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.
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
Recent accusations by a federal inspector general that additional oversight was urgently needed for foreign aid flowing into Afghanistan did not sit well with officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID officials argue they're on the same page with John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), when it comes to oversight concerns.
In his April quarterly report to Congress, Sopko's office frequently praises USAID's oversight efforts. But they also note examples of past or potential future misuse of taxpayer funds, such as USAID providing $179 million in funds for the 2014 elections, even though no new Afghan election laws have passed to thwart fraud. One SIGAR audit found USAID approved plans for two hospitals that could cost $18 million without ensuring future funding or that Afghans could sustain them with staffing.
In a speech this week, Sopko offered another example, arguing the Afghan electric company was not as capable as USAID had claimed. "SIGAR's audit work says otherwise," he argued.
It may be a case of dueling perspectives between a watchdog looking for imperfections and a government agency tasked specifically with sending money into some of the most imperfectly governed places on earth.
USAID spokesman Ben Edwards emailed this statement from USAID, in response to Sopko:
"USAID has a stellar record of protecting U.S. tax dollars in Afghanistan. We have 12 years of experience implementing programs and delivering results. USAID is committed to ensuring accountability for all taxpayer funded projects. Before giving any on-budget [direct] assistance to the Afghan government, USAID assesses the capacity of the ministries involved to properly budget for and carry out the proposed projects. USAID utilizes robust financial controls to monitor taxpayer funds and expected outcomes.
Indeed, Afghanistan has made dramatic development progress over the past decade, which would not be possible without the help of U.S. taxpayer funding designed to improve the government's capacity to manage its own development and deliver goods and services to the Afghan people. For example, assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health has dramatically expanded access to health care-resulting in an unprecedented increase in Afghan life expectancy of 15-20 years in a decade.
The U.S. development mission in Afghanistan is not without challenges, but is necessary in order to ensure Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists from which to attack the United States."
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages
More than 11 years since September 11, 2001, the Afghanistan war continues, the prison at Guantanamo stands, and mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad is still awaiting trial. But today, the spire was attached atop One World Trade. The skyline of lower Manhattan finally has the landmark towering skyscraper it deserves.
But two would've been nice.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
It seems everyone these days is clawing for a bigger piece of the Pentagon's shrinking budget pie and special operations forces (SOF) are elbowing their way to the trough.
But even elite forces need help fighting Beltway budget wars and winning battle space in the coming Quadrennial Defense Review -- the good book that informs (or at least gives cover fire) to all Pentagon spending. On Friday, Adm. Bill McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), who has called for expanding a "global SOF network," just acquired a major ally in the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).
The watchdog released on Friday a 125-page report, "Beyond the Ramparts: The Future of U.S. Special Operations Forces" outlining how special operations forces should use the post-war era to expand and solidify a global network with more forward basing, more personnel, more "stealthy" and appropriately SOF-like equipment, more foreign headquarters and training centers, and ... well, more of everything.
"Returning SOF to their pre-9/11 roles would undoubtedly squander what has been gained over the past decade and forfeit a major U.S. competitive advantage," writes CSBA Vice President Jim Thomas and Chris Dougherty, research fellow and 75th Ranger Regiment veteran.
CSBA tries to wrap its hands around how to expand SOF forces around the globe in an era where they also predict more restrictive rules of engagement (outside of the "hot" war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq), smaller bases, and yet far more available conventional "enabler" forces to support their missions as those wars wind down.
To get started, elite U.S. forces will need language training and more diversity. Thomas suggested sending troops abroad with "things like Rosetta Stone" books, which allow them to train and test remotely. The face of elite troops, he added, is overwhelmingly white and male, and so does not tap into America's ethnic diversity, which he called "one of the greatest strategic strengths of the United States."
It will take money. Thomas's final slide shows a tiny sliver emerging from a pie chart: it's SOF's current share of DOD's more than $600 billion budget.
But there are other reason SOF is an affordable must-have, they argued.
"We're moving toward more austere basing. The main operating bases, the Baghram's, the Balad's, and other places, we think this is largely going to be a thing of the past," said co-author Jim Thomas.
Among the recommendations: strengthening SOF commands within the regional combatant commands by adding more manning; and transferring or permitting more operational control of SOF forces from SOCOM to the regional combatant commanders.
"This has been an area that has really been neglected in the past 20 years," Thomas said. "That's starting to change now."
They called for more partner SOF training, but did not appear to have crunched the number to determine if the Pentagon has enough trainers for such a mission. Dougherty said the United States should leverage -- train the foreign trainers to train the SOF forces in their own regions.
"I think we need to stop thinking about just the number of U.S. SOF," he said.
Take a look for yourself, the report is posted at CSBA's website.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed the Rosetta Stone and diversity quotes to Dougherty. They came from Thomas.
DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle D. Gahlau, U.S. Navy
The top two Democratic and Republican senators on national security issued a new bipartisan plea for President Barack Obama to lead a military campaign against Syria, including missile strikes and arming opposition rebels, in pointed floor speeches.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the floor with a long list of limited U.S. military interjections into the conflict. They argued such moves were not only possible, but necessary to save lives and prevent spillover instability in the Middle East.
The two men wrote Obama in March calling for intervention, but Thursday's speeches come with specific military options and far more bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for a stronger response to Bashar al-Assad's regime, especially since the White House's acknowledgement in late April that the intelligence community believes chemical weapons have been used by Syria.
"No one should think that the United States has to act alone, put boots on the ground, or destroy every Syrian air defense system to make a difference for the better in Syria," McCain said. "We have more limited options at our disposal -- including limited military options -- that can make a positive impact on this crisis."
McCain said the United States should at least target Syria's ballistic missiles, preventing the possibility that they could be fitted to carry chemical weapons.
"We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile launchers on the ground without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria's air defenses. Similar weapons could be used to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make Assad's forces think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria from Assad's aerial bombing and missile attacks.
"Would any of these options immediately end the conflict? Probably not. But they could save innocent lives in Syria," said McCain.
Levin said the Armed Services Committee next week is scheduled to receive a classified briefing it requested from top Pentagon brass on military options for Syria. Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller, DOD's policy chief, and Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, the J-5, or director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, are slated to appear. The committee will, he said, "urge them to carry a message back to the administration that it is time to up the military pressure on Assad."
But the chairman did not wait to give his own suggestion.
"In my view, the facts on the ground today make the consequences of inaction too great. It is time for the United States and our allies to use ways to alter the course of events in Syria by increasing the military pressure on Assad," Levin said.
Levin asked Obama to support Turkey in creating a "safe zone" inside Syria, deploying Patriot batteries close to the border, "neutralize" any Syria threats, and arm "vetted" opposition rebels.
He also argued that military action would give Secretary of State John Kerry political "backing" to bring Russia into a solution to end the conflict, while continuing to condemn Russia for supporting Assad's regime.
Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who on Monday introduced a bill to arm the rebels, said the threat of a humanitarian crisis in Jordan -- which has seen half a million registered Syrian refugees cross its border, already -- was reason enough for prompt action. King Abdullah II of Jordan told senators during his April visit, Menendez said, that the population of Jordan already has increased by 20 percent due to Syrian inflows and he fears it could double.
"We cannot afford for that ally to ultimately find itself in a position in which it could very well collapse," Menendez said.
"I would suggest a bipartisan consensus is forming in the United State Senate that now is time to do more, not less, when it comes to Syria" said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., including arming "the right rebels, the right opposition, with the right weapons."
Graham said there is now enough bipartisan support to "turn the tide in Washington," calling the trend a "monumental sea change."
"To the opposition: this is a great day for you. To Assad: this seals your fate," Graham said.
Graham also tried to connect the Syrian conflict to the specter of Islamist-inspired bombings in the United States.
"There is enough chemical weapons in Syria to kill thousands if not millions of Americans and people who are our allies," said Graham, noting that he's worried Syrian chemical weapons could end up being used inside the United States.
"The next bomb that goes off in America may have more than nails and glass in it."
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
As the United States was deploying destroyers, stealth bombers, and missile defense batteries around the Pacific last month as a show of force against North Korea's nuclear provocations, the Pentagon's top leaders said they had little interaction with China, alarming some senators.
