Thursday, October 13, 2011







"I'd like to begin this hearing by stating the Oversight Committee's mission statement," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz this morning. "We exist to secure two fundamental principles. 'First, Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second, Americans deserve an efficient and effective government that works for them. Our duty on the Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is to respect these rights'." Chaffetz is the Chair of the
Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which heard from the State Dept's Patrick F. Kennedy and DoD's Alexander Vershbow and Alan F. Estevez this morning on the topic of Iraq and the US presence beyond 2011.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: To fill the void left by the Defense Department, the State Department will hire thousands of private contractors to complete the mission. In all, the State Department's footprint will balloon to approximately 17,000 personnel. And, according to the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, nearly 14,000 will be private contractors. These contractors will perform a wide range of tasks including life support services and logistics. They will also recover downed aircraft and personnel, dispose of ordnance and tranport personnel. State Department will also hire a private army of nearly 7500 security contractors to do everything from guarding the walls and gates to guarding VIP convoys and flying UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]. While they will have the abilities of sense and warn of incoming ordnance, they will not have the ability to shoot it down. I find this puzzling. I'd like to discuss this further. So as the Defense Department winds down, the State Department is ramping up in what may be more of a political shell game than a drawdown of forces. When President Obama tells the American people that forces will be out of Iraq, I'm not sure the average American understands that the troops will be replaced with a private army of security contractors.
That was some of Chaffetz' opening remarks regarding the State Dept and now will note some of his comments with regards to the Defense Dept.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: On a related manner, I'd appreciate it if the Defense Department would clear up some of the confusion surrounding it's drawdown. There have been numerous reports that President Obama may order thousands of combat troops to remain in Iraq at the Iraq government's request to conduct training of Iraqi military. While I understand negotiations are ongoing with the Iraqi government, I believe the American people have the right to additional clarity on how many troops will remain and what their mission and legal status will be?
John Tierney is the Ranking Member and a public embarrassment. Wally's covering Tierney's nonsense at Rebecca's site tonight. Wait. Kat's grabbing it at her sight. Wally's going to rank Chaffetz as a chair in his post at Rebecca's site. Opening (prepared remarks) by the witnesses aren't worth noting. And Kennedy's remarks sounded exactly like they did in February when he was appearing before the Senate. There were two key exchanges in the hearing. I'll note one and if Ava doesn't grab the other at Trina's tonight, I'll note it here tomorrow.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Mr. Ambassador, first of all, I'd like to start with you. McClatchy Newspapers in an article that came out yesterday [Sahar Issa's article] in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the headline is "US Military Trainers Can Stay, Leaders Say." But I'm troubled by what President [Jalal] Talabani said. "We have agreed to retain more than 5,000 trainers without giving them immunity. We have sent them our agreement to retain this number and are awaiting their response: Yes or no." I find it deeply troubling that there's the prospect of our troops being in Iraq without immunity. I think this is totally unacceptable Can you please give us an update on the situation?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I'd be happy to, uh, to respond. Uh, indeed there's some important issues raised by that article. First of all, Iraq's political leadership has indicated that they are interested in a training relationship with the United States after 2011 and we very much want to have an enduring partnership with the Iraqi government and people and a relationship with the Iraqi security forces would be a very important part of that relationship. I think, as you know, we have long been planning to have the Office of Security Cooperation Iraq -- OSCI -- which would be under chief admission authority -- serve as the cornerstone of a chief security partnership and it would be the hub for a range of security assistance and security cooperation activities. So that, of course, is the baseline. We've been reviewing the official statement issued by Iraqi leaders on training assistance on October 4th and discussing with them how this fits into the principle of security cooperation under the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement. Uh, I should add that we appreciate the democratic spirit represented by Iraqi leaders in debating this important subject and we will continue our discussions with our Iraqi counterparts in the days ahead. So these negotiations are ongoing and it's, uh, premature to discuss what any --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: What --
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: -- potential training relationship will look like --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Well will our troops have immunity, yes or no?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: Yeah, well I'll get to that issue, Mr. Chairman. As we work to define the parameters of what it will look like uh-uh the issues raised yet again in this article regarding status protections will of course be important issue. And again I don't want to get into the specifics of the negotiations but we will always ensure that our forces have the appropriate protections that they need when they're deployed overseas. There's a number of different --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: When you say appropriate protections is that -- is that immunity?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: [Long intake of breath] I think there's different terminology.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: That's why I'm seeking a little clarification here. I'm not feeling too comfortable at the moment. Will our troops have immunity?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: They will -- we-we --They will have status protection which has been defined under the Strategic Framework -- under the security agreement, excuse me, the Status Of Forces Agreement that now applies as indicating that our forces would be subject to US law rather than Iraqi law. So we'll be looking for something going forward that provides the comparable level of protection. Exactly how that will be achieved again is a subject of ongoing negotiations. Some of the personnel as I mentioned under the OSCI will be covered under chief admission authority. The question that's still being asked whether any additional personnel would be involved and how they would -- how they would be protected. We certainly take very seriously the concerns that you have expressed.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Let me move on. I think that this is the major, major point of concern. It's obviously a major point of difference. It's something that obviously must be resolved. And it's totally unacceptable to think that our troops would be there without immunity as they've enjoyed currently. Ambassdor Kennedy, let me go back to these loss functionalities. Last time we gathered together, we were referred to this July 12, 2010 Commission on Wartime Contracting special report. It talked about the loss functionalities. This is on page four of that report. There were fourteen specific security-related tasks now performed by Department of Defense that State must provide as the military draws down. I know there's been progress on at least seven of those but could you give me an update as to those fourteen specific ones, what are you not prepared to take care of? [Kennedy's speaking. Microphone's not on.] If you could hit that [button].
