Dunford, on the perils of leaving Afghanistan; How the Sinclair case fell apart; The irony of the missile launch officer community; and a bit more.
Joe Dunford explained the perils of completely leaving Afghanistan. The NYT's Helene Cooper: "The top American commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday that Al Qaeda would regroup and stage another attack on the West from Afghanistan if international troops completely withdrew from the country at the end of 2014. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said that as long as a new president of Afghanistan was in place by August, he was confident that a new security agreement would be signed to allow American and international troops to leave a residual force in the country, as military commanders would like, and as President Obama has said is his preferred option. "But General Dunford warned that if Afghanistan's coming elections did not produce a new president by August, the residual force and the long-term stability of Afghanistan would be threatened." More here.
The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman: "...With Afghan presidential elections slated to begin April 5, the US and Nato have not have much time to orchestrate a troop deal with the victor - a window that grows smaller if there is a runoff election. Dunford told lawmakers that by July and August 'manageable risk' will accrue to US military planning for either a total withdrawal or a significant drawdown. Dunford: "The risk of an orderly withdrawal begins to be high in September."
Ackerman: "But Dunford later told the Senate that if the Afghan presidential election goes into a runoff, as happened in 2009 despite widespread fraud from Karzai, he assesses that a successor president would not enter office until August, presenting the US with a small diplomatic margin of error for finalizing a deal for a residual Afghanistan force." More here.
Meanwhile, why a fight over Pentagon funds is slowing down an aid package for Ukraine. FP's John Hudson: "An effort by the Obama administration to attach additional funds for the International Monetary Fund to a Ukraine aid package is now slowing down the approval of the entire rescue package for Kiev's badly cash-strapped government. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 to support a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, $50 million for democratic governance in the country, and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation. The bill also includes reforms to the IMF that would reconfigure the amount of money the United States gives to the organization -- a provision not included in the House's Ukraine bill passed last week. Linking the Ukraine rescue bill to a broader package of IMF reforms had already angered some Republican lawmakers. Funding the IMF provisions with money previously earmarked for the Pentagon sent them over the moon." More here.
CAP releases a report on how to fix Ukraine. Read the Center for American Progress' bit here.
The Rabbit seems to be in his element. The NYT's David Herszenhorn: "For three months, throughout the uprising and upheaval in Kiev, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk was one of three political leaders who appeared regularly on stage in Independence Square, but he often seemed out of his element. A former foreign minister, economics minister, speaker of Parliament and acting central bank chief, he is more at home in boardrooms and in the corridors of power than on the barricades.
Now, two weeks after his colleagues in Parliament named him acting prime minister - a job he called "political suicide" even before Russia invaded Crimea - Mr. Yatsenyuk, 39, is in a role that suits him better than that of street revolutionary, but that has thrust him to the center of the crisis." More here.
The weirdest thing: The White House and State Department hosted Yatsenyuk to Washington yesterday amid the crisis in Ukraine. But officials around D.C. couldn't help shake the feeling that they had met the prime minister before. That's because he has an uncanny resemblance to former Obama speechwriter Andrew Krupin - now a scribe for Secretary of State John Kerry. See for yourself by clicking here.
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When an Air Force helicopter rescue crew plummeted into a Japanese forest, it killed an airman and sparked an inferno - it also stirred up a diplomatic hornet's nest for the U.S. FP's Dan Lamothe tells the story in this exclusive from FP: "Two U.S. Air Force helicopters looped over a simulated car crash scene in Japan last summer, pulling figure 8's less than 150 feet above a heavily wooded forest. The air crews had just dropped off a team of four elite pararescue jumpers to the scene for a training exercise, and were roaring overhead in tandem at more than 90 mph. The maneuver was common for such missions, where the 'PJs' and the air crews that transport them practice how to evacuate wounded troops from a battlefield while under fire.
"While both MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters circled over the car wreck, one of the helicopters suddenly swerved out of position. When the second helicopter shifted course in response, the pilot of the first Pave Hawk tried to veer away to avoid a possible collision. It was a fatal overreaction: the aircraft, carrying three other personnel, had descended enough to collide with the 50-foot high trees below. The $38 million Pave Hawk - call sign 'Jolly 12' - careened downward, smashed into the forest's floor, and rolled onto its right side before coming to rest. The downed aircraft burst into flames, cooking off rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition.
The co-pilot of the second Pave Hawk told investigators: "Once they were in the turn I saw that ... basically they lost trim, their tail sunk down in a very low position, they were at a high angle of bank with their nose pointing up in the air... The next I heard was my flight lead saying ‘What the f---? What the f---?' ... at which point I could see the smoke and the crash site just on the other side of the ridge."
"FP obtained not only the investigation summary, but more than 300 pages of witness statements, inspection reports, and photographs related to the crash. Combined, they provide a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the pressure-cooker world of pararescue. The "PJ" forces involved are the most elite emergency medical responders in the military, trained to parachute, dive, or rappel into chaotic situations to save lives, both during the day and at night. They have been credited with saving hundreds of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan." More here.
Falling off the radar: The Malaysia Airlines jet may have flown for hours after its last confirmed location, but investigators remain Lost. The WSJ's Andy Pasztor: "U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky. Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program. That raises a host of new questions and possibilities about what happened aboard the widebody jet carrying 239 people, which vanished from civilian air-traffic control radar over the weekend, about one hour into a flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur." More here.
