National Security

FP's Situation Report: Another insider attack raises new questions at Fort Hood

Profiler: "not snapping behavior;" MRAPs to Pakistan; The nuances of hiring "heroes;" No BOGs: How America can shape the world; and a bit more.

 

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

An Iraq veteran and military truck driver who deployed in 2011 and was being treated for mental disorders killed three, then himself, and brought all the sorrow and all the ache back to Fort Hood. Lubold's story: The shooter, identified in media reports as Specialist Ivan Lopez, used a semi-automatic pistol in an area of the sprawling base where medical and motor transport personnel work. When the shooting stopped, Lopez was confronted in a parking lot by a female military police officer, according to Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the senior commander at the base. As the officer attempted to "engage" the shooter, Milley said, Lopez pulled a pistol out from underneath his jacket and shot himself in the head. He had been transferred to Fort Hood from another Army installation, also in Texas, in February, Milley said.

Lopez, who had a wife and children living in the area, had not been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the signature invisible wound of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he had "self-reported" a traumatic brain injury and was being treated for a number of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, Milley said. The soldier was a combat veteran, he said.

Milley: "Obviously we are digging deep into his background, any criminal history, psychiatric history, his experiences in combat, all the things you'd expect us to do are being done right now."

In November 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people and wounded 32 others in what remains the worst mass murder at a military installation in American history. Last year, he was sentenced to death for the killings. He awaits execution at a facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Milley said Fort Hood will get through this: "Events in the past have taught us many things here at Fort Hood: we know the community is strong, we know the community is resilient, and we know the soldiers and the civilians and the families of this fort who have served so bravely in combat for the last 13 years in both Iraq and Afghanistan are strong and we will get through this."

Mary Ellen O'Toole, a former senior profiler for the FBI on CNN's 'New Day' to Chris Cuomo this morning: "This is not snapping behavior, which means they were fine yesterday and then decided to carry out this lethal act of suicide/homicide, it's well-planned, thought out behavior. It's very likely for a personal cause."

Blue on blue: how the Defense Department is grappling with insider attacks. The WaPo's Ernest Londono: "... In 2010, the Defense Department's report on the Nidal shooting said officials intended to 'develop a scientifically based list of behavioral indicators of potential violence.' It also said the military would work jointly with the FBI to "strengthen our understanding of the insider threat.' That review also called for more stringent measures to vet those seeking access to military installations around the country. Due to budget constraints, some of those recommendations have not been fully implemented, according to the report the Pentagon issued last month outlining its findings of the Sept. 16, 2013 Navy Yard shooting. The report said that several installations do not comply with physical security regulations that call for personnel screening people coming into bases to check their identification forms against military and law enforcement databases." More here.

The shooting will come up this morning on Capitol Hill, where Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Raymond Odierno are expected to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on ‘The Posture of the Department of the Army'. Deets here.

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.

Big project: Heroes wanted: Piecing together veterans' unemployment, by Greg Jaffe in the WaPo: "A two-tour Army veteran of the Afghanistan war pulled on a pair of old combat boots and headed off to his $8-an-hour job washing cars at a Ford dealership in Wichita Falls, Tex. 'My military background don't mean nothing,' he said. 'I am just another guy with a GED.'

"An unemployed Iraq veteran in San Antonio woke up late, as he always did these days, and searched the online job boards for new listings. "Same garbage as usual," he said.

"A 46-year-old former soldier, out of work for seven months, was so nervous that he was shaking as he waited in line at a veterans job fair in Louisville. 'It seems like I second-guess myself whenever I talk,' he said. Also at the fair was a man who ran one of the biggest veterans employment programs in the country, with thousands of jobs to fill. 'Okay, let's do it," he said, wading into the crowd and looking for someone to help.

"The four are part of a postwar economy that is unlike any in American history for veterans seeking work. Unemployment among veterans has been called a "black eye on our society" by the head of a major veterans group. "A moral obligation" is how President Obama has referred to it. "A national disgrace," a prominent Republican senator has said.

"The truth, though, is more complicated. Veterans who served in the post-Sept. 11 era have a higher overall unemployment rate than their civilian peers - but it was only about 2 percentage points higher in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are more likely to be employed in full-time jobs and on average earn more than peers who didn't serve. They report about the same levels of financial stress as Americans overall, according to a new survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation."