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: My apologies. Mr. Chairman, as we outline in my -- in my June 8th letter, to, uh, to the Committee, we believe that we have covered the functions that are absolutely essential to our operations there. We will have the abilitiy through the --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Would that be all fourteen of these?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: I think -- I think you can say we will have the ability to do everything except, for example, the recovery of downed aircraft. Should an aircraft go down, we will be able to move to recover the personnel from those aircraft but but whether -- because we don't have quite the heavy lift as the Department of Defense, we might not be able to recover the airframe itself.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: So of the fourteen, that's the only one that you're concerned about?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: I am concerned about everything possibly go wrong.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Right.
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: I cannot -- I cannot --
Chair Jason Cahffetz: But functionality?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: But functionality, going if I could, Mr. Chairman, to your earlier, in your opening statement, you asked about counter-battery neutralization. We will have the-the ability thanks to my colleagues in the Pent -- the Defense Department with the system that is called GIRAFFE [Radar] which is an [air defense] early warning system that tracks incoming rockets or mortars, give us sufficient warning to deal with that, we'll be able to sound the alarm. And in the construction activities that we are undertaking and all the sites that our personnel will both work and live. We are constructing overhead cover that means should one of the, uh -- those missiles or mortars strike our facilities -- and this has happened in Baghdad and the construction techniques we've been using in Baghdad have proven very, very effective -- There is no penetration of the building itself. The, uh, the --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But can we or will we fire back?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: We will not -- Sir, the State Dept has no howitzers and no counter-rocket fire. We will not fire back. That is not a diplomatic activity. We're not of a diplomatic mission in Iraq, not a military mission but -- if I might add -- we are partnered extensively with the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police who have been assisting us during the last few months. We have been without such a -- such a counter-battery fire ability and the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military have been great assistants of disrupting the attempts of uh, uh, forces to attack our, uh, our, uh, facilities via rockets and mortars.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Well God bless the men and women who are going to be there because if it's the policy of the United States not to fire back I have -- I have deep concerns.
Again, that was one of the two key exchanges. In addition to possibly noting another exchange here tomorrow (if Ava doesn't grab it -- she's welcome to it, by the way), I've also got to talk late tonight to a friend who attended the hearing and I'll check with him to see if something different stood out. If so, we'll note that.
As for Kennedy's testimony? I think a lot of people are going to feel what the Chair did and I wonder if it will be a repeat of the second Bush term when Condi Rice had trouble repeatedly as she attempted to fill diplomatic slots in Iraq? In addition, to Kennedy's testimony about GIRAFFE, unless it's changed, that's a bit like connecting to the internet via a mobile attenna -- it'll work but if you're planning to use the internet consistently and from the same spot, why not just get DSL as opposed to something that's really designed as a temporary measure? GIRAFFE gets its name from the fact that the radar equipment is on the end of this long arm that rises in the air when in use and folds down when you don't feel the need to use the radar system. So where I'm confused is, GIRAFFE is really designed for temporary use. Why is the State Dept staking lives on the use of a temporary device as opposed to monitoring equipment that would sense incoming rockets or mortars? A wealth of military equipment is being handed over to the Iraqi military -- that's fine, it's really not worth the financial cost to carry it back to the US and it will soon be out of date. This was known and factored in long ago. But was there not better equipment protecting US military bases in Iraq -- radar equipment -- that could have been handed over to State at a time when the US military -- as planned -- is discarding equipment like crazy in anticipation of the re-ordering of equipment which was always planned? Seems there should be something better than GIRAFFE especially when you consider how long the State Dept intends to stay in Iraq.
Again, Chair Jason Chaffetz' concerns are going to be concerns a lot of people will have though, granted, some may not have them unless something horribly wrong takes place and a State Dept worker is injured or killed under this new program.