National Security

FP's Situation Report: Russian troops pull back but what does it mean?

Hagel is wheels up for Hawaii, Asia; Hagel: who thinks tobacco is still healthy?; SitRep reaches 100,000 readers; George Little gets a promotion; and a bit more.

 

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

NATO will decide today on steps to reinforce eastern European countries anxious over Russia's move into Crimea. Reuters' Adrian Croft: "...Diplomats said NATO foreign ministers will look at options ranging from stepped-up military exercises and sending more forces to eastern members states, to the permanent basing of alliance forces there - a step Moscow would view as provocative. Ministers from the 28 alliance members are meeting in Brussels for the first time since Russia's military occupation and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region caused the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. While the United States and its allies have made clear they will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, which does not belong to NATO, they have scrambled to reassure anxious NATO members in eastern Europe, particularly ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics, that they are sheltered by the alliance's security umbrella." More here.

Russia announces it will pull back a battalion from the Ukraine border - but Russia's intent remains unclear. The WaPo's Will Englund and Karen DeYoung: "The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that a motorized infantry battalion is returning home after taking part in military exercises along the Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin also told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call that he had ordered a "partial withdrawal" of troops, according to Merkel's office. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also informed Secretary of State John F. Kerry of the withdrawal.

"In Washington, however, officials said they could not confirm that any Russian troop movement had taken place. 'I cannot confirm .?.?. one way or the other whether the Russians are pulling troops back,' Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters, saying that the Russian force on Ukraine's border numbers in the 'tens of thousands.' White House press secretary Jay Carney said that "we've seen reports, and if they are true .?.?. that would be a positive sign, because it is certainly something that we have explicitly called for.'" More here.

Put the champagne down: American needs to flex its muscle on Ukraine. CFR's Les Gelb for the Daily Beast: "Don't pop the champagne corks just yet because Vladimir Putin phoned Barack Obama to pursue diplomacy on Ukraine and environs. It may be just a ploy, like Moscow's proposal to denude Syria of chemical weapons to head off a potent U.S. air strike against President Assad's forces. It may just be a gambit to tamp down the West's drive toward greater sanctions against Russia. And all sinister explanations of the call gain weight by the fact that some 25,000 Russian troops still threaten Ukraine's borders. Even if Putin is serious about diplomacy for the moment, there is a deeper problem afoot for Obama.

"It is one that the White House rejects outright, but one that officials outside the White House and experts outside the administration are certainly fretting about. It is that Obama's idea of combating aggression essentially by means of economic sanctions and 'diplomacy' is not nearly enough, that the costs of aggression have to be raised, and that there has to be a stronger and more credible military dimension to U.S. national security policy. Whether the White House admits it or not, foes the world over seem to have concluded that Obama has taken the U.S. military force option off the table and made aggression easier." Read more here.

Welcome to Tuesday'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.

It's April Fool's Day and all but this is no joke: Situation Report has 100,000 readers. As of this morning, the number of subscribers to Situation Report is 100,469. We were at 12,000 readers out of the gate when we launched SitRep 19 months ago. But thanks to the great work of our colleagues - at Foreign Policy and everywhere else, we have great material to work with every day.

Who's counting? WE are!  We thank readers in the extreme for being supportive of a newsletter that is a ton of fun to put together each day. It's humbling and gratifying and inspiring. We love your over-the-transom recommendations, additions and what we like to call "candy" - little nuggets of news that our readers care about that don't get anywhere else. Keep them comin'! We even like your "mean-mail" - missives that tell us we messed up, which we do, or missed something altogether. We know some people wish SitRep was one thing when it's another; or wish it could be shorter - or longer - or quicker, or earlier - or have more cowbell. It's a balance. We always work to make the newsletter better. Thanks for helping us to do that.  And thanks for reading SitRep.

A Little promotion: George Little, the former Pentagon pressec who went to Booz Allen a few months ago, starts today in his new role as Booz Allen's veep for marketing and communications. He'll have responsibility for BA's worldwide branding, marketing, media relations and community relations functions. Make him buy the rounds next time you see him out.

Situation Report clarifies - We wrote yesterday that Denny Blair is becoming the new chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and that's true. But we didn't put a fine enough point on the fact that he will be the chairman of SPF's DC entity. SPF's Tokyo-based chairman isn't going anywhere. Also, Blair co-chaired a report for Securing America's Future Energy, or SAFE, not Securing America's Energy Future, duh.

