National Security

FP's Situation Report: Obama's drone war in Yemen

Biden to pledge support for Ukraine; Assad still using chems?; Possibly less than 10k in Afg; Dem gubernatorial candidate steps in it; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The U.S. and Yemen conducted one of the largest attacks against Al Qaeda militants in months this weekend. The NYT's Eric Schmitt: "... At least three airstrikes were carried out against Qaeda fighters in a convoy and in remote training camps in southern Yemen. They were militants who were planning to attack civilian and military facilities, government officials said in a statement. Yemen's Interior Ministry said Monday that as many as 55 militants had been killed, but a senior Yemeni official put the figure in the 40s. The government's statement also acknowledged that three civilians had been killed and five wounded in one of the airstrikes on Saturday. Yemeni officials said they were working to identify those killed in the attacks. As part of a campaign using armed drones in Yemen, the United States has been trying to kill Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group's master bomb maker. But American officials said Monday that those men were not the intended targets in these strikes."

"The drone attacks were the largest barrage of airstrikes carried out in Yemen this year - 11 in all so far, according to The Long War Journal, a website that tracks drone strikes - and one of the largest strikes carried out since President Obama outlined a new strategy last May for targeting Qaeda militants in battlefields outside Afghanistan." More here.

High stakes: Obama's drone war in Yemen. CNN's Peter Bergen: "...Unlike in Pakistan, where President George W. Bush significantly ramped up the CIA drone campaign while he was in office, there was only one drone strike in Yemen during Bush's two terms in office. During Obama's administration, there have been 92 drone attacks, as well as a further 15 U.S. strikes using other forms of weaponry such as cruise missiles, according to a count by the New America Foundation... Indeed, Obama vastly accelerated the drone campaign in Yemen in 2011 and 2012, just as CIA drone strikes in Pakistan began to slow. Forty-seven strikes took place in Yemen in 2012, marking the first time the number of drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan reached comparable levels... As of Monday, U.S. drone and air strikes have killed an estimated 753 to 965 people in Yemen, of whom the large majority were militants, but at least 81 were civilians, according to the New America Foundation study. All but six of the many hundreds of victims of the strikes were killed under the Obama administration." More here.

Of course, drone strikes aren't the silver bullet. Reuters' Mohamed Ghobari and Yara Bayoumy: "An intense two days of air strikes on al Qaeda in Yemen may have killed or wounded some of its commanders, but drones alone are unlikely to eradicate the threat the group poses to Yemenis and the West. A weak central government, a rivalry-ridden and poorly equipped security force, endemic poverty and corruption have made Yemen the ideal haven of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whom U.S. President Barack Obama has described as the group 'most active in plotting against our homeland.' Desperate to prevent AQAP from planning more attacks like its attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner in December 2009, Washington has used drones to kill group members and leaders. A U.S. national security source said on Monday that the U.S. government believed that AQAP is currently plotting attacks against American targets, including the U.S. embassy on Sanaa.

"But analysts say drone strikes do only limited harm to AQAP. They say the group will remain a serious menace unless the government can address challenges such as poverty and inadequate security forces, and curb the occasional civilian casualties inflicted by drone attacks that inflame anti-U.S. sentiment." 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. Follow us! @glubold and @njsobe4.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby will brief reporters today at the Pentagon at 1pm.

Situation Report corrects - an item we picked up yesterday from the Washington Post about changes to Navy submarine working schedules was not a WaPo story but one by AP, written by AP's Michael Melia. Apologies for the error.

The Dem running against an Iraq war vet for Maryland governor just sort of stepped in it. Fox News: A Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland is defending comments he made Monday in which he suggested his opponent, an Iraq war veteran, was not up to the task of a 'real job.' Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler drew ire from a veterans' group after he made the comments about his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, at an event held by the Tech Council of Maryland. During the event, Gansler was asked what the state had learned from the rollout of ObamaCare...Gansler said the website's woes prove Maryland needs someone who has leadership experience and worked with budgets, someone, he claimed, unlike Brown. What Gansler said: "I'm running against somebody who has never managed anybody, never run anything, his ads are about how he's a lawyer in Iraq, and that's all fine and good but this is a real job." More here.