The Marine Corps plans an experimental force with women. USA Today's Jim Michaels: "The Marine Corps plans to establish an experimental force consisting of at least 25% women in the most far-reaching effort yet to determine how females will perform in ground combat jobs that remain closed to them. It is the first effort to place women directly into such jobs, though the unit will not deployed overseas and will be used exclusively to gather data. The unit will, however, undergo extensive training that mirrors what a typical Marine task force would undergo before being deployed overseas." More here.
Irony alert: For missile launch officers, the pressure for perfection leads to a culture of cheating. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel: "Edward Warren was shocked when he learned that the airmen in charge of the nation's nuclear-tipped missiles regularly cheated on tests. In 2009, Warren was fresh out of the Air Force's Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He had just finished training to become a missile launch officer when he was pulled aside... But while serving at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming from 2009-2013, Warren saw lots of cheating. The cause, according to Warren and other former missile launch officers reached by NPR, was a culture driven by constant demand for perfection."
Warren: "One of my instructors said, 'Hey, just so you know, there is cheating that goes on at the missile bases,' ... I was repulsed. I thought, 'This can't be, this is terrible.'" More here.
Obama calls for releasing the controversial Senate torture report. FP's Shane Harris: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he supports publicly releasing a Senate report on the CIA's controversial interrogation program that has been at the center of a feud between the spy agency and its congressional overseers and that has brought relations between the two sides to a historic low.
"I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us, and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past. And that can help guide us as we move forward," Obama told reporters, referring to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who have completed but not released a 6,300-page report on the CIA program. The report is said to find that the CIA's brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists amounted to torture and didn't yield useful intelligence about potential future terrorist attacks.
"White House officials have said publicly on several occasions that the administration supports releasing the report so that Americans can read it and make up their own minds about one of the darkest, and most controversial, chapters in the CIA's history. But the president's remarks, coming in the midst of dueling accusations between powerful lawmakers and the CIA about the conduct of the Senate investigation, is likely to add new momentum to the effort to declassify the report. Obama's remarks came amid continued uncertainty about what role the White House played in a May 2010 CIA decision to prevent Senate committee staffers from accessing certain classified documents. The documents had earlier been provided to the staff as part of their inquiry, but then disappeared from the computers they were using in a classified CIA facility, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said on Tuesday."
New FBI report details interactions between Osama bin Laden and his son-in-law. The NYT's Benjamin Weiser: "Osama bin Laden was nothing if not strategic. He recruited a Kuwaiti cleric to become a close associate and to speak to his trainees because he wanted more recruits from the Gulf region. And for that cleric's fiery speeches after Sept. 11, the Qaeda leader provided the 'bullet points.'" More here.
The case against Jeffrey Sinclair, which had seemed so solid and so damning, so central to the Pentagon's overall prosecution of sexual assault crisis, is now in pieces. How did that happen? The NYT's Alan Blinder and Richard Oppel on Page One: "... The breakdown of the prosecution's case was unquestionably a black eye for the Army at a time when it has been trying to fend off criticism on Capitol Hill that it is unable to clamp down on sexual assault, which statistics show has risen steadily in recent years. General Sinclair's court-martial took on special significance because he is possibly the first general to face sexual assault charges, and because his accuser was herself a promising junior officer.
"But a review of the past three months suggests that the prosecution had doubts about whether a jury would believe the witness, an intelligence officer and Arab linguist who had worked with General Sinclair in both Iraq and Afghanistan, even before the January pretrial hearing. Though she told a compelling story of being bullied into sex, threatened and even physically abused by General Sinclair, the details of her story had shifted on some points, and, the defense said, she had claimed sexual assault only after it appeared she faced legal problems herself." Read the rest here.
No Bounds: The Office of Net Assessment has wide interest - and reach. Politico's Phil Ewing: "From Vladimir Putin's body language to the histories of religious warfare, from the development of new technologies to accounts of ancient empires, there isn't much the Pentagon's internal think tank won't pursue. The Office of Net Assessment, which is headed by a seldom-seen, 92-year-old Nixon-era defense analyst named Andrew Marshall, is just a tiny compartment in the labyrinthine Defense Department, but its interests are vast. In a recent solicitation, the ONA said it's seeking research about nuclear proliferation, future naval warfare and the use of space, among other topics.
"Usually this kind of work, which costs around $10 million per year, flies well under the radar in a defense budget of roughly half a trillion dollars. Every once in a while, however, the public catches a glimpse of something Marshall and his office are pursuing - most recently, when the Pentagon confirmed it has been spending $300,000 per year to study the body language of Putin and other world leaders." More here.
Randy Forbes criticizes the "paper Navy." From a statement from the Virginia Republican's office - "America began the month of March with 283 ships in her fleet. Overnight, this administration declared we had a 293-ship fleet - yet no ship was built, no ship was commissioned, not one additional need of a combatant commander was met. This administration is creating a paper ship Navy. This dangerous deception continues in regards to the most powerful and versatile instrument of American power: the aircraft carrier. By refusing to execute planning funds or to procure supplies critical to protecting our carrier fleet, this administration has undeniably made a decision that they will advocate to reduce our carrier fleet; they just lack the courage to admit it."
Forbes, along with Heritage Foundation's Steven Bucci, CSBA's Todd Harrison and AEI's Mackenzie Eaglen appear for a Foreign Policy Initiative-hosted discussion about the Quadrennial Defense Review Thursday on Capitol Hill. Deets here.