POST-ELECTION DEFENSE BUDGET UPDATE
“President Obama’s plans for the military are well known,” says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.
In fact, defense firms, consultants, analysts and congressional staffers have analyzed Obama’s defense plans since he sent his most recent Pentagon spending plan to Congress in February. That budget blueprint followed a strategic review, and together those documents brought an end to the post-9/11 era. It proposed slashing the size of America’s ground forces while also stressing the importance of air and naval platforms.
That Obama administration review and budget plan were the collective beginning of what officials dubbed a “pivot” away from the Middle East and toward Asia.
The 2013 Obama defense budget plan safeguarded programs administration officials say would be key in the Asian theater: a new long-range Air Force bomber, an aerial tanker fleet, new destroyers and new submarines. It also kept the bulk of the troubled F-35 fighter program intact.
With the Iraq war over and the Afghanistan conflict set to end in 2014, Obama is sticking by plans to shrink the Army to 490,000 active-duty troops and the Marine Corps to 186,000 Leathernecks over the next five years.
While these are the hardware and end-strength plans Obama has proposed for carrying out his Asia pivot, experts are still scratching their heads about what the shift will look like.
“I think Obama will have to clarify a bit more just what he means by the pivot. He will have to put some substance behind the rhetoric and really explain it early on in the second term,” says Christopher Preble of the CATO Institute. “For example, there are some serious issues in terms of territorial disputes in the region. There are disputes between Japan and South Korea, and, of course, between China and multiple countries. … The administration will have to clarify the U.S. position on those sorts of things as part of the pivot.”
Obama pushed European leaders to stay in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, along with U.S. forces. But he also has talked vaguely about some number of U.S. troops staying there to carry out special operations missions and continue training Afghan forces.
“It’s time for him to go beyond saying 2014 will be the end for most U.S. troops in Afghanistan [but] then we will have some sort of an enduring presence,” Preble says. “That’s fine, but what is that presence, and how much will it cost? He’ll have to explain that.”
It is now apparent Obama will be tasked with negotiating with Congress to avoid twin $500 billion cuts to planned defense and domestic spending over 10 years that would be enacted Jan. 2 unless a $1.2 trillion deficit-paring plan is enacted.
The president has said he would veto any bill that excludes new federal revenue; congressional Republicans so far have stood firm in their collective opposition to any new revenues. Will Obama give in to avoid the sequestration cuts?
“[Obama’s] strategy for reducing the budget deficit is not [well known],” says Thompson. “Since he shows little inclination to rein in entitlement programs during his second term, I have to assume defense spending will continue drifting downward as the administration seeks politically palatable ways of cutting the deficit.”
Sources expect the Obama win means any large deficit-reduction deal would include some new federal revenues and at least $20 billion in defense cuts for at least five — or up to 10 — years.
1.Turkey mulls defensive measures on Syrian border
Turkey is drawing up contingency plans with the NATO military alliance to fortify its border with Syria, and a Patriot missile deployment is one option on the table, Turkish officials say.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters Thursday that due to the ongoing civil war in Syria and its possible repercussions for NATO-member Turkey, every measure was being considered to counter the risks.
Discussions have been ongoing "within NATO... in terms of defensive measures" and many defensive scenarios are being looked at as a precaution, Gul said when asked whether Turkey was seeking to acquire Patriot missiles from NATO.
International and Turkish media reported Wednesday that the government planned to ask NATO to station Patriot missiles along the border with Syria, but the prime minister denied the report.
"We have not made such a request. Let me be clear, we are not thinking about or in a position to buy Patriots at this time," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters during a visit to Bali Wednesday. He seemed angry about the media reports, insisting that the foreign ministry official said to be the source for the information had no right to make such a statement.
Read more: Turkey strikes targets in Syria in retaliation for shelling deaths
Ankara has been careful to note that it does not plan to take offensive action and does not want a war with its southern neighbor, with which it shares a 822-kilometer (about 511-mile) border.