Syria may meet its next chemical weapons deadline, but new evidence shows that Assad is still using chemical weapons. FP's John Hudson: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has gotten rid of 80 percent of his chemical weapons, and is increasingly likely to hit a key deadline for the elimination of his entire arsenal by the end of the month. That good news is being partially overshadowed, however, by growing signs that Assad is still waging chemical attacks on communities in rebel-held areas of the country.
"In a briefing at the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States has indications that a chemical attack, most likely chlorine, occurred in Syria earlier this month. ‘We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical' in the rebel-held town of Kfar Zeita, she said. ‘We are examining allegations that the government was responsible.'
"The official statement, while withholding final judgment, gives a veneer of credibility to long-running allegations by Syrian opposition activists that regime helicopters mounted a chlorine gas attack on the town of Kfar Zeita on April 11 and 12. Online videos posted by rebel activists at the time showed ghost-white adults and children struggling to breath in a field hospital. Syrian rebels say the incident injured dozens and is Assad's fourth such chemical attack in the past month alone." More here.

Biden, in Ukraine, will pledge U.S. support. Reuters' Jeff Mason: "U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will announce a package of technical assistance focused on energy and economic aid distribution during a two-day visit to Ukraine that began on Monday, a senior administration official said. Biden is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the country since the crisis with Russia erupted months ago. His trip is largely symbolic. But during talks with Ukrainian leaders on Tuesday he will announce U.S. assistance, primarily of technical know-how to boost energy efficiency as well as production in Ukrainian natural gas fields and extraction of "unconventional" gas resources, a senior administration official told reporters traveling on board the vice president's plane." More here.

The WSJ's Jerry Seib: with oil and gas in hand, Putin holds all the cards. Seib: "Of all the lessons one might draw from Russia's bullying of Ukraine, this may be the most coldblooded of all: If you want to behave badly, it helps to have a lot of oil and gas. Much will be forgiven, or at least ignored. European nations, international energy companies and China are all, in their own ways, driving home the point. The Europeans are afraid of pushing economic sanctions against Moscow too far lest they be cut off from the Russian natural gas that provides a significant share of their energy." Read the rest here.

Under Russia, life in Crimea grows chaotic. The NYT's Neil MacFarquhar on Page One: "After Russia annexed Crimea practically overnight, the Russian bureaucrats handling passports and residence permits inhabited the building of their Ukrainian predecessors, where Roman Nikolayev now waits daily with a seemingly mundane question.
"His daughter and granddaughter were newly arrived from Ukraine when they suddenly found themselves in a different country, so he wonders if they can become legal residents. But he cannot get inside to ask because he is No. 4,475 on the waiting list for passports. At most, 200 people are admitted each day from the crowd churning around the tall, rusty iron gate. ‘They set up hotlines, but nobody ever answers,' said Mr. Nikolayev, 54, a trim, retired transportation manager with a short salt-and-pepper beard. ‘Before we had a pretty well-organized country - life was smooth,' he said, sighing. ‘Then, within the space of two weeks, one country became another.' He added, ‘Eto bardak,' using the Russian for bordello and meaning ‘This is a mess.'
"One month after the lightning annexation, residents of this Black Sea peninsula find themselves living not so much in a different state, Russia, as in a state of perpetual confusion. Declaring the change, they are finding, was far easier than actually carrying it out." More here.

Reading Pincus: In questioning Russia's Putin about surveillance, Snowden misses the point. The WaPo's Walter Pincus. "The question Edward Snowden should have asked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday was: ‘Would you please describe how the three versions of SORM operate and what is done with the intercepted phone, ?e-mail and other electronic media those systems collect?'
"The former National Security Agency contractor who in May leaked tens of thousands of highly classified NSA documents that described hundreds of U.S. electronic interception programs, must know about SORM (System of Operative-Investigative Measures), the decades-old but continually upgraded Russian electronic surveillance system." More here.

