National Security

FP's Situation Report: Do Russia-Ukraine peace talks stand a chance in Geneva?

Hagel meeting with Poland’s defense chief; An explosion of foreign fighters in Syria; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe with Nathaniel Sobel

Peace talks in Geneva begin today between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union. The stated goal: Calm things down in Ukraine, where armed clashes between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia fighters continue to boil over into bloodshed. From the Wall Street Journal's Laurence Norman, reporting from Geneva: "Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union started talks in Geneva on Thursday morning in the biggest diplomatic push so far to ease tensions between Kiev and Moscow. The four-way meetings are the highest-level direct talks between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow annexed the Crimea region and placed tens of thousands of troops on the border. Western officials are arriving with the threat of further sanctions on Russia in what they hope will force serious negotiations. Discussions are expected to focus on the growing crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have occupied government buildings in a number of towns."

"Ukraine has sent troops to oust the separatists that Kiev and Washington say are backed by Moscow. Three protesters were killed in an overnight clash that marked the bloodiest conflict in the operation so far. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the last of the ministers to arrive in the Swiss lakeside city Thursday morning. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton beforehand." More here.

No sudden breakthroughs are expected, however. A firefight in the city of Mariupol killed three protestors, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's rhetoric afterward underscores the severity of the situation. From the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn, reporting from Moscow: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia emphasized on Thursday that the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament had authorized him to use military force if necessary in eastern Ukraine, and also stressed Russia's historical claim to the territory, repeatedly referring to it as "new Russia" and saying that only "God knows" why it became part of Ukraine. Speaking in a televised question-and-answer show, Mr. Putin also admitted for the first time that Russian armed forces had been deployed in Crimea, the disputed peninsula that Russia annexed last month immediately after a large majority of the population voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine."

More from Putin, as reported by the Times: "We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny," he said. "Can a compromise be found on the Ukrainian question between Russia and America?" Mr. Putin asked. "Compromise should only be found in Ukraine," he said. "The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It's new Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there - we need to encourage them to find a solution." More here.

Good Thursday morning to you. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I've got one more day churning out your morning Situation Report newsletter along with Nathaniel Sobel while Gordon Lubold is away. I'll try to keep the knock-knock jokes to a minimum, but no promises. If you have anything you'd like to share with our newsletter, please email me at dan.lamothe@foreignpolicy.com. And if you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send Gordon a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and he'll add you on our growing distribution list. 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 consider following us at @DanLamothe, @glubold, and @njsobe4.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosts Poland's minister of defense, Tomasz Siemoniak, at the Pentagon this morning. They'll follow with a bi-lateral meeting, with a news conference to follow at 10:45 a.m, Pentagon officials say. It goes without saying that Poland is keenly interested in the Ukraine crisis, given Russia's proximity to their own borders.

Poland wants boots on the ground. That from Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "Poland's defense minister is calling for a larger US and NATO military presence in his country to deter the type of Russian aggression occurring in eastern Ukraine. Tomasz Siemoniak is scheduled to meet with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday to discuss ways the US military could partner more with Poland at a time when Russia flexes its military muscles on the Crimean Peninsula and near Ukraine. ‘In the longer-term perspective, what we would like to see very much in Poland is the development of NATO and American infrastructure and an increasing military presence of both the US and NATO in our country,' Siemoniak told Defense News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. During his visit to Washington, Siemoniak said he will focus on the ‘long-term consequences' of Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine's eastern border." More here.

NATO's chief wants more planes, ships in response to Russia's moves on Ukraine. From the WSJ's Naftali Bendavid: "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said it would increase its flights over allied Baltic nations and send ships to the Mediterranean and Baltic seas in response to what it called Russia's threat to Ukraine. NATO will also dispatch military personnel to intensify training and exercises in NATO countries in Eastern Europe, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a meeting of representatives from the alliance's 28 members in Brussels. ‘We will have more planes in the air, more ships in the water, and more readiness on the land,' Mr. Rasmussen said on Wednesday. ‘More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come.' Germany has already committed to lead mine-sweeping maneuvers in the Baltic Sea and to contribute six Eurofighter jets to NATO's efforts in the Baltics, the Defense Ministry confirmed in Berlin. The moves are part of a swing by NATO - which officials say they hope will be temporary - from viewing Russia as a partner to treating it as an adversary following its recent incursion into Ukraine and subsequent annexation of the Crimean peninsula. More broadly, NATO leaders say it is clear the rules of the game have changed in Europe now that a country has used military force to change international borders for the first time in years. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's military commander, said the new measures are designed to last at least until the end of the year." More here.

