Category Archives: Defense Department

U.S. Nabs Ahmed Abu Khatallah, Suspected Key Figure in 2012 Benghazi Attack

– Domani Spero

Big scoop via WaPo today:

U.S. Special Operations forces captured one of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, the first time one of the accused perpetrators of the 2012 assaults has been apprehended, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured Sunday near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning, and was now in U.S. custody “in a secure location outside Libya.” The officials said there were no casualties in the operation, and that all U.S. personnel involved have safely left Libya.

Read in full: U.S. captures Benghazi suspect in secret raid.

The Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also released the following statement:

 I can confirm that on Sunday, June 15 the U.S. Military — in cooperation with law enforcement personnel — captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

Below is a collection of tweets on Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently was not shy about giving interviews to the media in the past year or so:

 

Here is also a Reuters interview from 2012 —  Mystery deepens about US enemy No. 1 in Libya. Yesterday, a day after Khattala was captured,but before it was publicly released, there apparently was an ugly Benghazi panel over in D.C. WaPo’s Dana Milbank reports about that here. Politico wades in, also the Daily Beast here.

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US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)

– Domani Spero

On June 15, the State Department issued a statement that Embassy Baghdad “remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders.” Also that the embassy is reviewing its staffing requirement as it anticipates additional U.S. government security personnel in light of ongoing instability and violence in the country. It also announced that some Embassy Baghdad staff will be “temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman.”

Map via CIA World Fact Book

Map via CIA World Fact Book

CNN is now reporting that between 50 and 100 U.S. Marines and U.S. Army personnel have arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The Pentagon statement on June 15 says that “The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, as appropriate.”

The official statements use “temporary relocation” to describe this movement of personnel, which includes relocation to Amman, Jordan. Is this an attempt to avoid the negative connotation associated with the  term “evacuation.” Similarly, in early June, US Embassy Tripoli went on drawdown of personnel without ever announcing whether it went on evac status (See Did US Embassy Tripoli Go on “Sort of a Drawdown” Without Going on Evacuation Status?).

The official statement on Embassy Baghdad also says that “a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.” The mission was expected to reduce its headcount to 5,500 in January 2014.  If that in fact happened earlier this year, we can still expect a remaining staff of at least 2,750 plus whatever number you consider amounts to a “substantial majority.”
Below is the State Department statement:

The United States strongly supports Iraq and its people as they face security challenges from violent extremists.  The people of Iraq have repeatedly rejected violent extremism and expressed their desire to build a better society for themselves and for their children.

The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders – supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats.

As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq, Embassy Baghdad is reviewing its staffing requirements in consultation with the State Department.  Some additional U.S. government security personnel will be added to the staff in Baghdad; other staff will be temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman.  Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

We advise U.S. citizens in Iraq to exercise caution and limit travel to Anbar, Ninawa, Salah ad-Din, Diyala, and Kirkuk provinces; make their own contingency emergency plans; and maintain security awareness at all times.  

Below is the DOD statement via the American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2014 – At the State Department’s request, the U.S. military is providing security assistance for U.S. diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.

In a statement, Kirby said a small number of Defense Department personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of U.S. facilities.

“The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, as appropriate,” Kirby added. “The U.S. military has airlift assets at the ready should State Department request them, as per normal interagency support arrangements.”

 

Our military airlift asset is at the ready.  Depending on what happens next, we might be hearing more about a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO). This gave us an excuse to revisit DOD’s  joint publication on NEOs:

The State Department (DOS), acting on the advice of the ambassador, will determine when US noncombatants and foreign nationals are to be evacuated. When unexpected violence flares up or appears imminent and communications with the DOS are cut off, the ambassador may invoke such elements of the plan and initiate such actions as the situation warrants.

During NEOs the US ambassador, not the combatant commander (CCDR) or subordinate joint force commander (JFC), is the senior United States Government (USG) authority for the evacuation and, as such, is ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the NEO and the safety of the evacuees. The decision to evacuate a US embassy and the order to execute a NEO is political.

