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Domestic Security Issues: New Year… More Challenges

Jeffrey D. McCausland
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Obama has nominated Hagel for the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Obama has nominated Hagel for the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Election Returns

I serve as a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs as the Senior Fellow for War and Ethics. For a number of years I have been writing this brief column monthly to summarize what are the most recent developments and pressing issues in American national security affairs. I have decided to now share this column with many of the radio stations that I have the pleasure to work with in my other capacity as a National Security Consultant for CBS radio and TV.

Domestic security issues

The new Obama national security team

In the aftermath of the inauguration the Senate has begun confirmation hearings for the President’s overall cabinet and national security team for the second term.  Senator John Kerry was easily confirmed as Secretary of State and received 94 votes from his Senate colleagues with only 3 opposed.  Confirmation hearings for John Brennan will begin in early February to become the new CIA Director.

President Obama’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense has drawn significant opposition from Republicans in the Senate and various other groups across the United States.  There are four areas the opposition has focused on.  First, Senator Hagel once commented about his belief that the “Jewish lobby” wielded inordinate influence on American lawmakers.  While some might call this language in appropriate, Vice President Cheney also used the same phrase as have others.  Clearly, anyone involved in policy development in Washington understands the significant influence wielded by the Israeli lobby.  It should not be forgotten that every presidential candidate including President Obama delivered a speech at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last March in an effort to secure their support.  Despite the fact that Hagel voted consistently in favor of military aid for Israel throughout his career some have now taken these comments as “anti-Semitic” which would clearly appear to be a complete distortion.

Second, he opposed a number of unilateral sanctions against Iran and argued, that they would be ineffective absent coordination with our European allies and others.  He has also said the decision to attack Iran if it fails to halt its ongoing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons could unleash unexpected consequences and must be avoided at all costs.  While this would seem even to the left of the position taken by the administration, Hagel attempted to make clear that he supported the President’s policy that “all options should be on the table” when dealing with Iran.  Third, in the late 1990’s he criticized a nominee for an ambassadorial post who was openly gay.  Hagel argued that the ambassador’s sexual orientation could adversely select his ability to perform his duties.   He has subsequently apologized for these remarks.  Fourth, Hagel has said that he believes the Pentagon budget is “bloated” and reductions in defense should occur as part of overall deficit reduction.  Finally, Senator Hagel openly broke with his Republican colleagues over the Iraq War and warned his colleagues in 2002 that an invasion could lead to chaos and violent struggle between Shiites and Sunnis.  He also opposed the surge in 2007.  This appears to have resulted in a clear rift with his old friend, Senator John McCain who he had supported for President in 2000.  McCain had actually said during that campaign that Hagel would be a good candidate for Secretary of Defense if he were elected President.

The confirmation hearing for Senator Hagel was particularly harsh and many of his former Republican friends were extremely critical.  Senator McCain appeared to take it as a personal affront that Hagel did not fully agree that the “surge” in Iraq was a success.  Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) badgered Hagel over his assertions that the Israeli lobby had influenced actions in Congress and repeatedly asked him to name one Senator who had been intimidated.  Senator Cruz, newly elected Republican from Texas, surprised the hearing by showing a video of Hagel appearing on the Arab television station, Al Jazeera.  During the interview he charged that Hagel had not challenged a caller who had accused Israel of war crimes.

Oddly, the confirmation hearing was much more focused on the past than the challenges faced by a defense secretary in future.  Afghanistan was only raised a few times.  There was no real discussion of the use of force in future once the war in Afghanistan is over or defense policy priorities during a period of shrinking resources.  China and the so-called “pivot to the Pacific” was not discussed in any great detail.  Finally, January 27, 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the all-volunteer force which was created at the end of the Vietnam War.  The next Secretary of Defense must examine carefully the health of that force and how to maintain it in future.