The Syrian Army has regained critical territory from armed rebels - but parts of the country may be irretrievable. That from the Christian Science Monitor's Nicholas Blanford: "A slew of battlefield successes by the Syrian Army and its allies has prompted upbeat assessments from President Bashar al-Assad that his forces are headed for victory in the war against his rebel opponents. Mr. Assad predicted on Monday that the major battles could be over by the end of the year, while his ally, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that the Syrian leader no longer faced the risk of being overthrown. "This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the Army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting our country," Assad said.

It's not that simple, though. More from the Monitor:  "But a regime victory is unlikely to look anything like pre-war Syria. With vast tracts of northern and eastern Syria remaining in the hands of rebel groups, "winning" could simply mean retaking and holding parts of western Syria that are vital to the regime's survival. In the past year, the Syrian Army, supported by Shiite fighters from Hezbollah and Iraq and backed by Russia and Iran, has concentrated its efforts on ousting rebels from Damascus and imposing control on the critical corridor that connects the Syrian capital to the Mediterranean coast, the heartland of the Alawites, a Shiite splinter sect to which Assad belongs. "The regime's hold on the area not only protects Assad in Damascus; it also safeguards the crucial arms supply route from the Syrian military bases, where weapons are stored, to Hezbollah in Lebanon. More here.

Expect 2015 to look even worse in Syria than 2014. Nicholas Seeley, writing for Foreign Policy: "In late March, a Syrian refugee dramatically set herself on fire in front of the office of the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in the embattled Lebanese city of Tripoli. Only a few days later, Lebanon hit the grim milestone of its millionth Syrian refugee. Soon after, in Jordan, as the U.N. was preparing to open a massive new refugee camp, a riot swept through the country's existing camp, leaving one Syrian dead and dozens of refugees and police officers injured. These violent events have grabbed headlines, but refugee experts say they are most likely isolated incidents. The real danger signs about the future of the Syrian refugee crisis are more widespread and entrenched: Both Lebanon and Jordan are struggling to deal with huge populations of Syrians, and international funding isn't keeping up with their needs. At the same time, the ongoing devastation of Syria is generating a seemingly endless supply of new people seeking refuge.

"The crisis, as it is being handled now, is unsustainable -- and unless something drastically changes, it's only going to get worse. ‘We'll probably get through this year,' says Andrew Harper, the head of UNHCR in Jordan. ‘But then how are we going to go through 2015? And if we struggle through 2015, how are we going to go in 2016 and beyond?' Jordan currently hosts about 600,000 refugees, in a country whose pre-crisis population was estimated at barely over six million. About 100,000 of the refugees live in the massive Zaatari camp, which is run by the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, with international funding. The other half a million are dispersed among cities, towns, and rural areas. The U.N. also provides some assistance to these ‘urban refugees,' but much of the cost falls on the government, through public services and subsidized goods. These refugees also put strains on local communities, which are facing rising prices, falling wages, and increasingly overcrowded public services." Full story here.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign fighters in Syria has increased tenfold. That, according to Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command. Defense One's Kevin Baron, reporting from Tampa: "Critics have hammered Obama for not intervening militarily sooner, but the top U.S. general in charge of the region said on Wednesday that Syria is the most formidable problem he's faced in nearly 40 years. In just the past year, the U.S. military no longer is tracking a two-sided war visible from space that fueled Odierno's previous prediction. Now, commanders are deciphering a multi-fronted spider's web of fighters more than battlefield maneuvers. ‘We've gone from tracking large formations of opposing forces to networks of enemy, which is much more challenging, to almost individuals, which is enormously challenging for our intel community,' U.S. Central Command's Gen. Lloyd Austin said during a keynote address to the intelligence satellite and mapping community at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation's GEOINT conference. And ‘unless you have done that' kind of detailed manhunt work, he said, ‘you don't understand it."'