A new Senate report alleges the CIA misled folks on interrogation. The WaPo's Greg Miller, Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima: " A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years - concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques." More here.

Aloha: Hagel is wheels up this morning. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will head first to Hawaii, followed by stops in Japan, China and Mongolia. This is Hagel's fourth trip to the region in less than 12 months and, defense officials are fond of pointing out - a demonstration of his commitment to the "rebalance" to Asia and his emphasis on "face-to-face engagements," as a senior defense official said yesterday.

Hagel, in the Pentagon briefing room yesterday, on the trip: "...Security and stability are key anchors for prosperity, for economic development and we rebalance to the Asia Pacific with all of those different responsibilities and dimensions as our focus.  And it's pretty clear the tremendous progress that's been made in the Asia Pacific the last few years has been much the result of a secure area, an area that has worked through many of its differences peacefully.  There are still issues.  There are still questions. But it's a region that has prospered because they have worked through many of these -- these differences."

Staffers on a plane -Chief of Staff Mark Lippert, Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, "Conference Sherpa" Lindsey Ford, Trip Director J.P. Eby, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Security Affairs Kelly Magsamen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey, Director for South and Southeast Asia Christel Fonzo-Eberhard; Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Brent Colburn, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, Chief Speechwriter Jacob Freedman and Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog. And the Defense Secretary's wife, Lilibet Hagel, is traveling with her husband as she will be hosting defense minister spouses during the ASEAN conference.

Reporters on a plane - AP's Lita Baldor, WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum, AFP's Dan De Luce, Bloomberg's Gopal Ratnam, NYT's Helene Cooper, Reuters' Phil Stewart, CNN's Jamie Crawford, WaPo's Ernesto Londono, Bloomberg TV's Peter Cook, Omaha World Herald's Joseph Morton.

Hagel prepares to champion climate change at this week's ASEAN ministerial. The WSJ's Amy Harder and Dion Nissenbaum: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top U.S. officials plan to emphasize increased humanitarian and security risks posed by climate change during meetings this week with military officials from Southeast Asia.
"Mr. Hagel and Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, will raise the issue in Hawaii on Wednesday at the start of a three-day meeting of defense ministers from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They plan to tell them that climate change is fueling a need for greater disaster relief and humanitarian aid, while stirring political instability.
"The message reflects an increased effort within the Obama administration to persuade both the U.S. public and other governments that the extreme weather events linked to climate change are putting at risk major swaths of the world's population, even as polling shows most U.S. residents don't see it as an urgent issue."
"'Climate change is not just an environmental problem, it's an economic and security problem as well," said John Podesta, senior counselor to President Barack Obama. "That's why it's significant that Secretary Hagel and Administrator Shah have made climate change an integral part of the Asean defense ministers' forum in Hawaii this week." More here.

A new poll shows that most Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans know a post-9/11 servicemember or veteran who attempted or died by suicide. IAVA press release: "Coming a week after Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) demanded Congress and the Administration adopt stronger policies to combat veteran suicide, a new poll from the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation found that 51 percent of post-9/11 veterans know a servicemember or veteran who attempted or died by suicide. The findings - similar to recent survey results of IAVA members - underscore the need for Congress and President Obama to take new action on the issue." Full statement here. The WaPo survey here.

Hagel urges the Navy to go cold turkey on on-base sales of tobacco products. Stripes' Jon Harper: ..."I don't know if there's anybody in America who still thinks that tobacco is good for you," Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon in response to a question about the Navy review. "We don't allow smoking in any of our government buildings. Restaurants, states, [and] municipalities have pretty clear regulations on this. I think in reviewing any options that we have as to whether we in the military through commissaries [or] PXs sell or continue to sell tobacco is something we need to look at. And we are looking at it. And I think we owe it to our people." Full story here.

The spy Pollard is on the table in an effort to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace process afloat. FP's Shane Harris: "The United States considers him one of the most damaging spies in recent history. Israel considers him a martyr. And now, he may be coming home. Jonathan Pollard, who has been imprisoned for nearly 30 years after giving U.S. military and intelligence secrets to Israel, may be released within the next two weeks as part of what two officials familiar with the discussions described as an effort to salvage the flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"In exchange, these people said, Israel would consider releasing 14 Israeli-Arab prisoners who've also been jailed for decades as well, potentially, as Marwan Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian militant. White House spokesman Jay Carney neither confirmed nor denied the reports at his daily press briefing. "I have nothing new...that I haven't said in the past, which is that [Pollard] was convicted of espionage and that he is serving his sentence," Carney said. The State Department dismissed the discussions as "rumors about what may or may not be on the table." Full story here.

