National Security

FP's Situation Report: Sinclair gets no jail time, midshipman acquitted

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.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we embrace the notion that the future is always pre-decisional, as a friend to SitRep suggested to us yesterday. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

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.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Pentagon to announce review of awards

What Pakistan knew about bin Laden; Rasmussen to FP: Will Russia stop there?; DOD to send troops to Libya; No "Step Nine" for Boogie; What up with the Pentagon library?; and a bit more.

Remember that comprehensive review of all military decorations and awards the Pentagon was going to do? It'll be announced today. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, who will appear in the Pentagon briefing room today, will announce that the Pentagon will begin a "comprehensive review" of all military decorations and awards starting in June. It's designed to take "lessons learned" from 13 years of war and apply them to the way the Defense Department hands out awards and decorations. A defense official told Situation Report that the review will "focus on ensuring that the awards program will continue to appropriately recognize all levels of combat valor as well as the sacrifices of our service members," and also that the review "will determine how best to recognize service members who impact combat operations through the use of cyber technology and remote devices."

The review stems in part from the controversy surrounding the so-called drone device which would have recognized the important work that drone operators do on today's battlefield. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who issued the directive to create the device before he left office, was seen to have thrown a political hand grenade into the building before departing. That's because for a military that prides itself on awards and decorations, the move caused enormous upheaval between the services and the troops. Critics thought the device shouldn't have a higher precedence than a Bronze Star, especially that with a 'V' device, that recognizes valorous actions of those on the ground. So began a nasty, behind-the-scenes battle of a different kind. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived at the Pentagon last year and immediately suspended the move to create the device. But it remained unclear how it would all turn out. Now, nearly a year later, his spokesman will announce a full review of the issue.

Not a quick turnaround though. Interestingly, it will take about a year to complete the review.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

New this morning: Newly detected objects in the water draw new scrutiny on Flight 370. The NYT's Michelle Innis and Chris Buckley: "The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said on Thursday that satellite imagery had detected floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8. But he and an Australian rescue organizer both counseled caution about the sighting." More here.

NATO chief to FP: "Our concern is that Russia won't stop." FP's Yochi Dreazen: "NATO's top official acknowledged in an interview that Russia's annexation of Crimea could not be reversed and said the military alliance was increasingly concerned that Moscow might also invade eastern Ukraine. In the interview, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Foreign Policy that Russia's sudden conquest of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula was a "wake-up call" for the 28-member alliance, which had been established to counter potential Soviet aggression during the Cold War. Rasmussen said NATO was committed to protecting Poland and other Baltic members of the alliance from what he described as an increasingly aggressive and land-hungry Russian government.

"Still, he said that it was too late to halt Crimea's absorption into Russia or return it to the control of Ukraine's fragile central government. NATO, Rasmussen said, was instead worried that Russia was turning its gaze further eastward and potentially preparing to seize other portions of Ukraine." More here.

In a speech at Brookings in Washington yesterday, NATO Chief Rasmussen explained why Russia's moves are a "wake-up call" for NATO: "We live in a different world than we did less than a month ago," Rasmussen said. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung's piece here.

Ukrainian troops are turning the lights off in Crimea. The WaPo's Carol Morello and Kathy Lally: "Ukraine prepared to evacuate its troops and their families from Crimea on Wednesday as Russia forced the Ukrainians to abandon several military bases and facilities on the peninsula, including their navy headquarters. Ukraine said it would seek U.N. support in declaring Crimea a demilitarized zone so that its troops could be relocated to Ukraine proper, effectively acknowledging that it had lost the region despite vows it would never cede to Russia." Read the rest here.

Why the death of Chechen rebel Doku Umarov is unlikely to reduce terrorism in Russia, in the WaPo, here.

Want to know what Pakistan knew about bin Laden? The NYT's Carlotta Gall, in the Sunday NYT Magazine, online now: "... The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It's through that agency that Pakistan's true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned - a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation." Read it all here.

And in Afghanistan today, militants stormed a police compound and 10 are now dead. The NYT's Azam Ahmed and Khalid Alokozay: "A series of coordinated attacks in the heart of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan left at least 10 police officers dead, including the district police chief, after suicide bombers bearing firearms stormed their headquarters early Thursday morning, officials said.

"The assault, which also left 14 police officers wounded, began around 5 a.m. on Thursday when a car equipped with explosives sped through the gate to the police compound. Six bombers stormed the facility after the initial blast, waging a three-hour gun battle within the compound, according to Fazal Ahmad Sherzad, the police chief of Nangarhar Province, of which Jalalabad, one of the country's largest and most economically vibrant cities, is the capital. Attack helicopters from the American-led international coalition could be seen circling the area after the assault." More here.

The Pentagon will send a team of soldiers to Libya to begin a training mission for Libyan troops in Bulgaria. AP's own Lita Baldor: "According to the official, fewer than a dozen soldiers will go to Tripoli but that number could grow as the group begins selecting the Libyan troops who will receive U.S. training. About 500 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division will train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan forces in basic combat skills as part of a larger international effort to improve security in the North African nation. The training was announced late last year, but sending a team into Libya was not. The team initially will be working with the Libyans to determine the scope and details of the training. The official said that as time goes on and the effort to select the Libyan troops expands, some additional soldiers could go to Tripoli to provide security for the team." More here.

The U.S. is going to boycott the U.N.'s drone talks. FP's Colum Lynch: "Pakistan is trying to push a resolution through the United Nations Human Rights Council that would trigger greater scrutiny of whether U.S. drone strikes violate international human rights law. Washington, though, doesn't want to talk about it. The Pakistani draft, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, urges states to 'ensure transparency' in record-keeping on drone strikes and to 'conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations whenever there are indications of any violations to human rights caused by their use.' It also calls for the convening of 'an interactive panel discussion' on the use of drones. The Geneva-based human rights council held its third round of discussions about the draft on Wednesday, but the Obama administration boycotted the talks. The White House decision to sit out the negotiations is a departure from the collaborative approach the administration promised to take when it first announced plans to join the Human Rights Council in March 2009."