"Austin, the final commander of the Iraq War, said the threat of foreign fighters and extremists is very real. ‘It is a credible threat," he said. ‘As I look at the Syria problem, I gotta tell you that this is the most complex problem I've seen in the short, almost 39 years that I've been doing this. If you kind of look at the elements of the problem, there's chemical weapons involved, there's significant proxy activity ongoing in that country, there's sectarian issues, and, if you took one of those things on its own, it would make for a very complicated set of affairs, or issue. But if you combine all of that, then it makes it really, really tough. And you layer on top of that this issue of extremist activity that we've seen grow in that country - it's very concerning.' More here.

The White House confirms that Syrian opposition fighters now have U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles. From the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung: "Syria's opposition fighters have been supplied with U.S.-made antitank missiles, the first time a major American weapons system has appeared in rebel hands. It is unclear how the rebels obtained the wire-guided missiles, which are capable of penetrating heavy armor and fortifications and are standard in the U.S. military arsenal. The United States has sold them in the past to Turkey, among other countries, and the Pentagon approved the sale of 15,000 of the weapons to Saudi Arabia in December. Both countries aid Syrian opposition groups. U.S. officials declined to discuss the origin of the weapons but did not dispute that the rebels have them. Their appearance in Syria coincides with a U.S. commitment this year to escalate a CIA-run program to supply and train vetted ‘moderate' rebel groups and to improve coordination with other opposition backers. ‘The United States is committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition,' said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. ‘As we have said, we are not going to detail every single type of our assistance.' Videos showing rebels using the weapons were first uploaded to YouTube between April 1 and 5 by Harakat Hazm, a moderate insurgent splinter group, according to Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, who was among the first to identify the so-called TOW (‘Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided') antitank missiles." More here.

For the record: Check out FP's Shane Harris, writing about those YouTube videos earlier this month here.

Hagel wants a broad review of the military justice system. From Military Times' Pentagon correspondent, Andrew Tilghman: "The Pentagon is launching a ‘systemic' review of the entire military justice system that will look at how commanders convene courts-martial and impose nonjudicial punishments. The 18-month review of the Uniform Code of Military Justice ‘will help ensure the continued effectiveness of our armed forces and the fair administration of justice for our service members,' Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. The aim of the review is to ‘provide both a step-back look at ways to improve how the UCMJ operates and a close technical scrub to address any discontinuity after decades of individual amendments,' according to the announcement. The review comes at a time of increasing concern among Pentagon leaders about sexual assault specifically and broader misconduct across the force after years of war. The Pentagon also is under pressure from Congress to reform the UCMJ in fundamental ways. In March, the Senate narrowly rejected a bill that would have stripped commanders of their authority to oversee courts-martial of major crimes and instead transfer that mission to a new military prosecutor's office." More here.

The Pentagon has offered to help with South Korea's shipwreck disaster, but time is already running out to find survivors. My story for FP: "The USS Bonhomme Richard is steaming toward the site of the South Korean passenger ship Sewol, which sank roughly 60 miles offshore after running aground in shallow water Wednesday morning, authorities said. The emergency has sparked a scramble to save as many of the 450 people who were on board as possible. At least four are dead and some 284 passengers -- many of the children -- remain unaccounted for, raising fears that they may be trapped below the Sewol's deck as it takes on water. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps could launch a variety of helicopters to respond to the deadly ferry disaster off the southern tip of South Korea, using the Bonhomme Richard, a 40,000-ton warship, as a base from which to help in the crisis, U.S. military officials said Wednesday. But with hypothermia a significant threat to stranded passengers, there is a tight window of time in which survivors may be saved. Frigid temperatures make it unlikely that passengers could survive long in the water, said Christopher Harmer, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War and former Navy helicopter pilot. The water in the area where the ship sank is about 54 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning hypothermia will set in quickly for wet passengers still trapped on the ship, and even more swiftly for anyone floating nearby." More here.

National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Russian troops, or Ukrainian defectors?

A new Medal of Honor for Army veteran; New York Times piece explores ties between military and KKK; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe with Nathaniel Sobel

Sketchy troops with unclear intentions are now rolling through eastern Ukraine on armored vehicles. That from the Wall Street Journal this morning. From James Marson, reporting from Slovyansk, Ukraine: "An armored column of military vehicles flying a Russian flag and carrying dozens of heavily armed fighters motored into this eastern Ukrainian city early Wednesday, a day after the Ukrainian army launched an operation to clear out pro-Russian separatists who had taken control of cities in the region. It wasn't immediately clear whether the men were Russian soldiers or local militants who had gotten their hands on military vehicles. A soldier on one said the unit was part of the 25th brigade of Ukraine's airborne forces that had switched sides and was joining the pro-Russian forces, but that couldn't be immediately confirmed."