Post-2014 Afghanistan could have fewer than 10,000 troops. Reuters' Missy Ryan and Arshad Mohammed: "The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan may drop well below 10,000 - the minimum demanded by the U.S. military to train Afghan forces - as the longest war in American history winds down, Obama administration officials briefed on the matter say. Since Afghanistan's general election on April 5, White House, State Department and Pentagon officials have resumed discussions on how many American troops should remain after the current U.S.-led coalition ends its mission this year. The decision to consider a small force, possibly less than 5,000 U.S. troops, reflects a belief among White House officials that Afghan security forces have evolved into a robust enough force to contain a still-potent Taliban-led insurgency. The small U.S. force that would remain could focus on counter-terrorism or training operations." Read the rest here.

Listen up, POTUS: some advice ahead of Obama's big Asia trip, which starts today. Jim Steinberg and Mike O'Hanlon for FP: "As President Barack Obama prepares for his trip to Asia this week, he will face questions not just about the administration's signature rebalance, or ‘pivot' toward that region, but also about the crisis in Ukraine. The leaders Obama will meet in South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines will be preoccupied with what appears to them as a potential Asian parallel to the challenge Europe faces: How can the United States and its friends and allies deal with an increasingly assertive regional power? Put more bluntly -- as the leaders will surely do in their private talks with Obama -- how would the United States respond if China should resort to unilateral territorial intervention in their own backyard?
"The administration's strategic shift to East Asia in 2011 was built on two pillars. First, the United States would pursue its long-term interest in peace and stability in East Asia through sustained commitment to its traditional allies; second, it would build a cooperative, constructive relationship with a rising China, while also managing differences. 
"In theory, this strategy is intended to take account of the inevitable growth of China's influence while reducing the danger that the relationship will lead to instability or even conflict. But in recent months, as China has pressed its territorial claims in the East and South China seas, the viability of this strategy has been increasingly put to the test." More here.

U.S. approves $680 million sale of Black Hawk helicopters to Mexico. Reuters' Andrea Shalal: "The U.S. government on Monday said it had approved the potential sale of 18 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp to Mexico, a deal valued at $680 million. The State Department approved the possible sale and Congress was notified last Thursday by the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales. U.S. lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare. The deal was announced ahead of an upcoming trip to Mexico by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel." More here.

As the Army shrinks, many young officers are being shown the door. The AP's Lita Baldor: "After the 9/11 attacks, tens of thousands of young men and women joined the military, heading for the rugged mountains of Afghanistan and dusty deserts of Iraq. Many of them now are officers in the Army with multiple combat deployments under their belts. But as the wars wind down and Pentagon budgets shrink, a lot of them are being told they have to leave. It's painful and frustrating. In quiet conversations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Eustis in Virginia, captains talk about their new worries after 15-month deployments in which they battled insurgents and saw roadside bombs kill and maim their comrades. They nervously wait as their fates rest in the hands of evaluation boards that may spend only a few minutes reading through service records before making decisions that could end careers... While a lot of the reduction can come from voluntary retirements, resignations and decreased enlistments, Army commanders will have to force as many as 3,000 officers - nearly 10 percent of the planned decrease - to leave by the end of October 2015. Of those, nearly 1,500 are captains, 550 are majors."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to Baldor: "The captains are a problem... Because when we increased the size of the Army we recruited heavily in certain year groups. So as we draw the Army down, those are over strength." Read the rest here.

Duncan Hunter Sr. calls out the WaPo for editorializing in its obit of Gen. Carl Mundy.  Hunter, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, for FP on Tom Ricks' Best Defense blog: "Using an obituary to editorialize against a man is the worst of bad taste. Matt Schudel's obituary for the Washington Post on former Marine Corps Commandant General Carl Mundy appeared to be more of an editorial espousing liberal views on gays in the military and women in combat. The column served neither the truth nor the legacy of a great Marine general.  Schudel excoriates Mundy for his stand against allowing homosexuals into the ranks and resisting the movement to place women in combat positions. Further, he takes Mundy to task for refusing to cut the Marine Corps below their traditional level of 170,000. The Army unfortunately was more acquiescent during the same period, allowing its forces to be cut almost in half with only 10 out of 18 divisions remaining when President Clinton exited the White House. Ten years later, during the Iraq war, thousands of Army families were punished by multiple 15-month tours in the combat zone. Through his previous resistance to cuts, Mundy spared his Marine Corps the same fate." More here.

