The Insider

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September 29, 2008 at 5:00 AM

At Friday's presidential debate at the University of Mississippi, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reaffirmed his desire to "scrub" the defense budget.

MCCAIN: I think that we have to return -- particularly in defense spending, which is the largest part of our appropriations -- we have to do away with cost-plus contracts. We now have defense systems that the costs are completely out of control.

We tried to build a little ship called the Littoral Combat Ship that was supposed to cost $140 million, ended up costing $400 million, and we still haven't done it.

So we need to have fixed-cost contracts. We need very badly to understand that defense spending is very important and vital, particularly in the new challenges we face in the world, but we have to get a lot of the cost overruns under control.

I know how to do that.

(Incidentally, Inside the Navy this week runs a good piece quoting Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead extensively on LCS and other shipbuilding programs -- and the Navy's need to "regain our credibility when it comes to talking about shipbuilding and costs associated with shipbuilding.")
 
Back to the debate: McCain then highlighted the flawed Boeing Tanker deal as an example of his record of reining in defense spending.
MCCAIN: I saved the taxpayers $6.8 billion by fighting a contract that was negotiated between Boeing and DOD that was completely wrong. And we fixed it and we killed it and the people ended up in federal prison so I know how to do this because I've been involved these issues for many, many years. But I think that we have to examine every agency of government and find out those that are doing their job and keep them and find out those that aren't and eliminate them and we'll have to scrub every agency of government.
 
However, later in the debate, McCain made the case that he would protect the defense budget from spending cuts that may be necessary due to the $700 billion financial rescue plan.
 
LEHRER: What I'm trying to get at this is this. Excuse me if I may, senator. Trying to get at that you all -- one of you is going to be the president of the United States come January. At the -- in the middle of a huge financial crisis that is yet to be resolved. And what I'm trying to get at is how this is going to affect you not in very specific -- small ways but in major ways and the approach to take as to the presidency.
 
MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.
 
LEHRER: Spending freeze?
 
MCCAIN: I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues.
 
To which Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) responded, "The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel."
 
-- Kate Brannen
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September 29, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The old adage of “putting your money where your mouth is” is an inherently tricky business at the Defense Department that likely will occupy any new Pentagon leadership. So large and complex is the behemoth agency that the linkage between strategic goals and the investment strategy crafted to reach them often gets blurred.

In the past years, leaders unveiled various efforts designed to give the combatant commanders, as opposed to the services, more say in how defense dollars are spent. The COCOM chiefs, the thinking goes, have a pretty good view of what programs are needed to carry out the military’s strategic and operations plans.

The combatant commanders, however, for the most part have no statutory authority to buy things. That responsibility rests with the services, codified in Title X.

So, in order to make processes like capability portfolio management work, Pentagon leaders put the powerful Deputy’s Advisory Working Group front and center to resolve differences in the spending plans between the services and the capability portfolio management folks.

In that sense, the idea of capability portfolio management and the DAWG as a governance forum are closely linked, and it remains to be seen what the new administration intends to with the two.

The Defense Business Board, for its part, said in a recent report the DAWG has earned its keep.

Another mechanism designed to bolster combatant commanders’ input into the budget process emerged earlier this year as part of the Pentagon’s relatively new “adaptive planning” construct. Officials hope the “linking plans to resources” (LPTR) concept, described in the adaptive planning roadmap as a three-step process, could help clearly delineate Pentagon objectives and investment strategies.

The future of LPTR is still somewhat open, according to a Joint Staff colonel, who said it will take “at least a year or more” to mature the idea from a mere concept stage into a mechanism with widespread application for budget decisions.

At Pacific Command, officials went through a formal LPTR drill when they crafted the command’s latest integrated priority list a couple of weeks ago. At the Hawaii-based command, the process now goes by a new name, by the way. Officials there call it PROP, which stands for “plans-to-resources-to-outcomes process,” we’re told.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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September 26, 2008 at 5:00 AM

On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to address students at the National Defense University on the 2008 National Defense Strategy (a document he signed way back in early June, and which the Pentagon made public in July only after InsideDefense.com posted the 23-page document). 