"All of the men appeared to be wearing military uniforms without insignia, similar to the heavily armed uniformed men who have seized government building around the region. Six vehicles took up positions in the center of the city outside the city council building, and dozens of men in fatigues, balaclava masks and carrying automatic weapons milled around. A crowd of about 200 locals gathered around the vehicles and began cheering when one of them showed off by driving in tight circles." More here.

The brewing pro-Russia insurgency is digging in its heels. That seems pretty evident, based on this Foreign Policy report filed by David Patrikarakos. From his story, written from Kiev: "Large contingents of Ukrainian forces are now on the move near Sloviansk and the nearby town of Kramatorsk, where separatists have also seized a government building. But the mood of those in the town and the other occupied areas of eastern Ukraine remains defiant, and greater conflict seems almost a certainty. Over the past few days, Sloviansk -- a small, once-insignificant industrial town of just under 130,000 in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border -- has become what many there have said will be the first battleground of a larger war."

"As late afternoon fell on Tuesday in Sloviansk, the sound of machine-gun fire grew more regular. The armed men around the police station have become emboldened. These are the men the Ukrainian army will face when it tries to break the siege here, and they have no intention of leaving without a fight." More here.

Meanwhile, we may have a read on what the CIA is really doing in Ukraine. Eli Lake and Josh Rogin add a new theory that would go a long way toward explaining why John Brennan, Langley's top spook, was in Ukraine last week. From the Daily Beast: "The Obama administration is now considering a new policy to share more real-time intelligence with the interim government in Kiev after pressure from some in the U.S. military, Congress and U.S. allies in Ukraine. Over the weekend, CIA Director John Brennan met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema to discuss the formation of new, more secure channels for sharing U.S. intelligence with the country now fighting pro-Russian secessionists in its eastern cities, according to U.S. and Western officials briefed on the meeting. It's a vitally important issue because the Ukrainians are badly outmatched by the Russian forces massed on their border and infiltrating their cities. If Kiev is going to have a hope of withstanding the pressure from Moscow, their intelligence on the Russian military's activities will have to be exquisite." More here.

Good Wednesday morning to you. This is Dan Lamothe, and I'll continue to man the controls here on Situation Report with Nathaniel Sobel while Gordon Lubold takes some time off. I promise to keep my whining about the 40-degree midday drop across much of the nation to myself. If you have anything you'd like to share with our newsletter, please email me at dan.lamothe@foreignpolicy.com. And If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send Gordon a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and he'll add you on our growing distribution list. 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 consider following us at @DanLamothe, @glubold, and @njsobe4.

Situation Report corrects: Yesterday's newsletter blew it on when the next Boston Marathon will take place. It is, of course, on Patriot's Day each year. That's this coming Monday. Situation Report regrets the error.

 The United States will soon honor another Afghan war hero with the Medal of Honor. The announcement came yesterday from the White House. The recipient is Army Sgt. Kyle White, who will be honored for actions in 2007. Army Times' Michelle Tan, in an exclusive interview with White: "High in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the enemy ambush was quick and deadly. Spc. Kyle White's platoon leader was dead, as was a Marine sergeant tasked with advising Afghan soldiers. A fellow paratrooper was wounded, and at least three others were missing. White, already dazed from an explosion, repeatedly ran the gauntlet of enemy fire to get to the wounded and fallen.

"When the shooting stopped and night fell, White, who was barely 20 years old, cared for his wounded brother, called in steady radio reports, directed security and guided in close-air support until the medevac birds were able to come and evacuate the wounded and the dead. For his actions more than six years ago, on Nov. 8, 2007, White will receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Tuesday.

White on his Feb. 10 phone call with Obama: "‘It still feels surreal,' White told Army Times, shortly after getting the call. ‘I know it's coming and it's happening, but I don't really know how you're supposed to feel. I didn't have much to say except, Thank you, Mr. President.'" More here.

