Pakistan mounts a push in Waziristan; McCain puts holds on Work, Wormuth noms; SEAL vets done in by boredom; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
Page One: Pakistan plans big military push in North Waziristan. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "The Pakistani government is on the verge of launching a major military offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region after brutal Taliban attacks in recent weeks and the apparent failure of peace talks with the militants, according to a senior Pakistani official. 'It could be any day,' said the official, adding that military plans have been shared with top U.S. officials, who have long urged an offensive. Planning for the operation comes amid a Pakistan-requested pause in U.S. drone strikes that is entering its third month - the longest period without such an attack in more than two years - and high-level bilateral meetings. Pakistan's defense secretary, Asif Yasin Malik, is heading a delegation of security officials in Washington. CIA Director John Brennan quietly visited Pakistan last week, days after Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the U.S. Central Command, held meetings at military headquarters in Rawalpindi. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's national security adviser said cabinet-level consultations on the military option will take place this week. "Dialogue with the Taliban has derailed, and the writ of the state will be established in the region," Sartaj Aziz told reporters Monday in Islamabad, the nation's capital." Read the rest here.
Obama to Karzai by phone: the Pentagon will now begin planning for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. The NYT's Mark Landler and Helene Cooper: "... But in a message aimed less at Mr. Karzai than at whoever will replace him, Mr. Obama said that the United States was still open to leaving a limited military force behind in Afghanistan to conduct training and counterterrorism operations. Noting that Mr. Karzai had "demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign" the agreement, Mr. Obama told him, in effect, that the United States would deal with the next Afghan leader. He warned Mr. Karzai that the longer it took for Afghanistan to sign the pact, known as a bilateral security agreement, or B.S.A., the smaller the residual force was likely to be. More here.
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Odierno, once loathe to cut the Army, now must be one of Hagel's biggest pitchmen. Our story: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno was traveling in Asia earlier this week when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel detailed plans to cut the Army to levels that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago - and that are far lower than what Odierno has long considered safe. Odierno was the only one of the Pentagon's service chiefs who didn't attend the rollout of the Obama administration's defense budget. But Odierno, who has tried to hold the line on the Army's so-called force structure and keep as many soldiers in uniform as possible, is said to be behind Hagel on the cuts. Now he must become one of Hagel's biggest pitchmen, helping the secretary of defense persuade a wary Congress that shrinking the Army - to levels last seen in the years in the buildup before World War II - amounts to manageable risk.
The Army had already been scheduled to shrink from its wartime peak of 570,000 soldiers down to roughly 490,000. Hagel now wants to reduce the Army to about 440,000. That goes past a "redline" Odierno has signaled he didn't want to cross, so the fact that the Army chief is standing behind Hagel signals that the general is willing to go along with them, at least for now.
Keeping Odierno on board is vital for Hagel and the rest of the Obama administration. The general will be asked about the cuts repeatedly in coming weeks during appearances on Capitol Hill and other public events. Lawmakers opposed to the cuts will press him again and again for his true feelings about the deal. If Odierno wanders off script and expresses even the slightest doubts about the cuts, those same lawmakers would then use his comments as ammunition in their fight to get the White House to reverse course on the Pentagon budget.
One senior Amy official to Situation Report, referring to the thinking within Odierno's inner circle: "People are on board but some people have been dragged on board." Read the rest here.
McCain placed a hold on Bob Work and Christine Wormuth's nominations for the Pentagon. The Hill's Kristina Wong: "Sen. John McCain has placed a hold on two of President Obama's nominees for top Pentagon jobs, after he said they gave unsatisfactory answers during their confirmation hearings Tuesday.
"McCain placed a hold on Bob Work, Obama's nominee for deputy defense secretary, after he said the littoral combat ship program he had overseen while serving as under secretary of the Navy "is on solid ground and is meeting its cost targets.' The 2015 defense budget request proposes cutting the purchase of 52 littoral combat ships to only 32 ships, and calls for future alternatives to the ship.
'I think this is very normal with Navy ship building,' Work said, adding that a modified littoral combat ship model could be one of the alternatives.
'You think it's normal?' McCain asked. 'The cost overruns associated with this ship, the fact that we don't even know what the mission is...this whole idea of moving different modules off and on. You disagree with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) statement at the cost overruns? This is normal?'
