In the year after the November 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that would end the conflict in Bosnia, Derek Chollet met Richard Holbrooke and started helping him write his book about the historic occasion. On Wednesday at the Pentagon, Chollet sat next to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel across the table from Bosnia-Herzegovina's minister of defense, Zekerijah Osmic, reflecting on how a war that once consumed Washington could fade so gratefully into obscurity.
"This has been a personal mission," said Chollet, now assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, in an interview with the E-Ring in his third-floor Pentagon office on Thursday.
Chollet, like his mentor Holbrooke, has spent much of his career consumed and influenced by Bosnia. In his 2005 book, The Road to the Dayton Accords: A Study in American Statecraft, the prologue begins with a blunt reminder of the necessity of U.S. diplomacy, and muscle: "From 1991 to 1995, the crisis in Bosnia cast a dark shadow over American foreign policy. All other accomplishments abroad during those years were diminished by Bosnia's bleeding. This shattered the world's confidence in America's leadership and power."
For Chollet, pictured above center, Wednesday's brief meeting was a long way from 1995, when Bosnian crisis was in "full boil."
"I took a moment yesterday to think about how far they've come," he said, but deflecting an opportunity to talk about his own journey.
"This was a country that 17 years ago most people didn't give much of a chance to and asked why would the United States put 20,000 men and women in uniform in harms way, as part of a NATO mission, to help these people. It was gratifying to show that that kind of effort can pay off, and does pay off."
Bosnia barely registers any attention in Washington anymore. After Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met Osmic, on Wednesday, the Pentagon released a short "read out," indicating that Hagel expressed support for the Bosnian military's reforms and promising to help with their concerns about NATO ammunition disposal and logistics reform, and Bosnia-Herzegovina's too-complicated internal issue of registering military property.
There was far more meaning, however, for Chollet.
"It struck me during the meeting, as I was thinking, that so many of what we deal with every day and certainly what the secretary has to deal with everyday are the toughest issues that are real problems," he said. "It is rare during the day to deal with issues that are opportunities for us. And they were problems that engulfed the previous administrations."
"In May of 1995, the discussion here in Washington was about whether or not NATO should conduct air strikes in Bosnia," Chollet explained. Then came the Srebrenica massacre that summer and finally, in the fall, Dayton. But today the Bosnian military today is considered a leading influence in the country's unification and push toward NATO membership.
"That's a remarkable journey."
Over the past year, the Pentagon's policy staff has reached out to each of the militaries from the region by arranging meetings with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met the defense ministers of Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Hagel continued that effort this week but has no plans yet to visit the Balkans, Chollet's staff said.
"They're countries that less than two decades ago dominated our attention," Chollet said, "but for very troubling reasons."
Croatia joined NATO in 2009. Bosnia has, he said, "struggled but has made great progress over the last seven, eight years in the defense sector."
"In many ways the military has been the leading edge of the unification of the country, in terms of institutionally in bringing the three sides [Bosnians, Serbians, and Croatians] together."
It was a poignant meeting too, he said, for Hagel, who visited Bosnia several times as a senator after the wars ended. Also at the table on Wednesday was Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, director of the Joint Staff, who in December 1995 was one of the 20,000 U.S. soldiers who deployed to Bosnia as part of the NATO peacekeeping force.
Pentagon and U.S. officials now are helping Bosnia "think through," Chollet said, the process toward readying a Membership Action Plan (MAP), the initial step toward joining NATO.
"It's a difficult political process for them, its as much bout their internal politics as it is about anything military," he said. NATO and the European Union also are involved in making sure Bosnia meets benchmarks across political, economic, and social spheres.
The Pentagon now has just 18 people in Bosnia, working within a NATO contingent of fewer than 100 people led by a one-star U.S. commander, Brig. Gen. Walter Lord.
For at least a brief moment, Holbrooke's work shone through his protégé, who often gazed downward as he described a new Bosnian experience -- one of respite from the currently lengthy threat sheet on the daily agenda inside the Pentagon.
After Holbrooke's death, Chollet and Samantha Power compiled an anthology of tributes to the legendary ambassador. In the preface, they wrote:
"He wanted to be at the center of things and, from the White House job he held at age 26 to his last mission as President Obama's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he constantly found a way to place himself there."
As the interview wrapped an Air Force colonel promptly swept Chollet's office of its visitors. It was time for the next meeting.
DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Alex Thier, the Afghanistan czar at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is leaving his post at the end of next week.
Thier, assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, is moving on up to head the agency's Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning, "where he will apply his expertise and leadership with Afghanistan and Pakistan more broadly across the agency," USAID spokesman Ben Edwards said.
Thier, in statement provided to the E-Ring, said, "I'm eager to take on the challenge of pushing forward the innovative and ambitious reforms the Administrator Rajiv Shah has enacted in order to increase USAID's development impact around the world. "These include partnering with local organizations to increase the long term sustainability of USAID programs as we have already been doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Thier's deputy Larry Sampler, senior deputy assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, will take over as "acting" boss.