Dempsey is in Jerusalem and hints at Israeli cooperation with the Gulf Arab states. The NYT's Helene Cooper, in Jerusalem: "Looking for a potential bright spot in the roiling upheaval of the Middle East, American and Israeli officials meeting in Jerusalem on Monday held out the hope of growing security cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf. That idea, basically unthinkable a few years ago, could be more plausible now because of widespread worry over Iran's nuclear program, coupled with chaos in Syria and turmoil in Egypt.

"Even though Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries have long viewed Israel as the Arab world's biggest adversary, the rise of threats they all share in common is creating a new urgency to find common ground, the officials said. Emerging from meetings with his Israeli counterparts on Monday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that discussions included 'an outreach to other partners who may not have been willing to be partners in the past.' He added, 'What I mean is the Gulf states in particular, who heretofore may not have been as open-minded to the potential for cooperation with Israel, in any way.'

"While General Dempsey did not go into specifics, other American military officials said that possibilities include intelligence-sharing, joint counterterrorism exercises and perhaps looking for how Israeli and Saudi troops could jointly work on the training of Syrian opposition fighters." More here.

The U.S. backed off sharing radar information with Honduras.  FP's Dan Lamothe: "The United States has maintained controversial ties to the Honduran military and police for years, even as the Central American country's government continues to take fire for its horrendous record of corruption and human rights abuses. Washington just took one major step away, however, saying they will no longer provide radar information to the Honduran government that could help it shoot down planes piloted by suspected drug smugglers." More here.

33,000 troops to go: a roadmap to departing Afghanistan. Army Times' Michelle Tan: "The U.S. has closed nearly 290 bases across Afghanistan as of March 1 and fewer than 80 bases remain. When it comes to personnel, there are still about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but there's also "a steady path to reduce throughout the year," said Marine Brig. Gen. Daniel O'Donohue, the chief operations officer for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. O'Donohue provided an overview of U.S. troops still serving downrange during a March 18 phone interview with Army Times. 'We've reduced our forces from about 100,000, by about 67 percent,' said he said. 'We are truly in a support role.'

"... Current forecasts call for 54 more bases to be closed by Aug. 1, and only about 27 bases are expected to remain open by the end of October, O'Donohue said. The goal is to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan by about 15 percent by Aug. 1 and by another 20 percent by Oct. 31, he said." More here.

About those MRAPs in Afghanistan... Stimson's Josh White, writing on FP: "... There are a host of other more practical ways in which the Afghan election may shape Afghan-Pakistani relations. The election outcome, for example, may well influence the transfer of materiel from Afghanistan to neighboring countries. The Washington Post recently reported that 20 countries, including Pakistan, have expressed an interest in mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles from U.S. stocks. (It remains unclear how many of these are still in Afghanistan, though the majority appear to have been returned to the continental United States.) These vehicles would be made available through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) process on an "as-is, where-is" basis, meaning that the U.S. government sells them without warranty or delivery.

"For Pakistan, MRAPs are more than a prestige purchase. The Pakistani military has faced a serious threat from militants employing roadside bombs -- even while it has been accused of not doing enough to stymie the flow of so-called precursor materials, such as calcium ammonium nitrate, originating in Pakistani territory. Even if Afghan EDA were made available, Pakistan would have to consider whether it really wants to assume the heavy financial and maintenance costs associated with taking on a fleet of ageing, battered MRAPs." More here.

Speaking of which: Pakistan is in line to receive leftover US military hardware.  The Nation: "The United States said on Monday that it is reviewing Pakistan's request for Excess Defence Articles (EDA) programme, adding that if approved, this EDA is to be sourced from US stock in Afghanistan as its troops withdraw. Excess defense articles are military equipment owned by Department of Defense (DoD) and US Coast Guard that are no longer needed and declared excess by the US Armed Forces. This excess equipment is offered at reduced or no cost to eligible foreign recipients in support of US national security and foreign policy objectives.

"... Earlier the US Embassy in a statement said that military equipment that has been determined to be excess could be made available through the worldwide excess defense articles (EDA) program, which is open to all eligible countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. "This equipment will not be brought back with US forces from Afghanistan as they redeploy elsewhere", the statement added.

It said that the US assists Pakistan through many security cooperation programs to build partnership capacity.