It will be interesting to see if anyone in the audience asks about why he overruled the service chiefs on the risk-assessment portion of the strategy, which calls on the Defense Department to take “greater risk” in traditional combat areas in order to fund capabilities to boost investments in irregular warfare capabilities. In other words, to divert funding for programs like big ships and aircraft to enhance less capital-intensive counterinsurgency capabilities.
 
Gates has made known his frustration with what he sees as the military services’ focus on “next-war-itis” in pushing the Pentagon to increase its capacities to fight the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Yesterday, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed a landmark Defense Department directive that formally gives combatant commanders, whose foremost concerns are today’s missions, new leverage to influence the investment plans of the military service chiefs who are required by law to train and equip their departments to be ready not only today, but for decades to come.
 
The directive, No. 7045.20, establishes the roles and responsibilities of “capability portfolio managers” who will play decisive roles after Gates and England are gone in determining how much the nation devotes to immediate needs, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan; and how much to the development of capabilities required to confront near-peer adversaries, like China or Russia.
 
-- Jason Sherman
 

FURTHER READING: CAPABILTIY PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT 

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September 26, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted today to confirm Michael Donley as Air Force secretary. The committee approval comes more than three months after Defense Secretary Robert Gates nominated Donley for the position.

Donley's confirmation vote has been hung up in the Senate for months after Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) put a block on his nomination because she felt the Pentagon would not conduct a fair rebid of the prolonged Air Force aerial refueling tanker competition.
 
The Air Force awarded the KC-X contract to a Northrop Grumman-EADS team in February; however, the Government Accountability Office sustained a protest fromBoeing and recommended a full rebid. Boeing planned to build its tanker proposal in Cantwell's home state of Washington.
 
The Office of the Secretary of Defense took over the tanker competition in July and said it hoped to determine a winner by year's end. But despite laying out an aggressive acquisition schedule, Gates canceled the entire competition earlier this month and said he would leave a decision to the next presidential administration.
 
If confirmed by the full chamber, Donley -- who has been serving in an acting capacity since June 21 -- will become the Air Force's 22nd secretary. Gates nominated Donley -- who previously served as the Pentagon's director of administration and management -- on June 9.
 
Donley's nomination came on the heals of Gates' firing of former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley over their handling of several nuclear gaffes. The mishaps led to the firings and reprimands of numerous Air Force officers.
 
Since then, the Air Force and a number of outsiders have been developing a means of reshaping how the service conducts its nuclear business. A number of high-level decisions are expected to be made during a meeting of the service's top brass at Corona meeting next week, as reported this week by Inside the Air Force.
 
-- Marcus Weisgerber
 
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September 25, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Some Pentagon officials might stick around for the transition to the next administration, but don't expect Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas to be among them.

This Friday, Sept. 26, is her last day on the job, the Defense Department has confirmed.

Her departure comes just as Pentagon officials are hard at work on DOD's budget and program plans for fiscal years 2010 to 2015.

For the moment, DOD is keeping mum about who will lead the comptroller's shop once she exits. No announcement has been made about who that will be, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Darryn James tell us.

Once Defense Secretary Robert Gates finalizes the decision, DOD will get the announcement out "as quickly as possible," James adds.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said recently that he and others would be willing to stick around for the transition to a new administration.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said he will offer to stay in his post until the Senate confirms a successor nominated by the incoming administration, part of an effort to ensure as much continuity as possible during the first wartime transition of Pentagon authority in 40 years.

England predicts "over 90 percent" of Defense Department political appointees will stay until at least Jan. 20, 2009, when the next president is sworn into office.