"It is out of the question that Turkey has any intention of going to war with Syria. I hope that it is also out of the question for Syria to engage in this kind of inconceivable action toward Turkey," said Gul.
"But when there are these types of last-minute developments, when these types of potential risks are present, undoubtedly all sorts of precautions are taken in these situations. One of these precautions is against ballistic missiles as well as mid-range and near-range missiles," he added.
The U.S.-made Patriot missile system -- which became well-known during the first Gulf War, when it was used to protect American allies against Iraqi Scud missiles -- works well against short- and medium-range missiles.
Two decades later, reports about the possible deployment of Patriots have emerged as tensions steadily escalate between two other Middle Eastern neighbors.
Schools were closed in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar Thursday as intense fighting raged in the area between loyalist Syrian forces and fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army.
"We can hear the sounds of fighting. The town is very quiet today, not a lot of stores opened up," said Mehmet Saitavci, a neighborhood mayor from Ceylanpinar.
"People here have a lot of relatives on the other side and they are coming up to the border and the Turkish military takes them and brings them into Turkey. We were told we can have our relatives be our guests for a few days by the municipal mayor," said Saitavci, who also reported that two Turks were injured, but not seriously, due to stray gunfire.
Last month, Syrian artillery shells hit the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five Turkish citizens. Soon after, the Turkish parliament approved a resolution that would allow the military to carry out cross-border incursions. Since that deadly incident, Turkish officials have confirmed more than a dozen cross-border artillery strikes believed to have been carried out by the Syrian military. In each case, Turkish forces retaliated swiftly against Syria using artillery.
Last June, Syrian anti-aircraft defenses shot down a Turkish military reconnaissance jet, killing two pilots, after it briefly crossed into Syrian airspace in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Today, Turkey is adamant that its airspace not be used to supply the military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. An Armenian plane headed for Syria landed in the Turkish city of Erzurum for a "technical inspection" Thursday.
"We are allowing the humanitarian aid to go in Syria. So it was agreed beforehand. They knew and agreed to land," a Turkish foreign ministry official wrote to CNN, on condition of anonymity.
A similar flight was also asked to land in Turkey for inspection of its cargo last month. In that case, Armenian officials confirmed that the Turkish search was part of a scheduled stop.
But just a few days before the Armenian flight was stopped, a Syrian passenger plane from Russia was forced to land, with Turkish F-16s escorting it to a runway in the Turkish capital. Turkish authorities announced they suspected the aircraft of carrying military equipment to Damascus. Turkish authorities later confiscated military equipment from a Russian arms manufacturer that was addressed to the Syrian defense ministry.
Once cozy relations between Syria and Turkey have all but collapsed since the Syrian uprising began more than 19 months ago. Turkey is officially hosting more than 111,000 refugees, but the Turkish government says tens of thousands of unofficial refugees also live in Turkish cities and towns near the Syrian border.
Meanwhile, Damascus has repeatedly accused its former ally of meddling in internal Syrian affairs by funding and arming the Syrian opposition, as well as providing sanctuary and medical care to Syrian rebels.
Turkish, American and British diplomats are attending a Syrian opposition conference in Qatar this week, part of a U.S.-backed initiative to reorganize and restructure the fractured opposition movement.
2. Puerto Rico’s voters endorse seeking US statehood
Puerto Ricans have supported U.S. statehood in a vote that jubilant members of the pro-statehood party say is the strongest sign yet that the Caribbean island territory is on the road to losing its second-class status.
But Tuesday’s vote comes with an asterisk and an imposing political reality: The island remains bitterly divided over its relationship to the United States and many question the validity of this week’s referendum.
Nearly a half million voters chose to leave a portion of the ballot blank. And voters also ousted the pro-statehood governor, eliminating one of the main advocates for a cause that would need the approval of the U.S. Congress.
“Statehood won a victory without precedent but it’s an artificial victory,” said Angel Israel Rivera Ortiz, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico. “It reflects a divided and confused electorate that is not clear on where it’s going.”