Work said cost overruns for the ship program occurred before he served as undersecretary from May 2009 through March 2013, and that he had not read the 2013 GAO report. McCain said he was 'stunned' that Work hadn't read the report...McCain also placed a hold on Christine Wormuth, Obama's nominee for defense under secretary for policy, after she repeatedly declined to say whether the threat from Al Qaeda was receding or growing." More here.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox at AEI this morning to talk about the budget. Deets here.
Memo to Mabus: Hagel has "considerable reservations" on the LCS. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said his "considerable reservations" about the Littoral Combat Ship led him to bar planning for any more than 32 of the vessels, 20 fewer than the Navy's $34 billion program. 'Given the emerging threat environment of the future, I have considerable reservations as to whether this is what our Navy will require over the next few decades,' Hagel said in a memorandum to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
"The document, obtained by Bloomberg News, expands on Hagel's doubts about the ship and his decision to block any new contract negotiations to buy more than 32 of them, which he announced yesterday in outlining the Pentagon's proposed budget for the year that begins in October. It's the first time Hagel has questioned a major weapons system since he became defense secretary a year ago. Questions have been raised about the rising costs of the Littoral Combat Ship and how it would fare in battle. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational testing, has written that the ship "is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat." More here.
Mexican Ambassador on 'El Chapo': we've got this. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will face charges in Mexico first, FP's own John Hudson and Shane Harris report: "U.S. attorneys anxious to prosecute the world's most notorious alleged drug lord are going to have to wait. In a statement to The Cable, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina-Mora opened the door to a future extradition of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, but said he'll face charges in Mexico first.
'Mr. Guzman could eventually face the charges against him in the U.S., after facing the charges against him in Mexico,' said Medina-Mora. 'Mr. Guzman still has pending time to serve in Mexico from his original sentence and he also faces new charges in Mexico that will be processed in Mexican federal courts.' The remarks suggest a protracted stay for Guzman in Mexico, an outcome that may not sit well with the Obama administration, Congress, and federal prosecutors around the country. As head of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman has been charged in at least seven federal district courts in the U.S., including Chicago, which named him Public Enemy No. 1 last year, a title first given to notorious gangster Al Capone. There's a good reason that federal prosecutors want Guzman outside the country: He has been tried and imprisoned in Mexico before. More here.
Big risk: Ukraine will disband the 'Berkut,' the elite security force that spearheaded the attacks in Kiev. The WaPo's Will Englund: "... members of the force were immediately offered sanctuary in the pro-Russian Crimean Peninsula, further stoking concerns about divided loyalties in Ukraine. The force, known as the 'Berkut,' was reviled by the protesters in Kiev following attacks that included the use of live ammunition against anti-government demonstrators occupying the capital's Independence Square, popularly known as the Maidan. Dismantling such units can be a difficult business. A similar outfit, the Latvia OMON, was disbanded in 1991 and its members became the backbone of organized crime in St. Petersburg, Russia." Read the rest here.
The former Navy SEALs found dead in their room aboard the famed Maersk Alabama were "hired to fight pirates, but doomed by boredom." The NYT's Nicholas Kulish, Ian Urbina and Mark Mazzetti: " The night before their lifeless bodies were found inside a cabin on a cargo ship, Jeffrey Reynolds and Mark Kennedy enjoyed the night life here, at tourist haunts called Le Rendez Vous and the Pirates Arms. The two, both former members of the Navy SEALs working as ship guards, later visited two casinos, playing blackjack and drinking vodka and tequila with sailors from New Zealand. When the second casino shut its doors at 3 a.m., surveillance images show that the pair bumped into two women and departed with them down a dark corridor. It was in Mr. Kennedy's cabin, more than 12 hours later, that a ship security officer discovered the two men on Feb. 18. Mr. Reynolds was slumped on the bed, and Mr. Kennedy was lying face up on the floor, a syringe in his left hand, brown heroin powder in the room, according to police reports. It was unclear how long they had been dead.
"The larger mystery was how two men in their 40s who had endured the grueling work of Navy SEALs - one of them surviving multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - ended up dying together in the cramped quarters of the Maersk Alabama, a ship made famous by a 2009 pirate hijacking that was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie 'Captain Phillips.' While veterans, especially those returning from war zones, have shown a high prevalence of substance abuse and other risky behaviors, friends, family and acquaintances of the two men said they seemed to have adjusted well to civilian life after years in the military. They were known as much for their zest for life as their hulking physiques." The rest here.