Chances of war in Ukraine grow; A scramble for intel; Vets storm the Hill today; More troops to get Kony; Sardar Ahmad's final story: about a lion on a roof; and a bit more.
Syria is blocking aid and ignoring threats from the U.N. FP's Colum Lynch: "... the Syrian government continued over the past month to lay siege to more than 220,000 of its own civilians, block the delivery of life-saving medicines to opposition areas, and maintain bureaucratic restrictions making it extremely difficult for U.N. relief workers to reach hundreds of thousands of needy Syrians, according to an unpublished March 22 report by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The impediments to the international relief effort come one month after the Security Council adopted its first ever resolution demanding that Syria's combatants provide immediate access to relief workers or face the threat of 'further steps.' The resolution called on the U.N. chief to report to the 15-nation council on progress every 30 days."
"Ban's report, a copy of which was obtained by Foreign Policy, will present the United States and its European allies with one of the first major tests of their ability to work cooperatively with Russia on a major international crisis since Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula sent relations into a nosedive." Read the rest here.
Ahead of elections, Turkey shoots down a Syrian warplane. Reuters' Daren Butler: "Turkish armed forces shot down a Syrian plane on Sunday that Ankara said had crossed into its air space in an area where Syrian rebels have been battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces for control of a border crossing. 'A Syrian plane violated our airspace,' Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told an election rally in northwest Turkey. 'Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard.' Syria condemned what it called a 'blatant aggression' and said the jet was pursuing rebel fighters inside Syria." More here.
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Flight 370: The Navy prepares a "black box locator." From a statement provided this morning: "The U.S. Navy is continuing efforts to search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. As a precautionary measure in case a debris field is located, U.S. Pacific Command has ordered U.S. Pacific Fleet to move a black box locator into the region, March 24. If a debris field is confirmed, the Navy's Towed Pinger Locator 25 will add a significant advantage in locating the missing Malaysian aircraft's black box. The TPL-25 Towed Pinger Locator System is able to locate black boxes on downed Navy and commercial aircraft down to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet anywhere in the world. Commercial aircraft pingers are mounted directly on the flight recorder, the recovery of which is critical to an accident investigation."
More U.S. troops to Uganda to look for Joseph Kony. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "President Obama has ordered a sharp increase in U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to Uganda and sent U.S. military aircraft there for the first time in the ongoing effort to hunt down warlord Joseph Kony across a broad swath of central Africa. The CV-22 Osprey aircraft will arrive in Uganda by midweek, along with refueling aircraft and about 150 Air Force Special Operations forces and other airmen to fly and maintain the planes, according to Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs. At least four Ospreys will be deployed. The White House began to notify Congress, under the War Powers Act, of the new deployments as they began Sunday night.
"Dory and other officials emphasized that the Ospreys will be used for troop transport and that the rules of engagement for U.S. forces remain the same as for about 100 Special Operations troops that Obama first sent to help find Kony in October 2011. U.S. personnel are authorized to 'provide information, advice and assistance' to an African Union military task force tracking Kony and his organization, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), across Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo. While combat-equipped, they are prohibited from engaging LRA forces unless in self-defense." Read the rest of DeYoung's story here.
Read The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran's piece on the hunt for Kony from last October, here.
The chances of war in Ukraine grow. FP's Dana Stuster: "With Russia seizing the last remaining Ukrainian military base in Crimea and massing troops along Ukraine's eastern border, a top Ukrainian official warned that the chances of war with Russia were growing higher. Ukraine's acting foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, said his government was "very much concerned" about the Russian troop deployments and told that the chances of war were 'becoming higher.' Appearing on This Week, the foreign minister said Kiev's fragile pro-Western government preferred to use diplomatic means to settle its dispute with Moscow, but was also prepared to use other means 'to defend their homeland.'" More here.
The U.S. scurries to shore up spying on Russia. The WSJ's Adam Entous, Julian Barnes and Siobhan Gorman on Page One: "U.S. military satellites spied Russian troops amassing within striking distance of Crimea last month. But intelligence analysts were surprised because they hadn't intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade. America's vaunted global surveillance is a vital tool for U.S. intelligence services, especially as an early-warning system and as a way to corroborate other evidence. In Crimea, though, U.S. intelligence officials are concluding that Russian planners might have gotten a jump on the West by evading U.S. eavesdropping.