But under the radar, U.S. defense and military officials were confident that Beijing understood Washington's intentions, having steadily increased the stream of communications and contact with the People's Liberation Army over the past few years. For the Pentagon's top China policy official, the trend is promising enough to leave him with a "realistic" sense that a page may have been turned and after years of fits and starts, military-to-military relations between Beijing and Washington may be reaching an even keel.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey sat with the E-Ring on Wednesday for a rare on-the-record interview about the state of relations between the Pentagon and the PLA, and their joint role in managing the North Korean nuclear standoff of the past two months.
In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel used a "hotline" phone to call China's new minister of national defense, Gen. Chang Wanquan, for a 45-minute introductory conversation in which they discussed a range of issues. Hagel, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little, encouraged they keep an open dialogue about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Helvey said they also discussed other issues. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also used the hotline to call China's chief of the General Staff, Gen. Fang Fenghui, prior to his own visit.
"We're really looking to expand the use of this hotline just as a mechanism for direct communication between our senior leaders," Helvey said.
A strong sign of the relationship's health has been China's receptiveness to talk at all, he said.
"The Chinese have shown a willingness to discuss North Korea with us. They've taken some steps to cooperate with the international community," said Helvey, especially at the United Nations Security Council.
"These are real opportunities and interactions."
But by design, he said, during the North Korean tension most U.S. interaction with China occurred through diplomatic channels, not the Pentagon.
"Quite frankly, the military aspects of this is not something that we wanted to highlight," Helvey said.
"We had communications certainly at my level," he explained. Helvey's job was to convey the administration's message from the Pentagon to the PLA through the Chinese defense attaché in Washington.
"Part of what we try to do in our military channels in situations like that is to make sure we're providing the same type of message that's occurring through the diplomatic channels, so that we're presenting a unified view to the Chinese," he said, "so the military understands the same thing that the Foreign Ministry is getting."
Helvey, in return, took the People's Liberation Army's view back to Hagel at the Pentagon.
At the time, Pacific Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear raised alarms when he told the Senate Armed Service Committee he had not been on the phone with the PLA Navy to manage tensions. Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, both pressed Locklear to reach out and touch someone in China.
"We're not there yet," Locklear said, at the time.
"Quite frankly it is a challenge in the relationship," Helvey said, "because our military and the Chinese military are structured somewhat differently." The PACOM commander doesn't have a direct counterpart in China, though he explained how top brass have found their way into the PLA.
"The Chinese war-fighting commands, if you were to call it that, are reflected along military regions which are organized along interior lines. So it doesn't go outside of China," he explained. Most militaries, in fact, do not have officers directly comparable to U.S. combatant commanders, who command troops deployed over vast regions of the globe.
Instead, the United States has tried to engage with several parts of the PLA in lieu of "a direct fit" by talking to regional commanders, sending Locklear and others to participate in strategic and economic dialogues, visiting Beijing, and calling on senior Chinese officers.
Since Beijing temporarily cut communications with the Pentagon during 2010, the United States and China's militaries have maintained contacts via several appointments. In 2012, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and Adm. Locklear all visited China. Beijing sent their defense minister and a high-level uniformed deputy of strategy to Washington.
Below that senior level, at least 20 exchanges, meetings, and joint exercises occurred between U.S. and PLA military and defense officials -- events that included policy talks, the convening of a maritime working group, and even a meeting between the Pentagon's office for missing POWs and PLA archivists. National Defense University and the PLA's equivalent continued their exchanges and the National War College sent a delegation to China.
Dempsey visited China last month, and later this year Gen. Ray Odernio, Army chief of staff, and Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, have scheduled China trips. On the docket are port visits, exchanges of military legal teams, a disaster management exercise, and more academic exchanges.
This summer, Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller, the policy chief, will attend another round of annual consultative talks.
Outside of the bilateral relationship, Helvey said the Pentagon continues to encourage China to participate more in multilateral venues, "to become part of the international system, part of the international framework that supports stability, peace, prosperity."
"I think it's been incremental," Helvey said. "It's something that I think we're going to have to continue working."
But he sees opportunity in the PLA's own global plans. PLA leaders have tasked its force to go beyond regional missions, Helvey notes (as does the Pentagon's latest China power report, released last week), from counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden to evacuating civilians in Libya. China now deploys more U.N. peacekeeping troops than any other permanent Security Council member.
"From our perspective, if China's going to be out there using its military forces -- deploying them farther and farther away from China -- to the extent that we can encourage them to cooperate with the international community, I think that helps to bring us toward that positive outcome in the relationship that we seek."
"We want to be able to develop a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship with China. There's a role for having a healthy, stable, reliable military-to-military relationship, and that's what we want to do," he said.
Still, there are skeptics who remain less than eager to lock arms with the PLA. Just last year, China often was painted as a rival, even an enemy, in a heated presidential campaign. But Helvey persists.
"The U.S.-China relationship is complex," he said. "It is very complex, but a critically important relationship. I think the military-to-military relationship has improved, but I think we have very real expectations of what we can get out of it."
Friction is, he said, "inevitable."
"The relationship now is probably as good as it's been in recent memory."
The goal remains to be able to weather those storms without another military-to-military blackout.
"We have realistic expectations."
DOD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
Fifty million dollars in stolen U.S. funds that investigators had located in an Afghan bank account last year have suddenly gone missing while under the Afghan government's watch, according to a top federal watchdog.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko made the stunning revelation in a scathing speech accusing the Afghan government of being a "criminal patronage network" from civil servant to the highest officials. Sopko, warning of an inept oversight of American taxpayer funds, claimed on Wednesday that the millions went missing after his office served the Afghan government an order to freeze the account.
"Briefly put, we identified roughly $50 million stolen from the U.S. government which was sitting in an Afghan bank account," Sopko said, in prepared remarks of a speech delivered at the New America Foundation.
"We obtained a court order here in the United States and served it on the Afghan government to get them to seize the money. For months we pressed the Afghan attorney general's office to freeze the account and begin the legal process to allow us to seize the cash. At first, we were told the bank account was frozen and the money protected. Unfortunately, as is too many times the case, a few weeks ago we learned that the money was mysteriously unfrozen by some powerful bureaucrat in Kabul. Now, most of it is gone."
Spoko, in his speech, said the case was one of many examples of why it was time for the U.S. to consider withholding vital aid to Afghanistan in order to pressure Kabul into adopting stronger financial protections.
Philip LaVelle, spokesman for the SIGAR, said Sopko first revealed that the funds were missing during questioning before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 10. But the case went unreported in the media as it was one of several examples of Afghan corruption and mismanagement Sopko mentioned that day. SIGAR had not publicized the case further because it remains sealed by a federal U.S. judge, according to LaVelle.
Sopko only referenced it again on Wednesday, but in last month's exchange with House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., made clear his sense of being hoodwinked.
"It was supposed to be frozen. For six months, we've been negotiating with the attorney general's office in Afghanistan. And, lo and behold, last weekend, mysteriously, the money was unfrozen and it's gone.
"This, I fear, is the future in Afghanistan."
Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
The U.S. government's watchdog over taxpayer money in Afghanistan today will deliver a clear and sobering message: if Kabul is unable to do a better job safeguarding and spending the billions in U.S. funding coming its way, Washington should shut its wallet.
"We need to have the courage to withhold funding if progress is not made by the Afghan government," Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko will say in a speech he is scheduled to deliver at the New America Foundation on Wednesday, according to an advance copy provided exclusively to the E-Ring.
Sopko since last summer has turned in a steady stream of reports finding millions of dollars from the Defense Department, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development going to waste. The offenses range from poorly designed and managed reconstruction projects on the U.S side to lax oversight by Afghan government offices. In the SIGAR's latest quarterly report to Congress, Sopko trains his sights on direct foreign assistance delivered through USAID, and questions the Afghan government's ability to maintain safeguards over the cash influx.
"And, more importantly, USAID must be willing to stop funding Afghan ministries if they do not live up to these safeguards," Sopko will say.
UPDATE: SIGAR Going After ANSF
Sopko also announced in his speech that the SIGAR for the rest of this year will focus its auditing power on measuring the state of security in Afghanistan. That mission may seem far afield from usual inspector general bean counting. But the effectiveness of any U.S. funding is dependent, Sopko said, on the U.S. effort to stand up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
"Because of SIGAR's ongoing concerns with the ANSF," he said, "SIGAR is building a body of work to eventually answer the ultimate question - are the Afghan National Security Forces ready?"