"And a lot of people will stay beyond that if they are asked to, to make sure the transition goes properly, including myself," the Pentagon's No. 2 official told InsideDefense.com following an address to the Navy League of New York City last week. "I've said I'll stay to make sure it works."

-- Christopher J. Castelli

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September 25, 2008 at 5:00 AM

One of the U.S. military's ground commanders today confirmed that violence has gone down in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, and said a good deal of the oversight of the "Sons of Iraq" militia groups that have helped keep the peace has been transferred to the Iraqi government.

Yet another thing to think about as the two presidential candidates debate what to do over there.

Army Col. Todd McCaffrey, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, told reporters in a teleconference briefing earlier today that enemy attacks in his brigade's area of responsibility were down more than 74 percent since his team's arrival last December, and more than 500 percent compared to the same time frame last year.

"While IEDs remain the enemy's principal method of attack, we've seen them become less and less effective due to the continuing disintegration of enemy cells and the erosion of their resources," he said, adding that indirect fire attacks had decreased by more than 94 percent since the 2nd BCT's arrival. Direct fire attacks, "which were really never a significant source of enemy activity in our area, are down more than 80 percent," he said.

Overall, McCaffrey said security his area had "vastly improved as the result of the great work of our soldiers and their increasingly confident and capable partners, the Iraqi security forces."

The Sons of Iraq program, formerly known as the Concerned Local Citizens, is a group of former insurgents now working alongside and being paid by coalition forces.

More than 13,000 Sons of Iraq are manning checkpoints and providing local security to their towns and villages in McCaffrey's AOR, the colonel said. "They've been doing this for over a year now. These men's sacrifice and commitment to ridding their areas of al Qaeda and other insurgent elements have been critical to the improved security situation the Iraqis in our operating environment enjoy today."

In recent weeks, coalition forces have transferred nearly 97 percent of the payroll for the Sons of Iraq in McCaffrey's area to Iraqi army oversight with few problems, the colonel said.

The Commanders Emergency Response Program, known as CERP, has been used to fund the Sons of Iraq. CERP has come under congressional scrutiny in recent months, with lawmakers charging the Defense Department is mismanaging the effort, as Inside the Pentagon reported in June:

. . . The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on accountability lapses in funds associated with Iraq on May 22.

The Defense Department's Inspector General indicated in a recent report that the Pentagon made $135 million in payments to foreign governments under CERP but there is no audit trail, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) said.

According to the report, $21 million was given to South Korea, $68 million to the United Kingdom and $45 million to Poland.

Moreover, last year DOD began using CERP funds to finance bulk payments to local Iraqi tribal leaders under the Sons of Iraq, persuading insurgents to stop battling coalition forces, McCollum said. The Pentagon now wants to boost the program to $370 million in fiscal year 2008, which is "a huge ramp-up" for an effort that did not exist a year ago, she charged.

"If we think it helps reduce violence in Iraq, then the Iraqi government should be excited about the reduction and they should pay for it," she said. "And, after all, we now know that the Iraqi government has $70 billion in reserves. They should be paying for their own security."

Defense analyst Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, was more blunt.

"Nothing new here," Wheeler told ITP about the controversy around CERP. "Thanks to DOD failure -- for decades -- to be able to track its own money, it ends up in unintended hands. This is only one small fallout from DOD's refusal to have accounts the auditors can track and trace.

"Congress will, of course, be horrified and then proceed to hold absolutely no one accountable," he said. "Put this statement into a rubber stamp; you will be able to use it for years," he said.

-- John Liang

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September 25, 2008 at 5:00 AM

At a seminar yesterday here in Washington, Stephen Blank, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College, talked about Russia's views of the missile defense agreements signed by the United States with the Czech Republic and Poland -- and suggested steps the next administration should take to promote security in the region.

"We need to decide what our objectives are in regards to Russia," said Blank at the Woodrow Wilson Center, emphasizing the need for policy discipline within the administration. He said Defense Secreary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen recently have been using nuanced language in discussing Russia, whereas Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has taken a more strident tone.

