McCain on Putin's sanctions; Can the Army handle the truth?; Pentagon bets on no sequester; Obama WH cuts Penty program for Ukraine; and a bit more.
A Taliban attack on the Serena in Kabul kills nine, including foreigners. Reuters' Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi: "Taliban gunmen killed nine people, including four foreigners, in an attack on a luxury hotel used by U.N. staff and prominent Afghan politicians in Kabul on Thursday night, before being shot dead by security forces, witnesses and police said on Friday. The assault on the heavily fortified Serena Hotel, which lasted some three hours, was the latest in a string of attacks by the insurgents seeking to spoil a presidential election on April 5, which would mark the first time in Afghanistan's history that one elected government hands power to another. Four Taliban fighters snuck past security early on Thursday evening and hid inside the building for three hours before opening fire on diners inside the hotel's restaurant, according to interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi."
"They then battled Afghan special forces as terrified guests hid in rooms or fled to hotel bunkers. All the Taliban gunmen were shot dead. During the attack guests crouched in bathrooms with the lights turned off as they listened to gunfire and people running up and down the hallways... One of the hotel's main saferooms, which was packed with guests and Afghan members of parliament, filled with smoke from a fire in the kitchen. "It was hard to breathe. People started putting wet napkins on their faces," one witness said.
"French news agency Agence France Presse said its Afghan reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two young children were killed in the attack. The foreigners killed were from Canada, India, New Zealand and Pakistan, the interior ministry said. More here.
Different subject. Some probably saw this one coming: Sinclair gets a $20,000 fine and no jail time. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: "A disgraced Army general who admitted carrying on a long and sordid war-zone affair with a junior officer and having improper relationships with two other women was reprimanded and fined $20,000 by a military judge Thursday. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, whose court-martial made him the public face of the military's struggle to prevent and police sexual misconduct in the ranks, dodged a jail sentence. Sinclair, a paratrooper and veteran of the Iraq and Afghan wars, hugged his lawyers and friends after the sentence was pronounced by Col. James Pohl, the military judge, according to reporters in the courtroom at Fort Bragg, N.C. ... "He could be punished further financially. His lawyers have said they expect he will have to retire from the Army at a lower rank, which would diminish his pension benefits."
Sinclair told reporters after the sentencing: "The system worked. I've always been proud of my Army... all I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and my wife."
The accuser is devastated. Whitlock: "The accuser's attorney, Jamie Barnett, a retired Navy rear admiral, said he spoke to her after the sentence was announced and that she was "obviously devastated" that the punishment wasn't more severe.
"It's a terrible outcome, and by failing to render justice today, the Army's going to face the reality that this could happen again," said Barnett, now a lawyer in private practice. "It's really beyond disappointing. It's a travesty for the Army and military justice in general."
There's more: A midshipman in a separate case altogether is acquitted of sexual assault in the Naval Academy's sexual assault case. The WaPo's Annys Shin: A military judge on Thursday found a former Navy football player not guilty of sexually assaulting a female classmate in a high-profile case that reverberated far beyond the U.S. Naval Academy's Annapolis campus... Tate, a 22-year-old senior from Nashville, showed no emotion as the verdict was read, while a supporter seated behind him cried. The judge referred lesser charges of lying to investigators back to the academy to handle internally. Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said Thursday that the remaining charges were being dropped in exchange for Tate's agreement "to accept the most serious form of punishment a midshipman can receive through the conduct system: a dismissal from the Naval Academy."
"The case, which initially involved three former Navy football players before charges against two were dropped, has fueled debate about how the military addresses sexual violence in its ranks and whether its legal system is equipped to deal with such cases."
FP's Tom Ricks and how Sinclair's light sentence is likely to be a "disaster for the military." Ricks: "The lack of any prison time for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair in the sexual assault case is a severe setback for the military's efforts to retain control of the military justice system. Even enlisted soldiers are likely to be angered by the light treatment the general got."
Eugene Fidell, an expert in military law and a lecturer at Yale Law School, called the process "a case in point for why the system has to be changed." More here.
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There's a reason why you shouldn't celebrate the passing of Westboro church's Fred Phelps, preacher of hate, according to Steve Petrow, the former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. His BLUF: "So, with Phelps's passing, I suggest we bombard Westboro Baptist with sympathy cards and prayers. Or, as a friend of mine tells me, 'Drive your enemies really crazy: Love them.' Okay, maybe not love, but at least not hate. Never hate."