The E-Ring reported last week that SIGAR found the ANSF was 20,000 people short of its personnel goals. "The number of troops ready for duty is even lower when you consider AWOL employees, desertions, and ghost employees," Sopko said on Wednesday.
But those numbers are a guess, at best, due to poor recordkeeping, which means the true U.S. cost for supplying, training, and maintaining Afghan forces is unknown.
"The DOD told SIGAR there is no way to validate the ANSF's personnel numbers," he said, "often derived from reports prepared by hand by Afghan troops. It is hard to know if the afghan army and police are ready if we don't know how many troops are available to fight insurgent forces."
Sopko also warned that next year's parliamentary elections may prove to be no more legitimate that the last round, which was marred by fraud. Afghans have not changed their elections laws, leaving the process open to continued voter fraud, ballot box stuffing and fake voter identification cards, he alleged.
"Unless we fix problems like these before the 2014 presidential election, the Afghan people may have powerful reasons to question the results."
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Tomahawk cruise missiles, fighter jets, aerial refueling tankers, flying hours -- the taxpayer cost for creating and holding a no-fly zone over Syria seems like an expensive operation, right?
Not so fast. According to defense budget analysts, creating a no-fly zone over Syria may be far easier -- and cheaper, as military operations go -- than top brass are letting on.
There are several factors that contribute to the cost of a no-fly zone, but in short it all depends on just how far the United States and its allies are willing to take it. The size and duration of the operation are top factors. But there's more than one way to keep Syria's Air Force out of the skies.
"I get why people get so amped up about no-fly zones" said Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. People often tend to think of Iraq, he told the E-Ring, and the 12 year-long complex, high-demand Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch. Those missions cost an estimated $1 billion per year, combined.
But that was a "full" no-fly zone controlling a large adversarial territory. It would take far less to protect the smaller skies over Syria, which maintains far less air power, defense analysts believe.
"Is the goal to establish a classic no-fly zone, or is the goal to ground the Syrian Air Force?" Harmer said. "Establishing a classic no-fly zone is time consuming and costly; grounding the Syrian Air Force is as simple as sending a few cruisers and destroyers from Norfolk over to the Eastern Med and dropping 250 (Tomahawk) TLAM into Syria."
"That ends the Syrian Air Force in less than an hour."
The actual attack may take a bit longer, like the assault on Libya's air defenses, but still fares better than a sustained no-fly zone.
"Tomahawk TLAM cruise missiles can easily degrade the very limited Syrian Air Force down to almost nonexistence," Harmer contends. "We launch TLAM at the runways, radars, fuel farms, and aircraft themselves, and without U.S. aircraft getting anywhere near the Syrian airspace, we effectively create a no-fly zone -- not by enforcement, but by eliminating the Syrian Air Force."
Let's start some rough calculations here. TLAMs go for an estimated $1.41 million each, so that brings the tab to $352.5 million, just for the hardware. Then there's the cost of the naval vessels and thousands of personnel manning them required to support the mission that otherwise may not be deployed in the area.
So far, that's not bad compared to other U.S. military missions. Consider that the Pentagon in fiscal year 2012 spent $10 billion per month in Afghanistan and once estimated that each soldier in the war zone cost $1 million per year.
Syria is believed to have, Harmer explained in an email, "less than 100 flyable fixed wing aircraft [and] probably closer to 50 at this point. For all practical purposes, they are not flying their MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-29 and SU-22/SU-24 aircraft at all. Why not? Because those aircraft require a lot of spare parts, a lot of maintenance, a lot of jet fuel."
The bulk of the Syrian Air Force's quality fighters are old -- about 30 years -- and expensive to fly. The degraded Syrian regime, Harner claimed, "just does not have the logistics, the talent, the manpower to keep them flyable."
"What they are flying are L-39 trainer aircraft which are lighter, less maintenance intensive, newer, but nowhere near as capable as the MiG and SU aircraft. All we really need to do to get a de facto no-fly zone is to destroy those aircraft," he argued.
That's one option.
But let's assume the United States insists on the more robust option of maintaining an actual no-fly zone over Syria. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. much of the air force intact on the ground opting to patrol the skies. How much would that cost?
According to Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), it depends first on the size of the zone one's patrolling.
"The larger the area you cover," said Harrison, "the more aircraft you have to have covering it at any given moment. And the amount of time you have aircraft in the air patrolling are driving the cost."
Flight hours, he said, drive the cost "more than anything."
The no-fly zones over Iraq covered 104,600 square miles. And in addition to the size of the zone, Harrison calculated the distance U.S. fighters flew from regional bases. The northern watch operated out of Turkey; the southern leg out of Saudi Arabia. But the bigger cost factor there was the time spent in the air on patrol rather than flying time from the bases to the zones, he said.
In Iraq, the per-flight hour cost was tied to operational tempo -- the number and pace of sorties, which require fuel and manpower. The price ranged from roughly $7,000 per square mile in the less active years to $23,000 when sorties were at their highest.
One way to limit that cost is to shrink the zone, or to keep aircraft out of the zone but defend it from afar using standoff weapons that can shoot down intruders.
"It's a matter of do you want to control the airspace or deny them use of the air space. Control versus denial is the first question," he said. "Denial is easier and less and expensive. Control requires more resources."
Additionally, the number of allies and partner forces that join in the operation would drive down costs to U.S. taxpayers.
Harrison said that CSBA's extensive cost prediction for a no-fly zone over Libya gives some insight into what a Syrian mission would cost. CSBA calculated in March 2011 that a "limited no-fly zone" just for the 230,000 square miles of populated Libyan territory north of the 29th parallel would cost $30 million to $100 million per week, or for over six months, roughly $1billion to $3.5 billion.
But CSBA's prediction turned out to be two-thirds more expensive than the actual cost of the mission to the U.S. because two-third of the sorties ended up being flown by foreign aircraft -- yet another factor to consider.
By far, cruise missiles account for a large chunk of the total cost of any no-fly zone, no matter what comes next.
"A substantial cost of [the Libya] operation was incurred in the first week of that campaign," he said. There, on March 19, 2011, the United States began with bombs dropped from B-2 bombers flown from Missouri and launched 200 Tomahwawk cruise missiles.
So, on the back of the E-Ring's monogrammed napkin, we find that all of Syria is about 71,000 square miles, or 31 percent the size of the Libyan no-fly zone. That puts the cost to sustain a no-fly zone over all of Syria at about $9 million to $31 million per week.
But it's likely that the United States and its allies would only need to patrol a much small areas, so the cost should be even less.
"There isn't an easy -- or single -- answer," said Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. David Lapan, who added to the list of considerations the types of aircraft used, the amount of intelligence required, and Syria's response.
"And it's not about cost," he said. "It's about military objectives and decisions on options."
Photo by ACHILLEAS ZAVALLIS/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama tore into U.S. troops who commit sexual assault for "betraying the uniform that they're wearing," on Tuesday, responding to a recent spate of criminal allegations currently commanding headlines and attention in Congress.
Obama said he has told the Pentagon's highest chain of command that he has "no tolerance for this." In a press conference at the White House just minutes before the Pentagon was to release its latest report to Congress, the president called for more than just words.
"I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period."
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, later said, "We know we've got big problems." Hagel vowed to hold commanders accountable for sexual assault in the ranks.
The president's statement comes hours after a heated hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee where Air Force leaders were grilled over the sexual assault issue. Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the DOD report issued today reveals there are 70 sexual assaults each day involving military personnel, and called it a "plague" among the Armed Forces.
The president's comments come one day after it was revealed that the top Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention was arrested over the weekend for sexual battery. Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinksi allegedly was drunk when he groped a female who alerted police, in Crystal City, Virginia, near the Pentagon.
Here is the president's full quote:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let's start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage. It is a crime. That's true for society at large, and if it's happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they're wearing. And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior, that's not patriotic; it's a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that we've been trying to do is create a structure in which we're starting to get accurate reporting. And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely. And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward. But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today in indicating to him that we're going to have to, you know, not just step up our game; we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard.
And for those who are in uniform who've experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability.
If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted. And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.