Russia has recovered its "great power chauvinism" and wants to be recognized as an equal player with the United States, he said. In order to balance U.S. power in Europe, Russia believes it must maintain its capability to threaten nuclear weapons -- and missile defenses placed in Poland and the Czech Republic thwart this ability, said Blank.

Russia also perceives the missile defense treaties as posing a threat to its security, even though the United States maintains they are aimed at countering an Iranian nuclear program, said Blank. However, the deal includes a provision for placing Patriot missiles in Poland, which, according to Blank, was included in response to Russia's threat to strike any country that signs such a treaty with the United States.

Earlier this month, at a George Washington University/CNN forum with five former secretaries of state, Colin Powell also discussed how the inclusion of Patriot missiles in the Poland deal had angered Russia.

POWELL: And, frankly, they believe that we had been sticking it in their eye now for the last 10 or so years with the continued expansion of NATO, with a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and then we add Patriot missiles to the deal in Poland, and the Russians know that system is not aimed at Iranians.

And so we have to be very, very careful. There are ways to deal with Russia. You have to deal with the Russians. . . .

SESNO: You want the next president to pull those out? Do you want -- should the next president pull those Patriot missiles out? . . . .

POWELL: No, why should we? We've done it. It's a done deal. America does something, it's done it. But we have to not pull them out, but recognize what the Russian reaction is going to be to that kind of a step. You have to deal with the Russians in a straightforward, candid, no-holds-barred way.

Meanwhile, Inside Missile Defense reports that in addition to a comprehensive missile defense review, Congress wants to "limit the availability of fiscal year 2009 and future funds for procurement, site activation, construction, preparation of equipment for, or deployment of a long-range missile defense system" until the two countries sign and ratify the pacts needed to allow for the radar and interceptors to be deployed.

"I suspect missile defense will take a big hit in FY-10, especially given the current economic crisis," said Blank. "There will be pressure to cut defense spending, especially big-ticket items like that."

-- Kate Brannen

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September 24, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The House this afternoon is debating a continuing resolution (CR) spending package to keep the federal government operating into next spring. Attached to this CR is the $487.7 billion FY-09 House defense appropriations bill. President Bush requested $491.7 billion for FY-09. House Appropriations defense subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) plans to meet with reporters once the House vote on the CR is completed. We'll keep you posted.

-- Thomas Duffy

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September 24, 2008 at 5:00 AM

With news breaking all over the place about Sen. McCain's attempt to call off the debate Friday night while he and others work on the economy, we turn to Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haas for a preview of what to expect when and if McCain and Obama do get together and talk national security:

Consider the inbox of the 44th president of the United States.He will face ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; a Pakistani government that is unable or unwilling to take on the terrorists who have set up shop in the country's western reaches; and an Iran apparently intent on developing nuclear weapons. Beyond the greater Middle East, there are the challenges of a more assertive Russia, a rising China, a warming planet and a cooling world economy.

Making matters worse is that the new president will have to deal with these and other threats with his hands partially tied. The U.S. military is stretched. The American economy faces a financial-market meltdown. The country is politically divided at home and unpopular abroad. Only Washington, Lincoln and FDR faced comparable international challenges and domestic constraints upon taking office.

What makes the outcome of this election even more significant is that the occupant of the Oval Office enjoys tremendous latitude in the conduct of foreign policy. Congress is far more of a factor in domestic affairs. Anyone doubting this need only remind himself of the past eight years. It is thus fitting and fortunate that the first of the three presidential debates focuses on foreign policy and national security. It is appalling that we have thus far paid more attention to lipstick and pigs than to loose nukes in Pakistan (although the Wall Street crisis has at least refocused minds a bit).

