National Security

FP's Situation Report: Breedlove to FP: a need to rethink U.S. posture in Europe

Kerry was against Pollard's release before he was for it; Hagel to meet with Malaysian counterpart; Is a U.S. sub already on the hunt for 370?; CMC takes notice of an op-Ed; and a bit more.

 

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Breedlove tells FP that there's little evidence Russia has pulled back - and suggests the U.S. needs to rethink its military posture in Europe. Lubold's story: "The top U.S. commander in Europe said in an interview that he sees no sign that Russian forces are backing away from the border with Ukraine and called Moscow's conquest and annexation of Crimea a ‘paradigm shift' that requires a fundamental rethinking of where American forces are located and how they are trained.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, who serves as both the supreme allied commander of Europe and the head of the Pentagon's European Command, said Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces were still massed near eastern Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that Putin had ordered a partial withdrawal, but Breedlove offered a strikingly different, and more pessimistic, assessment of conditions on the ground there.

Breedlove to FP: "There are reported moves away from the border, but I must tell you that we do not see that yet...We are looking for it, and we have not seen movements to the rear."

Moscow has long claimed its troops had been stationed along the border for military exercises, but Breedlove said the forces were so well equipped that they could cross the border into eastern Ukraine, begin to deploy inside the country within 12 hours, and have essentially taken it over within several more days.

Beyond the soldiers, Breedlove said Moscow had deployed "the whole package" to the border, including helicopters and attack aircraft, as well as jamming systems and cyber-assets. The United States must see genuine movement away from the border and back to Russian garrisons before it will be convinced Moscow is trying to de-escalate the situation, he added.

Breedlove thinks there are long-term implications for U.S. policy and its military footprint in Europe as a result of the crisis. Before March, Breedlove's primary concern was holding the line against cuts to U.S. military personnel in Europe, where there are now about 67,000 troops, down from about 100,000 in 1990. Although the Pentagon has announced no public proposals to draw down U.S. forces, European Command has been seen by some as low-hanging budgetary fruit since before February. During the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the perception of European Command's operational and strategic importance sharply diminished, leaving it vulnerable to bureaucratic indifference.

Breedlove: "The question now is how is the force positioned and provisioned to prepare us for a new paradigm." Read our full story here.

Just noting: Breedlove is a passionate owner of a Harley-Davidson Street Glide. A stickler for motorcycle safety, Breedlove likes to say: "The only way to be an old man on a motorcycle is to ride your motorcycle like an old man." Also, did you know - Breedlove and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were roomies at Georgia Tech.

Congress passes a bill to hit Russia with more sanctions and offer aid to Ukraine. Reuters' Patricia Zengerle: "The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for a package of aid and sanctions in response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, and sent the measure to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign into law... The legislation backs a $1 billion loan guarantee for the Kiev government, provides $150 million in aid to Ukraine and surrounding countries and requires the U.S. State and Justice Departments to help the Kiev government recover assets amassed by corrupt Ukrainian officials." More here. 

Never surrender:  Russia will never give up Crimea. The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin: "When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukrainian control in 1954, it was simply for logistical and symbolic reasons, according to his son Sergei. Now, he swears, Russia will never give it back. Sergei Khrushchev has been living in the United States since emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is a naturalized American citizen, but he speaks as if he is still in the Russian government. He views the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich as an illegal seizure of the Kiev government by force and he insists that 96 percent of Crimeans voted to separate from Ukraine and join the Russian federation. Khrushchev spoke to The Daily Beast ahead of a Tuesday night speech at Bryant University in Rhode Island. Sergei Khrushchev: "Russia will never surrender." More here.

Wanna know how much each of these countries spend on defense per soldier? Stripes put this together, comparing in U.S. dollars, what Russia and Ukraine spend per soldier relative to other countries, citing information from the security affairs consultancy HIS Aerospace & Defense: United States $381,306; United Kingdom $330,810; France $231,934; Russia $83,478; China $77,712; India $35,732; Ukraine $11,937. See that list here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

John Kerry was against Pollard's release before he was for it. FP's Shane Harris and John Hudson: "In January 1999, a bipartisan group of senators sent a strongly worded letter to President Bill Clinton urging him not to commute the prison sentence of Jonathan Pollard, who was then in the 12th year of a life sentence for spying for Israel. Freeing Pollard, the lawmakers said, would 'imply a condonation of spying against the United States by an ally,' would overlook the 'enormity' of Pollard's offenses and the damage he had caused to national security, and would undermine the United States' ability to share secrets with foreign governments. Among the 60 signatories of the letter was John Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts. Fifteen years later, Kerry is singing a very different tune.

