By Gordon Lubold
Under pressure: NATO presses Afghanistan to sign on the dotted line. The LA Times' David Cloud, in Brussels: "The U.S. and its European allies on Wednesday turned up the pressure on Afghanistan to authorize foreign troops on its territory after 2014, even as officials acknowledged that they may have to wait for President Hamid Karzai's successor to resolve the standoff. At the opening of a two-day NATO meeting, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that all alliance troops serving in Afghanistan would follow the U.S. in withdrawing at the end of the year if Kabul refuses to sign an agreement with Washington. 'If there is no agreement, there will be no NATO troops in Afghanistan after 2014,' he said. 'This is not our preferred option, but it might be the unfortunate outcome if the security agreement is not signed.'" More here.
Brass tacks: when you put all the tough talk and posturing aside, there's actually very little interest in leaving Afghanistan. The NYT's Helene Cooper, also with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Brussels: " Listening to the Western defense officials gathered at a NATO meeting here on Wednesday, it would be easy to think that the United States and the rest of the international military coalition in Afghanistan have shifted into a full-speed withdrawal from the country by year's end...
"But as all the withdrawal talk has hardened, another message can be read that may be a truer gauge of what Western officials really want to happen in Afghanistan...And there, defense analysts say, lies the truth that makes the Western ultimatum to Mr. Karzai look more like posturing than policy. Few of the interested parties - and especially not the Pentagon - really want to cut and run out of Afghanistan after 13 years of war in which almost 3,500 coalition troops, mostly American, have been killed; an untold but exponentially higher number of Afghan civilians have died or been wounded; and $700 billion has been spent." More here.
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Page One: Warlords with dark pasts are now running mates in Afghanistan. The NYT's Rod Nordland in Kabul: "Ashraf Ghani, the apparent front-runner in the Afghan presidential race this year, was once unstinting in his opinion of one of the country's most prominent warlords, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, calling him a 'known killer." He said that in 2009, when General Dostum was supporting President Hamid Karzai for re-election. Now, Mr. Ghani simply calls General Dostum his running mate. In fact, of the 11 campaigns in the April 5 presidential election, six include at least one candidate on the ticket who is widely viewed as a warlord, with pasts and policies directly at odds with Western attempts to improve human rights here. That is the field that American military and diplomatic planners have to consider as they take up President Obama's call on Tuesday to look past Mr. Karzai and try to get the next Afghan administration to sign a long-term security deal.
"For officials working to finalize the bilateral security agreement, there is still potential good news: All 11 of the Afghan presidential candidates say they support the deal, which would allow Western troops to stay here past 2014." More here.
Tensions mount in Ukraine, and the Russia gets a warning over war games. BBC: "Ukrainian interim President Olexander Turchynov has warned Russia against any 'military aggression' in Crimea. He said Russia's troops from Russia's Black Sea Fleet should not move outside their naval base in Sevastopol. The warning comes after armed men seized Crimea's regional parliament and the government headquarters of the Russian-majority region. The Russian flag had been raised over both buildings in Simferopol. It is not clear who the men are." More here.
The Marine Corps' Amos has had a difficult year or so. Will he survive it? FP's Dan Lamothe: "...with less than a year left in Amos' tenure as commandant, it is his own ethics that have been called into question by everyone from rank-and-file troops to members of Congress. The accusations range from abuse of power, to illegally classifying evidence to cover up mistakes, to squashing Marines with the temerity to protest. The office of the commandant, typically revered by Marines across the world and many on Capitol Hill, remains under investigation by the Defense Department inspector general and is being battered by the press at a time when Amos must make the Marine Corps' case to Congress on why it deserves money to buy new high-tech vehicles, preserve troop levels, and refurbish equipment that is battered after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The scrutiny has led to growing concern at the Pentagon about whether the commandant's legacy can be salvaged, several Marine officers there told Foreign Policy.
Retired Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese, who left the service last April, told Foreign Policy he credits the commandant with leading the Marine Corps through a difficult time in which he cancelled the $14 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle - a $14 billion amphibious vehicle that was years behind schedule - taking ownership of the development of the next-generation F-35B fighter jet, and implementing the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military's former policy preventing homosexuals from serving in the military openly. But some of the recent allegations are troubling, even if they won't cripple the Marine Corps as an institution, Spiese said. 'The recent stories in the news do not necessarily reflect on the institution,' he told Foreign Policy. 'I think these things are distractions, as opposed to things that are derailing the Marine Corps.'