-- Dan Dupont

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September 24, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Why would the Pentagon add a whopping $57 billion to the FY-10 budget request? Defense Department Spokesman Geoff Morrell, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon today, refused to discuss specific figures. However, he sketched out the budgetary dilemma that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working to address during the FY-10 budget endgame in the coming weeks:

"We are looking at ways to reduce our reliance on supplementals. And so that is the discussion -- that is the work that is currently being conducted among the budgeters in this building. How far we'll go I'm not prepared to say, because I think that's an ongoing project."

He added:

"We are going to be involved in persistent conflict for some time to come -- the secretary's talked at length about that; that's the reality of the world we now live in -- and we need to budget for it. So whether that's done in the supplemental or in the base in the years to come, we're going to need monies to fight these conflicts. But I think there is an effort under way to see if we can move away from supplementals and increasingly on base budgets to fund these conflicts."

While shifting predictable war costs from supplemental appropriations to the base budget is part of the calculus, there are much larger allocations being considered for buying new weapons and ensuring all of the military services can sustain high operational tempos. Pentagon officials are considering a "range of possibilities" for boosting the FY-10 budget proposal, which will ultimately be the responsibility of the next administration to advance. At the upper end of the increases being weighed is a $57 billion hike. Here's how an internal Pentagon document we obtained would spread the windfall, across three categories:

The first category is called "capitalization and accelerations," to be used for buying new weapon systems, which would get $14 billion -- $2 billion more than expected earlier this summer.

Another category is titled "fact-of-life/inflation," which covers higher fuel prices, a weaker U.S. dollar, health care bills and shifting select recurring war costs funded through supplemental appropriations into the base budget. This area is penciled in for a $12 billion boost, $2 billion lower than a plan earlier this summer.

Finally, $31 billion is set aside for the "Long War," a catchall category that includes new funding for recruiting and retention; projects to build partnership capacity -- a category that stood on its own in an earlier budget drill; funding for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization; and funding for efforts broadly described as "presence."

The Air Force and the Navy are in line for a combined $12.7 billion boost -- the lion's share of the modernization spending in "capitalization and acceleration" -- to buy aircraft and ships. The Navy and Marine Corps would receive a combined $8 billion hike, the Air Force a $4.7 billion increase.
The Army's portion of this category would be $600 million and U.S. Special Operations Command would see $400 million, according to the chart.

Additional funding for "fact-of-life" allocations includes: $1.6 billion for the Army, $1.5 billion for the Navy and Marines Corps; $900 million for the Air Force; and $6.2 billion for defense-wide accounts. This category also includes $1. 8 billion the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a sum that the Pentagon official familiar with ongoing budget discussions says is being withheld to apply to last-minute needs.

Under the "long war" category, the Army would receive $2.5 billion and the Navy and Marine Corps $300 million for recruiting and retention. The Army also would receive $1.4 billion to pass on to the Joint Improvised Device Defeat Organization. And the Office of the Secretary of Defense would deal defense-wide accounts $5 billion for building partnership capacity activities.

Nearly $22 billion, the bulk of increases in the "long war" category, would fund a broad range of activities -- none of which yet are assigned line items in the budget -- for "presence-" related activities, programs required to set all of the services on a solid footing to sustain the high tempo of operations around the world associated with fighting terrorist networks.

The "presence" funding would include $11 billion for the Army; $3.9 billion for the Navy and Marine Corps; $4.2 billion for the Air Force; $1.2 billion for SOCOM; and $1.5 billion for defense-wide accounts.

In total, the Army would receive $17.1 billion, or 30 percent; the Navy and Marine Corps $13.7 billion, or 24 percent; the Air Force $9.8 billion, or 17.2 percent, SOCOM $1.6 billion, or 2.8 percent; and defense-wide accounts $12.7 billion, or 22.2 percent. The Office of the Secretary of Defense would hold back $2.1 billion, or 3.7 percent, to make last-minute allocations for unforeseen needs.