Hagel vows to keep fighting sexual assault. USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said his visit Monday to the military's sexual assault hotline sends this message: No single issue has a higher priority at the Pentagon. Solving the crisis, he said, will require sustained attention and changes ‘wide and deep' within the military. Hagel noted that he meets weekly for an hour with top civilian and military leaders of the services to discuss the problem and how to combat it. ‘It is important for people to know that the secretary of Defense is very focused on stopping sexual assault in the military,' Hagel said. Hagel spent more than an hour with the staff of the Safe Helpline, the Pentagon's confidential portal for troops who have been sexually assaulted. Its counselors chat by phone or Web with victims, referring them to military or civilian authorities to make complaints and to medical and mental health professionals." More here.

If that's what it takes: Military Times' Jeff Schogol interviews a Vietnam vet who treats his PTSD with nudity. Schogol: "Vietnam War veteran Max Sanchez struggles with controlling issues stemming from post-traumatic stress. As an Army second lieutenant, he volunteered to go to Vietnam, where he served from 1968 to 1969, first with 1st Infantry Division and later with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Now Sanchez doesn't go out much because if he gets into a confrontation, he fears he might become violent. His relationship with family members has suffered because he can get combative during arguments. So in addition to seeing a psychologist, he is pursuing an unconventional technique to treat post-traumatic stress: nudity.
Sanchez: "We live in a nude resort, and they have a back pool. It's very quiet, and I forget about the world back there. I really enjoy it in the hot weather, and I can go there and forget about the world. Unfortunately, I don't like staying there during what I consider cold weather. To me, anything under 100 [degrees] is cold. It's not something that completely takes away my problem. When I can be in a tranquil situation ... I forget about all of my problems. I don't find it's a cure-all because I can't be back there all the time, but I do find it helpful." More here.

Long Read: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is seeking a third term but many Iraqis fear another civil war, and think that Maliki is to blame. ‘What We Left Behind' by Dexter Filkins in this week's New Yorker: "On Christmas Day last year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared on Iraqi television to wish his country's Christian minority-which has been fleeing by the thousand since the American invasion, in 2003-a happy holiday. Maliki, who is sixty-three, wore a dark-blue suit and a purple tie, and stood almost perfectly still at a lectern flanked by Iraqi flags. His long face conveyed, as it almost always does, a look of utter joylessness. Having spent much of his life hunted by assassins, Maliki gives the impression of a man who learned long ago to ruthlessly suppress his feelings. ‘He never smiles, he never says thank you, and I've never seen him say, ‘I'm sorry,'' a longtime associate of Maliki's told me. For Maliki, the holiday greetings were a pretext. What he really wanted to talk about was protests unfolding in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. ‘Thank God, the truth has been revealed,' he said.
"When the last American soldiers left Iraq, at the end of 2011, the bloody civil war between the country's Sunni and Shiite sects had been stifled but not resolved. Now the sectarian violence had returned, with terrifying intensity. For more than a year, thousands of Iraqis, nearly all of them members of the Sunni Arab minority, had been gathering to rail against Maliki's Shiite-dominated government. Although the protests were mostly peaceful, security forces responded harshly, detaining thousands of Sunni men without charges and, in one encampment, touching off a spasm of violence that left hundreds of civilians dead. Across the Sunni heartland, north and west of Baghdad, the town squares filled with angry crowds, and the rhetoric grew more extreme. In Ramadi, protesters raised black jihadi flags, representing the extremist Al Qaeda offshoot that had dominated the city during the American occupation. ‘We are a group called Al Qaeda!' a man shouted from a stage in the protesters' camp. ‘We will cut off heads and bring justice!' The crowd cheered.