Prediction: The New York Times will take a beating today for an op-ed piece exploring links between military service and white supremacy. It was written by Kathleen Belew, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University, and already set much of the national security community on fire on Twitter last night. From her piece, not so subtly titled "Veterans and White Supremacy": "When Frazier Glenn Miller shot and killed three people in Overland Park, Kan., on Sunday, he did so as a soldier of the white power movement: a groundswell that united Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other fringe elements after the Vietnam War, crested with the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, and remains a diminished but potent threat today. Mr. Miller, the 73-year-old man charged in the killings, had been outspoken about his hatred of Jews, blacks, Communists and immigrants, but it would be a mistake to dismiss him as a crazed outlier. The shootings were consistent with his three decades of participation in organized hate groups. His violence was framed by a clear worldview."

You can't predict whether an individual will commit violence, Belew writes, but Miller certainly deserved scrutiny based on his history of aggression and racism and affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. That's true enough, but it's there that she appears to run into trouble with veterans, making a maligned 2009 Homeland Security report central to her argument without much other specific evidence. From her piece: "The report singled out one factor that has fueled every surge in Ku Klux Klan membership in American history, from the 1860s to the present: war. The return of veterans from combat appears to correlate more closely with Klan membership than any other historical factor. ‘Military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists carrying out violent attacks,' the report warned. The agency was ‘concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.'"

Belew mentions that the nine-page Homeland Security report - actually leaked at the time -- drew fire. That occurred mostly because it was thin on statistics and long on anecdotal conjecture. It has been written about by scholars before, including in a 2011 dissertation by Paul Brister at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. From that scholarly work: "In 2009, a leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security briefly brought the issue of non-Islamic domestic terrorism back to the forefront of American concerns, only to be immediately swept aside by politicians who claimed the report was an attack on conservatives and veterans. By early 2010, the DHS section responsible for producing the report was gutted and all links to the report were removed from government websites.

"The report generated more political turmoil than neutral analysis and the report has yet to be either considered or challenged on its merits. To those versed in the history of American domestic terrorism, the report harkens back to multiple dark periods of America's past. The factors upon which the report draws - economic downturns, the influx of returning military veterans, and the presence or introduction of "left wing" policies and organizations  have long been used to predict terrorism from the right, but are rarely subjected to the types of cross-case analysis needed to determine causality." More here.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will host Chile's top defense official today at the Pentagon. An "honor cordon" will welcome Jorge Burgos, the minister of defense, to Puzzle Palace at 10:30 a.m., officials say.

Are parachutes needed on U.S. military airplanes? Time magazine explores the issue, highlighting a deadly aviation incident last year: From Mark Thompson: "Putting young, inexperienced pilots into a 50-year-old Air Force plane seems like a risky idea. Even riskier? Getting rid of crew's parachutes to save money. But that's what the Air Force did last May 3, when it launched a mission to refuel U.S. warplanes over Afghanistan using a KC-135 Stratotanker delivered by Boeing to the Air Force on June 26, 1964. A problem with the plane's flight-control system cascaded toward trouble after actions by what the Air Force has concluded was its inadequately-trained crew. In short order, the double-barreled dilemmas ripped the airplane's tail off three miles above Kyrgyzstan's Himalayan foothills. The plane quickly entered a steep dive, dooming all three aboard. Both pilots graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2008, shortly after the service decided it couldn't afford to keep parachutes on KC-135s. ‘A lot of time, manpower and money goes into buying, maintaining and training to use parachutes,' the Air Force said in March 2008. ‘With the Air Force hungry for cost-saving efficiency under its Air Force for Smart Operations in the 21st Century Program, commonly known as AFSO 21, the parachutes were deemed obsolete.'" More here.

Meet the one-pound drone that fits in a backpack and already has been used by troops downrange. From my FP story: "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to the widespread and controversial use of drones that can find lurking insurgents and allow U.S. troops to hunt them down. But in addition to concerns about civilian casualties, unarmed surveillance drones are not always available quickly enough to assist U.S. troops when they need them. It's common for U.S. forces to wait at least 10 or 15 minutes for U.S. aircraft or drones to arrive after they're called -- crucial time when pinned down under gunfire. Enter the backpack drone. Defense contractors have developed several variations, but a new unarmed robot that weighs one pound and relies on four helicopter rotors has quietly made it to U.S. troops in combat.