"Pakistan has requested a variety of excess defense articles. The US is currently reviewing Pakistan's request. The Department of Defense manages the process for identifying recipients for EDA with State Department approval." Full story here. State Dept statement here.

Reading Pincus: Congress and the Pentagon continue to battle over the Budget.  The WaPo's Walter Pincus: "Defense Department officials and Congress continue to disagree on how to save money in the fiscal 2015 defense budget. In most instances, Pentagon officials have the facts and politicians generally have concern about the effects on their constituents." More here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Only measured success on Ukraine political talks

Denny Blair to Sasakawa; Breedlove back to Europe; Why Asia Pacific countries are scared to share; Weapons spending creeps upward; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

From Paris, Kerry and Lavrov agree that a political solution is necessary for Ukraine. The LA Times' Paul Richter: "The top U.S. and Russian diplomats agreed Sunday to work with Ukrainian officials to ease the crisis triggered by Russia's decision to annex Crimea, but remained far apart on most other key points after four hours of talks in Paris. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the meeting constructive and said they wanted to continue talks to resolve how the polarized country should be governed. But while Lavrov demanded that the interim government in Kiev rewrite the constitution to allow provinces to exercise broad autonomy, Kerry insisted that any such decisions could only be made by the authorities who ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich one month ago." Full story here.

Hagel sends top NATO commander back to Europe early to reassure allies.  Reuters' Phil Stewart: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has sent America's top general in Europe back early from a trip to Washington in what a spokesman on Sunday called a prudent step given Russia's "lack of transparency" about troop movements across the border with Ukraine. General Philip Breedlove, who is both NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the head of the U.S. military's European Command, had been due to testify before Congress this week. Instead, he arrived in Europe Saturday evening and will be consulting with allies. "(Hagel) considered Breedlove's early return the prudent thing to do, given the lack of transparency and intent from Russian leadership about their military movements across the border," Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters, which was first to report the decision." Read more here.

Ten reasons not to believe Putin won't invade, on FP, here.

And Reuters' Top Five Ways the Ukraine crisis will change the world is here.

Welcome to Monday'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.

Missing SitRep? Please note: If you regularly receive Situation Report but then miss it here and there on some days and wonder why, do please check your junk or spam filters, as that is typically the cause when readers suddenly don't receive it as usual. And thank you much for reading SitRep.

Good news: we have help for the first time in 19 months. Nathaniel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, is giving us an assist. He knows all about making the donuts - he puts together a similar product each morning for the Center. Nathaniel is going to keep his day job but has agreed to help us out here on SitRep for awhile. Welcome Nathaniel by following him on the Tweeters at @njsobe4.

Something you didn't know until now: Denny Blair has a new gig at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and the Foundation gets a big lift. Blair, the former Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Pacific Command commander, has been named as the new chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, giving the sleepy non-profit some horsepower and helping to build it as a new go-to think tank for all issues relating to Japan. Sasakawa is a  private nonprofit based in Tokyo that supports public policy programs and research based on the idea that a strong Japan-U.S. relationship brings regional peace and prosperity. But Blair's appointment is a sign that the organization is upping its public policy game in Washington. It's also part of a revived focus on restoring the prominence of the U.S.-Japanese relationship and Tokyo's new emphasis on national security. A big conference in Washington, with Japanese dignitaries and American officials, is planned for April 30.

What's Blair been doing? He participated in a big study on cybersecurity that he co-chaired with Jon Huntsman, and another recent energy report from Securing America's Energy Future, or SAFE, that he co-chaired with former Marine Commandant Mike Hagee along with a number of other projects. More here.

A Fear of sharing: As the search for Flight 370 continues, the countries in the Asia Pacific need to learn how to coordinate and share intel, Vikram Singh and Sam Locklear tell FP. Our story, with an assist from Dan Lamothe: "There are myriad questions surrounding the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but one thing has become crystal clear to U.S. military officials: Asia Pacific countries need to learn how to play together better.
"The search for the jetliner,
now in its 22nd day, would have gone faster and maybe have been more effective had Malaysia, China, India and other countries involved in the search learned better how to share their intelligence and coordinate the information they had, say current and former Pentagon officials.

"While the search for the jetliner shows a high degree of cooperation between countries in the region, there are a number of examples where that coordination fell short. Many of the problems stem from Malaysia's own handling of the disaster. The government in Kuala Lumpur was slow to react or explain to the public or other countries what it was doing in the hours and days immediately following the plane's disappearance.
"But a majority of the issues are the result of countries not working well together. Governments were either too slow to share information, or were reluctant to do so, stifling the search and delaying it by days, American defense officials said."