But Spiese also spoke to Amos' recent NPR interview in which he appeared to negate comments by Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser. Lamothe: "The commandant's harsh and fulsome rebuttal of Waldhauser's statement has surprised some active-duty and retired Marines -- including generals who served under Amos. 'Tom Waldhauser does not lie,' Spiese, the recently retired two-star general, told Foreign Policy. 'I have found him an officer of character.'
Lt. Col. Dave Nevers, Amos' spokesman: "The professionals whose job it is to sort fact from supposition have not yet finished their task." More here.
Speaking of Amos: He just reinstated the "right to bare arms." The WSJ's Ben Kesling on Page One: "There were grumbles in 2009 when the U.S. Marine Corps ordered troops to keep their hands out of their pockets except to quickly "retrieve something." But when the Corps' commandant later decreed that Marines had to stop rolling up their sleeves, a longtime fashion statement, the leathernecks went into action... Troops launched petition drives and peppered superiors with questions. Some complained it hid their tattoos. The top brass did an about-face this week and returned the right to bare arms, starting March 9."
Amos on Facebook, where the post on the sleeves policy got 30,000 likes and nearly 3,000 comments in less than a day: "I can't tell you how many times we have been asked the persistent question, 'Commandant, are we ever going to return to SLEEVES UP?'... I've thought a lot about this over the past 2.5 years; I realize that it's important to you. Sleeves up clearly and visually sets us apart. WE HEAR YOU MARINES!" Read the rest here.
Gagging: Congress isn't going to let the families of the fallen SEALs testify at a hearing about their deaths. FP's Dan Lamothe: "After more than two years of waiting, the families of service members killed in the United States' deadliest mission in Afghanistan will finally get to hear Defense Department personnel testify before Congress on Thursday about the operation and the questionable ways the remains of the troops were handled afterward. But before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing even begins, lawmakers on the panel are already taking fire for not allowing any members of those families to testify about their pain and lingering uncertainty about why their loved ones died.
"The hearing will address the disastrous and mysterious Aug. 6, 2011, mission that killed 38 people and a working dog on board a CH-47D Chinook helicopter that had been dispatched to reinforce Army Rangers locked in a fierce firefight in central Afghanistan. Insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades shot the helicopter out of the sky, killing 17 members of SEAL Team 6 -- the legendary unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden -- as well as 13 other American troops. Witnesses later told military investigators that the aircraft -- call sign 'Extortion 17' -- had crashed and exploded in a fireball." More here.
Purging: The Army disqualifies a bunch of soldiers as sexual assault counselors. USAT's Tom Vanden Brook: "The Army has disqualified 588 soldiers as sexual assault counselors, recruiters and drill sergeants for infractions ranging from sexual assault to child abuse to drunken driving. The number of disqualified soldiers from what are called 'positions of trust' is 10 times higher than the initial number the Army reported last summer after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered that troops in sensitive positions be screened for previous criminal or unethical behavior. Hagel called for the review after a Pentagon study found troops reported that incidents of unwanted sexual contact had risen 35 percent from 2010 to 2012. The Army did not provide figures on how many of the disqualified soldiers have been kicked out of the service or reassigned to other jobs." More here.
Crude revolutionaries: why some see unrest in Venezuela as a threat to Cuba's Castros. FP's own Keith Johnson: Top U.S. lawmakers from both parties are urging the Obama administration to take a tougher line on Venezuela, which is violently cracking down on popular protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro. For some on Capitol Hill, though, the real target is Cuba... But Venezuela hawks such as Rubio are making a second argument: tougher action against Venezuela represents a chance to undermine one of the key lifelines of the communist regime in Cuba, whose economy relies on heavily subsidized oil and other gifts from Caracas." More here.
Cybering: NATO is debating its policy for the cyber defense of public and private sectors. Inside Cybersecurity's Chris Castelli: "The prospect that NATO might formally do more to prevent and mitigate cyber threats to governments and critical infrastructure looms this week as the alliance prepares for a defense ministerial in Belgium that will pave the way for a major fall summit in Wales.The deep debate within the alliance on the future of cyber defense policy could have implications not only for major military matters but also for the role of the private sector, said Julianne Smith, a senior vice president with Beacon Global Strategies." Read the rest here.