Hagel’s performance during the hearing was subpar at best.  One observer summed the event up well and observed that he “melted like a chocolate bar on the dash board during a hot day….”  He did not seem to have ready answers for obvious questions and fumbled his responses concerning Iran.  He stated at one point that he supported the President’s policy of “containment” of Iran only to have to later retract that statement.

It still appears likely that Hagel will be confirmed.  So far no Republican Senator seems interested in filibustering the nomination, and the Democrats have a majority on the committee which will insure the nomination makes its way to the floor.  Most experts believe Hagel may get 55-60 “Yes” votes, but he only needs 51.  It appears hard to believe the Senate could reject one of their own who was born in poverty, got drafted, earned two Purple Hearts in combat in Vietnam, worked his way thru college, made a fortune in the cellphone business, and then entered public service.  In the history of confirmation votes over 500 nominees have been confirmed and only nine have been rejected.  The last was Senator John Tower over 24 years ago, and he was alleged to have been a womanizer with a severe alcohol problem.

This process and the nominees the President has made so far also are instructive about the character of the “new team”.  The first Obama administration was characterized as a “team of rivals” that included political opponents such as Hillary Clinton.  It is clear now that the President wants a team that he is personally comfortable with and support the policies that he wishes to pursue.   This is a “team of friends”.

Sequestration and so-called “March madness”

The Pentagon issued a “28 Star Letter” to members of Congress in early January.  The letter was signed by all seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   All of these officers representing all of the services and National Guard have attained the rank of four-star general. It expressed their concern about the impact that the continuing resolution and sequestration will have on military readiness if this is implemented on 1 March.  All of the service chiefs and the chairman have also repeatedly made this point individually in various policy forums for many months.

For example, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert released specific details of how the Navy is reducing operational spending to comply with the constraints of the ongoing Continuing Resolution and imminent sequester.  He pointed out that the Navy is currently on pace to spend $49B in FY 2013 for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funds on flight hours, steaming days, civilian personnel pay and maintenance for ships and aircraft.  Because of the terms of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that is currently funding the government, the Navy has already begun to reduce that level of spending for the rest of the year by $4.6B.  The CR language also requires the deferral of $1.7B in planned spending on new programs until an appropriations bill is passed.  If sequester is implemented on March 1, as now seems probable, the Navy will reduce spending a further $4 billion.

This would have a significant negative impact on many defense industries and the economy as a whole.  Companies deriving significant income from Navy O&M will see reductions in planned payments from the Navy regardless of whether or not sequester goes into effect on 1 March.  Congress must replace the current CR with an appropriations bill by March 27 to reverse these cuts.

If sequester goes into effect on 1 March, cuts to Navy O&M will have greater immediate operational impact in terms of curtailing current and future deployments.  Actions taken to comply with the fiscal year 2013 sequestration will result in only one Carrier and one Marine amphibious ready group deployed and it will be in the Pacific.  Even if funding is restored in the fall, it will take nine months to recover and get second and third groups deployed.  Many believe this consequence alone makes it virtually certain that sequestration cuts, should they initially occur on March 1, will be mitigated and mostly restored by May.

If this happens it could actually cost the Navy more money in the long term.  Those companies dependent on O&M funding for ship maintenance are bound to take losses in the near term and their subsequent prices will reflect this.   However, these dips could present buy opportunities when the work finally is done.  The Navy estimates that delaying ship maintenance two years results in the Navy paying 2.6 times for the same work when the maintenance finally is performed.

Still as the month comes to a close it appears very likely that sequestration will occur.  Senior officials including Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan, and Senator John Cornyn have already stated that they believe this will occur. Some Republicans have called for delaying the planned spending cuts in defense while increasing cuts in other areas of the federal government. Democrats have called for any cuts to be balanced to some degree at least with increased revenues.  The Pentagon has already begun laying off most of its 46,000 temporary and term employees and cutting maintenance on ships and aircraft in an effort to slow spending before nearly $50 billion in new cuts are due to go into effect on March 1.