And –  we don’t even have an ambassador in Baghdad. On June 11, Ambassador Robert S. Beecroft,  still listed as our U.S.ambassador to Iraq went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) for his confirmation hearing as our next ambassador to Egypt.  The nominee for Embassy Baghdad, Ambassador Stuart E. Jones (previously of US Embassy Jordan) also went before the committee on the same day. Read his testimony here (pdf).

The Beecroft and Jones nominations as far as we could tell have yet to make it out of the SFRC.  The State Department’s Key Officers list published this month includes John P. Desrocher as DCM for Embassy Baghdad.  Mr. Desrocher previously served as the U.S. Consul General in Auckland, New Zealand.  In 2010, he was the Director of the Office of Iraq Affairs at the State Department.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk tweeted on June 13: “In , have been meeting intensively with leaders across the political spectrum and conferring with our national security team in DC.”

Embassy Baghdad has not listed a chargé d’affaires on its website; we don’t know who is in charge of the mission. Post has not responded to our inquiry as of this writing.

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US Embassy Ulaanbaatar Gets First Ever Marine Security Guard Detachment

– Domani Spero

 

Via US Embassy Mongolia:

On May 23, 2014,  U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar held a welcome ceremony to institute the first ever U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment in the Embassy. Ambassador Piper Campbell expressed her delight at having Marines serving at the Embassy Ulaanbaatar.  The Ambassador concluded her speech with a quote from 1885, “The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand.”

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Adam Zybert thanked the Embassy for the work in preparing for the Marines’ arrival.  He quoted Ronald Reagan “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem”, and continued “If President Reagan were still here today, I believe he would say the U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar does not have that problem either”.

As part of the ceremony, the Marine Security Guards presented the colors for the raising of the flag in the Embassy compound.

U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar held a welcome ceremony to institute the first ever U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment in the Embassy.

Ambassador Piper Campbell during U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar’s welcome ceremony to institute the first ever U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment in the Embassy.

 

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New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer

– Domani Spero

 

Today via CNN’s Barbara Starr:

At the May 27 Daily Press Briefing, the State Department spox was asked about the warship that’s headed towards the coast of Libya.  Here is the official word:

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, I believe, announced that a week or two ago, and that was a step that was taken to be prepared to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in U.S. installations in North Africa, so that’s been in place. It’s a step we’ve taken in the past. But the reasoning – that was the reasoning for doing that.

Asked about an “ordered departure” for Embassy Tripoli, Ms. Psaki said  the State Department “continue to review the situation and address Embassy security needs.” She did not make any new announcement concerning the evacuation of personnel except to say that  “any changes to staffing at any post would be announced through a travel warning.”

On May 27, the State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Libya recommending that U.S. citizens in the country “depart immediately.” The new warning made no mention of the possible reduction of staff or evacuation of personnel:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately. Due to security concerns, the Department of State has limited staffing at Embassy Tripoli and is only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Libya.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on December 12, 2013.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

Read in full here.

News report says that USS Bataan has a thousand Marines on board.  The USS Bataan (LHD 5) is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit which deployed  on Feb. 8, 2014 from the Naval Station in Norfolk,Virginia  for an eight-month assignment in the U.S Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

According to the U.S. Navy, the USS Bataan has a complement of 104 officers, 1,004 enlisted personnel and a Marine Force of 1,894 (plus 184 surge).  It has the following aircraft: twelve CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopters, four CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters, six AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft, three UH-1N Huey helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and a planned capability to embark MV-22 Osprey VTOL tilt-rotors.

The USS Bataan was most recently in Jordan to participate in Exercise Eager Lion 2014a 12-day annual military exercise involving 8,000 personnel from 19 countries.

