The Washington Times is reporting that the Obama administration has apparently moved forward with a decision to ratchet down intelligence collection against China, moving the PRC from a top-tier priority target for the intelligence community to a second-level collection concern. Top-tier collection targets include Iran, North Korea and al Qaeda, whereas second-tier targets typically reflect a host of matters, ranging from tensions between Pakistan and India, Russian pressures on its neighbors, drug cartels and climate change. The change in priority ultimately has an impact on how limited collection and analytic intelligence community resources are parceled out. Again, according to the Times, this change was pushed by the Obama NSC and over the objections of the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, and CIA Director, Leon E. Panetta.
This is not the first time such a move has been made. When I worked in the Reagan White House, a similar effort was made to change how we gauged China as an intelligence priority — probably for a similar reason. At the time, many in the administration believed that China would be a necessary asset for balancing against the Soviet Union. The thought was that by changing the priority given China for intelligence collection we would be signaling them that we no longer saw them as an adversary. Obviously, today we don’t need the PRC for countering the Soviet Union — if we ever did. However, the Obama team seems convinced it needs China’s assistance on a host of problems and is in the business of reassuring Beijing that we have no intention of preventing their rise and, again, wants to signal that change by altering how we see them vis-a-vis our intelligence effort.
The recent announcement that the United States will sell PAC-3s to Taiwan was good news for Taipei. Taiwan continues to face an ever-growing ballistic missile threat from the mainland and the PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile system is an important component of Taiwan’s air defenses. Though the Obama administration should be applauded for including PAC-3 batteries in upcoming arms sales to the island, the arms sales package is not as robust as it should be.
In particular, F-16s, which Taiwan has requested, are missing from the mix. It is not only with missiles that China poses a threat to Taiwan, but with fighter aircraft as well. According to DOD’s 2009 report to Congress on China’s military power, Taiwan no longer enjoys the ability to achieve air dominance over the Taiwan Strait, as it did at the beginning of this century.
Faced with the dual threat of growing numbers of SRBMs and increasingly sophisticated fighter aircraft, Taiwan risks becoming more susceptible to coercion by force even as it tightens ties to the mainland. The Taiwan Relations Act requires the United States to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself; in order to fulfill that legal obligation, the administration should authorize the sale of F-16s to Taiwan.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Haitians have been calling not simply for a greater international aid and security presence Port-au-Prince, but for assistance from one particular group of American warfighters:
“We’re all scared. We need the United Nations and we need the United States Marines.” Indeed, all over Port-au-Prince, signs begging for help from the Marines have been sprouting. In front of one crushed office building, a typical sign read: “Welcome the U.S. Marine. We need some help. Dead bodies inside.” Another read: “U.S. Marines SOS. We need help.”
Well, the Marines have arrived.
Early on Monday, the USS Bataan amphibious readiness group (ARG), carrying roughly 2,200 Marines from the 22nd MEU, arrived in Port-au-Prince bay and dispatched helicopters to survey suitable landing zones for the ARG’s LCAC hovercrafts. By Tuesday morning, roughly 120 Marines from Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, were being shuttled in CH-53s from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 to the town of Leogane, 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince (closer to the epicenter of the quake), on the north shore of the country’s southern peninsula. After establishing a beachhead, they secured a landing zone, set up a water-distribution hub, and connected with UN officials. (See overview map of the town below).
With the brunt of the aid effort thus far focused on Port-au-Prince, Leogane had yet to see a substantial humanitarian presence; before today there was only a small contingent of the Spanish Red Cross and an Argentine medical team in the town. But the Marines have set about to change that. In the days ahead, they will continue ferrying humanitarian supplies — including two water purification systems and sixteen generators, along with water tanks, fuel tanks, tents and medicine — to the town and others around it.
Later, the Marines will reportedly partner with UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka to conduct patrols further west into the towns of Grand Gove and Petit Gove. The Marines’ AO was likely selected not only because Haiti’s southern peninsula had heretofore received little relief, but also in part because the roads connecting the Leogane to Port-au-Prince and the southern city of Jacmel (Highways 2 and 214, respectively) are only partially obstructed. With the announcement earlier today that a new airfield would soon be established at Jacmel, the coming days will likely see the beginning of more effective cross-country and trans-regional coordination.
In an interview Sunday on ABC’s This Week, LTG Ken Keen, deputy SOUTHCOM chief and commander of the newly-formed Joint Task Force-Haiti, explained that “our principal mission [is] humanitarian assistance, but the security component is going to be an increasing part of that….And we’re going to have to address that along with the United Nations (UN), and we are going to have to do it quickly.” He went on to note that “we have had incidents of violence that impede our ability to support the government of Haiti and answer the challenges that this country faces.”
In a conference call with reporters later in the day, USAID officials indicated that while some reports of looting at warehouses in past days had proven false, security has become “an issue on which we are very much focused.” Peacekeeping forces from the UN’s MINUSTAH mission are currently in the lead on security efforts, the officials explained, and were receiving support from the Haitian National Police.