So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the secretary of defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in -- in areas of authority. And I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period. It's not acceptable.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
The sequester is causing the Army plenty of problems but retention is not one of them, according to the chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno. Not yet, at least.
The military has given Congress and the president a mile-long list of reasons to cancel the mandatory across-the-board sequester cuts underway, from the inability to field intercontinental ballistic missiles to reduced shopping hours at grocery stores on military bases.
The latest warning from the top brass: the sequester could, might, just maybe, one day, possibly soon affect recruitment and retention.
But not yet.
"We are not seeing any degradation in retention or our ability to recruit," Gen. Ray Odierno said at a Tuesday breakfast with reporters. "In fact last year, for the first time, not everybody who wanted to reenlist was able to. For us, that's the first time that's happened in a very long time. So our attrition rates are at historic lows."
To restate -- the rate of soldiers leaving the Army is actually at a near all-time low.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said last month he worried troops may start to quit the Armed Forces because the sequester is cutting training budgets, which means less flying, sailing, and all the fun stuff that troops signed up to do.
"Today's readiness challenges could indeed, lead to tomorrow's retention challenges," Dempsey said. The chairman argued troops will not stomach being told to sit and wait out the sequester after so many years of high-tempo activity. "That will, I predict, impact retention."
Odierno joined in Dempsey's prediction that young adults may look elsewhere than the military for work, on Tuesday, saying, "As the economy improves, people might look to do some other things. But if we don't have the money to train, and we don't have the money to do the things we think we should be doing, it is going to have an impact."
On Thursday, the Pentagon released its latest recruitment and retention numbers with the Army logging 101 percent of its goal for the fiscal year through March, signing up 33,857 new personnel. The other services all met their attrition goals, DOD said. Only the Army Reserve is struggling to meet their recruiting goal, reporting 12,976 accessions, with a goal of 14,477 through March.
"Because soldiers, they want to be -- the reason they want to stay in the army, they think it's a good organization, they think its one that's well trained, its one that's well respected," Odierno said. "If they start to feel that we're now not being funded or have the capability to do that, I think the natural instinct will be, maybe I'm going to do something else."
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
The U.S. Army's top officer said that force readiness is "degrading significantly" enough that if President Barack Obama decides to put boots on the ground in Syria, soldiers may not be fully prepared for the job if they don't move out by the end of this summer.
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said he believes the Free Syrian Army will prevail because the rebels have been able to win and hold territory.
"I kind of believe its not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Odierno said of the FSA's chances to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
From a military perspective, Odierno did not offer advice to the rebels, which the U.S. support officially and with non-lethal aid, but said he was encouraged by what they've been able to accomplish against Syria's forces.
"I think from what I've seen is they have made some significant gains. I think they are controlling the territory. It makes you think that, you know, it's going to be difficult for the regime over time to survive," Odierno said, at a Defense Writers Group briefing with reporters in Washington, on Tuesday.
Odierno cautioned, however, that training cutbacks due to the sequester mean that, within months, the Army will be less prepared for a ground intervention.
"Its a matter of us having the dollars to make sure they are ready and trained to meet such a contingency in Syria."
"Readiness is OK right now, but it's degrading significantly because our training is reducing. So, the next three, four months, we probably have the capability to do it," he said, of a Syrian incursion. "Next year, it becomes a little bit more risky."
"If you ask me today, we have forces that can go. I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down."
When readiness falls, he warned, risk inevitably goes up.
"What is the risk? The risk is lives."
Odeirno said that while Pentagon continues to present President Obama options for Syria, including acting unilaterally or in an international coalition, he's more concerned about the future facing the region.
"What I worry about is the next day. So, when it happens, what happens the day after?" he said. "To me, that's important, what happens to Syria."
"Nothing happens independently in the Middle East. What's the impact on Israel? What's the impact on Lebanon? What's the impact on Jordan," he said, mentioning Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, as well.
"If we don't get this right, what happens the day after ... could change the whole face of the Middle East, or it could go smoothly," he speculated. "How do we from an international coalition try to make this happen in such a way where we don't create incredible instability once Syria falls. That's what I worry about."
Add the use of chemical and biological weapons to his list of concerns.
"There's lots to worry about," Odierno said. "For me, it gets very, very messy."
There's one more layer to the Syria mess that complicates any outcome, said the Army chief: terrorists in the rebel ranks.
"With the rebels, we do know there's some terrorists in there," Odierno said. "Obviously, we don't want them to be involved in the outcome, we don't want them to gain power because of the impact they could have on the rest of the region -- regionally and then potentially internationally."
Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
According to an Arlington County crime report, just past midnight on Sunday, May 5, Krusinski “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police.”
Krusinski was arrested and charged with sexual battery, and released on $5,000 bond. He was removed from his position on Monday, Pentagon officials said.
The arrest was first reported by ARLNow.com.
The news comes after E-Ring first reported that the Air Force sexual assault office has been passing out interesting trinkets -- breath mints, hand sanitizer, and sponge footballs -- in the Pentagon in the hopes that they will promote good behavior and safety.
Frank Cope, from the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator office, told the E-ring that the tchotchkes “spread the message of respect and help available to those who need it.”
“Our phone numbers go out
on every one of those items, people see them and often they make the call to
the DOD Sexual Assault Hotline (877-995-5247) or a local SARC and begin a
conversation that may start them on a journey from victim to survivor.”
UPDATE: The Krusinski arrest quickly has reverberated through the Pentagon's highest office. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, late Monday, released the following statement which reveals Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will roll out further sexual assault prevention measures soon.
Little said: "This evening Secretary Hagel spoke to Air Force Secretary Donley about allegations of misconduct involving an Air Force officer who had been responsible for the service's sexual assault and prevention efforts and was removed today from his position pending the outcome of an investigation. Secretary Hagel expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively. Secretary Hagel has been directing the Department's leaders to elevate their focus on sexual assault prevention and response, and he will soon announce next steps in our ongoing efforts to combat this vile crime. Sexual assault has no place in the United States military. The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military. Secretary Hagel is firmly committed to upholding the highest standards of behavior in America's armed forces and will take action to see this through."
What's going on in this photo of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel greeting Secretary of State John Kerry at the Pentagon?
The two men met at the Pentagon for the first time since taking office in the new Obama administration, marking the first time that two Vietnam combat veterans held those positions. Hagel presented Kerry with a print of a painting from the Navy's collection depicting two Navy Patrol Craft Boats on the Mekong River Delta, from 1968. Another term for those type of vessels: swift boats.
For more photos, and a look at the painting, click here.
Photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, U.S. Marine Corps
It's déjà vu all over again for the Pentagon's latest annual "China power report" released on Monday, in which Defense Department policy bosses have determined that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is continuing to expand, modernize, and buy more and weaponry and capabilities mostly designed to keep outside powers like the United States out of its immediate territory.
"China's military buildup shows no signs of slowing," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Helvey, at the Pentagon.
What worries Helvey most is that despite increased transparency from China, the United States feels that Beijing continues to keep its plans and intentions for the PLA far too close to the vest and "many uncertainties remain" about the PLA budget.
"There's a lot yet that remains to be said," Helvey said. "This report poses a number of questions -- questions to which we don't have answers."
According to the report, China's military is focused on acquiring more missiles, counter-space weapons, and cyberwarfare technology. In fact, in just about every corner of the military toolbox, the PLA is increasing stocks: "nuclear deterrence and long-range conventional strike; advanced fighter aircraft; limited regional power projection, with the commissioning of China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning; integrated air defenses; undersea warfare; improved command and control; and more sophisticated training and exercises across China's air, naval, and land forces."
China's Second Artillery unit, which controls its nuclear arsenal, has been particularly active. "It is developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, upgrading older missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses," the report claims.
One quick note: while the world saw China's first aircraft carrier come online last year, the Pentagon expects it will not have an operational air wing until 2015. The Pentagon seems more concerned about the next decade, as the PLA has announced its intention to build its own carriers. The Pentagon expects the first home-built Chinese carrier by the end of this decade, according to the report.
Helvey claimed the administration has achieved "positive" momentum in U.S.-China military-to-military relations, citing a number of high-level visits between Beijing and Washington in 2012. He would not comment further on reports of China's cyber espionage and theft of military secrets. But the true extend of trust in that relationship was bluntly in view during last months' nuclear standoff with North Korea, when Pentagon and Joint Staff officials conceded there was little interaction between top U.S. and Chinese commanders.