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) prepares to dock at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to participate in training scenarios with regional partners during Exercise Eager Lion 2014, May 23. Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James A. Hall/Released)

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) prepares to dock at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to participate in training scenarios with regional partners during Exercise Eager Lion 2014, May 23. Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James A. Hall/Released)

USS Bataan2

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Michael Gable, of Peachtree City, Ga., directs an CH-53E Super Stallion onto the flight deck aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) during exercise Eager Lion 2014 in preparation for training with multinational partners to demonstrate interoperability. The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in exercise Eager Lion 2014, which is a multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance security and stability in the region by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark Hays)

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa staff members watch an AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), land aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5). The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald/Released)

Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa staff members watch an AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), land aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5). The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald/Released)

The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) was previously on Libya duty in the Med in 2011.  In April 2014, the Marines and Navy sailors of the 22nd MEU and the Bataan marked the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Bataan Death March for which the USS Bataan (LHD 5) was named.  The March was the forced transfer of 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war by the Imperial Japanese Army, following the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines. The ship is on Facebook, and while not prolific, it tweets @LHD5.

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US Embassy Libya: Post Drawdown Soon, Marine Air-to-Ground Task Force At The Ready

– Domani Spero

We understand that US Embassy Tripoli will soon be on drawdown. We don’t know yet if this will be an authorized or ordered departure for personnel or temporary post closure.

On May 19, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Libya. (See US Embassy Libya: Decision to Evacuate Grows By the Minute, Satterfield as Libya Envoy. Amidst reports in the couple of days that the US Embassy in Tripoli is poised to be evacuated, the State Department spokesperson yesterday said that those reports are inaccurate.  “We have not made decisions to move any of our personnel out of Libya. We continue to review the situation. It’s incredibly fluid, and obviously we can make decisions quickly to address embassy security needs. But those reports are inaccurate at this point,” said Jen Psaki.

Ms. Psaki also indicated that Ambassador Deborah Jones, who on May 21 participated in the speakers series at the Stimson Center in D.C. (see the c-span coverage here) will be “returning to Tripoli in the near future.”

On the appointment of Ambassador David Satterfield, Ms. Psaki was asked in what capacity was he doing this contact with the Libyans. Here is the official response:

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary asked him to travel with him last week, and he has obviously – as you know, has an extensive background as a foreign diplomat. And so he traveled to Libya in – as a private citizen to help build political consensus at this challenging time. And obviously, he sat in with him during the meeting with the Quint last week.

More on the Libya hands — no special envoy but there is a Special Coordinator for Libya.

QUESTION: Is he [Satterfield] a special envoy to Libya now?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not giving him a title. He was there – as you know, his specific position is as Director-General of the Multinational Force and Observers, the MFO. So he’ll continue to fulfill his duties in that capacity. Jonathan Winer, who you also may know, visited Tripoli in February in his role as Special Coordinator for Libya and met with a variety of Libyan and international partners, and he’s working closely with Ambassador Satterfield and our NEA team.

QUESTION: So Ambassador Satterfield is actually not at the moment a State Department employee –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — or a U.S. diplomat. He works with the Multinational Force, which is a UN –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — organization.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to –

[…]

QUESTION: Yeah. Just to clarify this point – I mean, still U.S. Ambassador is there, right?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, Deborah Jones. She was out of the country – out of Libya for some prior scheduled travel, and so –

Jonathan Winer, the new Special Coordinator for Libya was previously appointed by the State Department as Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement in 2013.  In that capacity, he was tasked with overseeing USG efforts to help resettle the residents of Camp Hurriya to permanent, and secure locations outside of Iraq. He also previously served as chief counsel and principal legislative assistant to then Senator Kerry for 10 years and was a DAS at INL.

Where are the Marines?

Over at the Pentagon spokesman Read Admiral Kirby said that “There’s been no request for military operations or assistance in Libya. And that’s — obviously, that’s going to be a State Department call. And I think you heard the State Department speak very clearly that there’s been no change to their embassy operations there in Tripoli.”

The press briefing was on May 20, so possibly OBE already. 