Defense bill 

On 2 January President Barack Obama signed a $633 billion defense bill for next year despite serious concerns about the limits Congress imposed on his handling of terror suspects and lawmakers’ unwillingness to back the cost-saving retirement of aging ships and aircraft.

Obama had threatened to veto the measure because of a number of concerns, but relented because he couldn’t pick and choose specific sections. However, in a statement, the president spelled out his concerns about restrictions on his ability to carry out his constitutional duties as commander in chief.  Specifically, he complained that the bill limited the military’s authority to transfer third-country nationals being held at a detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan. He also took issue with restrictions on his authority to transfer terror suspects from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by members of Congress,” Obama wrote.  He said the section of the bill related to detainees in Afghanistan threatened to upend that tradition, and could interfere with a President’s ability as commander in chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active combat theater.

Obama promised when he took office four years ago to close the prison at Guantanamo, but congressional opposition from Republicans and some Democrats have prevented him from fulfilling that vow. The law limits his authority to transfer terror suspects to foreign countries or move them to the United States. Obama has insisted that he still believes that Guantanamo should be shuttered because operating the facility “weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and strengthening our enemies.”  The president said his administration will interpret the bill’s provisions, and if they violate the constitutional separation of power, he will implement them in a way to avoid that conflict.

The law puts off the retirement of some ships and aircraft, and President Obama warned that the move could force reductions in the overall size of the military as the Defense Department faces cuts in projected spending.  It also included cuts in defense spending that the president and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, along with the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan.

The new budget does authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.  The measure is about $29 billion under the current level, largely due to smaller amounts for Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are legitimate concerns as previously suggested over sequestration and the rapid reduction in defense spending, it is also important to note that the US defense budget exceeds the spending of the next ten countries combined and most of those states are American allies.  Defense spending is roughly 18% of all Federal outlays annually.

The measure tightens penalties on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions and increases spending for security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya. The legislated sanctions would hit Iran’s energy, shipping and shipbuilding sectors as well as Iran’s ports, blacklisting them as “entities of proliferation concern.” The bill would impose penalties on anyone caught supplying precious metals to Iran, and sanctions on Iranian broadcasting.

As suicides among active-duty soldiers have accelerated, the bill also allows a commander officer or health professional to ask if a member of the services owns a firearm if they consider the individual at risk for either suicide or hurting others.  The bill includes a Senate-passed provision sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that expands health insurance coverage for military women and their dependents who decide to have abortions in cases of rape and incest. Previously, health coverage applied only to abortions in cases where the life of the mother was endangered.  The measure includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.

International security issues

Visit of President Karzai to Washington 

President Karzai arrived in Washington to meet with President Obama and his national security team in early January.  Four things were high on the agenda for these meetings:

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

Prior to the meeting General John Allen, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, put forward his recommendations for residual force levels. It is widely believed that the general’s recommendations included three options which are a function of the capabilities to be retained: 6,000 troops; 10,000 troops; and 20,000 troops.

Option#1: With 6,000 troops, defense officials said, the American mission would largely be a counterterrorism fight of Special Operations commandos who would hunt down insurgents. There would be limited logistical support and training for Afghan security forces. US forces would be concentrated in one base only, Bagram. This is the ‘ANSF is on its own’ option.

Option#2: With 10,000 troops, the United States would expand training of Afghan security forces.  On top of the troops from option #1, this would provide an additional 4,000 US troops to support training and mentoring in the ANSF. These troops would essentially continue the deployment of training teams currently in place. Some troops would be assigned to ANSF training bases and others would be partnered with ANSF units in the field. In addition to training and mentoring, this option would confer some ability for ANSF units to call in NATO airstrikes. This number of troops is similar to US troop levels in 2003-2004.