Just because the United States is gaining energy independence from foreign oil doesn't mean the Pentagon shouldn't remain on mission to secure energy supplies.
That's the argument made in a new book by Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its program on energy security and climate change. The book, Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future, was released Thursday.
"Achieving American energy self-sufficiency wouldn't make us independent in the way that people would like to think it would," Levi told the E-Ring, in an interview Friday. And, he added, it won't decrease U.S. vulnerability in energy or other areas.
Since most national security wonks are not energy wonks, and vice versa, we'll allow Levi (who might be a triple wonk: he studied string theory at Princeton and his last book was on nuclear terrorism) to explain. He argues that the United States still remains so tied to the decades-old global oil-supply market that only a significant drop in total U.S. energy consumption would do anything real to free the United States from foreign security concerns.
"We've accepted the reality of an interdependent global oil market. We've encouraged the development of a flexible markets so that if supplies in one place go away, we can get supplies from someone else. We still stock strategic petroleum reserves, large stocks of oil that we can put on the market to make up for losses if they happen -- and that's all made us more secure. But what it also means is that we are much more integrated."
"If we somehow became self-sufficient in oil and things went haywire in Saudi Arabia, the price of oil would spike here too," Levi said, "and we would suffer economically and we would still be entangled in those events."
Consider the Libyan crisis, Levi noted, when the price of oil rose in the United States as much as it did in the Middle East.
Several studies by RAND Corporation and others have tried to quantify how much the U.S. military spends on protecting energy supplies and traffic, such as sea lanes. Those studies end up informing arguments that energy independence can be a quick money saver for the Pentagon. Levi says that's wrong.
As the United States weans itself from foreign oil, he said, the Pentagon may want to changes its mission or focus in relation to energy, but "it shouldn't be driven by a mistaken belief that we no longer need to worry about the security of energy supplies."
It may come as no surprise, then, that Levi supports the Obama administration's use of the Defense Department to fund the development of an alternative energy market.
"I think it would be mistake for the U.S. to spend less in those areas," he said.
"One of the lessons we known from the history of the Defense Department is that government involvement in big tech innovations can often yield really important advances," he argued. "And energy has the potential to be yet another example."
"The Defense Department can take a longer view of things than the typical private investor, it can operate at a larger scale than a lot of private investors, and it can be patient. And that's important."
Additionally, there's something intangible to be said for seeing the Navy's "Green" F/A-18 Super Hornet fly on biofuels.
"Its hard for people to think that biofuels are a silly thing for people to play around with when military jets can fly on them. There is habit in the energy world of thinking about alternative sources of energy as somehow inferior and weaker. And it may just be a level of perception to say that when the military uses these things, it boosts their credibility, but perceptions matter a lot."
The North Korean regime is doing whatever it can to survive, according to a new Pentagon assessment which predicts that, despite international efforts, Pyongyang's leadership will continue to build more nuclear weapons and asymmetric warfare capabilities.
In its first annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said North Korea sees that its military power is falling behind that of its neighbors -- South Korea, Japan, and China. Instead of trying to match those capabilities, however, it has chosen to pursue nukes and small-war strategies.
But the regime may feel more threatened by its own people.
"The regime's greatest security concern is opposition from within," the Pentagon told Congress in the report. The regime's fear of external threats is that they will foster internal revolt. As such, the North Korean military is as involved in maintaining oppressive "internal security" as it is in threatening South Korea or the United States.
The Pentagon believes the North Korean military's provocations are calculated to avoid triggering a full-scale counterattack. But DOD is worried about "miscalculation that could spiral into a larger conflict."
"Although North Korea is unlikely to attack on a scale that it assesses would risk the survival of its government by inviting overwhelming counterattacks by the ROK or the United States, we do not know how North Korea calculates this threshold of behavior."
If war happens, the Pentagon would face an aged military.
"The KPA fields primarily legacy equipment, either produced in, or based on designs of, the Soviet Union and China, dating back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s," said the report, though last year's NorthKorean military parade revealed some new tanks, artillery, and infantry hardware.
The North Korean air force has not purchased new fighters since a 1999 buy of MiG-21s. It has more than 1,000 planes, but its most capable are Soviet-era MiG-29s. The regime's naval forces are barely worth a mention, though the Pentagon said a mini-submarine was able to sink the South Korean ship Cheonan.
The one threat the Pentagon shows concern over: ballistic missiles and the progress toward nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
"North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and Allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs."
At the British ambassador's residence in Washington, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond sat with the E-Ring the for an exclusive one-on-one discussion about the United Kingdom's defense priorities and challenges amid shrinking military budgets, the threats along NATO's Middle Eastern and North African boundaries, and its role in collective security post-Afghanistan.
In 2010, nearly 20 percent of the British army was still in Germany, manning heavy armor against a Cold War threat from the Soviet Union. Today, the United Kingdom wants to build a more affordable, yet shared defense. That requires Hammond to convince European NATO partners to do more while convincing the Pentagon to treat its allies more as partners in collective security, rather than as add-ons to its missions.
The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
E-RING: I'd like to talk about how you see the U.K.'s role in interoperability or "Smart Defense" for Europe and beyond, elsewhere in the world. What are some of your ideas of where the U.K. should be or doesn't need to be? But in the immediate future, Syria and the possible responses to come brings about the criticism of Libya, and what capabilities Europe was exposed to have lacked: ISR, tankers --
HAMMOND: We have not fixed those problems. In our own case, we're well on the way to fixing our tanker capability problem. We're still using, at the moment, 50-year old VC-10s but they're -- within the next 12 months, maybe sooner, they will have been replaced by the new air-to-air refuelers that we've bought. They're already in service in their trooping role, but there are still some teaming problems on the air-to-air refueling thing which we're confident are now solved. So that's a work in progress. But as of right now, we in the U.K., and certainly across Europe, still have a lack of the air-to-air [capability].
E-RING: Refuelers are a good example. How long before those become fully operational and your pilots are trained?
HAMMOND: The pilots are trained already. It's a technical problem around the basket and we're not fitting a U.S. basket. The program slipped, I mean, these aircraft should have been in service now. The VC-10 should have gone out of service before its 50th anniversary. [The first should be ready by September and fully operational by March.]
E-RING: With the downsizing and defense budgets, realistically what is the plan to correct those wrongs, if you call them, the capabilities that Europe didn't have? Or is that not the plan, is there a sense of, well this is what the Americans are going to provide so we're going to provide something else?
HAMMOND: No, there's not a sense of that. The most important thing is the planning. It's the NATO planning process and looking at the overall capability that European NATO needs to be able to field and making sure that in the next planning framework horizon we get the capabilities we need, we deal with the surpluses. Because the truth is, we have surplus capabilities in some areas and inadequacies in other areas, and it's about shaping the pattern of investment across the alliance to address those gaps, those inadequacies, and to do it efficiently by collaborating together, "pooling and sharing" where that's possible. Although, "pooling and sharing" is a term that's been coined and frequently used and is not so easily delivered into an operational context.
E-RING: That was my immediate thought. How long does it take to do this?
HAMMOND: I think our approach, the U.K.'s approach, is so long as we sit around a very big table talking about "pooling and sharing," nothing will happen. So our preference is to start doing some small bilateral deals with individual partners and allies where we have sensible arrangements that we can build or build on. In fact, you got those things we already do, long before the term "pooling and sharing" was invented, that we can build upon.
But the real key, the real win here, as NATO has to address trying to do the same with less, is driving deployability and operability -- effectiveness of NATO forces. Of course there's an issue, as [former U.S. Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates very clearly pointed out, about inadequate budget contributions in European NATO countries. I wouldn't for a moment dispute that. I would caution about putting too much hope on being able to resolve that in any time soon, or maybe in any time, absent a major shock of the scale of 9/11 to the system. [It] isn't clear to me what would persuade European public opinion to devote greater proportions of national resources to defense.