The first ever landing (touch and go) of a V-22 Osprey aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-48), underway in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. Boatswain's Mate Third Class Brian Sherlock, of Tucson, Arizona, directs the first-ever landing of this type aircraft aboard. BM3 Sherlock is the Landing Signalman Enlisted member chosen to direct this operation. (Courtesy Photo by Navy Media Content Services)

The first ever landing (touch and go) of a V-22 Osprey aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-48), underway in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. Boatswain’s Mate Third Class Brian Sherlock, of Tucson, Arizona, directs the first-ever landing of this type aircraft aboard. BM3 Sherlock is the Landing Signalman Enlisted member chosen to direct this operation.
(Courtesy Photo by Navy Media Content Services)

Calling it a prudent precautionary measure, the Pentagon has moved elements of a Marine air-to-ground task force from their base in Moron, Spain to Sigonella, Sicily.  Apparently, there’s a total of about 250 Marines on Sicily; seven Ospreys; three C-130s as part of this air-to-ground task force. “This was a prudent measure taken by General Rodriguez in consultation with General Breedlove, the European Command commander, and of course, the State Department, to be able to be in a posture and in a location that should they be needed in North Africa, specifically, yes, specifically Libya, that they would be — that they would be ready to do so.”

Today, Wayne White, a former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Middle East/South Asia Intelligence Office (INR/NESA) writes on lobelog.com on why the U.S. should evacuate Libya:

 “There were always those who opposed withdrawing (regardless of the risk of staying), arguing that leaving the countries in question would reduce the US’ ability to influence events on the ground. Of course, in this case, for quite some time now the US and other Western diplomatic missions have had precious little impact on what has been unfolding in Libya.”

The man of the hour, called Libya’s enigmatic General Khalifa Haftar by the BBC apparently has been on different sides of almost every power struggle in Libya since the 1960s.  Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, he apparently lived in suburban Virginia. According to WaPo, he also became a U.S. citizen — and voted in Virginia in elections in 2008 and 2009.

A possible expatriation case (pdf)? Maybe or maybe not. That depends on whether the  U.S. citizen who serves as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer of a foreign state is engaged/not engaged in hostilities against the United States.

 

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US Embassy Libya: Decision to Evacuate Grows By the Minute, Satterfield as Libya Envoy

– Domani Spero

CNN’s Barbara Starr reports that the U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The violence in country appeared to be some of the worst since the 2011 revolution.

A decision to evacuate as violence in the Libyan capital grows is “minute by minute, hour by hour,” a defense official told CNN on Monday.
[...]

Four additional U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft “arrived overnight” at the naval base in Sigonella, Italy, to join four V-22s and 200 Marines that had been moved there last week, a U.S. defense source said.

The V-22 Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically with at least two dozen passengers, are ready to be in the air on six hours notice, the official said. The additional aircraft should give the military the capability to evacuate more than 200 people from the embassy.

The aircraft and Marines are part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team, stationed in Moron, Spain. The force was formed after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 to provide closer standby military capability in a crisis.

On May 15, Algeria sent a team of special forces to evacuate its ambassador and some 50 embassy staff from Libya after an attempted raid on the ambassador’s residence according to Libya Herald. The Lebanese diplomats are said to have left and the UAE diplomats reportedly left the country by car to Tunisia.  Today, Saudi Arabia also closed its diplomatic mission in Libya and withdrew all of its diplomatic staff due to security concerns. The Turkish Consulate in Benghazi was also closed today “after a specific threat” according to Tanju Bilgic, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli where we reportedly have about 200 personnel, the last Twitter update was on May 15 about a job opening at the PA shop.  On Sunday afternoon, Ambassador Deborah Jones tweeted:

We are assuming that the ambassador is not in country and David C. McFarland who is posted in Tripoli through August 2014 as DCM is currently acting as charge.  Mr. McFarland previously served in Cairo, Baghdad, Washington, DC, Yerevan and Ankara. But most notably, he was the Political Section chief  in Tripoli during the Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Stevens.

Now, here’s the interesting part –ABC News’ Ali Weinberg is reporting that the U.S. is sending a high-level official to help the political process in Libya according to a State Department official. 

Ambassador David Satterfield, who also directs the international monitoring force in the Sinai Peninsula, will keep that role even as he goes to Libya.

“Secretary of State Kerry requested that Ambassador David Satterfield travel to Libya to offer to help build political consensus at this challenging time in Libya’s transition.  He will continue to fulfill his duties as Director General of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO),” the official said.

It appeared that Satterfield was to get this additional assignment before the events of this weekend, in which forces loyal to retired Gen. Khalifa Hifter stormed the parliament building in Tripoli.