This impulse has led corporate America to make some massive promises... Add up all the pledges, and they total more than 1 million jobs for a population of unemployed post-Sept. 11-era veterans that is estimated most months by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at 210,000. The math is overwhelming: There are now about five pledged jobs for every unemployed service member who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. It also raises some questions: If there really are more than 1 million jobs out there, why isn't every Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran employed? Is there a problem with what the companies are doing? Might it have something to do with the veterans themselves? Read the rest of the Jaffe story here.

Do Iraq and Afghanistan veterans think the wars were worth fighting? WaPo's Mark Berman: "Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely than other Americans to say the wars were worth the costs, even as the newest generation of soldiers divides sharply along familiar partisan lines... Despite support outpacing the general public, veterans' support is still lukewarm, tempered by deep partisan divisions and nagging doubts that Iraqi and Afghan citizens appreciated their service." WaPo and the Kaiser Family Foundation survey here.

In this week's New Yorker George Packer writes about how soldiers "write their wars." Packer: "...The best literary work thus far written by a veteran of America's recent wars is Phil Klay's "Redeployment" (Penguin Press), a masterly collection of short stories about war and its psychological consequences. 'Redeployment' is military for 'return,' and Klay's fiction peels back every pretty falsehood and self-delusion in the encounter between veterans and the people for whom they supposedly fought." Read the rest here.

Feinstein picks up two key votes in support of unveiling the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA's Bush-era abuses.  FP's John Hudson: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein's quest to release a long-awaited and bitterly divisive report on the CIA's Bush-era detention and interrogation practices gained the support of two key Senators on Wednesday, all but assuring majority support to release the report's primary findings.

"In a joint statement, centrist Senators Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, said they will support the release of the findings, conclusions and executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's 6,300 page report. The show of support comes ahead of a Thursday vote to release the summary and adds a thin bipartisan sheen to Feinstein's efforts to expose the CIA's harsh interrogation tactics in the post-9/11 era. ‘We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values,' Collins and King said. ‘While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred.'" More here.

In Brussels, Kerry proposes two steps to decrease Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy.  FP's Keith Johnson: "...Ever since the confrontation between Kiev and Moscow heated up late last year, and especially since Russia's forcible annexation of the Crimean peninsula in February, European leaders have been fretting about their energy security and heavy reliance on supplies of Russian natural gas. Ukraine, in particular, has been hammered by Russia's use of the energy weapon; on Tuesday, Russia jacked up by about 40 percent the price it charges for natural gas exported to Ukraine, and raised the specter of further price hikes that will put more stress on an already wobbly economy.
"Kerry, speaking at a U.S.-European Union Energy Council summit in Brussels, said that the U.S. wants to help ensure that Europe is able to accelerate its long-overdue energy diversification. ‘It really boils down to this: No nation should use energy to stymie a people's aspirations. It should not be used as a weapon,' Kerry said.
"He stressed two big measures
that could help Ukraine, in particular, get out from under Moscow's thumb: Bringing new sources of gas from Central Asia and sending gas from Eastern Europe back into Ukraine to undercut Russian dominance. He also nodded to the role that future exports of natural gas from the United States could play in diversifying global energy markets." More here.

The search for Flight 370 ain't cheap. Reuters' David Alexander: "The U.S. military has spent more than $3.3 million on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and has put in place plans that nearly double the original $4 million available for the hunt, a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday. Army Colonel Steve Warren said the Defense Department spent $3.2 million between March 8 and March 24 on the initial search for the Boeing 777-200ER, which went missing more than three weeks ago during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing." More here.

A former State intel official is sentenced to 13 months for leaking information to Fox News about North Korea's nuclear program. The WaPo's Ann Marimow: "A former State Department arms expert who leaked classified information to a Fox News reporter was sentenced Wednesday to 13 months in prison, after a pointed courtroom debate about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of unauthorized disclosures of top-secret information. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim pleaded guilty in February to sharing classified information from an intelligence report on North Korea with reporter James Rosen, Fox's chief Washington correspondent. Rosen was also targeted in the investigation by federal agents, who described him as a possible ‘co-conspirator' in order to search his personal e-mails." More here.

