Syrian air space and with the ability to travel nearly 1,600 miles per hour, it is likely that the jet was initially fired upon in Syrian air space. As a result of this, however, the Turkish media reported that additional anti-aircraft artillery, rocket launchers on transporters and military ambulances had been deployed to two positions along the Syrian border, in the provinces of Urfa and Hatay, which currently houses over 30,000 Syrian refugees, including military defectors from Assad’s army.
Turkey filed a protest against Syria at the UN and called an emergency meeting of NATO, which condemned Syria for the attack. Alliance members were quick to announce their support for Ankara, yet there was no effort to invoke Article V of the NATO Treaty for collective defense. The 27 members of the European Union also condemned Syria’s attack on the Turkish aircraft.
Domestic Security Issues
Fears of Sequestration Reach the Local Level and the November Elections
The threat of sequestration continues to hang over defense planners and political leaders facing elections in November. It now appears to be having an impact on states and communities who are worried about the possibility of sudden increases in unemployment should there be a significant reduction in defense spending. During June, there were a number of reports of these growing local concerns over the potential economic impact of dramatic changes in the defense budget. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) travelled throughout his state describing near-catastrophic consequences that could include the closure of a number of bases.
But this was not confined to Republican lawmakers. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) also conducted an extensive trip throughout his district warning his constituents of the dangers posed by “sequestration.” Scott frequently quoted an October 2011 economic analysis prepared by George Mason University during his presentations. He argued, “The jobs impact is clear. . . . The planned cuts, combined with defense reductions already set to go into place, would cause more than 1 million job losses across the nation in just one year.”
The George Mason report further indicated that California would lose the most jobs of any state, with 125,800 in projected job losses. Another vulnerable state is Virginia (a key swing state in the upcoming presidential election) where 122,800 jobs could disappear. Florida would be hit hard with nearly 40,000 in job losses, the study said. Representative Scott concluded that the majority of jobs lost would come not directly from defense but from businesses that are reliant on the robust military presence in these local communities—”think mom and pop restaurants, beauty shops, and convenience stores.”
Still some economists have claimed that the impact of sequestration is not as dire as most experts have claimed. “On its face, the automatic cuts do not sound that bad. If they are put into effect, military spending would decline to its 2007 level,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But Harrison quickly added that the overall level of spending may not tell the entire story. The law exempts war costs and allows the administration to exempt personnel levels and military pay, which is about a third of the Pentagon budget. “That means everything else—operations and maintenance, research and development, procurement, fuel, military construction—would face immediate cuts as deep as 13 percent,” Harrison concluded.
There can be little doubt of the potential effect that sequestration could have on the upcoming election. A statistical analysis of how defense sequestration would impact employment in each of the 50 states does find that several “swing” states crucial to President Obama’s reelection prospects would be hit especially hard. Specifically, four of the ten states losing the most defense jobs if sequestration is triggered —Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—could prove pivotal in the November election. President Obama won each of the four states by 5 percent or less of the vote in his 2008 presidential bid, so a modest shift in voter sentiment could endanger his reelection prospects.
In addition to the George Mason report, the impact of defense sequestration on employment is laid out in a report entitled “Defense Spending Cuts: The Impact on Economic Activity and Jobs” released by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). This study was conducted by the Interindustry Forecasting Project at the University of Maryland. Using a rigorous modeling tool, it estimates what would happen to employment if the sequestration provisions in the 2011 Budget Control Act were triggered as currently planned on January 2. The report calculates that in combination with earlier cuts already being implemented under the same law, defense sequestration would reduce gross domestic product by 0.6 percent and national employment by 907,000 jobs in fiscal 2013. The impact would worsen the following year, with 1,211,000 jobs wiped out in a wide range of industries scattered across all 50 states. GDP would be reduced 0.8 percent in 2014, the peak year for economic fallout from the sequestration process.
In addition to George Mason University, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the aerospace industry have reached conclusion similar to NAM’s about the impact of the cuts on jobs and unemployment. More studies are undoubtedly on the way.
According to NAM, these are the 10 top states ranked by the magnitude of the job losses in 2014:
Obviously, the defense cuts are of particular concern to manufacturers—not just big defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but also hundreds of smaller firms in their supply chains. The NAM study projects that the aerospace industry could lose 3.4 percent of its jobs by 2015 because of downsizing at the Pentagon. Shipbuilders could shed 3.3 percent of their workforce by 2014. And the search and navigation equipment industry could see employment drop by nearly 10 percent by 2016.