"Even though there was a warning, we didn't have the information to be able to say exactly what was going to happen," a senior U.S. official says. To close the information gap, U.S. spy agencies and the military are rushing to expand satellite coverage and communications-interception efforts across Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states. U.S. officials hope the "surge" in assets and analysts will improve tracking of the Russian military and tip off the U.S. to any possible intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin before he acts on them. The U.S. moves will happen quickly. 'We have gone into crisis-response mode,' a senior official says.
"Still, as Russia brings additional forces to areas near the border with eastern Ukraine, America's spy chiefs are worried that Russian leaders might be able to cloak their next move by shielding more communications from the U.S., according to officials familiar with the matter. "That is the question we're all asking ourselves," one top U.S. official says. The Obama administration is 'very nervous,' says a person close to the discussions. 'This is uncharted territory.'" More here.
Putin says he doesn't "need" Ukraine. But he might take it anyway. James Traub's BLUF, writing on FP: "It is a very, very unsettling thought that Ukraine's fate now depends on Putin's calculations of self-interest, or even his whims. The ringmaster of Sochi seems still to be glorying in the vast powers at his disposal. We can only hope that the vapors start to disperse in the harsh light of day." The whole story here.
How Putin has remained a riddle for three American presidents, by The NYT's Peter Baker, here.
Decoded: Romney and Palin, playing a bit of "I told you so" lately. The Christian Science Monitor's Mark Sappenfield: "Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, as we know, have been able to indulge in a bit of "I told you so" lately over the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea...What was more interesting than the obligatory political target practice, however, was the nuance in Romney's comments Sunday. While not new, the comments may prove increasingly prescient as Obama and the world seek to recalibrate how to deal with Russia going forward.
"On one hand, they were classic Romney. One has difficulty imagining Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan - the great political communicators of our time - ever using the words 'geopolitical adversary' on television, much less twice in the space of eight minutes, as Romney did Sunday. It is a phase that bespeaks academic condescension, and Romney, after all, never quite nailed the common man thing in 2012. Yet, at length, Romney found his inner cable guy and hit his point. 'They [Russia] are not our enemy, but they're an adversary on the playing field of the world.'... Obama, Romney said, 'should have had the judgment from the very beginning to understand that Russia was not our friend, it had very different interests and ambitions than we did.' In the wake of Crimea's annexation by Russia last week, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue with Romney on that point." More here.
Putin in The Onion (not really Putin, FYI) on thanking everyone for being so cool about all of this. "Putin": "It's certainly no easy task to forcefully annex an entire province against another country's will, so I just wanted to thank you-the government of the United States, the nations of western Europe, and really the entire world population as a whole-for being super cool about all of this." Alert for wonks who sometimes don't get it: The Onion is a spoof - it ain't real. Read the rest of it here.
The vet group IAVA will storm the Hill today, no joke, to combat suicides. The WaPo's Josh Hicks: "An emerging veterans group plans to descend on Capital Hill this week to demand new action on veterans issues and launch a national campaign to combat suicide among former troops. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has named veteran-suicide prevention as its top priority for 2014. On Monday, the group will send 31 representatives to discuss mental health challenges with members of Congress and President Obama.
Participants will call for new legislation and executive orders that could strengthen access to mental-health services and improve coordination between government agencies, according to an announcement from the group." Rest of the WaPo post here. Deets of the IAVA event here.
Patrick Murphy talking about the Storm the Hill event on MSNBC here.
A delay for the software for the F-35. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with the scoop: "Delays in testing critical software for Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 jet are threatening to delay the Pentagon's most expensive weapon and boost development costs, according to congressional investigators. 'Persistent software problems' have slowed testing to demonstrate the aircraft's war-fighting, navigation, targeting and reconnaissance systems, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said. The Marine Corps F-35 version, designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings, has a key milestone next year. While the Marines want the plane to be deemed ready for combat in mid-2015, tests on some of its software might not be completed on time, and possibly 13 months late."