Army officials, this Bud's for you. (Or, how the Army squared off with Anheuser-Busch over a Super Bowl commercial featuring a soldier's homecoming in a slice-of-apple pie Americana). FP's FOIA Chief Dan Lamothe: "...Behind the scenes, the ad's development bred frustration and legal concerns among Army officials, according to emails released to Foreign Policy through the Freedom of Information Act. Top Army officers even considered issuing a cease-and-desist order against Budweiser's parent company, beer giant Anheuser-Busch, on Jan. 30, just three days before the Super Bowl.
"Their concern: The commercial appeared to clearly violate longstanding service policies that prevent active-duty personnel from endorsing private companies or doing anything that could be construed as glamorizing alcohol... Army officials declined to answer a series of questions posed by FP, including whether Anheuser-Busch had received approval from appropriate service officials to film Nadd for the commercial, whether the lieutenant's chain of command knew there were concerns about him participating, and if anyone was disciplined as a result. They also did not answer the biggest question: Why the commercial was ultimately approved despite the bans on soldiers appearing to endorse products or help sell alcohol. But Col. David Patterson, an Army spokesman, did say in a statement that Defense Department officials "ultimately determined" not to pursue a cease-and-desist order." More here.
Former Syria envoy Robert Ford thinks Assad will stay in power. The NYT's Michael Gordon: " The former American envoy for Syria said on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was likely to remain in power for the "medium term" and that a year from now the country would probably still be under the control of competing factions." Ford: "It is hard to imagine that Assad is going in the short term, and even in the medium term, to lose control of the area between Aleppo south to Damascus and then over to the coast... He will control that area - geographically it is maybe a fourth of the country... But the other three-quarters will be under the control of different armed elements or contested among different armed elements." More here.
The Obama administration proposed a 28 percent cut to a Pentagon program to modernize Ukraine's military. USA Today's Ray Locker: "... The move could endanger efforts to boost Ukraine's armed forces as they face threats from Russia. The proposed cuts, contained in a detailed budget plan posted online this week, come over the objections of officials with the U.S. European Command, who argue they will hurt U.S. attempts to build armed forces in nations formerly beholden to Russia. Spending on the Warsaw Initiative Fund is set to drop from $34 million in the current fiscal year to $24.4 million in the 2015 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. More here.
Obama expanded sanctions against Russia on Thursday, blacklisting a bank and several wealthy businessmen with ties to Putin. The NYT's Mark Landler, Annie Lowrey and Steven Lee Myers: "...Among those targeted were Sergei B. Ivanov, the president's chief of staff; Gennady N. Timchenko, a billionaire investor with links to Mr. Putin; and Yuri V. Kovalchuk, whom the administration described as the personal banker for Russian leaders, including the president. Mr. Obama also opened the door to more sweeping measures against core parts of the Russian economy, including the oil and natural gas industries, which account for much of Russia's exports. He said the actions could disrupt the global economy, but might be necessary because of what he described as menacing movements by the Russian military near eastern and southern Ukraine. Read the rest here.
Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu: "Today's conversation obviously focused on the situation in Ukraine. Secretary Hagel was clear and he was firm: Because Russian forces are in control of Crimea, they bear responsibility for what is happening there. He also pressed Minister Shoygu to explain Russian intentions with respect to forces they have aligned near Ukraine's eastern and southern borders. And he reiterated his call that Russia immediately worked to de-escalate the tension and to restore Ukrainian territorial integrity. It was a lengthy call, lasting about an hour, and I think it's fair to say that at times it was direct."
Kirby, on Ukrainian requests for assistance: "The Ukrainian government did submit a list for military assistance material, some we would consider, you know, lethal material and some would -- you know, you'd consider non-lethal. We're working our way through that request right now here at the department and in the interagency. I think it's safe to say that right now, the focus of that review is on the non-lethal side of things, but it is very much still an active issue under consideration." Full transcript of the briefing yesterday here.
Are sanctions enough? U.S. News and World Report's Paul Shinkman: "President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled new sanctions against Russia designed to punish and deter the Eastern power from further provocative action in Ukraine. 'Nations do not simply redraw borders or make decisions at the expense of its neighbors,' Obama said Thursday morning in a press conference at the White House Rose Garden.
"...some with experience in the region say the U.S. economic response still falls short. 'My concern is there are a whole range of what technically, what really, are military options,' says William B. Taylor, a former U.S. Army infantry officer and ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. 'The most extreme is we fight, we attack the Russians, or we put troops in Crimea,' he says. 'Nobody is talking about that. And the polar opposite is we do absolutely nothing. And that's absolutely crazy.' Read the rest here.
John McCain's statement on being sanctioned by Putin: "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen. Nonetheless, I will never cease my efforts on behalf of the freedom, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea."
Why the Pentagon isn't ready for another Cold War with Russia, in The Daily Beast, here.