But there is huge headroom, even within the money we're spending now, which is too little -- but even within that, vast amounts of it are wasted. They're wasted because of national duplication. They're wasted because they're being spent on the wrong things: excessive force size without deployable capability. I'm thinking of some allies in particular, where a focus on reshaping how we spend the budgets [inaudible] to smaller more deployable, more agile forces properly equipped for the kinds of tasks we need to do [that are] interoperable with the U.S. so that they can effectively deploy alongside either a U.S-led operation, or an Anglo-French led operation if it is a European-only mission. That is the way to go, and we have quite a lot of headroom within the NATO and European budget. Yes, it's a small -- too small budget overall. But if you walk through that budget and scrubbed all the stuff on which we are spending money that delivers no real military effect at all, you would find that you have a large pot which was usable to deliver real effect.
E-RING: So, thinking of public opinion, the desire to spend on defense, there's a sense here that over the last few years as the U.S. withdraws out of Afghanistan and draws down its own budget, one of the things debated is pulling somewhat out of Europe and asking Europe, per Gates' speech, to pay for its own defense a little more. But is there really that desire in Europe to have more? To have a bigger military? The kind of military the Americans envision? Or is there a sense in Europe that a much smaller vision of that is okay? That we're comfortable with our defense, we're comfortable saying out loud, as you just did [in an earlier media roundtable], that we don't see state-on-state war happening with a Russia, so we're going to give up that entire capability?
HAMMOND: It's not a homogeneous picture. The further east you go, the more of the concern remains that we should be prepared for a -- maybe not full-blown state-on-state conflict -- but we need to be prepared to protect the borders of NATO against incursions, probings, mischief-making, ethnic trouble.
If you go to Poland, for example -- you probably in your daily life are not focused on the Kaliningrad enclave -- but if you go to Poland to talk about defense, the Kaliningrad enclave is the number one issue on the Polish agenda. So I think we have to recognize that many of the Eastern European partners joined NATO as an insurance policy against Russia, and now they are slightly alarmed at seeing NATO turning away from Russia to focus on other threats, including asymmetric threats.
So there's definitely not a single European view of this. But the further away you get from Russia -- so this is not just an East European/West European question. The Norwegians are closer to the Poles' thinking than they are on our thinking on this. But the further away you get, and certainly by the time you get to the U.K., the idea that somehow we need to configure ourselves to be dealing with the Russian threat doesn't feel very real to public opinion. Although, of course at a strategic level, the Russians do still pose the most credible potential threat.
E-RING: So you have a lot to balance. East versus West, state-on-state versus asymmetric, and then you just mentioned the strategic deterrent. Going back to the budget, the New York Times just questioned the value of the Tridents.
HAMMOND: Well, we consider it has a very high value. We have no intention of giving up our independent nuclear deterrent. And that is not the view -- the New York Times' opinion is not the view of the U.S. administration, which places a high value on having a second nuclear deterrent within NATO.
But it is clear that when we talk about how we configure European NATO defense, we have to be clear what we're trying to defend against -- where the threat is coming from. Certainly among most NATO countries, we see the most immediate threat being from North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East region and delivered in the form of an asymmetric threat, terrorist-based threat, rather than state-on-state warfare. Although, Libya, Syria, Iran are reminders state actors can have an important role to play.
So, I think it's wrong to think about the debate in Europe as whether we put more troops in Europe to replace U.S. troops being taken out of Europe. The debate we should be having is whether European NATO is prepared to extend its focus of operations into an area where traditionally the Americans have led -- in the Middle East, Near East, Horn of Africa, North Africa.
And there are some political challenges. Britain and France recognize this demand and recognize our responsibilities in those regions. There will be some issues, some challenges where U.S. leadership is always required -- Iran, Syria. There will be others -- Mali, for example -- where it is possible for the Europeans to do things without active U.S. engagements. Certainly without U.S. leadership.
But we also have to recognize that some of the European partners are not yet at the point where they can embrace this agenda for political reasons -- most obviously Germany. The idea of -- NATO is well established in the German public's mind, and well understood and well accepted. But as we move NATO to look more like the basis of expeditionary forces into areas like North Africa, Horn of Africa, this becomes much more difficult for some of the allies.
And this is not a static position. Germany's government position has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. I mean, if you had said 20 years ago the Germans would have 1,000 troops dug in, in the middle of Central Asia somewhere conducting combat operations, nobody would have even believed that was even conceivable, and yet now it's -- I won't say it's popular in Germany but it's accepted by the German public that Germany has to engage in these types of operations. But this is work in progress, it may take another 20 years to get Germany to the place where we'd ideally like it to be.
E-RING: Give us a sense of British support of the military back home. Is there a sense of good feelings or reestablishment coming off of Afghanistan that the British military that is well respected, hundreds of years old, with a purpose? Or is there a conflict? Look at America's pivot, rebalancing to Asia, is there no vision to be part of that, to have a more global sense beyond the Middle East and North Africa?
HAMMOND: First of all, public opinion on the backs of significant losses in Afghanistan is very favorable to the military. But public opinion distinguishes, as I suspect U.S. opinion does, between the men and women who make up the fighting force and the institution of the military, and certainly the political institutions that sit over it. The support for "our boys," as the tabloid media call them, does not translate into support for the generals and the politicians who make the decisions necessarily. There's a skepticism about the senior leadership which persists.
There is also a question mark in the minds, I think, of quite a lot of people, including military charities, about how long post-Afghanistan this hagiography will continue, this public mood of unquestioning support for the armed forces will continue. It's not a given that the public mood has shifted permanently in the favor of the armed forces.
On the question of Britain's ambitions, part of our strategic defense and security review in 2010 was about trying to be realistic about making sure that we add value in what we do. In many cases, that will be adding value to U.S. operations. We expect to operate normally in partnership, and most likely in partnership with the U.S. So we're focused on making sure that we deliver components of a combined force which will have real value to our allies -- genuine interoperability and niche skills and capabilities, rather than trying to have global broad-span reach. We're too small to do that effectively and credibly.
So we will have, we do have, involvement in the Pacific, but it's very limited. We have a commitment to something called the Five Powers Defense Arrangement around the defense of peninsular Malaya. So it's Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. That's our principal defense commitment in the Asia-Pacific region.
We are an Indian Ocean nation, in the sense that we retain British Indian Ocean territory and we, therefore, own some numbers of millions of square miles of the Indian Ocean. And so we have a seat at the table when Indian Ocean matters are being discussed. But as with Diego Garcia, we try to leverage that with our allies to the maximum alliance effect. It's much more effective for the U.S. to use Diego Garcia than for us to be sitting on it. It gives more value to the alliance.
So we're trying to maintain a capability to deliver our own sovereign national tasks, including if I may make a more political point, including the defense of the Falkland Islands, where we have to assume that we do that alone. And to some extent that distorts the shape of our military. If we knew that our allies would support us were we ever called upon to defend the Falkland Islands, we would not need to shape our military in the way we do to carry out that particular national [inaudible] pretty much the rest of our military effort is focused around making the best contribution to the alliance that we are able and being as interoperable as we possibly we can with, principally the U.S., but also the French more and more.
There's a kind of hierarchy here. We seek to be interoperable with the U.S. We seek to shape our military so that U.K. units can operate effectively as part of a U.S.-led force. Other, smaller NATO partners like Denmark work with us with the same aspiration, to shape their military so that Danish units can embed with our forces and work effectively with them. So there's a kind of hierarchical structure which I think is quite practical way to do it.
E-RING: How was the recent meeting of our Joint Chiefs and yours? Is there going to be any announcement?
HAMMOND: I don't think there's to be a formal agreement. I mean, the sense was obviously it came together in the context of a very important historical event. But it was an opportunity to take stock of the extraordinary level of cooperation and collaboration we already have. I mean, it's been described -- and I would absolutely endorse this, in many areas -- the level of collaboration that we have is about as far as it is possible to go while remaining sovereign. And I think that's what we aspire to do: the maximum level of collaboration between our nations, which is compatible with maintaining our individual sovereignty.
And the chiefs certainly are energized about strengthening the possibilities for strengthening collaboration in areas where, perhaps, we've not gone as far as we can. And on both sides of the Atlantic, the chiefs are looking at some very difficult resource challenges and are seeing one strand of the solution: additional levels of cooperation.
We're very excited about the prospect that, possibly, the U.S. is willing to engage in a planning process for its capabilities that envisages incorporating the capabilities of allies into its core plan. Whereas for many years the U.S. has built its -- has used as a planning assumption that it will be fighting on its own and if allies come along then that's a bonus. The idea that we may be able to embed some core capabilities as part of U.S. planning is something that we're very enthusiastic about.