-- Jason Sherman

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September 24, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Defense Department officials are poring over a draft version of the Pentagon's energy security plan, slated for release later this year. Members of the powerful Deputy's Advisory Working Group around Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England blessed the document in principle earlier this month, as we've reported.

Word on the status of the plan comes amid a host of energy-related provisions in the newly passed fiscal year 2009 defense authorization legislation. For example, the bill requires the establishment of a senior position at DOD charged with overseeing all energy-related policy issues.

DOD's professed energy policy mantra is not so much about "going green" as it is about increasing the effectiveness of the armed forces. For one, frequent fuel deliveries to the front lines during the Iraq war have proven to be dangerous undertakings that have claimed many lives. In addition, the theory goes, systems that rely on, say, solar or wind power would enable troops a great deal more maneuvering autonomy on the battlefield.

So far, defense officials are keeping the draft energy security plan under wraps, although experts believe the document will contain few new items that the Defense Science Board didn't already address in a report earlier this year.

As with so many strategy documents at the sunset of this administration, the future of the DOD energy security plan is debatable.

Perhaps the next president could recycle it, using it as a starting point for the "operational energy strategy" called for in the FY-09 defense authorization bill.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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September 24, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The combatant commanders are involved in a set campaigns of their own that could have major ramifications for the next president.

In March, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tasked them to craft a set of first-ever "campaign plans" that will essentially define how the commands do business during peacetime, in wartime, and every time in between.

Gates' Guidance for the Employment of the Force, which mandated the campaign plans, does not spell out a deadline, but folks are trying to wrap them up by year's end, a Pentagon spokeswoman told InsideDefense.com in May.

The first drafts started trickling in during the summer, affording Pentagon officials a chance to comment.

The emerging plans recently landed on the desks of the folks in the Joint Staff's Joint Operational War Planning Division, which is part of the J-7 directorate.

"What we're in the process of reviewing now are really the outlines of frameworks in which the combatant commands think that they'll be operating," said Marine Corps Col. Jerome Driscoll, who heads the war planning shop.

There are high expectations connected to the plans. For example, officials hope the documents will finally shed some light on the issue of how many people and what kind of equipment the combatant commanders need to execute Gates' direction of increased focus on the training of foreign security forces.

The hope behind boosting foreign armies is that the U.S. military will need to interfere less in future crises.

It has been hard to get a clear picture of exactly what the COCOMs' requirements are in that area because U.S. Central Command needs, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are "sucking up all resources," one official said.

(In Pentagon-speak, there's even a fancy term to describe this: "suppressed demand signal.")

"No combatant commander would ever articulate a need, knowing that he wouldn't get it filled anyway," the official said.

Of course, much will depend on how the next president decides to use the COCOM campaign plans, if he gives credence to them at all.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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September 23, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The Times today has a must-read on Afghanistan, reporting on four separate reviews under way.

From the story:

The most ambitious of the assessments, run by the White House, begins in earnest this week with a series of high-level meetings, administration officials said. Officials have been directed to produce detailed recommendations within about two weeks for Mr. Bush's most senior advisers on a broad range of security, counterterrorism, political and development issues. Many of the dozen aides interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity because the reviews are continuing.

Some of the issues being studied, including proposed increases in American troop levels in Afghanistan, have set off internal debate and could have far-reaching consequences for the next administration.

Meanwhile, Inside the Navy this week runs its own look at Afghanistan, this time with the focus on what it means for the Marine Corps:

A war-stretched Marine Corps sees decreasing its forces in Iraq on a "one-for-one basis" as the only tenable way to bolster its presence in Afghanistan and makes the question of how to deploy limited materiel between the two theaters a "No. 1" priority, a senior Marine general said last week.

"We are going to decrement Iraq on a one-for-one basis in order to build up in Afghanistan," Marine Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the deputy commandant for plans, policy and operations, said in a Sept. 16 speech at a Marine Corps Association luncheon in Alexandria, VA. "There is no residual capacity or capability available to go to Afghanistan that is not currently either deployed to Iraq or preparing to deploy to Iraq." . . .