Follow the MRAPs - they're headed to PakistanDefense News' Paul McLeary: "While controversy swirls over reports that Pakistan may receive some of the excess Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that the United States has sitting in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials are on the verge of completing a deal to send new and excess MRAPs to Islamabad, Defense News has learned. The 160 vehicles, all of which would be the MaxxPro MRAP variant made by US manufacturer Navistar, would be a mix of new builds and some from US Army prepositioned stocks in Kuwait, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who is not authorized to speak for attribution." More here.

Stimson's Russell Rumbaugh's one-pager on the implications for defense spending in Paul Ryan's budget, here.

After a lull in violence, three bombs kill a government official in Cairo. The FT's Borzou Daragahi: "Anti-government militants renewed their offensive against the Egyptian security forces on Wednesday, killing one senior interior ministry official and a civilian and injuring at least seven others in bombings in central Cairo and an attack in the provinces. Three bombs, thought to be activated by remote control, struck at midday near Cairo University, a site of unrest between the police and supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi. The dead official, reportedly assigned to a guard post just outside the university campus, was Brigadier General Tariq Mirjawi, head of the investigations division for Giza province, which encompasses eastern Cairo, state media reported." Full story here.

New release: Ahead of Tunisian PM Mehdi Jomaa's state visit to DC, CAP looks at the latest security and political dynamics in Tunisia. The Center for American Progress' Hardin Lang: "Tunisia provides an important example of a country where Islamists and non-Islamists are largely settling their differences through politics. But the country remains a work in progress, and the United States should stand ready to bolster the ongoing transition." Full report here.

Interested in Congo? CSIS is hosting an event this evening with Ambassador William Garvelink and Jennifer Cooke for Anjan Sundaram's new book Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo. More here.

Yesterday, a suicide bomber in Iraq killed five army recruits. AP's Sameer Yacoub in Baghdad: "An Iraqi police official says a suicide bombing near a military base in the country's north has killed five army recruits. Police Col. Fatah Rasheed says Wednesday's attack in the town of Riyadh took place when the bomber set off his explosives' belt, targeting recruits waiting in line at the gate of a military base to apply for jobs early in the morning." More here.

Two thirds of Afghan voters are under the age of 25, but the prospects for a fair and free election are slim.  The WSJ's Margherita Stancati and Yaroslav Trofimov in Kabul: "For Afghanistan's "Generation America," Saturday's presidential election marks a vital rite of passage. Almost two thirds of Afghans are younger than 25, and millions have come of age during the 12 years since U.S. troops and development dollars arrived. Despite a violent Taliban insurgency and rampant corruption, young Afghans have enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and opportunities, and many of them will be voting for the first time to preserve them.
"A smooth election is hardly assured. On Wednesday, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the entrance to the ministry of interior, killing six officers in one of central Kabul's most heavily guarded spots. An election critically disrupted by the Taliban-or stolen through fraud-could push Afghanistan into renewed civil war, reopening old ethnic fissures and imperiling many gains of the past decade.
"...Of the three presidential front-runners, former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, 70, is Mr. Karzai's favorite and is seen as the establishment candidate. The two others, former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani, 64, and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, 54, have chosen running mates who were warlords during the country's civil war. All of them, however, are working hard to woo the young vote. Mr. Rassoul pledged on Wednesday to fill his future government with young appointees. Mr. Ghani, in a recent interview, described himself as ‘the embodiment of the aspirations of the young men and women of this country.'" Full story here.

The Secretary of State issued a statement ahead of Saturday's Afghan elections. Kerry: "...The United States has proudly supported Afghanistan's electoral and security institutions. But make no mistake: this is Afghanistan's moment. These elections have been Afghan-owned from the start. The Afghan people have planned and prepared for this historic vote. The Afghan people are staffing and leading the electoral institutions. And the Afghan people are dedicated to protecting and advancing their own democracy." More here.
How can America shape the world without boots on the ground and bombs in the air? Good question.  For FP, USIP's Kristin Lord and Stephen Hadley attempt an answer: "Vladimir Putin's cynical efforts to annex Crimea and intimidate the fledgling government of Ukraine make it all too clear that naked aggression in world affairs is not a thing of the past. The United States and its allies must respond firmly when such aggression occurs. But there are other perhaps less dramatic instances of resorting to force of arms. These include unresolved disputes between states -- or ethnic, tribal, and religious disputes within states -- that degenerate into armed conflict. In many instances these conflicts can be prevented, and there is every reason to try to do so." More here.

 

 

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.