Option#3: With 20,000 troops, the Obama administration would add some conventional Army forces to patrol in limited areas.  On top of the troops from option #2, this option adds 10,000 troops (about one or two brigades) of conventional army forces. It is unlikely that they would be used for patrolling, since the number of troops would be insufficient for that purpose. A more useful function would be a Quick Reaction Force to bail out ANSF units if they got into trouble during specific operations. There would be either one or two major US bases: Regional Command-East in Bagram, and a possible second base at Regional Command-South at Kandahar. This number of troops is similar to US troop levels in 2005-2007.

In the aftermath of the meeting it is clear that the Obama administration decided on a smaller American “footprint” and a more rapid withdrawal of US forces than some in the Pentagon might have desired.  The Obama administration appears poised to keep 6,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014.  This is fewer than previously reported, and most of them would be confined to fortified garrisons near the capital, leaving Afghan troops largely without American advisers in the field to fight a still-powerful insurgency.  A force of 9,000 or fewer US troops will be unable to provide any significant advisory, training, mentoring, or combat support programs for the ANSF.

It is also important to realize that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be reduced over the next two years.  The downsizing of the ANSF is a consequence of two important decisions made by US and other ISAF nations.  First, at the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012, the US and other ISAF nations decided that the ANSF security budget would be reduced from the current $11 billion per year to $4.1 billion per year by the end of 2017. (The US would contribute $2.3 billion, allies would contribute $1.3 billion, and the Afghan government would provide $500 million per year.) Since this new funding level is not enough to support the current force of 352,000 troops, the ANSF would have to shrink to 228,500 troops according to the NATO Summit Communiqué.  The preliminary model for a future total ANSF size, defined by the International Community and the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, envisages a force of 228,500 with an estimated annual budget of US$4.1billion, and this would be reviewed regularly against the developing security environment.

The process of building the ANSF began in 2003 and was accelerated starting in 2008 in conjunction with the surge of US forces in Afghanistan. Today the ANSF, including Army, Air Forces, Border Guards, and Police, is close to a previously planned goal of 352,000 troops. In addition, the Afghan Army had planned a complete force structure: armor, artillery, special operations forces, aircraft, logistics, training, intelligence, medical, etc.

Given the decisions on the budget and US troop levels, the current size of the ANSF is unsustainable, and a complete force structure cannot be achieved. Therefore, it is no surprise that the buildup of the ANSF has stopped and downsizing has begun. By 2017, the ANSF will be smaller, lighter (fewer heavy weapons), and less well trained.  It also will likely have fewer combat service and support assets. This raises a very serious question: If a force of 352,000 Afghan security personnel plus 100,000 US troops and nearly 40,000 allied troops has not defeated the Taliban, what can Afghanistan expect after this force has been reduced to 228,500 Afghan security personnel and fewer than 9,000 US troops?

The continued presence of American and allied forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014 has also been affected by so-called “Green on Blue” attacks.  Insider attacks on Coalition forces have risen steeply over the past two years. In 2012, they caused 15% of Coalition casualties, as compared to 6% in 2011; and 2% or less in preceding years. They have become an important part of Taliban strategy as the Coalition drawdown continues in anticipation of the complete handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces in 2014. A BBC report noted that in 2012 “a quarter of the British troops who died in Helmand, were killed in such attacks” and that all six of the British troops killed during the latest six-month tour of duty have died this way.

In the aftermath of Karzai’s visit President Obama made several additional announcements at the closing press conference.  He discussed the possibility of negotiations with the Taliban as a means to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict.  In that regard the President announced that an office for these discussion would be opened in Qatar in the near future.  The Afghan government has also held preliminary discussions with Taliban representatives in Paris.  Still few experts believe that even there is much likelihood of even beginning real negotiations in the near future.  The President also announced that US forces would shift to a new mission later this spring — training, advising, and assisting with ANSF in the lead.  This clearly seems to indicate an accelerated withdrawal of remaining forces between now and the end of 2014 and a lower residual force after that date.