Now, as the secretary of state, Kerry has supported using Pollard's potential release as a bargaining chip in the Obama administration's attempts to salvage the flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks." More here.

Who is Jonathan Pollard anyway? The Christian Science Monitor's Explainer Peter Grier explains here.

Clapper admits that the NSA searched Americans' communications without a warrant. WaPo's Ellen Nakashima: "Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. acknowledged that the National Security Agency has searched for Americans' communications without warrants in massive databases that gather e-mails and phone calls of foreign targets. Although recently declassified documents made clear that the NSA had conducted such searches, no senior intelligence official had previously acknowledged the practice. Clapper did so in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden released Tuesday. Clapper did not disclose the number of times the NSA had searched for Americans' communications without a warrant as part of a program authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act." More here.

A British sub is searching for Flight 370 and an American sub may already be on the move. FP's Dan Lamothe: "The British Navy just sent a nuclear-powered submarine to the South Indian Ocean to help search for the Malaysian airliner that has been missing in March. The United States has not announced any similar decisions, but analysts caution that the U.S. Navy prides itself on keeping the movement of its submarines silent, and may already be in the hunt. ‘The value of a submarine is in its stealth and its ability to stay hidden,' said Eric Wertheim, an analyst with the United States Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md. ‘It could very well be doing it. But countries don't typically announce their submarines' locations.'" More here.

Hagel is going to meet with his Malaysian counterpart and Flight 370 will be on the agenda. AP's Lita Baldor: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with Malaysia's defense minister this week, amid ongoing criticism about how well the search for missing Flight 370 has been conducted and coordinated with other nations.

The defense leaders will come together at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hosted by Hagel in Honolulu. And a key topic will be how all the countries can better work together during disasters like the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines late last year. 'There's always lessons to be learned,' Hagel said when asked Tuesday about the search for the plane by reporters traveling with him en route to Hawaii. 'We're going to go back, the Malaysians will go back, all the ASEAN nations will go back and walk through this. What could have been done, maybe what should have been done, what needs to be done better. But coordination is a key part of this.'" More here.

Hagel pens an op-Ed on the need for a "shared responsibility" in Asia. Hagel, in Defense One: "In a world where security challenges do not adhere to political boundaries and our economies are linked as never before, no nation can go it alone and hope to prosper. Achieving sustained security and prosperity in the 21st century requires nations to work together and to meet common challenges with uncommon unity and purpose. This kind of unity is increasingly visible in the Asia-Pacific, one of the most critical regions for global security and the global economy. Just recently, the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 brought together more than 25 countries to conduct a complex search operation across the Indian Ocean's vast expanses..." His BL: "For more than 60 years, the Asia-Pacific region has enjoyed relative peace and stability and become an engine for global progress and prosperity. The beneficiaries of this progress have been the people of the region, and that includes the American people. The region has benefited from American leadership, and it will continue to do so. But sustaining this progress is not the work of any single nation - it is a shared responsibility. And the more nations that embrace this responsibility and spirit of cooperation, the more confident we can be that Asia in the 21st century will be defined by security and prosperity for all its people." More here.

The Taliban's rule casts a dark shadow over this week's election in Afghanistan. The New Yorker's Anand Gopal:  "On April 5th, the scheduled date of Afghanistan's upcoming Presidential election, there will be around a dozen polling centers in Chak, a narrow valley of mud homes and alfalfa farms that lies some forty miles from Kabul. A few of the centers, which are essentially rooms with a section curtained off for voting, will be in schools; others will be in mosques. At least two will be in tents pitched on mountain slopes, near the grazing ranges of nomadic herders. Freshly painted campaign billboards loom over the road into the valley. Tens of thousands of ballots are ready for delivery, and officials are considering a helicopter drop for some of the valley's most remote reaches.
"None of this will matter, though, because on Election Day there will not be a single voter or election worker in any of Chak's polling centers. When I asked a U.S.-backed militia commander in the area, whom I will call Raqib, to explain why, he drew a finger across his throat, and said, ‘Taliban.'
"The country's first democratic Presidential contest without Hamid Karzai-who is prevented by term limits from seeking reëlection-is supposed to represent a milestone, one of the rare peaceful transitions of power in the nation's history. But these elections will take place in a barely functioning state: the Taliban insurgency still rages in roughly half the country, where it often wields de facto authority. In these areas, casting a vote amounts to a death wish, because the Taliban view the exercise as traitorous. Election authorities have classified three thousand one hundred and forty of the six thousand eight hundred and forty-five polling stations as unsafe; large swathes of the country, particularly in the south and east, might see almost no turnout." More here.