According to a draft of a GAO report obtained by Bloomberg's Capaccio: "Delays of this magnitude would mean that the Marine Corps will not likely have all of the capabilities it expects in July 2015... The effects of these delays compound as they also put the timely delivery of Air Force and Navy initial operating capabilities at risk."
"The Air Force's F-35 version is supposed to meet a similar deadline in 2016, and the Navy model in 2018. Italy and the U.K. are buying the Marine Corps model. The F-35 program is estimated to cost $391.2 billion. While Lockheed Martin officials haven't yet seen the GAO report, they are 'confident we will complete flight testing of the software required for Marine Corps initial operational capability this year,' Laura Siebert, a spokeswoman for the Bethesda, Maryland-based contractor, said in an e-mail statement." More here.
Where the Pentagon gives up, the French and Germans push forward (the search for MIAs): ProPublica's Megan McCloskey (and co-published with The Daily Beast): "U.S. Army Private First Class Lawrence S. Gordon - killed in Normandy in 1944, then mistakenly buried as a German soldier - will soon be going home to his family. But don't thank the American military for this belated return. The Pentagon declined to act on his case, despite exhaustive research by civilian investigators that pointed to the location of his remains. Instead, Gordon's family and advocates used the same evidence to persuade French and German officials to exhume Gordon and identify him through DNA testing. That's right: the relatives of this U.S. soldier, who fought against the Germans, are relying on Germany to bring him back home.
"Gordon's case is another example of breakdowns in the American system for finding and identifying tens of thousands of missing service members from past conflicts." Read the rest here.
Sardar Ahmad was a "charming and talented journalist" for AFP in Kabul who had just told a tale of a lion who lived on a roof. AFP's obit of the senior reporter for AFP in Kabul who was shot dead, along with his wife, Humaira, and two of their three children, in the recent attack by the Taliban at the Serena Hotel (the third child, not quite two, is in a coma): "...An AFP staff photographer identified the four bodies at a city hospital on Friday, and said the family's infant son was undergoing emergency treatment after suffering serious wounds. 'This is an immensely painful and enormous loss for Agence France-Presse,' AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog said. He described Ahmad as a 'dedicated and courageous journalist, a cornerstone of our team in Afghanistan who delivered, every day, exceptional coverage of the news in extremely difficult conditions.'
"Four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security to attack the luxury hotel on the eve of Nawroz, the Persian New Year which is a major holiday in Afghanistan. The Serena attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 election that will decide a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Hired in 2003 to cover daily briefings by the US-led coalition at Bagram airbase, two years after the invasion that drove out the Taliban regime, Ahmad went on to cover all aspects of life, war and politics in his native country.
"He was known among his colleagues for his wit, charm and ebullience. His time covering the briefings at Bagram allowed him to achieve an impressive level of fluency in English -- and a distinctive American accent."
Gilles Campion, AFP's Asia-Pacific regional director, said: "During the 11 years he spent with AFP in Kabul, he always exercised immense courage and objectivity when reporting, despite the risks faced by journalists in that country."
"Ahmad was a versatile reporter with an eye for unexpected stories that opened a window on life in Afghanistan away from the bombs and blast walls. His last feature for AFP, filed on Tuesday, was about a lion called Marjan, who was rescued by animal welfare officials from living on a rooftop in Kabul. That was a follow-up to a story Ahmad himself broke last year, generating headlines around the world.
"He wrote in the feature: "Marjan is named after a famous half-blind lion who lived at Kabul zoo and became a symbol of Afghanistan's national survival after living through coups, invasions, civil war and the hardline Taliban era before dying in 2002."
"Ahmad's second-last story, the day before, covered a threat by the Taliban to attack polling staff, voters and security forces ahead of the April 5 election. Outside AFP, Ahmad showed his entrepreneurial bent by founding Kabul Pressistan, a successful local news agency that has provided fixing and translation services for numerous foreign reporters coming to Kabul." The obit, here.
Sardar Ahmad's final story, about the lion on the roof, here.