Israeli elections 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party suffered serious setbacks during Israeli national elections.  While Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist ally Beiteinu will still retain the largest voting bloc in the 120-seat Knesset with 31 seats, they lost a quarter of the seats they had previously held.  The surprise winner was a new centrist party, Yesh Atid, led by a former Israeli television host, Yair Lapid.  His party garnered 19 seats in the election.

The newly elected Knesset is now evenly split between right-wing ultra-Orthodox parties with 60 seats and 60 seats for center-left and Arab parties.  Netanyahu will still remain as Prime Minister and likely seek to form a coalition that will include Yair Lapid.  The election campaign focused more on domestic issues in Israel to include the economy and the growing divisions between the ultra-Orthodox communities and others in Israeli society.  One big issue was the fact that Orthodox Jewish young men are exempt from military service.  It will be interesting to see in the weeks ahead what effect this election and new government has on relations between the Israeli leadership and the new Obama national security team as well as how it affects ongoing concerns in Washington and Tel Aviv over the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program.

The conflict in Syria and speech by President Assad

President Assad delivered a speech in early January which had been trumpeted as an offer to seek a political solution to the ongoing civil war.  Sadly, his remarks actually seemed to reduce any possibility of negotiations in the near future.  The UN Secretary General characterized Assad’s speech as disappointing and not contributing to a solution that could end the violence which has wracked Syria.  American officials characterized Assad’s plan for a national reconciliation conference as “detached from reality” and merely an attempt to cling to power.  Assad asserted that he would not negotiate with “terrorists” which is how he has characterized the rebels in the country since the onset of the civil war.

The humanitarian disaster continues to grow.  Over nearly two years of unrest and violence, the United Nations now estimates that 60,000 Syrians have been killed. Nearly 600,000 Syrians have registered or are awaiting registration as refugees in neighboring countries, while an additional 2.5 million persons are internally displaced and 4 million people inside Syria are in need of assistance.

Still it appears unlikely that any action by the international community will occur in the near future.  Both Russia and China continue to block any effort to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian regime in the Security Council of the United Nations.  Russia has endorsed the efforts of the UN Special Representative for Syria but has declared that any proposal that has as a precondition the departure of President Assad will be opposed.  Over $1.5 billion has been pledged by a group of donor countries and regional organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees affected by the ongoing violence.

There have also been continued growing concerns about Syrian chemical stockpiles as the situation has deteriorated.  President Obama and many other world leaders have warned the Assad regime repeatedly that the use of such weapons against Syrian rebels or civilians was a “red line” that might result in international action.  Israeli leaders have also argued that as Syria descends into chaos the possibility that these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups or be transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon cannot be ignored.

In response to these growing concerns the Israeli air force conducted airstrikes against targets close to the Syrian-Lebanese border in late January.  One target is believed to have been a convoy that was transporting SA17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah. The second target  was a “scientific research center”.  This has now been identified as  the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D’ Etudes et de Recherché Scientifiques).  It was further reported that warehouses [at the SSRC] stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons were destroyed in the strike.  Syria denounced these raids in the United Nations and both Iran and Hezbollah announced their support and willingness to take additional actions to come to the aid of Damascus.

In addition, Israel has taken several steps in response to the growing Syrian crisis.  Israel deployed its Iron Dome batteries that are designed to intercept missile attacks to the northern portion of the country.  Many experts fear that the airstrikes by Israeli, growing refugees, and expanded violence within Syria coupled with increased instability in the region could result in a wider conflict.

The United States has made a modest increase in its forces in the region in response to this growing crisis.  US Army soldiers from the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense command from Europe and the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, as well as members of the 32nd AAMDC from Ft. Bliss Texas have deployed to Turkey.  They represent two Patriot missile batteries and are part of a NATO response to a request from the Turkish government to augment its security in light of the ongoing civil war in Syria.  Many experts believe this could be the first step in the possible creation of a “no fly zone” over Northern Syria.