There were no American deaths in Afghanistan in March. AP: "The Pentagon says there were no U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in March - the first zero-fatality month there since January 2007. American casualties in Afghanistan have declined as the number of U.S. forces has grown smaller and their role has shifted away from combat. U.S. troops are focused on training and advising Afghan forces." More here.

Afghan leaders calculate that participation in the political process is in their interest. USIP's Shahmahmood Miakhel for FP: "In a few days, Afghanistan will experience its first democratic transfer of power. Yet despite the historic nature of the 2014 presidential election, scheduled for April 5, voting day was the furthest thing from most Afghans' minds in late 2013. Though the Afghan parliament had passed several electoral laws in the fall of 2012 and current President Hamid Karzai had given numerous public assurances that he had no intention of delaying the vote or attempting to hold on to power, Afghans were, at worst, disbelieving and, at best, non-committal about the elections.
"Though 11 presidential candidates had been confirmed by December 2013 (there are now eight), the election remained on the backburner for policy makers and media pundits, both of which were focused on the wrangling between Karzai and President Obama over a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would pave the way for a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the NATO combat mission ended in December 2014.
"But by early February, two crucial things had changed. First, it had become so clear that Karzai would not sign the BSA that the issue receded into the background; and second, the presidential campaign had begun. The candidates were suddenly everywhere and the population was energized by televised debates and campaign rallies across the country." More here.

The op-Ed in the WaPo from a female Marine got CMC's attention. Seapower's Otto Kreisher: "The U.S. Marine Corps commandant has reacted swiftly to a female Marine officer's complaint that women are unfairly precluded from trying a second time to pass the prestigious Marine Corps Infantry Officers Course, when men can have a second try. In response to a question from a female Army officer at an Atlantic Council forum April 1, Gen. James F. Amos said he has ordered a change in the rules and lavished praise not only on Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Sage Santangelo, who protested the restriction, but on all his female Marines. And, Amos said, he offered Santangelo a chance to go to Afghanistan while she awaits an opening in flight training. 'I got an answer back in about 14 nanoseconds. ... So we're cutting orders right now. Sage is going to go to Afghanistan, to join the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Forward over there,' the commandant said." More here.

Sage Santangelo's original op-Ed, published in the WaPo on Sunday; her BLUF: "It's frustrating to me that there are still doubts about whether women are capable of handling combat environments. The women who have been awarded for their valor in combat, and the women who have died in combat for their country, have already answered the question about capability. Now, instead of passively evaluating their performance, we need to figure out how to set women up to excel in infantry roles. My hope is that the Marine Corps will allow every Marine the opportunity to compete. And that when we fail, our failure is seen simply as a challenge to others to succeed." Read the original op-Ed here.

Abu Ghaith trial vindicates Holder. WaPo's Sari Horwitz: "The trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, took 22 days. A federal jury deliberated for six hours, and after they returned with a guilty verdict last week on terrorism charges, the al-Qaeda propagandist was left facing a life sentence in one of this country's grim, maximum-security prisons. For U.S. prosecutors, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the case is proof positive of how much more swift and severe the federal courts are when compared to military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the trials of suspected terrorists continue to play out in seemingly endless procedural hearings." Read more here.

The GOP hopes to use Paul Ryan's budget to boost its defense cred. Defense News' John Bennett: "House Budget Committee Chairman and possible presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled a GOP spending plan Tuesday that would inflate President Barack Obama's proposed Pentagon spending level by over $30 billion. The much-anticipated 2015 ‘Ryan budget' almost certainly will be approved by the Republican-controlled House. But the Wisconsin Republican's spending plan isn't going anywhere beyond the lower chamber - Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says she will not craft a 2015 budget resolution. That's because December's bipartisan budget resolution, negotiated by Ryan and Murray, covered 2014 and 2015. It's also because she and other Senate Democratic leaders loathe cuts to decades-old domestic programs and Obamacare that Ryan proposes." More here.

Dempsey says that the Israelis trust the U.S. to act on Iran. USA Today's Jim Michaels: "Israel and the United States are now in broad agreement about the threat that Iran poses to the region and how to deal with it, the top U.S. military official said Tuesday. ‘I think they are satisfied that we have the capability to use a military option if the Iranians choose to stray off the diplomatic path,' Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of Israeli officials. ‘I think they are satisfied we have the capability. I think they believe we will use it.' Acknowledging there were differences in the past, Dempsey said Israel and the United States are closer now in their assessment of the threat Iran poses and America's willingness to act. Dempsey made the remarks after wrapping up a two-day visit to Israel, where he met with military and government officials." Full story here.

 

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.