Thier is one of the most well known names on Afghanistan in Washington, having lived there for about seven years and previously directed the Af-Pak program at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).
His Twitter handle is even @Thierstan. Anyone who has sat with him has felt his passion for Afghanistan, and the progress one of the poorest countries in the world has made. For him, it's a far different narrative from the "progress" usually assigned to the war, instead of the country or its people.
In an email, Thier explained:
"Afghanistan and Pakistan have made enormous progress in the last few years, despite the continued challenges they face. As I transition to this new position at USAID, I am heartened by the remarkable transitions occurring in both countries. I lived through the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and the results of our investments in partnership with the Afghan people since the fall of the Taliban have yielded enormous results by any objective indicator. Life expectancy up by 15-20 years, average incomes tripled, government revenues grown 1000% in over a decade. This came from a partnership with the Afghan people that focuses heavily on accountability and sustainability - helping the Afghans transition to a more self-sufficient and secure future.
In Pakistan, the historic elections this week have moved that country further along a path of democracy and good governance that they will need to solve their significant economic, energy, and security challenges. We reframed our efforts in Pakistan to leverage our resources through partnerships with the government and private sector - like a program with Nestlé that is linking poor women dairy farmers with agribusiness. In both countries, we have also dramatically increased our investment and focus on women - as no country can succeed without half it's population fully engaged in the economic, social, and political life of the nation."
Maybe she's lost that loving feeling, but Christine Fox, head of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's much-anticipated strategic review and the Pentagon's top "costing" official, is leaving her post next month, the E-Ring has learned.
Fox, the Pentagon's director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), has been a key player in the development of some of the Obama administration's top national security strategy documents at the Pentagon.
"She has been a critical advisor to three secretaries," a defense official said.
According to the official, she was instrumental in the development of the defense strategic guidance, which President Obama announced at the Pentagon in 2012, before taking the helm of Hagel's Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) this year -- affectionately called the "skimmer" or "scammer" inside the building.
"Ms. Fox will definitely finish her work on the SCMR before she departs. She's a big part of that effort," a second defense official confirmed. The report is due at the end of May (the official said the team expects to be on time), and Fox will stay through the end of June.
By now, Fox is considered one of the "preeminent" and "essential" figures on the Office of the Secretary of Defense team, the first official said. As the Pentagon's top costing official, she is responsible for determining independently what Lockheed's F-35 actually will cost taxpayers, for example.
Previously, she was president of the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), but no article about Christine Fox can go without mentioning that in the 1980s she was an analyst at the actual Top Gun school and the inspiration for the Kelly McGillis character, Charlie. ("You were in a 4g inverted dive with a MiG28?")
DoD photo by Cherie Cullen/Released
The Pentagon's senior policy official on Afghanistan and Pakistan is leaving his post at the end of this month.
David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, will quit the Pentagon effective May 31, the E-Ring has confirmed. Sedney's successor will be Navy Reserve Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, who currently serves as chief of staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and deputy chief of staff for strategy, resources, and plans at the same command. DOD policy denizen Jennifer Walsh will fill the seat in the short interim.
Dumont has extensive Af-Pak experience. He was chief of staff of the Office of the U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan (ODRP) and then served as deputy chief of staff for stability operations at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command.
Sedney is one of the longest serving DASDs in the Pentagon's policy team and has become a regular sidekick to defense secretaries and top officials traveling through Afghanistan and the region. Previously he was the DASD for East Asia, from 2007 to 2009. In Kabul, Sedney has served as both deputy chief of mission and charge d'affaires at the United States Embassy from 2003-2004.
Besides Princeton, Sedney also gradated from the National War College and is most likely the only person in the Pentagon -- if not the country -- who speaks Romanian, Mandarin Chinese and Azerbaijani.
"David is a national treasure in the Washington policy community," said Pentagon press secretary George Little, "and has served in an exceptional manner as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He's held prior stints in China, Romania, Azerbaijian, and Taiwan. He'll be missed by his colleagues here and his counterparts overseas. In particular, when it comes to Afghanistan, I've personally heard him say that our troops always come first."
Correction: This post originally misspelled Michael Dumont's last name.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. Army will not cut spending on military diplomacy, the senior-level exchanges, exercises and other face-to-face interactions that commanders say they must continue to maintain the trust of U.S. allies.
"We've been able to fence our engagements throughout our theater of operations," said Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), including exercises. "Those will continue to move forward."
It's yet another sign of the Pentagon's commitment to the "rebalancing" and Asian regional security, the three-star commander said. Much of what the Army does in the Pacific is walled-off from the budget cuts required by sequester, including all funds for the defense of South Korea and extending to all of the "enabler" forces required to support that mission. That makes cuts in other areas even deeper, especially equipment maintenance, Wiercinksi said.