"...I saw Maliki in his office in February, and he appeared as stiff and colorless as he did during his televised speech-an apparatchik become the boss. Wearing the same navy-blue suit and purple tie, he spoke in a monotone, his face blank, his body seemingly fixed to his chair. The office, a sterile room without a trace of warmth, had no windows, presumably because windows could be shattered by bombs." Full profile here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Ukraine: Moscow-run intel units fomenting unrest

Unkempt? New Army reg on hairstyles raise ire; Did Snowden mess up?; Abdullah Abdullah's lead widens; Donilon on the Asia Pivot: all good; and a bit more.

Ukrainian officials say that Moscow-run intelligence units are orchestrating separatist unrest. The WSJ's Philip Shishkin and James Marson from eastern Ukraine: "When a group of Ukrainian paratroopers were briefly detained by armed men in this eastern Ukrainian town last week, officials in Kiev said the move bore little sign of pro-Russian separatists working in isolation. Rather, Ukraine's fledgling government says such well-organized actions are at the center of a covert effort by Russian intelligence officers to direct and organize parts of the pro-Russian separatist movement roiling eastern Ukraine.
"Authorities in Kiev allege a shadow war involving an elite Russian military intelligence unit that has participated in virtually every military conflict in which Moscow has been embroiled in recent decades, including wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Georgia. The unit is known as GRU, the Russian acronym for the Main Intelligence Department of the Russian General Staff. The Kremlin rejects the accusation." More here.

Photos link masked men in East Ukraine to Russia. The NYT's Andrew Higgins, Michael Gordon and Andrew Kramer on Page One: "For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as "green men" have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces. Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces - equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February." Read the rest here.

VP Biden lands in Kiev this morning.  From the WH: "While in Kyiv, the Vice President will meet with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Rada Speaker and Acting President Oleksander Turchynov, and key legislators representing different political parties and regions within the Rada to discuss the international community's efforts to help stabilize and strengthen Ukraine's economy and to assist Ukraine in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralization, anti-corruption efforts, and free and fair presidential elections on May 25th.  In these meetings, the Vice President will also consult on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine and on steps to enhance Ukraine's short- and long-term energy security..."

Why Putin Isn't Worried About Sanctions. Quartz's Steve LeVine: "Europe is warning Russian president Vladimir Putin of reputational harm if he shuts off the natural gas flow to the West, but judging by the behavior of western oil chiefs, he is secure if he dismisses the admonishment as so much noise." More here.

Snowden's camp acknowledges: staged Putin Q&A was a screw-up. The Daily Beast's Noah Shachtman, here. 

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report and we're back in the saddle. Thanks to Dan Lamothe for covering for us so well last week. Good luck to runners in Boston this morning - run fast! 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 follow us @glubold and @njsobe4.

A drone strike targets al Qaeda in Yemen. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom: "An operation targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is under way in Abyan and Shabwa, Yemen, a high-level Yemeni government official who is being briefed on the strikes told CNN on Monday. The official said that the scale of the strikes against AQAP is ‘massive and unprecedented' and that at least 30 militants have been killed. The operation involved Yemeni commandos who are now ‘going after high-level AQAP targets,' the official said. A day earlier, suspected drone strikes targeted al Qaeda fighters in Yemen for the second time in two days, killing ‘at least a dozen,' the government official said.

"The predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, the official said. It's the same area where scores of followers of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had gathered recently to hear from Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the terrorist network's Yemeni branch and the global organization's ‘crown prince,' the official said. ‘It's too early to tell how many militants were killed, but the number is at least a dozen,' the official said. The targets included ‘foreign nationals,' the official said, but he provided no details of what their nationalities were. Nor was it clear whether any high-value targets were among the dead and wounded, he said." More here.