President Barack Obama had said he would support the will of the Puerto Rican people on the question of the island’s relationship to the U.S., referred to simply on the island as its “status,” and this week’s referendum was intended to be the barometer.
But the results aren’t so clear cut. It was a two-part ballot that first asked all voters if they favor the current status as a U.S. territory. Regardless of the answer, all voters then had the opportunity to choose in the second question from three options: statehood, independence or “sovereign free association,” which would grant more autonomy to the island of nearly 4 million people.
More than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, responded “no” to the first question, saying they were not content with the current status.
On the second question, nearly 800,000, or 61 percent, chose statehood — a bigger percentage, and the first majority, than in the previous three referendums on this issue over the past 45 years. Some 437,000 backed sovereign free association and 72,560 chose independence. Nearly 500,000, however, didn’t opt for any of those three choices.
“We made history with this plebiscite,” said Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s representative in Congress and a member of both the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and the Democratic Party.
The certified results will be sent to the White House and the congressional leadership, and it would be up to them to begin the process of possibly admitting Puerto Rico into the union.
“The ball is now in Congress’ court and Congress will have to react to this result,” Pierluisi said. “This is a clear result that says ‘no’ to the current status.”
Gov. Luis Fortuno, a member of the pro-statehood party who is also a Republican, welcomed the results and said he was hopeful that Congress would take up the cause.
But Fortuno won’t be around to lead the fight: Voters turned him out of office after one term, and gave the governship to Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, which wants Puerto Rico to remain a semi-autonomous U.S. commonwealth.
3. POW/MIA Update
• SOLDIER MISSING FROM KOREAN WAR IDENTIFIED
On October 24, 2012 the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Korean War, were identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Cpl. Joseph W. Fontenot, 20, of Maurepas, La., will be buried Oct. 27 in Whitehall, La. In February 1951, Fontenot was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division when he was captured by enemy forces near Saemal, South Korea. He reportedly died in June 1951, while in captivity at Camp 1 near Changsong, North Korea.
In 1954, United Nations and Communist Forces exchanged the remains of war dead in what came to be called “Operation Glory.” Among the remains that were turned over at that time were remains of servicemen who had died in Camp 1. All of the remains recovered in Operation Glory were turned over to the Army Central Identification Unit for analysis. Those which were unable to be identified with the technology at that time were interred as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
In 2010, analysts from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) re-examined the case records and determined that advances in technology could likely aid in the identification of the unknown remains as one of seven possible soldiers. Once the remains were exhumed, scientists from JPAC used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including dental records and radiographs, to identify Fontenot.
Today, more than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the Korean War. Identifications continue to be made from the remains that were returned to the United States, using forensic and DNA technology.
• Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (Public
• SOLDIER KIA DURING VIETNAM WAR IDENTIFIED
On October 26, 2012 the remains of a U.S. serviceman, killed in action during the Vietnam War, were identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Maj. James L. Whited, 42, of Norman, Okla., will be buried Nov. 2, in his hometown. On Nov. 19, 1966, Whited was the co-pilot of an OV-1A Mohawk aircraft that crashed while conducting a daytime reconnaissance mission over Attapu Province, Laos. Nearby U.S. aircrews reported seeing the wing of Whited’s aircraft hit a tree during a climb to avoid a nearby ridgeline. No parachutes were seen exiting the aircraft. Heavy enemy presence in the area prevented recovery efforts.
From 1993 to 2009, joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), inteviewed multiple witnesses, and conducted several investigations and excavations of the crash site in Attapu Province. The teams located human remains, military equipment, and aircraft wreckage of an OV-1A, which correlated with the last known location of Whited’s aircraft.
To identify the remains, scientists from JPAC analyzed circumstantial evidence and used forensic identification tools, such as dental comparisons.
Today, the U.S. government continues to work closely with the governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to recover Americans lost during the Vietnam War. For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing
John Stovall, Director
National Security-Foreign Relations Division