There’s little doubt that the pace of aid distribution is fueling the desperation among Port-au-Prince’s residents. With that in mind-and following a high-profile complaint from Doctors Without Borders after a flight of theirs was diverted-a number of news outlets have begun calling attention to the apparent bottleneck at the Port-au-Prince airfield, which airmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing secured late last Wednesday and where they have since labored to maximize throughput capacity.
But in fact, their accomplishments thus far have been remarkable. In a briefing on Sunday afternoon, COL Buck Elton, commander of the Air Force task force at the airfield, described how his forces had initially established control of the airport — which was without electricity and whose control tower had been destroyed — and has since then overseen roughly 600 take-offs and landings. He explained that each departing aircraft was being replaced almost immediately by an incoming one, while noting the airfield’s limited capacity: it can accommodate 1 wide-body aircraft, 5-narrow body, and a handful of smaller aircraft (which can be taxied onto the grass), at a time. He outlined the timetable under which planes are to be unloaded and refueled — the large aircraft are allotted 2 hours on the ground while the smaller planes get 1 hour — but acknowledged that the timetable was vulnerable to delays, as most of the indigenous cargo-lift and transport equipment at the airfield had been destroyed. The crews of military aircraft have taken to unloading their own cargo.
Prioritization for landing slots, Elton explained, is being determined in conjunction with officials from the U.S. Embassy and the Haitian government, who are running a joint flight operations coordination center. Since Wednesday, 50 flights have been diverted, though operations at the airport appear to be growing more efficient: on Saturday, only 3 of the incoming 67 flights were diverted.
In short, the Air Force has very quickly turned an incapacitated facility — which at its peak prior to earthquake sustained only small fraction of the flights it’s receiving today — into a functioning hub for incoming personnel and humanitarian supplies. The disconcerting news is that those supplies are reportedly piling up at the airfield. The greatest transport challenge in Haiti may be on the ground.
In the weeks ahead, the Center for Defense Studies will be producing a series of backgrounders on the U.S. military’s relief mission in Haiti. To view the first of these “Issue Alerts,” which outlines the U.S. forces deployed the Haiti and the unexpected challenges they may face there, click HERE.
Two days ago newspapers around the world reported that the Yemeni military had killed a top al Qeada leader. This should have been welcome news for Americans, who learned how dangerous the al Qaeda franchise located in Yemen — al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — is when one of its operatives nearly killed 300 people in the skies over Michigan. The United States certainly should be very grateful for the efforts of the Yemeni government to kill or capture AQAP operatives or leaders or disrupt any al Qaeda plots. Americans — and especially American policy makers — must, however take news from the Yemeni government regarding al Qaeda with a degree of caution.
We should expect to hear many claims from the Yemeni government in the coming weeks of arrests and killings of al Qaeda leaders. President Saleh has every reason to show that he alone can eliminate the al Qaeda threat in his country. He knows that if he fails to make visible progress against al Qaeda the possibility exists that the U.S. might take matters into its own hands. The last thing Saleh wants is for the U.S. to send troops into his country, which would certainly galvanize much of the Yemeni population, who already views the government as a puppet of the U.S. Additionally, Saleh wants to continue directing his security resources to defeating the al Houthi insurgency in the north of the country — which poses a real threat to his authority — without the added distraction of tracking down a few hundred al Qaeda operatives scattered in his country’s mountains. The sooner he turns up al Qaeda leaders, the sooner — he may think — the U.S. will stop pressuring him. Finally the last thing he wants (and understandably so) is for the U.S aid money to be tied to him only going after al Qaeda militants.
Unfortunately, however, these considerations, give Saleh the incentive to generate exaggerated claims. The news yesterday that his government killed a top al Qaeda leader, Abdullah Mihdhar, was one such exaggerated claim. Mihdhar may have led a couple dozen men, but he appears to have been very low in the AQAP pecking order. He had never released any statements on behalf of AQAP, nor had he ever appeared in an AQAP video or been mentioned in any AQAP public statements. He did not appear on the Saudis list of most wanted militants, nor was he one of the twenty-three who escaped from the Sana’a prison in February 2006. A search of his name — in Arabic and English — in the archives of Yemeni newspapers turned up nothing. It is always possible that classified information would paint a different picture of Mihdhar’s real importance, but we have also experienced the phenomenon of dramatic and hyperbolic kills-or-captures of key al Qaeda leaders by Pakistani forces whenever the U.S. appeared to be pressuring Islamabad uncomfortably.
2009 was a big year for cybersecurity-from attention-getting attacks (the July 4th attacks and the Twitter take-down) to the release of the White House’s cyber policy review and the introduction of cybersecurity-related bills in Congress, to several news stories about the insecurity of U.S. networks and infrastructure to the formation of the military’s Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and, finally, the late December appointment of Howard Schmidt as the nation’s cybersecurity coordinator.