Afghanistan heads towards a run-off but Abdullah Abdullah has widened his lead. The NYT's Rod Nordland and Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "... Mr. Abdullah, the runner-up to President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections, had received 44.4 percent of the vote so far, followed by Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser, with 33.2 percent. Zalmay Rassoul, a former foreign minister in Mr. Karzai's government, was a distant third, with 10.4 percent of the vote, followed by Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a traditionalist Pashtun candidate and warlord, with 7 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining 5 percent. If that trend continues, neither Mr. Abdullah nor Mr. Ghani is likely to win more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election. The slow process of counting Afghanistan's paper ballots, gathered from 34 provinces that are plagued by poor roads and communications, has been going on since the April 5 vote. But the election commission said the tally was expected to be completed by Thursday, when preliminary final results would be released." More here.

In Nigeria, a claim of responsibility from Boko Haram. CNN's Vladimir Duthiers, Chelsea J. Carter and Greg Botelho: "Boko Haram's elusive leader claimed responsibility for a bombing in Nigeria's capital of Abuja that left dozens dead, but said nothing about the group's reported mass abduction of schoolgirls that occurred the same day as the explosion. A man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau made the comments in a video posted online on Saturday, saying the group attacked a bus station in retaliation for the what he described as the government's collusion with the United States in the killing of Muslims. 'This is a prelude,' said the man, who wore camouflage and held an AK-47 assault rifle, in the video." More here.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship runs deeper than Bandar. The LA Times' Sherif Tarek: "Prince Bandar bin Sultan's replacement last week as Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has fueled speculation about a shift in the monarchy's shaky relations with the United States and its position toward the Syrian conflict - not to mention about the prince's political future. Yet many political experts and pundits believe Bandar's departure will barely affect Saudi foreign policies. And they say it's possible the prince could return to the political scene stronger than ever. ‘The last person to be relieved of his duties [in 2012] as head of Saudi intelligence - Prince Muqrin [bin Abdulaziz] - has become for all intents and purposes a king-in-waiting,' said Fahad Nazer, a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. ‘Any pronouncements about the 'end' of Prince Bandar may be premature.' Last month, Muqrin was appointed deputy crown prince, making it probable he will someday become king. According to the official Saudi Press Agency, a royal order announced Tuesday that Bandar, who had guided Saudi policy on the Syrian conflict, would step down from his post ‘upon his request.' His deputy, General Staff Yousif bin Ali al-Idreesi, was named his successor." More here.

The Army's ban on some popular hairstyles puts the Congressional Black Caucus at odds with the PentagonThe NYT's Helene Cooper: "Black women and their hair have been a topic of discussion for years by people like Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton and Salt-N-Pepa. Now add Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to that list. In reaction to a new Army regulation banning numerous hairstyles - twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows - popular with black women, the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Mr. Hagel to overturn the regulation on behalf of the 26,700 African-American women on active duty in the Army.

"The regulation comes at the same time as a new Army rule banning tattoos on the face, neck, hands, fingers and lower arms of recruits. Both regulations are among new grooming standards that critics say are meant to further weed people out of an Army reducing its size from its post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to as low as 420,000 in the years to come. Representative Marcia L. Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who is chairwoman of the black caucus, said she had been struck in recent visits to military bases by how many soldiers - black and white - said they felt they were being pushed out of the military. The new regulations, announced on March 31, have intensified that feeling, she said.

Fudge to Cooper: "One of the things they should not do is insult the people who've given up their time and put their lives at risk by saying their hair is unkempt... Now they want to downsize, these styles are not appropriate?'" More here.

In break with tradition, new British surveillance chief is an intel outsider. FP's Shane Harris: "The United Kingdom's global surveillance agency is getting a new leader. But in a move widely seen as an attempt to bring the organization to heel following months of embarrassing leaks about its operations, the new director is a political operative who is more James Carville than James Bond. Robert Hannigan, a career diplomat and former adviser to two prime ministers, was appointed director of the Government Communications Headquarters, the equivalent of the National Security Agency, earlier this week. Historically, all but two GCHQ directors have either climbed up the career ladder of the agency or had significant experience in signals intelligence." More here.

