New Year….More Challenges

(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.

Defense Bill  

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:

  1. The level of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
  2. The pace of the withdrawal of the 66,000 American forces in the country between now and the end of 2014.
  3. The general outline of a base security agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the U.S., which describes where U.S. forces will be based, the type of operations they will conduct, and legal protections for American soldiers serving in Afghanistan after 2014.
  4. Military and economic assistance to Afghanistan in future.

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.

Israeli Elections  
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

General Observations  
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.