"... Rhetoric aside, though, the Obama administration has largely refused to supply U.N. experts with details about the classified U.S. drone program, which has killed hundreds of suspected militants in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries over the past decade. Independent investigators say the strikes have also killed thousands of civilians, including large numbers of women and children, a charge the White House -- without providing evidence to the contrary -- denies." Read the rest here.

No "Step Nine:" Boogie didn't actually say he was sorry to Hagel. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke to Hagel yesterday after the U.S. criticized Yaalon's criticism of American foreign policy - a hot topic this week. Yaalon and Hagel, said to be close, discussed the issue briefly and Yaalon clarified his stance to Hagel. But he didn't actually apologize for what he had said earlier this week - as is being widely reported in Israeli press. A defense official tells Situation Report: "While Yaalon did in fact clarify his comments by restating his firm comment, it would be inaccurate to say he apologized."

Hagel pinchhitted for Biden yesterday at the Business Roundtable, but he wasn't coaxing folks to divest from the region in the aftermath of the Crimea crisis. Hagel hosted the Business Roundtable yesterday in Washington, speaking to as many as 100 CEOs from top American companies around the country. Vice President Joe Biden had been scheduled to speak to the group, but had to pass due to his trip. Hagel spoke to three themes, Situation Report is told: the budget, the danger of sequestration returning in 2015, and the gratitude the Defense Department has for those American firms who employ veterans. "We make veterans in the Department of Defense," Hagel told the group by way of explaining how he feels responsibility for their futures after they leave the service. He encouraged top companies to do more for veterans.

One thing he didn't talk about, we're told, was Russia and Ukraine. Although he mentioned the uncertainty the crisis presents to the world, he did not talk to them about divesting themselves from the region, according to a senior defense official who cited "false reporting" on the meeting yesterday. "That's not at all what he was doing."  Hagel will host a smaller group of CEOs at the Pentagon this spring, we're told.

"Personally skeptical." Hillary Clinton expresses doubts about an Iranian nuke deal. The WaPo's Philip Rucker: " Hillary Rodham Clinton cast doubt on the interim nuclear agreement with Iran, saying in a muscular policy speech here Wednesday night that she is "personally skeptical" that Iran's leaders will follow through on a comprehensive agreement to end their march toward nuclear weapons. Still, the former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate told a pro-Israel audience in New York that she stands behind the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran, and she commended the work of her successor, John F. Kerry." Full story here.

What's up with the Pentagon Library? Good question we're glad you asked. We reported in Situation Report in May 2013 that the "way ahead" for the Pentagon's library was unclear and that defense officials were looking at reducing its services or closing it altogether amid, according to an internal memo at the time, "fiscal realities." But the library's fate is still in limbo, we're told. The library, adjacent to the Pentagon conference center, located just outside the actual building, was part of the Pentagon renovation of that area completed some years ago. A Pentagon spokesman told Situation Report that the Defense Department is "continuing to review" the library issue, but in a statement it looks less like defense officials think the library should be closed. Instead it sounds like there are plans to make it a better service. No word on how funding cuts at the Department could affect the library, which some people are surprised to hear even exists.

The statement to Situation Report: "We are continuing to review how the Pentagon Library can better serve the Department as a more modern information service, capable of providing a full range of information services to meet customer needs utilizing state of the art technologies. This modernization effort -- which would include a more robust digital presence, and a focus on delivery of digital information products coupled with the preservation of its most important print-based collections -- remains in the planning and coordination stages."

Kandahar, and the true test of the Afghan elections next month. The WSJ's Yaroslav Trofimov: "The election campaign is sweeping the Taliban stronghold, fueled by hopes that the April vote could bring better governance after 12 years of rule by President Hamid Karzai, whose brothers have long dominated Kandahar.

"These expectations, coupled with successful U.S. and Afghan offensives that pushed the Taliban into remote districts, have brought unusual peace to the country's second-largest metropolis. Should voters' hopes be dashed through fraud, however, Kandahar's hard-won calm could quickly collapse, many locals warn. 'Nowadays, the Taliban are quiet because all the people want free and fair elections,' said Mohammad Daud, an elder of the Alokozai tribe in Kandahar's giant Loy Wala neighborhood, where Taliban assassination squads roamed freely a few years ago. 'But if people are forced to vote for someone, if there is government interference, and there is no change, people will be fighting again.' Kandahar is no stranger to vote-rigging. In 2009, as Taliban violence in the city and surrounding districts scared off voters, government officials stuffed ballot boxes across the province." More here.

Reading Pincus: For transport planes, the confusing world of budget cuts, politics and base closings. Pincus in the WaPo: "Closing military bases and consolidating operations to save money are not simple moves. Take the Air Force's constantly shifting plans to move 10 of the 20 C-130J Super Hercules transport planes. Stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., the planes are part of the Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing and are used primarily for tactical airlift missions. Plans for where the planes and their crews should move have changed repeatedly, and at a head-spinning pace. In February 2012, the Air Force announced that it would relocate Keesler's 10 C-130J aircraft to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. It was part of a long-term plan to save about $480 million. At that time, Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.), who represents the area, told a local TV station, 'We're just going to ask the tough questions and .?.?. if they don't have the right answers, I think it's going to be safe, because we have to protect Keesler's mission.' Tough questioning turned up that moving to Dobbins would require larger hangars, which would require more money." More here.