Shift changes for submariners to address fatigue. The WaPo's Michael Melia in Groton, CT: "With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors' working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean's surface. Research by a Navy laboratory in Groton is now leading to changes for the undersea fleet. Military scientists concluded submarine sailors, who traditionally begin a new workday every 18 hours, show less fatigue on a 24-hour schedule, and the Navy has endorsed the findings for any skippers who want to make the switch." Read the rest here.

Sen. John Walsh of Montana and the IAVA's Tom Tarantino were on with Candy Crowley on CNN yesterday talking suicides. Crowley: "Joining me now, Senator John Walsh, Democrat from Montana, and the first Iraq War combat veteran to serve in the United States Senate. And Tom Tarantino, also a veteran from the Iraq War, currently working with the organization called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here. We're now seeing - and these are rough figures, as we all know - on average, 22 veterans a day successfully, um, takes his own life. We have known these kinds of statistics for four or five years.  The president has taken note of it.  You know, hundreds - $100 million was put in just last year for awareness. What else is needed here?" Read the transcript or watch the vid here.

The future of the Pentagon's R&D in an era of budget cuts. Defense News' Zachary Fryer-Biggs: "Defense budgets had been in decline for a decade when soon-to-be-president George W. Bush laid out his vision for the US military... But with defense budgets once again in decline, there are remarkable parallels between Bush's 1999 vision, outlined at the military college In Charleston, S.C., and Pentagon leaders' R&D plan for the next few years. Overall, DoD wants to keep spending on... research, development, test and evaluation relatively close to the $63 billion the department will spend in 2014. That's about $36 billion less than the amount that will be spent on procurement in 2014. But under the president's 2015 budget proposal, that gap would close to about $26 billion next year, according to data compiled by VisualDoD.com. As pressure increases on defense spending, leaders are trying to protect research and development funding. But look closer. Within that flat RDT&E budget, a radical shift is underway. Under the 2015 Future Years Defense Plan, DoD would halve spending on System Development and Demonstration, taking it from about $20 billion in 2009 to below $10 billion by 2018." More here.

Tom Donilon today in the WaPo on the eve of Obama's trip to Asia: Obama's rebalance to Asia is on the right course. Former National Security Adviser Donilon: "Questions have arisen in recent months about the sustainability of the United States' rebalance toward Asia. The costly cancellation of President Obama's trip to the region during the U.S. government shutdown last fall fueled that skepticism, which has only grown as urgent foreign policy challenges have required U.S. leadership in the Middle East and Europe. Yet the rebalancing of U.S. priorities and resources toward Asia remains the right strategy. This reorientation does not imply a turn away from allies in other regions or an abandonment of our commitments elsewhere. It represents a shift away from the war efforts in the Middle East and South Asia that have dominated U.S. national security policy and resources for the past decade and a shift toward the region that presents the most significant opportunity for the United States." More here.

Meantime, the growing Chinese military budget is cementing power perceptions in Pacific. Matthew Burke for Stars and Stripes: "China's recent announcement that it would increase defense spending by 12.2 percent in 2014 is making some American allies nervous in a region where perception matters and the possible flashpoints are numerous.

Those countries, mainly Japan and the Philippines, have come to rely on the U.S. military for protection from a neighbor who seems set on creating instability by expanding and intensifying territorial claims to disputed waterways, airways and islands in the Pacific... In reality, America's $495.6 billion defense budget dwarfs the $132 billion in spending planned by China this year, but some lawmakers in the region find little comfort in that fact, analysts say." More here.

Curious about what contracts the Pentagon puts out and for how much? Follow @DFNbot, created by @navybook's Brad Peniston, which tweets the potential value of major contracts announced by the Pentagon each day.

Freed French journalists arrive home after Syria ordeal. France 24: "The four French journalists who were held hostage for 10 months in Syria returned home to France early on Sunday, where they were greeted by French President François Hollande and their families and colleagues. Four French journalists held in captivity in Syria for 10 months returned to French soil early Sunday, two days after they crossed the Syrian border into Turkey, where they were found by Turkish troops. The four men, whose release was first reported Saturday morning, were met by French President François Hollande and their families at Villacoublay airport, close to Paris. Hollande declared that it was ‘a joyous day for France.'" More here.