Vikram Singh, who last month left the Pentagon as a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, to Situation Report: "This is yet another example of the incredible need to share among countries in the Asia Pacific." More here.

Speaking of which: Japan and the U.S. are creating a new defense body for those disputed islands. The Yomiuri Shimbun's Takashi Imai on Stripes: "Japan and the United States plan to create a permanent consultative body to coordinate the operations of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military in the face of China's highhanded actions over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Japanese and U.S. government sources said. The envisaged body is expected to help Japan and the United States deal quickly with situations in and around the islands that cannot be clearly identified as armed attacks, the sources said. Establishment of the consultative body will be included in revisions to the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation scheduled for the end of the year." More here.

A deeper look at flight and crew amid no real clues about Flight 370. The WSJ's Jake Maxwell Watts and Jeffrey Ng: "Authorities are taking a deeper look at the lives of the passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 after hundreds of interviews and background checks yielded no likely suspects in the investigation of the plane's disappearance. The past week of searching for wreckage in the Indian Ocean turned up only items unrelated to the plane, and without any direct evidence of how the plane disappeared, investigators are redoubling efforts to determine who could have been involved in the 'deliberate act' officials believe took the plane off course. "We cannot zero in on any faults by passengers or crew members so we are focusing on getting into value-added information in order to strengthen our investigative findings," Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters Saturday in Kuala Lumpur. He didn't elaborate." More here.

Naturally: weapons spending creeps upward: a data story with cool charts and graphics. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "The Pentagon's five-year projections for procurement spending on its 63 major weapons programs, submitted to Congress this month, has turned more positive than last year's spending forecast, according to an analysis of the US Defense Department's 63 top weapons programs compiled by analytical firm VisualDoD. The 2014 outlook for these efforts showed an overall 0.6 percent decline across the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). The 2015 FYDP projects a slight growth of 2.5 percent. Despite the slightly more rosy forecast, there is one issue that could throw a wrench into Pentagon procurement plans. DoD's overall five-year spending outlook is $115 billion above federal spending caps, meaning it would need to be heavily modified or cut if sequestration remains in 2016 and beyond. Read that, with a bunch of charts, here.

Also, read the resignation letter of the senior officer at Malmstrom AFB in the wake of the nuke scandal. AP, here.

Drone use is declining in Afghanistan. FP's Dan Lamothe: "A March 6 airstrike in Afghanistan killed at least five Afghan soldiers and wounded eight more - an egregious accident that prompted the U.S.-led military coalition to launch an ongoing investigation into what occurred. Afghan officials allege the attack was carried out by a drone, long the Obama administration's weapon of choice, while the U.S. says it involved a manned aircraft. Either way, the strike highlights an important -- and surprising -- shift:  Both the amount of time drones spend over Afghanistan and the number of total coalition airstrikes are in steep decline, and that trend is likely to accelerate as the U.S. withdraws most of its remaining troops in the months ahead." Read the full story here.

BTW - We told you Friday that the spouses of airmen would be smiling this past weekend as airmen participating in "Moustache March" shed their Tom Selleck-like mustaches for the little morale-building service challenge thrown down by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh in February. We misread the calendar by a day. Indeed, some airmen will have shaved their 'staches over the weekend - March 30 being reasonably close to the end of the month when they don't have to look ridiculous anymore. But the wives of airmen will really be smiling today, the last day of March, of course, when, technically speaking, Moustache March is over. Congratulations, ladies, for standing by your (air)man this month.

North Korea Vows to Use ‘New Form' of Nuclear Test. The NYT's Choe Sang-Hun: "North Korea threatened on Sunday to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test, a year after its third nuclear test raised military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and prompted the United Nations to tighten sanctions against the North. The North's Foreign Ministry did not clarify what it meant by a "new form" in its statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. But Washington and its allies have long suspected the country of trying to make nuclear devices small and sophisticated enough to be delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles it was also developing. Responding to the North's announcement, Cho Tai-young, the spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that "North Korea should bear in mind that if it ignores the stern demand from the neighboring countries and the international community and carries out a nuclear test, it will have to pay a price for it."  Full story here.