French military involvement in Africa 

France conducted two military operations in Africa.  French commandoes conducted a daring raid to rescue a French hostage that was being held by the radical Islamist group, Al Shabab.  Unfortunately, the mission failed and at least two commandoes were killed.  It was later reported that the hostage was also killed.

French forces also came to the assistance of the government of Mali in its efforts to stem the advance of Islamist rebels who are affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  The rebels had been successful over the past several years and had assumed control over a large portion of the country.  It had installed Sharia law in the northern areas of the country and threatened to topple the existing government.

France employed both ground forces and airstrikes.  It also has been working with several other countries in the region to provide forces to aid the Malian government in its efforts against the Islamist rebels.  As a result President Hollande announced expanded security measures in France to counter any attempt by terrorist groups sympathetic with the rebels.  By the end of January French forces had entered Timbuktu as well as Kida which was the last major stronghold for Islamist militants.

In the midst of the French deployment to Mali a group calling itself either the “Masked Brigade” or “Those Who Sign with Blood Brigade” stormed a natural gas drilling facility at Amenas in Algeria and took a number of Algerian and foreign hostages.  This is a remote site that is roughly 1000 miles from the capital, Algiers.  The leader of the group, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was not physically present in Amenas, stated in a video that the operation was in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali, and the decision by the Algerian government to allow French military aircraft to transit Algerian airspace.  Belmokhtar is believed to be affiliated with AQIM and is widely known in the region for his involvement in drug smuggling, weapons, hostage taking, extortion, etc.  He has at times been referred to as “Mr. Marlboro”.

The standoff ended when Algerian special operations forces stormed the facility.  Forty-eight hostages including three Americans were killed as well as twenty-nine militants.  It is believed the group intended to blow up the facility and kill all of the hostages in the process.  This would have not only galvanized public opinion but been a serious blow to the Algerian economy since the site provides roughly ten percent of the natural gas exported by the country.

The United States and Britain provided assistance to France during their military operations in Mali.  The US Air Force provided refueling support, logistics, troop transport, and intelligence sharing.  It is also reported that the US military is preparing to establish a base for drones in northwest Africa to increase surveillance of Islamist extremist groups operating in the region.  There appear to be no plans at present to deploy armed drones to this base.

African countries and members of the international community have now pledged $455 million to assist an African-led military intervention in Mali.  This may allow most French forces to largely depart in the near future but the threat posed by Islamist groups will continue in Mali and the region.  Most experts fully believe that weak governments across North Africa, porous borders, large supplies of weapons, etc. offer al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and related groups an opportunity that they will likely attempt to exploit.  While the Malian government with French support may have reasserted control over the urban areas of the country, Islamist rebels will likely still be able to operate from the countryside.
 

Media security issues

The following are a brief summary of the major national security issues that the media focused on during the month.

Tensions rising on the Korean peninsula 

The UN Security Council voted additional sanctions against North Korea in the aftermath of their launching a long range rocket, the Unha3, in December.  The launch was viewed as a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions.  In the aftermath of this decision North Korea has issued new threats against South Korea and the United States.  It described the expansion of the sanctions as an act of war and appears preparing for a new nuclear test.  North Korea also argued that the successful launching of a satellite into space by South Korea was a provocative act that would increase tensions on the peninsula.

Border violence between India and Pakistan 

Two attacks occurred along the “Line of Control” in Kashmir between India and Pakistan.  Pakistan accused India of a cross-border raid in the disputed Kashmir territory, killing at least one Pakistani soldier and critically wounding another. But Indian officials say their troops fired across the border after being attacked from Pakistan.

These were the first such attacks in a number of years and resulted in casualties on both sides.  India’s defense minister condemned the killing of two Indian soldiers and vowed that there would be a response.  Still most experts believe the incident is unlikely to seriously affect the peace process that has dramatically improved diplomatic ties between the two countries.  It is still important to remember that most experts believe the border between India and Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous locations on the planet.