As an example, in the [Persian] Gulf, where we provide countermine capabilities as part of the combined U.S.-U.K. effort, that is a vital capability, of course, nobody can move without countermine in the kind of environment that we're looking at there. And we know that we have a task and an obligation and a responsibility by taking that on, but we have to deliver. And therefore it's a very high priority in our own spending.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that the U.S. was rethinking its opposition to arming Syria's rebels, the first on-record acknowledgement by a senior Obama administration official that the president was considering that course.
"So you are rethinking -- the administration is rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels?" asked CNN's Barbara Starr, in a Pentagon press conference with Hagel and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond.
"Yes," Hagel said, while stating repeatedly that the U.S. was rethinking all of its options.
The administration has revealed its deliberations over whether to arm Syria's rebels cautiously. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has said publicly for months he did not see a "good" military option in Syria, including arming rebels whose ranks include anti-Western terrorists. But he has also said that if the identity of some rebels can be verified he would support arming them.
"We have a responsibility, and I think Gen. Dempsey would say the same thing, to continue to evaluate options," Hagel said. "That doesn't mean that the president has decided on anything."
Hammond stressed the decision also depends on establishing international legal authority to act on evidence of chemical weapons use.
Hagel would not reveal if he favors arming the rebels and said he has not come to a conclusion on the question.
"We are exploring all options," he said.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said that Britain backs President Barack Obama's insistence on "conclusive" evidence that Syria used chemical weapons before moving forward with any military intervention.
The defense leader said on Thursday that Britain's physiological samples, which led them to declare that they believed sarin gas had been used in Syria, was "compelling but not conclusive" and did not meet courtroom-worthy standards required to muster international support for a military response.
"For that evidence to have any chance of being admitted in court, it would need to have been collected under controlled conditions, secured through a documented chain of custody to the point where it was tested," Hammond told a small group of defense reporters at the British Embassy in Washington. "We do not yet have samples that meet that standard of evidence."
The unknown chain of custody for that evidence, Hammond said, may impede a quick response. But while the evidence continues to be analyzed, Britain was pressing to build international legal support and authority for a military intervention, if needed. Short of that, London is already seeking legal alternatives to acting without United Nations approval, he said.
The purity of the evidence that Bashar al-Assad's forces employed chemical weapons is particularly important to convincing Russia to end their support for the regime and support a U.N. Security Council authorization of the use of force. It is also important for Arab allies in the region that likely would be called upon to join an international intervention.
For the British public, however, Hammond said the Iraq war looms large, fueling a nationwide skeptical streak about the prospect of going to war on inconclusive intelligence.
"We in the U.K. are particularly sensitive to this. There is a strong sense in U.K. public opinion that we went to war in Iraq on the back of evidence that proved not to be correct -- what in British political space is called ‘the dodgy dossier,'" he said, of the Bush administration's claim of Iraq's imminent use of weapons of mass destruction.
Hammond said he does not know what evidence the United States may possess in addition to what Britain has shared, but that he would discuss it with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, later on Thursday.
"I don't think there is a gap between us," Hammond said of the evidence. "I think we're now in a place where we both recognize that there is compelling but not conclusive evidence that chemical weapons have been used."
"We need hard evidence. The kind of evidence that would be admissible in court," about what, when, where, and by whom, said Hammond. "We don't yet have evidence that would pass our own legal systems tests."
In the meantime, Britain will continue to pressure the Syrian regime to allow in U.N. inspectors to establish "definitively" if chemical weapons had been used. [The team, however, has a goal to determine if chemicals were used, not necessarily the custody chain.
Hammond showed no movement toward providing direct lethal aid to the Syrian rebels.
"No decision to provide lethal aid has yet been made," he said. No options are off the table, either, but Britain is giving all it can, he said.
"We are currently providing support to the [rebels] right up to the maximum level that we can without crossing the line into lethal aid." Britain most recently provided armored 4x4 vehicles, body armor, and night vision goggles.
Hammond also defended Obama's "red line" over the use of chemical weapons and the international community's right to deliberate over a larger military intervention in Syria. An estimated 70,000 Syrians already have died in conventional fighting.
"Use of chemical weapons is specifically illegal under international law. It is a war crime, and therefore it takes the level of culpability of the regime to a new level. It crosses a new threshold."
If the U.N. is unable to pass a resolution, Britain is preparing other legal frameworks to act on its own, if needed.
"We are exploring other options under British interpretation of international law, under the doctrine of humanitarian necessity, which may allow us scope to act," he said. That unilateral determination was Britain's justification for military action in Bosnia, he said.
Hammond reiterated that due to sensitivities of "the neighborhood" and Russia, Middle Eastern countries must take a role in any military response, as well as in helping crafting a political future for a Syrian opposition that the West can support.
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
How different is the Pentagon's attitude toward Asia and the Pacific today than in the last decade?
Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general of the Army's I Corps, which is tasked to Pacific Command (PACOM), recalled the difficulty in getting approval to send a single hospital ship to visit Pacific nations when he was executive assistant to then PACOM commander Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, in 2006.
"It took us six months to convince the secretary of defense to allow the USS Mercy to do a mission in Southeast Asia because of the cost. They were like, ‘What is the relevance of that?'" Brown said, during a Washington visit last week. "Well, now no one questions that."
Indeed, finding its role in the Obama administration's "rebalancing," the Army today is figuring out how to approach and manage the threats, relationships, and military capabilities across the vast Asia-Pacific region like never before. That's why Brown and other commanders gathered in a small Residence Inn conference room in Arlington, Virginia, at the invitation of the think tank CNA, to discuss how to position more equipment and employ more people in Asia, while making friends with allies and breaking through to, well, other countries.
Army officials by now like to remind audiences that although the Pacific Ocean invokes images of the navy, most of the people in Asia live on land. All of them, in fact. (insert laughter) And most countries rely on large armies, which means the U.S. is going to rely on army-to-army relationships to ensure continued access to bases and, notably, ports.
"Seven of the 10 largest armies in the world, 21 of the 27 defense chiefs in the Pacific, are army," said Brown. "So, obviously, when we talk about working with Pacific nations, the armies hold a lot of influence, power, and there's a huge role."
Pacific counterparts in other nations have taken notice already that the U.S. Army Pacific commander is being elevated from a three-star to a four-star position.
"That really resonated extremely well on my last trip across the Pacific. It was pretty clear to them, ‘Oh, I see, Europe going from a four-star and U.S. Army Pacific becoming a four-star.'" Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks is expected to take command with his fourth star in July.
And more firepower is coming, as well. Three additional Stryker Brigades will be tasked to PACOM, Brown said. One is already there, and two of the three that have deployed to Afghanistan will not return there again.
"They will not go back to Afghanistan. They're going to the Pacific. In fact, one of them is already there, the one that got back three months ago," Brown said.
At the same time, Army planners are discussing which threats the service should be best prepared to face. In North Korea, Brown said, the Army's "most likely traditional threat, if you will, is humanitarian assistance and disaster response. That's the most likely thing we will respond to." But his list also includes air and missile defense, civilian evacuations, cyberattacks, IEDs, and terrorism.
Additionally, the Army is working closely with the Marines, given the likelihood that in any crisis response, soldiers will be moving from ship to shore in Asia, as well.
"[Lt. Gen. John] Toolan [commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force] and I are exchanging officers, working together, as we're both on the West Coast there," Brown said. "We've having a seminar here coming up on the Pacific, and we're exploring, again, how we each fit in those roles and learning from each other, so that we truly are capable of doing these unique missions, not set in a box of kind of stuck in the past of: ‘Here's what we would do; here's what you would do.' The world is not like that. It's gotten much more complex. We're going to have to work together a lot more."
One partner not yet ready to work together: China. Brown said he recently met with a People's Liberation Army officer who was unconvinced the American pivot to Asia was nothing more than a containment strategy against China.
That perception may be Brown's biggest challenge of all.
"Cooperation and collaboration. It's the only way to solve things. Everybody wants prosperity and growth. Who in their right mind would want to go the other direction and go back into a cold war of containment? It doesn't make any sense."
U.S. Army photo
With the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan underway, Afghans are leaving their security forces faster than Americans and NATO allies can recruit them.