 

So Ambassador Satterfield is still seconded to MFO and how is the State Department going to task him to do things officially?

Ambassador Satterfield previously served as Ambassador to Lebanon (September 1998 to June 2001), and was confirmed as Ambassador to Jordan (2004) but never served in that capacity as he was soon designated as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs (NEA). He was also Coordinator for Iraq and Senior Adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Ambassador Satterfield retired from the Foreign Service in 2009. He was nominated by the US, then appointed Director General of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai Peninsula, an independent international organization, by the Arab Republic of Egypt and State of Israel, and assumed office on July 1, 2009. In August 2013, he took a leave of absence from his MFO position and was designated by Secretary Kerry to serve temporarily as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo until January this year.

He is a well respected diplomat but …. here’s what we don’t get. And apparently, we’re not the only one perplexed about this; there’s a whole floor of folks in Foggy Bottom asking each other why.

We’re not recalling our Senate-confirmed ambassador from her personal travel and sending her back to Tripoli “to help build political consensus.” We’re not giving the current DCM/charge his marching orders. Instead we’re recalling an ambassador who’s been retired since 2009 to midwife this “challenging time in Libya’s transition.” Does that make sense?

We’re hearing that Ambassador Satterfield will reportedly be a special envoy for reconciliation.  Because it makes perfect sense to send a stranger to facilitate reconciliation in a country where cultivating personal relationships is needed before business is conducted. This “request” by Secretary Kerry comes in addition to apparently, the appointment of a former senior advisor  for MEK Resettlement to the Libya portfolio. What about the president’s personal representative?  

 

 

No word yet if Ambassador Jones is heading back to Tripoli or if post is going on evac.

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President Obama Visits Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila — Yabusame, Durian, EDCA, and Lots of Handshakes

– Domani Spero

President Obama is traveling to Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines from April 22 to April 29. Below are some photos from his stops:

Japan

The US Embassy Tokyo folks also got a meet and greet with President Obama. We are pleased to hear that no one was strangled with the lanyard of some Top Secret Clearance badge despite all that standing around waiting to see POTUS.  You all did not get up at 3 a.m., did you?

Republic of Korea

Malaysia

Philippines

Shortly before President Obama arrived in Manila, the United States and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The agreement is designed to promote among other things, capacity building towards Philippine Army modernization, maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

For more of that, see links below:

President Barack Obama stretches to shake the hand of a young girl held aloft during a U.S. Embassy meet and greet at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Army Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan

– Domani Spero

On April 7, 2014, LAT reported that one year after a 25-year-old diplomat from the Chicago area was killed in a car bombing in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul remembered Anne Smedinghoff  by reading poetry and releasing balloons in a courtyard that was named for her.

“She was a truly remarkable young woman and friend,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a solemn ceremony on a sun-splashed afternoon in Kabul.

We’ve previously blogged about this here:

On April 23, 2014, Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz has an exclusive on a scathing Army report concerning Ms. Smedinghoff’s death, the three U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, and an unidentified interpreter in Afghanistan on April 6, 2013.  The report says that the mission deliver books …. was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels.”  It also confirmed a tip we received a year ago that a top State Department official, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, was at the book dropoff with Smedinghoff. The report says the senior official  “may have been the main target, although insurgents were perhaps targeting anyone partaking in the mission. The report also notes that the planning and security that should be afforded such a VIP was not provided in this instance. Addleton’s presence at the event that day had not been previously disclosed.”

The Army report, obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act also says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.   The book event at the school was reportedly characterized in military briefings as a “Media Extravaganza.” One soldier reportedly wrote in a statement that he described the event as providing “Happy Snaps,” or photo opportunities, for top officials in Kabul. The company supplying the books reportedly desired “more media reporting.”  Scholastic and State Department representatives told the Tribune that the company did not mandate any kind of publicity event.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s father,  Tom Smedinghoff, said that he had not seen the Army investigation before Wednesday, according to the Tribune.  Meanwhile, the State Department spox told the Tribune that a classified internal review of the day was conducted, and that the department determined no State rules were broken.