General Allen cleared by Department of Defense Inspector General

Marine General John Allen, Commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, had been the subject of a Department of Defense Inspector General (DODIG) investigation over emails he allegedly sent to a Jill Kelly, volunteer female social aide to CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida.  This was part of the larger investigation concerning an extramarital affair that former CIA director, Dave Petraeus had had with a women who had written his biography and correspondence between her and Kelly.

As a consequence, Secretary of Defense Panetta announced in December that Allen’s nomination to become NATO Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) had been temporarily placed on hold.  The DODIG announced that Allen had been cleared, and the Obama administration reinitiated his nomination to the Senate.  Allen is scheduled to be replaced by Marine General Joseph Dunford in mid-February.  Dunford recently served as deputy commandant of the Marine Corps and curiously has no previous experience in Afghanistan.   

DOD lifts ban on women in combat 

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the military would remove all restrictions from females serving in combat assignments and associated military occupational specialties.  The secretary gave the services until 2016 to implement the decision or present analysis why women should continue to be blocked from certain combat specialties.

Supporters of this decision believe this is a question of equality and a lawsuit had been filed by a female Army colonel and command sergeant major against the Department of Defense in the US District Court in Washington, DC.  Opponents have traditionally opposed females in combat assignments due to concerns about its effect on overall combat effectiveness.  They argue that women in large numbers cannot meet physical fitness requirements (such as upper body strength), and that it would have an adverse impact on males in such units who might tend to try and protect females as opposed to being mission focused.  Other concerns have been physical hygiene during extended combat tours, sexual harassment, danger of female soldiers becoming POW’s, pregnancy, etc.  It will be particularly interesting to see how this debate is conducted for the assignment of females to special operations units such as SEALS, Rangers, Delta Force, Special Forces, etc.  The military did also announce that female helicopter pilots could now serve in the elite special operations aviation unit, Task Force 160 that flew the mission which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden.     

General observations  

As we look ahead I would make the following final comments.

Confirmation hearings and Senate votes

As previously noted John Brennan will appear for his confirmation hearings in early February.  He will be asked very difficult questions about his involvement in rendition and decisions with respect to waterboarding detainees.  It is also very likely that the use of drone strikes against terrorist groups in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere around the world will be raised.

Continued budgetary crisis and sequestration 

Sequestration looms on the horizon and is scheduled to be implemented 1 March.  It will be interesting to see if either party entertains a serious effort to resolve this crisis or spends the majority of the next month trying to blame its political opponents.  Furthermore, the nation will begin to see the serious economic consequences that sequestration may have on a still fragile economy.

Possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea 

It appears very likely that North Korea will conduct a third nuclear test in the next few weeks.  While this will increase tensions on the Korean peninsula it may also have a positive benefit.  It will provide a much clearer idea of how far the North Korean program has progressed.

Egypt in turmoil

Thousands of Egyptians have demonstrated against the government of President Mohammed Mursi throughout Egypt.  Mursi’s opponents have even taken to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand his overthrow and carried their protest to the doors of the presidential palace. As many as 65 people have been killed in violent clashes since January 25th.  This prompted the head of the army to declare the state is on the verge of collapse. Those opposed to the government are furious with the new constitution drawn up since Mursi came to power after Hosni Mubarak was ousted two years ago.  This new wave of the “Arab Spring” could have dramatic consequences should Egypt collapse into civil violence as we are now witnessing in Syria.

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Jeffrey McCausland is the founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC (http://diamondsixleadership.com/).

He is also a visiting professor of International Security at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He serves as a senior fellow at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the United States Naval Academy and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. Prior to these appointments he was a visiting professor of International Law and Diplomacy at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

McCausland is a retired Colonel from the U.S. Army and completed his active duty service in the United States Army in 2002 culminating his career as dean of academics, United States Army War College. Upon retirement McCausland accepted the Class of 1961 chair of leadership at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland and served there from January 2002 to July 2004. He continues to hold a position as a senior fellow at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the Naval Academy.

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