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials confirmed on Wednesday that Afghan recruiting has slowed since last year, citing an unexpected level of attrition, or troops exiting the ranks, in the Afghan army.
The U.S. government's lead watchdog over wartime spending, John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), sounded an alarm in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released on Tuesday. Spoko said that ANSF troop totals had fallen by 4,000 last year and were 20,000 short of the end-strength goal of 352,000 personnel.
U.S. officials long have stated that a key factor governing the yet-to-be-determined speed and size of the American troop withdraw is the ability to stand up in their stead the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which includes military and police personnel.
"Lower recruitment, coupled with several months of higher than average levels of attrition in the ANA [Afghan National Army], resulted a net decrease," ISAF said, in a statement provided to the E-Ring through Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks.
As of March 2013, the ANSF stood at 336,365 personnel. ISAF said as the total ANSF nears its 352,000 end-strength target, "fluctuation" was expected and "recruitment targets were lowered to slow growth."
"While the coalition and the Afghan government have placed a ceiling of 352,000 on the total strength of the ANSF," ISAF argued, "the focus of the training mission is now on the quality of the force; developing the right balance of seniority, skills, and specialization that are vital to their long term sustainability and success."
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan National Security Forces have shrunk by 4,000 troops and policemen from last year and are still 20,000 people short of the numbers they expect to have in place by the end of next year, according to the government watchdog overseeing Afghanistan war spending.
The growth of a trained ANSF is considered one of the most important components of the U.S.-NATO plan to pull Western troops home and end international participation in combat there. Top Pentagon and congressional leaders frequently track and point to the importance of building Afghan forces.
The total number of people, or "end-strength," has shifted in the past year, however, as allies lowered their expectations for what size force Afghans could build and reconsidered what was needed to fill the gaps left by departing international troops.
For several years the U.S. worked to build an Afghan force of 352,000 personnel. Last May, NATO leaders meeting in Chicago agreed to a smaller force of 228,500. But in February at NATO headquarters in Brussels, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were reconsidering the ANSF end-strength goal of 352,000.
But the Afghan army, air force, and police all are short of their goals, said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released Tuesday. Sopko's two primary concerns as U.S. troops withdraw are overseeing the billions in direct assistance given to Afghanistan and examining the security needed to protect contractors and other government agencies still working there.
There is some confusion about what date that ANSF end-strength goals are to be met, Sopko contended. According to the inspector general, DOD has stated that the target of 352,000 ANSF is tied to December 2014. But previously DOD had stated the Afghan army and police personnel goals were set for December 2013.
Looking at that date, last December, the Afghan National Army ranks were 11,559 people short of its final goal of 187,000 personnel. The police, by February 2013, were 6,000 people short of its final goal of 157,000. The Afghan Air Force has a final target of roughly 6,000 personnel by the end of next year, yet remains 1,000 short.
"This quarter, the ANSF force strength was 332,753 (181,834 assigned to the ANA and Afghan Air Force and 150,919 assigned to the ANP). This is 4,763 fewer than the 337,516 ANSF force strength in March 2012, and 19,247 fewer than the end strength goal," Spoko wrote.
The decline from 2012 is because Afghanistan previously was counting its civilian personnel in its troop totals, further masking the shortfall of uniformed personnel.
In short, the Pentagon has no reliable way of tracking ANSF troop totals, he found.
"SIGAR and others have reported that determining
ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and Coalition forces rely on the
Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers, which are often
derived from hand-prepared personnel records in decentralized, unlinked, and
inconsistent systems. [Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan]
reported last quarter that there was no viable method of validating personnel
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno's shouting match with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calf., in Thursday's House hearing did not surprise Army Secretary John McHugh, who on Tuesday said Odierno was right to reject Hunter's complaint about the Army's effort to develop a high-priced cloud-computing network.
"The chief spoke for himself," said McHugh, in a nod to the outspoken general, during a breakfast with reporters in Washington known as the Defense Writers Group.
Odierno, in the rare public outburst last week, lost his cool after the congressman upbraided the two Army leaders during a budget hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. McHugh was trying to respond to the congressman when the general jumped in.
Hunter had scolded the duo for not responding to his office's complaints relating to the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), basically a network to link hundreds of intelligence sources to ground soldiers.
Odierno took offense at the implication that his staff did not care about the well-being of soldiers and let loose in a video going viral within military circles, first reported by Military Times.
McHugh, on Tuesday, revealed that Gen. John Campbell, vice chief of staff of the Army, spent "considerable time" with Hunter the night before the hearing discussing the program. But McHugh said he was not surprised the next day when the congressman posed a hostile question during the sparsely attended hearing.
"I was a member of Congress for 17 years, I'm not surprised by anything," said McHugh.
Here's what happened: Hunter, offering "not really a question," claimed that the 3rd Infantry Division was not being given an off-the-shelf cloud computing product already being used in Afghanistan. Hunter said that he wanted the Army to do more to use "innovation that exists in the open market in places like Silicon Valley" that already does what the Army wants. He cited Google and Apple cloud products.
"What we want is the best for the warfighter," he said, and began to walk off the bench.
"May we respond?" McHugh asked Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., prompting Hunter to return, saying, "We can talk all we want to, it's not going anywhere."
Odierno suddenly lit up.
"First off, I object to this. I'm tired of somebody telling me I don't care about our soldiers and we don't respond," the imposing general loudly interjected. "Everybody on my staff cares about it, and they do all they can to help. So if you want to bring up an anecdotal incident, let's sit down, talk about it, and we'll give it a response."
Hunter then said the Army had intelligence gaps, but before he could finish the thought, Odierno erupted, saying that the Army had "20 times" the intelligence capability at the division commander level than he did in 2003, and refused to yield to Hunter's attempts to respond.
On Tuesday, McHugh backed Odierno's argument.
"The example that he used was not correct," McHugh said, challenging Hunter's objection. "The commanding general [of the division] ultimately withdrew [the request]."
"I think it's important where we have discussions, even if we have disagreements, that we all are coming from the same basics and the same facts. I didn't get a chance to talk to him about that," McHugh said, and took some of the blame himself.
"I think the Army didn't do as effective a job, in retrospect, as I would have liked in setting the narrative on this discussion," he said. Too many people view it as an "either-or" choice between two systems, both of which McHugh says the Army needs.
"I certainly admit to that."
McHugh said last year the Army signed a new agreement with Palantir, which makes in intelligence integration software popular with deployed troops. But the system does not work within the Army's DCGS. McHugh said the Army is ahead of Hunter and already is trying to help get their system "integrated into DCGS, so that we can have the information that is gathered through [Palantir's] system embedded into DCGS as strategic, analytical capabilities."
McHugh said he still has "great respect" for Hunter.
"We have committed ourselves to working with him."
UPDATE: Hunter's office contacted the E-Ring to object to McHugh's assertion on Tuesday that the command had rescinded its request for the Palantir system because the 3ID was not going back to Afghanistan after its upcoming return home.
Hunter's spokesman, Joe Kasper, said they were surprised to see McHugh's remarks. Following Thursday's argument in the hearing, Hunter's staff thought they had an agreement with Army officials to avoid any additional public back-and-forth over the issue.
However, Kasper argued that the Army ran the clock out on soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who had been begging for Palantir for nearly a year. He also objected to McHugh's assertion that Hunter was mistaken about the request still being active, telling the E-Ring that Hunter was fully aware that the 3ID headquarters at Fort Stewart had ordered a "hold" on the request from Afghanistan, and referenced it during Thursday's hearing.
"There've been repeated requests for it that go back a year," a frustrated Kasper said, providing a list of requests and denials dating to May 2012.
Kasper said their side of the story is simple: Hunter talked to Gen. Odierno in February 2012, after which Odierno approved the use of Palantir for soldiers from the 82nd Airborne in one location in Afghanistan. When members of the 3ID paid a pre-deployment visit to the site, they saw the Palantir system and determined they wanted it, too. Rather than ask for approval for one site, the 3ID asked for "reach back" capability so that entire unit could use it. But that approval never came, which Hunter argues left an intelligence "capability gap" in the unit.
The Palantir system's attractiveness to some soliders in the warzone, Kasper said, is its ability to "detect IED incidents" by determining patterns in intelligence data.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.