Sandy Winnefeld: compensation reductions this year only represent about 10 percent of cuts being sought over the next five years. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio, covering Bloomberg's BGOV conference the other day: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's proposed reductions in military compensation, such as housing allowances, amount to only about 10 percent of cuts being sought over the next five years, the No. 2 U.S. military official said. 'These savings are gradual, measured and fair,' Admiral James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today at Bloomberg Government's Defense Transformation conference in Washington. 'The remaining 90 percent of savings come from' spending on weapons buying and readiness and from reductions in force structure, led by trimming the Army's ranks, Winnefeld said. 'So we are taking a lot more risk there.' The five-year plan that Hagel presented on March 4 is about $130 billion less than projected last year -- even before automatic cuts known as sequestration, the admiral said in an interview. Compensation savings account for about $12 billion over that period, with about $1 billion in 2015, he said." More here.
Here's what the Pentagon will cut if sequester comes back. Defense One's Stephanie Gaskell: "When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined the president's Pentagon budget request for next year, he also rolled the dice with a move that tries to turn the tables on Congress by using lawmakers' threat of another sequestration as a bargaining chip. The Obama administration, Hagel said, could avoid cutting deep into several weapons systems and other defense line items in fiscal year 2015. But if sequestration happens again in fiscal year 2016, Hagel said he will be forced to cut even more from the Pentagon budget - cuts he says will leave the military at greater risk... It's not the first time the Pentagon has tired to outwit Congress over sequestration. In November 2011, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had his staff craft for Congress a list of military capabilities that would have to be cut if sequestration ever hit - including the entire nuclear triad leg of intercontinental ballistic missiles." Read the rest, with breakdowns for each service, here.
Read Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber on the Pentagon's back up plan for sequester, here.
Page One: Tensions in Asia stoke rising nationalism in Japan. The WSJ's Yuka Hayashi: "A movie glorifying the life of a World War II kamikaze pilot recently topped the box-office charts in Japan for two months. Tokyo book stores have set up corners for titles disparaging Japan's neighbors. Anonymous authors with radical nationalist views, known as neto uyo, short for 'right-wingers on the Internet,' are thriving on Twitter and chat pages. Across Japan, there are signs that the collective mood-long shaped by pangs of regret over World War II-is in the midst of a shift as tensions with rivals, especially China and South Korea, escalate." More here.
Randy Forbes writes about why carriers are "the only assured way to defend our homeland and our interests abroad" (and not, he says, just because he's a Virginian). Rep. Randy Forbes, the Republican from Virginia, in War on the Rocks: "...I understand that some will dismiss me and my arguments right out of the gate. They will say I am from Virginia, where they don't just build aircraft carriers but also homeport several at Norfolk Naval Station, so of course I would line up to defend the carrier. Indeed, I was born and raised in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where our nation has constructed carriers and been proud to homeport them for the better part of the last eighty years. However, I am not a carrier supporter simply because I am a Virginian; I am a supporter of a robust, forward-deployed defense for the United States because I believe that is the only assured way to defend our homeland and our interests abroad." More here.
U.S. Senators: Ben Affleck on Congo is awesome sauce. FP's own John Hudson: Actor and activist Ben Affleck dazzled a Senate panel Wednesday in his testimony on the struggles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Republicans and Democrats lined up to assure the Argo director that he was not like other celebrity activists who often lack the expertise and commitment to various pet causes. Throughout the hearing, cameras clicked wildly and attendees positioned themselves for smartphone selfies and autographs."
Sen. John McCain on Affleck and his testimony on Congo: "Your credibility is really remarkable because of the depth of your commitment.
Sen. James Risch, Republican from Idaho, on Affleck: "So often we get celebrities and it's as much about them as it is about the issue."
McCain's rejoinder to Risch's comment: "I assure you it's partially about him."
Hudson: "Affleck testified about his economic development work in the central African country, which has been plagued by disease, violence, and malnourishment for decades due to ethnic rivalries and a competition for gold, copper, and diamond resources. Testifying alongside Russell Feingold, the U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region and Congo, and Roger Meece, former U.S. ambassador to Congo, Affleck urged the Obama administration and Congress to play a greater role in the DRC's future.
Affleck, urging the Obama administration and Congress to play a greater role in the DRC's future: "Our work in DRC is not finished...We cannot risk diminished U.S. leadership at a time when lasting peace and stability are within reach." More here.