How's that again? NSA official says holding on to phone records could pose a national security risk. FP's Shane Harris: "A federal judge has ordered the National Security Agency to indefinitely hold onto the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans in a massive database that civil liberties groups have long wanted to destroy and that's been at the center of a legal controversy for months.
"But in a bizarre twist, the NSA itself now says keeping the phone records will impose a heavy toll on the agency and will ultimately distract the NSA from its national security mission.
That assertion came in the form of a public declaration filed by the Justice Department in a hearing before a California district court Wednesday. Teresa Shea, the head of the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate, wrote that indefinitely keeping the phone records 'would impose significant financial burdens on the NSA, divert personnel and technological resources from performance of the NSA's national security mission, and present other issues as well.'
Shea said it would take months and several technology personnel who might otherwise be working on intelligence operations to devise the software and storage solutions to retain the data potentially for years to come. Under the rules of the phone records collection program, the records are usually destroyed after they turn five years old, but a judge told the NSA last week to keep them." More here.
The Senate intel panel is "close" on cybersecurity information-sharing bill. Inside Cybersecurity's Chris Castelli: "The leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are 'close' to reaching agreement on a cybersecurity information-sharing bill with liability protection for industry that is designed to win the support of 60 or more senators, according to Jack Livingston, the panel's minority counsel." More here.
ICYMI: Can the Army handle the truth? AUSA's Army Magazine's Editor-in-Chief Rick Maze about a new paper asking the question about Army and candor: "A provocative paper recently published by the U.S. Army War College raises the question of whether the Army can handle the truth. Called "Closing the Candor Chasm: The Missing Element of Army Professionalism" and written by Col. Paul Paolozzi, the paper says speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a way of building professional relationships and a stronger Army. Candor can be intimidating and unwanted in some circumstances, but it should be a key part of professional communication, Paolozzi says. Paolozzi cites performance evaluations, training, education and counseling as areas in which complete honesty is missing. Candor, he says in the report, 'is messy, hard, creates discomfort, and its presence is most often inversely proportional to rank and organizational size.'" More here.
Pentagon bet: that Congress will roll back sequestration that starts in 2016. Bloomberg's Roxana Tiron and Tony Capaccio: "...That may prove wishful thinking, with little consensus among lawmakers over eliminating the looming defense cuts that were part of the across-the-board reductions, known as sequestration, embedded in the 2011 agreement to lift the federal debt limit. 'I hope there is nobody naive enough to believe that we can just end it for defense," Dick Durbin, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said of sequestration in an interview. 'It's going to be ended for both defense and non-defense if it's going to work.'" More here.
Roger Zakheim and Mackenzie Eaglen: Scrap the QDR and use the BUR to do it! The BL of Zakheim and Eaglen, on AEI.org: "...Before deciding on how to overhaul the QDR, Congress should follow the recommendation of five former deputy secretaries of defense to Secretary Chuck Hagel last March and direct another "Bottom-Up Review" (BUR) like that of 1993. The BUR evaluated the 'nation's defense strategy, force structure, modernization program, infrastructure, and the formulation of affordable strategy that addressed the geopolitical threats of the post-Cold War,' as they wrote. Unique to the effort was the examination of 'a range of postures of differing capability and cost' that were explored 'in order to inform the president' about choices. This effort incorporating stakeholders beyond the Pentagon 'led to common understanding of the evolving threat and needed capability, resulting in a widely accepted plan.' The lack of a national security policy consensus means America is today 'less united, and less prepared to meet the challenges of the future, than at any other point since the end of the Cold War,' as stated by former Sens. John Kyl and Jim Talent. A modern day BUR would help advance a needed consensus. After more than 20 years of marginally effective QDRs, it's time to try a new approach." Read the whole thing here.
The U.S. Navy needs more ships! (haven't heard this one before) From the former commander of the USS Cole when it was attacked, Kirk Lippold, writing on Breaking Defense: The US Navy needs more ships. The United States cannot protect the world's sealanes, let alone "pivot to the Pacific," if we further downsize our military. Especially given other nations' growing anxiety about whether the US will still shoulder the leadership role of protecting them, the Navy must grow, not become smaller. Yes, individual ships may be more capable today than in the past, but the harsh reality is that even the most high-tech ships are useless unless the U.S. maintains enough of them to sustain a forward deployed presence in hot spots around the world. Lippold's ideas: one, the nation needs a new naval strategy; two, reorganize, reprioritize and revitalize the Navy's shipbuilding program; three, stop production of the LCS, four, maintain and expand the aircraft carrier fleet, five, fully fund and update the Navy's manpower accounts, and six, cut the number of flag officers and civilian counterparts by 50 percent. Read the rest here.