Industry leaders have become increasingly vocal about the impact of sequestration during congressional testimony, as well as at public events. Many are concerned, as they will need to provide 60 days notice to their employees, which would occur around November 1 if action is not taken by Congress. Obviously, this would occur only a few days prior to national elections and could have a significant impact on the results.
Political consequences. There can be little doubt that the NAM analysis coupled with pressure from industry is worrisome for the Obama administration, which is facing weak economic conditions in its reelection bid. As previously suggested, the swing state impact of defense sequestration is especially salient to electoral outcomes. Not surprisingly, the most populous states are near the top of the rankings for job losses from sequestration. But in second place with an estimated 87,000 jobs destroyed in 2013 from sequestration is Virginia, a state in which military spending has long played a central economic role. Democrats carried Virginia in 2008 for the first time since Lyndon Johnson bested Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, but Obama only received 52.7 percent of the vote to Senator John McCain’s 46.4 percent. A shift to the Republican side of only one in 20 voters in 2012 could deliver all the Old Dominion’s electoral college votes to Mitt Romney.
The situation is even closer in Florida, the state projected to lose the fourth largest number of jobs under sequestration. There, President Obama won in 2008 with only 50.7 percent of the vote to McCain’s 48.8 percent. And in North Carolina, the other Southeastern swing state likely to lose a lot of defense jobs from sequestration, Obama beat McCain in 2008 by 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent—a razor-thin victory margin that could be wiped out by modest shifts in voter sentiment. The president is in better shape in Pennsylvania, the one other swing state likely to lose big from sequestration, because his margin of victory there in the last presidential match-up was 54.7 percent to McCain’s 44.3 percent. The model finds that Pennsylvania and North Carolina would both lose about 26,000 jobs as a result of sequestration in 2013.
The Obama camp has developed several electoral scenarios in which it might be able to win in November without Florida or North Carolina or Virginia. However, nobody seriously believes the president could be reelected without Pennsylvania in his column. Florida or Virginia could also prove crucial if other swing states like Ohio decide to go with the GOP in 2012. Obama only got 51.2 percent of the vote in Ohio in 2008, so the projected loss of 21,000 jobs there from sequestration in 2013 could threaten his reelection prospects. Some election experts argue that Obama lacks many of the electoral advantages he had in 2008, so obscure issues like sequestration of the military budget could be potentially decisive in a tight November race.
The way ahead? The Senate did approve a bipartisan plan to require the Obama administration to say how it would implement the cuts and to detail the impact on the Pentagon and other federal agencies. If the measure passes the House (which is likely), a report on the defense reductions would be due in August. At this juncture, however, there appears little likelihood of any type of resolution prior to Congress completing its summer recess.
Senate Version of FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill
The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved its version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254). The bill authorizes $525.3 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) base budget; $88.5 for overseas contingency operations (OCO), which funds the war in Afghanistan; and $17.8 billion for the national security programs in the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The bill authorizes $498 million more than was requested for the base budget of DOD and $301 million less than was requested for OCO. The bill authorizes $431 million less than the requested level of funding for national security programs of the DOE.
The committee authorized approximately $550.7 billion for national defense, excluding war funding. This is a slight increase of approximately $70 million over the president’s budget request, but still $4.67 billion above the Budget Control Act’s FY 2013 cap of $546 billion on non-war spending. In contrast, the House version of the defense bill (H.R. 4310) is approximately $3.6 billion over the president’s request and more than $8 billion above the Budget Control Act cap.
The House passed the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill by a vote of 299-120. The bill authorizes $554 billion for national defense and $88.5 billion for OCO (primarily the war in Afghanistan). This is $4 billion more than the president requested but less than the FY2012 funding levels.
The House bill includes a number of policy and funding proposals that would 1) block the Pentagon’s ability to implement the New START treaty; 2) prevent the president and senior military leaders from making changes to U.S. nuclear posture beyond those outlined in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and agreed to in the New START treaty; and 3) drastically increase spending on nuclear weapons programs and national missile defense.
As was the case last year, the Senate bill does not impose policy or funding limitations on New START implementation or future changes to U.S. nuclear policy, posture, and force size. Contrary to the House bill, it also does not include a provision calling for the completion of a missile defense interceptor site on the East Coast of the United States by 2015 and endorses U.S. efforts to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.