But he gave his personal commitment to continue senior-level face time across region's militaries.
"That's the part I've been able to fence, because I believe that's one of our primary missions, and literally my primary mission in the theater," Wiercinski said, at the Pentagon on Monday. "I place so much emphasis on engagement and open communication, and partnering with allied friends and partners."
"In this business, with relationship building is building trust, and that's the part I want to make sure we hold onto," he said.
The USARPAC commander's trust declaration comes a few weeks before one of the largest annual gatherings of Asia-Pacific military and defense officials, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is scheduled to deliver a keynote address during his first visit to the conference since taking office.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod
The latest North Korean crisis may finally be over, according to the top U.S. Army officer in the Pacific.
"It appears the rhetoric has died down in recent days," Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) said, while visiting the Pentagon on Monday.
"We're hoping that that cycle of provocation has come to its end point."
Wiercinski said the U.S. is not yet withdrawing the THAAD anti-ballistic missile battery deployed to Guam, but he indicated the region already may have returned to quiet.
"I've seen this for 34 years," he said. "Cyclical provocation from the grandfather to the father, now the son. It's nothing that I wouldn't have not expected."
This time, however, Wiercinski said he took it "very seriously" due to the nuclear threat that followed North Korea's demonstrated space launch last year. The Pentagon worries the boost-phase technology required to put an object into space is really part of North Korea's pursuit of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Not exactly a broken record, but for more than a year General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has found many ways to make it clear he does not want to get involved in the Syria conflict.
"I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us."
"It is a much different situation than we collectively saw in Libya. I think that's an important point to make, because we don't have as clear an understanding of the nature of the opposition."
"I think diplomatic pressure should always precede any discussions about military options. And that's my job by the way is options, not policy. And so we`ll -- we`ll be prepared to provide options if asked to do so."
"The pressures that are being brought to bear are simply not having the effect, I think, that we intend. But I'm not prepared to advocate that we abandon that track at this point."
"This is one where we need to continue to shape it diplomatically and economically before we would think about applying a military instrument of power."
"The issue of outcomes, I think, is the important question. And as we decide or discuss about the application of any number of means, whether it's humanitarian assistance all the way up through no-fly zones, I think we have to -- we have to understand that the -- we have to have a pretty clear view of what outcome we're seeking to achieve."
"The -- the effort -- or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable."
"I don't think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome. And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously."
"I have grave concerns that Syria could be a frozen conflict, if you will -- one that is in a perpetual state of conflict. ... And that is why I think that the diplomatic solution that finds an accommodation for all parties and that avoids sectarian conflict is clearly the best option."
"We're prepared with options, should the -- should military force be called upon and assuming it can be effectively used to secure our interests without making matters worse. We must also be ready for options for an uncertain and dangerous future. That is a future we have not yet identified."
"Before we take action, we have to be prepared for what comes next."
"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome I think that not only members of Congress but all of us would desire -- which is an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties, and a stable Syria -- that's the reason I've been cautious about the application of the military instrument of power.... It's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome."
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
With security deteriorating in Tripoli, Libya, the U.S. has shifted several dozen U.S. Marines and assault aircraft of the rapid response force that just arrived in Spain eastward to Sigonella, Italy.
The Pentagon's spokesman called the move a precautionary measure but would not say it was directly tied to Tripoli, which foreign diplomats and oil companies recently have begun evacuating. On Monday a car bomb reportedly exploded outside a hospital in Benghazi, killing 10 people.
The shift to Naval Station Signoella marks the first assignment for the response force -- a group of 550 Marines and six MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which only arrived at Moron Air Base two weeks ago. A defense official told the E-Ring that the number of personnel moved from Moron totaled "less than 100."
Call them the Benghazi Unit. Officially dubbed Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response, the unit was created specifically as the Pentagon's answer to congressional criticism that troops were not available in Europe or Africa to respond quickly enough to the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans.
The unit falls under Africa Command's purview and Marine Corps Commandant Jim Amos told Congress to expect they will be moving around Africa.
Previously the U.S. shored up embassy security in Tripoli with a 150-member platoon from Special Marine Air Ground Task Force - Africa.
The E-Ring has heard some Pentagon staff speculation that having the new rapid-response force for AFRICOM frees up similar troops under European Command to respond, if needed, to any unrest from the Syrian conflict.
Pentagon press secretary George Little, on Monday, scoffed at that suggestion.
"I'm not going to get into the specific of our response -- or our potential response -- but we are prepared if necessary to respond to security conditions throughout the region," he said.
How far eastward does "the region" stretch, in this case?
"What I would say, I guess -- and read between the lines here, it won't be that hard -- is that, I think, the secretary and the president have been very clear that boots on the ground options in Syria are not likely."
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.