Is 2010 going to be a bigger year for cybersecurity than 2009? Not necessarily, but the increased public awareness of cybersecurity will make it seem that way. Furthermore, the increased political consciousness (and development of a cybersecurity coordinator, USCYBERCOM and numerous pieces of legislation) will keep cybersecurity in the news often. I’m hoping that this increased awareness also means increased knowledge, and thus coverage that is less alarmist and more analytical. Instead of un-sourced claims about the U.S. networks being hacked or attacked, I’m looking forward to intelligent, well-researched and solution-oriented reports, like this upcoming report on the vulnerabilities in the nation’s power grid.
The cyber threat to our national security won’t go away, and if anything, as our adversaries improve their skills, it will increase. Like all facets of national security, the public will hear a lot more about the failures and mistakes, but with the increasing resources and talent dedicated to the problem both in government (via USCYBERCOM, the new cybersecurity coordinator and his staff, and expanded hiring at the Department of Homeland Security) and the private sector (the number of contracts related to cybersecurity is steadily growing), the successes will increase in number and importance. Expect 2009’s news stories blaming vulnerabilities or attacks on the lack of a cybersecurity coordinator to turn into 2010’s stories blaming vulnerabilities or attacks on the lack of authority given to the coordinator or the irrelevance of the coordinator position to begin with (and pity Howard Schmidt, who will probably be forced spend valuable time he doesn’t have answering these silly theories). Meanwhile, when not absorbed by the big-ticket items on the President’s agenda, Congress will insist on having it’s say on cybersecurity through the pending bills and a number of topic-related hearings (both of which have, I’d guess, a 50/50 chance of being productive).
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review will be upon us in a couple of weeks. There will be a strong temptation to dismiss it out of hand. Past QDRs have been extraordinarily obtuse and opaque, more akin to the sayings of Buddha than Clausewitz. And this year’s budget and longer-range program documents will yield a clearer picture of the Obama Administration’s priorities.
Nevertheless, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have said, you go to war with the bureaucratic processes you have. This is especially true for those, including Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress, nervous about the gap between American strategic ends and military means. Most of all it is true for the congressionally-appointed members of the independent panel charged with reviewing the QDR.
Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute also thinks conservatives should throw in the towel, persistently pinging this author, Mackenzie Eaglen and former Sen. James Talent of the Heritage Foundation for “naïve” efforts to improve the process and get a better result. (Follow this vicious faculty-lounge fight from here to here to here to here).
There are four elements to Thompson’s critique, and each deserves rebuttal. He asserts that the future is unknowable, or at least that in fact past QDRs have imperfectly predicted the future. “It isn’t feasible to project military needs for the next 20 years,” he says. Alas, we have no choice but to try: investments in major weapons systems and troop formations are usually repaid in terms of battlefield capability over long periods. As Thompson himself often writes, the age of the current U.S. inventory is a testament to both the prescience of past predictions and the need to make new ones. If we don’t know whether the F-35 strike fighter will be useful 20 years from now, then why are we obligating hundreds of billions of dollars to such a program?
Yet more profoundly, it’s actually relatively easy for the United States to foresee its long-term military needs. We are a global power with some kind of security obligations in every region of the world. Our traditional strategy has been to exploit the “commons” — the seas, air, space and now “cyberspace” — while preserving favorable “continental” balances of power in primarily in Europe, the greater Middle East and East Asia. Technological and geopolitical trends are reasonably clear: we’ll be fighting the “Long War” for, well, a long time and the great-power “rise” of China and India will take decades to play out. Finally, the likelihood of gradual nuclear proliferation is too great to ignore. This is, for long-range defense planning purposes, a remarkably clear set of guidelines.
The Times of London reports today that Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, is under growing pressure to abdicate his position at the helm of the armed forces. According to the article, senior British generals believe that Sir Jock is unqualified to lead and oversee Britain’s war effort in Afghanistan. As an air force commander, the accusation goes, he lacks the experience and the judgment to advise the government on a major counterinsurgency ground war. Thus, the view that “a soldier, rather than an airman,” should preside over the armed forces up to 2014 appears to be gaining traction in Whitehall. If the Times is correct, the Air Chief Marshal will be asked to step aside in favor of one of the two most senior Army commanders in the coming months.
This leadership debate comes at a critical point in American and allied Afghan strategy. From the British perspective, the next four years will be a crucial period for its armed forces, particularly the British Army. Due to its lead role in Afghanistan, the Army will consume a large and increasing chunk of British defense spending up to 2014, the year when British troop numbers in Afghanistan are expected to decrease. Resources allocated to the military are widely expected to diminish over the next decade as Britain is forced to plug gaping holes in its national budget. The next Strategic Defence Review (SDR), promised by both the Tories and Labour, will likely usher in a new era in British military strategy and force posture. Faced with rising costs for domestic programs and minimal investments in defense, Britain’s armed forces will likely be a shadow of their former self at the end of this process.