Media Security Issues
The following is a brief summary of the major national security issues that the media focused on during the month.
DOD Confirms 2,000 Total Americans Killed in Action in Afghanistan
In early June, the nation passed a sad milestone when the Pentagon confirmed that the 2,000th American had been killed in action since the war began in 2001. The Afghan war has now lasted 3,900 days and is the longest war in American history. The nation has also suffered over 15,000 wounded.
In considering these figures, it is important to realize that this is a NATO war as well, with roughly 30,000 European troops still serving in Afghanistan. The total number of allied soldiers killed in action now is over 1,000. Many of our allies have suffered significant numbers of casualties. The British have lost 417 and Canada has endured 158 dead, which are very significant when one compares this to the overall population of these two nations.
As one examines these statistics, several realities of this war become clear. First, the southern part of Afghanistan has seen the most severe combat. Nearly 1,200 allied soldiers have lost their lives in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Second, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remain the greatest threat to allied forces and account for over 50 percent of all casualties, despite a massive effort to reduce the threat posed by these devices.
It is also important to reflect on the number of Afghan casualties in this conflict since it began in 2001. The best estimates suggest that roughly 13,000 Afghan civilians have died in this conflict, which would mean that over 100,000 have been injured. This is a dramatic death toll for this impoverished country whose population is roughly one-tenth of the United States.
Egyptian Presidential Elections
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has been elected president of Egypt. The victory for the long-repressed Islamist group begins a new act in a central drama of the nation’s politics over the past 60 years—the Brotherhood versus the military. Morsi addressed the nation following the announcement of his election and the military has indicated it will transfer power to the new civilian government.
Apparent Failure of Talks With Iran
In Moscow, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appear to have failed. This will likely lead to an intensification of the crisis, as a full European Union oil embargo commenced on June 28. The meeting between American, European, and Iranian negotiators occurred in the aftermath of an International Atomic Energy Agency report that stated Iran was not complying with the demands of the international community.
It is clear that the United States intends to continue to increase pressure on Iran. So far, there has been no official Iranian reaction to a report that the U.S. and Israel jointly developed a new computer virus called “Flame” that has been used against Tehran. Economic pressure is also increasing on Tehran. Iranian exports are estimated to be down 20-30 percent for the current year and the Iranian currency is reported to have dropped 40 percent in value. Obviously, these statistics will only continue to deteriorate in the aftermath of the new EU sanctions.
Alexis Tsipras, whose party had supported renouncing the austerity deal Greece struck with the European Union, failed in his bid to become the new prime minister of Greece. Both European and American policymakers were clearly relieved by this development, but the new government has already indicated that the austerity measures imposed on Greece by its EU partners must be reduced. This occurs as there continues to be growing concerns about the condition of the Spanish and Italian economies. An agreement reached by European leaders at the end of the month does appear to solve the debt crisis in the short term, but fails to solve many of the longer term structural problems.
As we look ahead I would make the following final comments.
Continuing Economic Turmoil in Europe
Despite the recent agreement that provides some relief to banks across Europe, the continent’s overall economic challenges remain. The members of the EU will need to confront two realities. First, future German governments must accept the fact that their country will be forced to provide greater contributions to the success of the European Union and the common currency. This remains in Germany’s long term economic and political interests. Second, all EU members must acknowledge that both their monetary and fiscal policies must be closely coordinated. Southern members, in particular, (Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece) must be willing to forego a certain portion of their sovereignty over budgetary issues in return for longer term economic stability and growth.
The Presidential Campaign and Domestic Gridlock in the United States
Despite the Supreme Court ruling on the Obama administration’s health care plan, there is little likelihood of the current Congress passing any meaningful legislation during the remainder of this year, especially in light of the upcoming presidential elections. Congress will likely pass a continuing resolution on the budget and the threat of “sequestration” will continue until the “lame duck session” that will occur in the aftermath of the November elections.
It is also interesting to consider that the United States continues to have over 70,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan and spends nearly $100 billion annually for the war. Despite this and the deaths of over 160 Americans this year, the war in Afghanistan is not a campaign issue. Neither President Obama nor his Republican rival Mitt Romney has spoken about the war in any detail during the ongoing campaign.