"It's called the InstantEye, and it allows ground troops to quickly get eyes in the sky to track the movement of nearby attackers through lightweight cameras. Looking something like a kitchen-counter appliance with propellers, InstantEye arrived in the hands of U.S. forces with little fanfare in recent months. Videos released by the company that makes it -- Physical Sciences Inc., of Andover, Mass. -- show an individual launching the quad-copter robot less than a minute after pulling it from a bag, sending it 400 feet overhead within 10 seconds, and tracking targets that are fleeing both on foot and in vehicles. The InstantEye also can be used at night and to map tunnels, the company says." Full story with videos here.

The Pentagon cuts some F-35s, but the $391.2 billion Lockheed program rolls on. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "The Pentagon will cut 17 of the 343 F-35 fighters it planned to buy from Lockheed Martin Corp. in fiscal 2016 through 2019 unless Congress repeals automatic budget cuts, according to a new Defense Department report. The move would save about $1.7 billion from $45.5 billion in planned spending for the F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons program. The report spells out an array of cuts in other projected purchases, from air-to-air missiles made by Raytheon Co. (RTN) to aerial refueling tankers from Boeing Co. (BA) The report, obtained by Bloomberg News, "Estimated Impacts of Sequestration-Level Funding," provides the Pentagon's most detailed breakdown yet on the impact of the cuts. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the military service chiefs have been pressing Congress to avert the process called sequestration, which is scheduled to take full effect again in fiscal 2016 after two years of temporary relief. ‘Reviewing these cuts illustrates the additional war-fighting risk that the department will incur' if ‘automatic reductions persist,' according to the 37-page report." More here.

Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, address the threats U.S. airfields face in an interview with Popular Mechanics. The general's remarks, as reported by Joe Pappalardo: "‘Our airfields indeed face very real threats. They are large, stationary, known targets vulnerable to a range of threats. But we're not helpless. We have layered defenses and have been developing a new concept of operations for complicating the targeting efforts of those who would attack or otherwise choose to disrupt our operations. As a global force, our relationships with allies also enable us to have access to more airfields. The more airfields we have access to, the more options we have for basing, allowing us to rapidly move from one to another, which complicates any potential adversary's targeting plan. The Air Force is working with the rest of the Department of Defense to solve these problems. However, in the future, I think we need to accept the fact that we may have to fight from airfields while under attack. This isn't a new concept, and we're working on the capabilities that make it possible.'" Full interview here.

Iraq just shut down the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, citing security concerns.
From the NYT's Duraid Adnan and Tim Arango, reporting from Baghdad: "The Iraqi government said Tuesday that it had closed the Abu Ghraib prison, the site of a notorious prisoner abuse scandal during the American occupation of Iraq, because of fears that it could be overrun by Sunni insurgents who have gained strength over the last year. In a statement, the Justice Ministry said it had moved 2,400 prisoners to other high-security prisons in central and northern Iraq, adding that Abu Ghraib's location - west of central Baghdad and on the edge of insurgent-controlled areas of Anbar Province - had become a ‘hot zone.' It was not clear whether the closing was permanent, or if the prison might reopen if the Sunni insurgency is tamed. But it nevertheless underscored the rapid deterioration of security in Iraq since the beginning of the year, when insurgents captured Falluja, a short drive from the prison, from which hundreds of inmates escaped last year." More here.

A video of an outdoor al-Qaeda meeting surfaces. From the Washington Post's Greg Miller: "A video that recently surfaced on Islamist militant Web sites shows a large group of al-Qaeda fighters - including the terrorist network's second in command - taking part in a brazen open-air gathering, apparently unconcerned about the prospect of being struck by a U.S. drone. U.S. officials said that the video appeared to be both recent and authentic and that analysts at the CIA and counterterrorism agencies are scrutinizing it for clues to potential plots. The officials declined to say why there had been no U.S. strike or whether U.S. spy agencies were even aware of the gathering before the video emerged. A CIA spokesman declined to comment. At one point in the footage, al-Qaeda's leader in Yemen, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, issues a warning that the organization remains focused on attacking the United States. ‘We must eliminate the cross,' Wuhayshi said, according to a translation of the video, adding that ‘the bearer of the cross is America.'" Full article and video here.