The Tribune citing the Army report says that planning for the book giveaway began with a U.S. Embassy email on March 18, 2013, to a State Department civilian at the base. It was to take place at a boys’ school just outside the south wall of the base in the city of Qalat and would be covered by Afghan media.

We think that this is the school where the book event was to take place. If this is wrong, please email us with corrections.

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school's dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul's security force. Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson 4.16.2011

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul’s security force.
Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
4.16.2011

Below is a quick excerpt from the Tribune’s report: Poor planning led to River Forest diplomat’s death in Afghanistan:

A U.S. mission to deliver books to a school in Afghanistan that ended in the death of a young foreign service officer from River Forest was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels,” according to a scathing Army report obtained by the Tribune.

The Army report for the first time criticizes civilian and military leaders for not following security protocols in the lead-up to the mission.
[...]
The email, sent from the special projects coordinator of the embassy’s public affairs section, requested “an event to publicize the distribution of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.,” the report said.

“Scholastic donated quite a lot of books for use in the schools in Afghanistan and it took a very long time for those books to get here,” a copy of the email enclosed in the Army report states. “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.”

Qalat was chosen because a local official had requested such a visit and “partly because we would like Scholastic to feel as though we are doing something,” the email states. “Because we think the visuals would be nice, we thought that Qalat would be the perfect place for a media tour.”

Apparently,  the State Department’s presence at the base in Zabul ended 12 days after the attack. The Tribune also reported that the Army administratively disciplined two officers after the attack. Do you know what happened internally at State following the Zabul attack?

Read the full report here and weep.

We sent emails asking questions about this incident last year, nothing except one came back. One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual also declined to provide details of the the attack.  There was a concern then that this could become political given what happened in Benghazi.  But more telling perhaps was what my source pointed out — that Ms. Smedinghoff  would not have had the authority to make the decision about her movements.  No one gets to make those decisions unilaterally at US Mission Afghanistan.

We’d like to see the State Department declassify its internal report on the Zabul attack.  We think the Smedinghoff family should have access to it if it so desire.  The State Department spokesperson said that no State rules were broken. If so, there should not be a problem with releasing that internal review.  It would be in the public interest to see how the agency’s internal review stack up against the Army report.

That said, we do not/not think that State will disclose its internal review unless compelled to do so by court or the Congress. 

Of course, nothing precludes Secretary Kerry from declassifying the internal review and voluntarily releasing it now in light of the Army report. 

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US Embassy Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH370, USS Pinckney to Join Search Efforts

- Domani Spero

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement that it is still unable to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts of flight MH370. Other details below:

  • Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am. The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
  • MH370 is a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a code share with China Southern Airlines. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am today for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. The flight had a total number of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were from 14 different countries, most of whom are from China.
  • An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.
  • For the passenger manifest of MH370, click here.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur released the following statement regarding the missing plane. (full statement here):

The U.S. Embassy is closely following the developments regarding Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board.  We are in contact with the individuals’ families.  Out of respect for them, we are not providing additional information at this time. We are working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight.
[...]
Malaysia Airlines has established dedicated phone numbers for family members and friends of passengers to contact the airline directly for information.  Family and friends should contact the airline at +603 8787 126 or +603 87871629.  The airline is also providing updates to the general public on its website, http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/hq/en.html.

US Embassy KL also announced that USS Pinckney has been sent to assist in the search efforts:

The United States Navy Seventh Fleets is sending the USS Pinckney, along with a P-3C aircraft to assist in search efforts. The USS Pinckney (DDG 91), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is en route to the southern coast of Vietnam to aid in the search efforts.  The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters which can be equipped for search and rescue.  In addition, A P-3C Orion aircraft will also depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet’s 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

According to the U.S. Navy, USS Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea.

Also, U.S. officials are reportedly investigating terrorism concerns after two people listed as passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out not to be on the plane and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.

The passports stolen were from nationals of Italy and Austria; both countries are in the U.S. visa waiver program.

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AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW (http://www.aafsw.org). She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at http://kidswithdiplomaticimmunity.wordpress.com.

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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