Ahead of Afghan presidential vote Saturday, candidates focus on the north. The NYT's Azam Ahmed: "When the presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani took the stage this month before more than 15,000 people in the northern province of Kunduz, his speech about fighting corruption and the need for unity and security was met with polite applause. Then his running mate, the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, took the stage. The crowd erupted, with his supporters pressing to the edge of a 10-foot-deep trench dug to keep them from rushing the dais.
"In effect, Mr. Ghani, a multilingual technocrat with a doctorate from Columbia University who is considered a front-runner, was relegated to being the warm-up act for his vice-presidential candidate. Despite being seen as a controversial figure, Mr. Dostum is unrivaled in his appeal to Afghanistan's Uzbek population, which lives almost entirely in the north. That Mr. Ghani has featured Mr. Dostum so prominently on his ticket is a testament to how important the north is in the presidential vote set for Saturday.
"...The appeal is clear: In 2009, more voters turned out in the north than in any other region. Traveling is safer here than in other parts of the country, making it easier for voters to get to the polls. And for the winning candidate, good relations with northern power brokers will be crucial to forming a government with broad support."  Read more here.

The things they carried: Ahead of this week's pivotal elections in Afghanistan, a look at what international monitors pack, literally. Jeffrey Stern, on FP: "Established in 2004, [Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan] is an independent NGO that observes elections and works to ensure their transparency. Today, FEFA is gearing up for its most complex mission to date. During the April election, it will deploy 10,000 observers to 399 voting districts to document intimidation, electioneering, and other polling irregularities. If recent history is any indicator, FEFA has its work cut out for it: Afghanistan's last four national votes were marred by endemic bribery, intimidation, and violence... Faraz invited Foreign Policy to FEFA's compound in western Kabul in January, where she showed us what she carries on the job and what a typical poll observer never leaves home without." Read the rest here.

Karzai steps up accusations against Pakistan in call with Kerry. AP's  Kathy Gannon: "In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan of being behind a recent series of attacks and of blocking his government from striking a peace deal with the Taliban, the Afghan president's office said Sunday. Karzai routinely makes such accusations against Islamabad, but his tone in recent days has been particularly pointed and direct. They come after three attacks in five days in the capital Kabul, the latest coming on Saturday when assailants fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the country's electoral commission ahead of next week's general election. Karzai told Kerry on Saturday the attacks were complex in nature and stage-managed by "foreign intelligence agencies," a reference to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. He also told Kerry that he did not accept U.S. arguments that it had no influence "over countries that support terrorism," and said the U.S.'s refusal to go after the Pakistani intelligence agency could further hurt its relations with Afghanistan." More here.

Two weeks after criticizing American policy, Israeli defense minister accepts 10 more years of US aid. Defense News' Barbara Opall-Rome: "Despite misgivings over US President Barack Obama's Mideast agenda and deep-rooted doubts about his ability to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the Israeli government is taking the US president at his word that it can expect another decade of military aid. In fact, it's banking on it. After many months of internal debate and bureaucratic resistance from the Israeli Treasury, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has government approval to take on more than $2 billion in commercial debt for near-term buys of V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and other Pentagon-approved weaponry.

"Under a US-approved deferred payment plan (DPP), Israel would pay only interest and fees over the course of the current agreement set to expire in September 2018. Principal will be covered by the new Obama-pledged package that would extend annual foreign military financing (FMF) aid through 2028, US and Israeli sources say." More here.

In first live broadcast from Fort Meade NSA headquarters on Friday, Hagel announces an increase in the U.S. cyberwarfare force. The WaPo's Ellen Nakashima: "The Pentagon is significantly growing the ranks of its cyberwarfare unit in an effort to deter and defend against foreign attacks on crucial U.S. networks, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
"In his first major speech on cyber policy, Hagel sought to project strength but also to tame perceptions of the United States as an aggressor in computer warfare, stressing that the government "does not seek to militarize cyberspace." His remarks, delivered at the retirement ceremony of Gen. Keith Alexander, the outgoing director of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, come in advance of Hagel's trip to China next week, his first as defense secretary.
"The issues of cyberwarfare and cyber-espionage have been persistent sources of tensions between Washington and Beijing. Hagel said that the fighting force at U.S. Cyber Command will number more than 6,000 people by 2016, making it one of the largest such ­forces in the world. The force will help expand the president's options for responding to a crisis with "full-spectrum cyber capabilities," Hagel said, a reference to cyber operations that can include destroying, damaging or sabotaging an adversary's computer systems and that can complement other military operations.
"But, Hagel said, the military's first purpose is "to prevent and de-escalate conflict." The Pentagon will maintain "an approach of restraint to any cyber operations outside of U.S. government networks." More here.