"How can we continue to properly equip Marines in Iraq and at the same time, loosen up enough equipment to pre-stage it in Afghanistan, so that Marines aren't waiting on equipment, that it's there waiting on them? And still at the same time keep enough equipment back at Camp Lejeune, ((NC)), Camp Smith, ((HI)), and Camp Pendleton, ((CA)), to maintain enough so that they can . . . conduct proper training before they deploy?" he asked.

"And I've got to tell you, I do not have the answers to all those questions yet," Dunford continued. "But among the priorities that we have, to be honest with you, that is No. 1 inside PP&O."

-- Dan Dupont

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September 23, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is making news today for comments made at a hearing on Capitol Hill, where the subject was Iraq and how/when/if to get out.

From the AP:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday urged the next U.S. president, who will take office in January, to proceed cautiously in withdrawing troops from Iraq despite an 80 percent drop in violence there.

"I worry the great progress that our troops and the Iraqis have made has the potential to override a measure of caution born of uncertainty," Gates told a congressional hearing in Washington.

Transcript coming as soon as we can get it.

Meanwhile, Inside the Army has news on Iraq transition issues involving a key database of information -- and concerns over how it might be misused:

Defense Department representatives have begun discussing with Iraqi government officials how the U.S. military could help Baghdad set up a biometric identification system -- a technology deemed crucial in quelling the insurgency there, defense officials tell Inside the Army.

"The Iraqis have a biometric capability that they're building," Myra Gray, director of the DOD Biometrics Task Force, said in a Sept. 11 interview. "They need to continue to protect themselves from terrorists, so we will assist them in growing their own, because we have the expertise," she added.

Defense officials are tight-lipped about the extent of the Pentagon's assistance, citing the sensitivity of ongoing discussions with the Iraqis.

"There is some sense of urgency," one U.S. defense source said. . . .

One issue that has sparked some concern is the idea that the data, if it falls into the wrong hands, could underpin an effective "enemies" list that could be used in crackdowns.

"The biometric, in and of itself, is fairly harmless," said Gray. "It's the abuse of the capability to build more than just the biometrics, to build a hit list, to build a discriminatory list of who's privileged and who's not, who can and cannot have certain things" that could be harmful, she added.

-- Dan Dupont

By
September 23, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Wired Magazine recently came out with a list of the top 15 people the next president should listen to, people "with big ideas about how to fix the things that need fixing." In addition to leading thinkers in the areas of climate change, energy and security, the compilation includes two innovative defense thinkers.

Montgomery McFate, a senior social science adviser for the Human Terrain System, highlights the growing need for greater cultural understanding.

"We can't have effective strategy without cultural knowledge," McFate says. "If you look at the problems we've had -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Somalia -- they've been based on flawed assumptions about who those people are." If the president is going to make better decisions, he needs better insight into how other cultures work, she adds.

Also listed is Army Col. A.T. Ball, who showed how to "wage smarter war with agile Army IT" while in charge of Task Force Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize (ODIN), "a group of IT gurus, image analysts, and drone pilots charged with taking back the roads" in Iraq.

Wired identifies the key takeaway from Ball's performances as:

"Network-centric warfare requires a flexible chain of command. Previous efforts were hampered by rigid hierarchies and top-down decisionmaking. Units could wait days to get a few minutes of surveillance drone time -- only to see the craft fly away at a critical moment. Shifting the network to Ball's tactical level gave his forces speed and agility. In the future, small units like Ball's must be able to run their own networks -- without waiting for input from generals."

Worth emulating? Inside the Army reported last month that the Pentagon is standing up Task Force ODIN-Afghanistan to do for the U.S. mission in Central Asia what Col. Ball and Task Force ODIN provided in Iraq.

-- Kate Brannen