Kerry on Assad; Mullen on Iran; The maritime strategy and what it means for ships; A prostitution ring at Fort Hood; Dakota Meyer puts a ring on it; And a bit more.
The UN is bracing for a mass exodus of refugees from two anticipated military offensives involving ISIS—the first from Aleppo, should the group try to take the city; and the second from a likely offensive to push ISIS out of Mosul. McClatchy’s John Zaracostas, here.
The proverbial Assad. The State Department had to explain Secretary Kerry’s Sunday remarks on CBS News that the U.S. would eventually have to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad to work out a political transition in Syria. Department spox Marie Harf later said Kerry was not explicitly referring to Assad since Washington’s vision for Damascus, like the rebel coalition’s plan, does not include Assad still running the show. Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton, here.
The NYT’s Michael Gordon: “...But Mr. Kerry’s comments seemed to be more a reflection of his determination to try to bring about an end to the bloody war than a change of American strategy. State Department officials later said that the United States was not open to direct talks with Mr. Assad, despite what Mr. Kerry appeared to suggest in his television appearance.” More here.
Watch or read the transcript of Kerry’s Face the Nation appearance, here.
Heavy fighting in Tikrit has demolished the tomb of Saddam Hussein, AP reports, here.
And Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite Peace Brigade just left Baghdad to help in the final, stubborn push to kill ISIS in Tikrit, AP, here.
The key to defeating ISIS must be a systematic and sustained drone air campaign supporting Kurdish and Iraqi forces, Hudson Institute’s Arthur Herman and William Luti argue in Defense One: “[T]he first step would be to increase to at least 10 the number of GPS-guided round-the-clock orbits used by UAV’s covering ISIS strongholds. This would enable UAV reconnaissance craft like the Global Hawk and Sentinel, and armed drones like the Predator and Reaper, to enter the battle space in numbers large enough (for example, 30 to 40 at a time) for systematic and unrelenting air strikes.
“Second, U.S. special operations teams with Global Hawks and Sentinels would then search out and identify suitable targets in those ISIS concentrated areas. Third…” Read the rest, here.
Remember the “al-Qaeda all-stars” of the Khorasan Group? The U.S. carries out a separate air campaign just for them in Syria. And after 17 specific airstrikes, military officials have no idea if they’re really doing any damage to the group. AP’s Ken Dilanian and Lolita Baldor, here.
The Kurds are making a heroic stand against the Islamic State and the U.S. should help them in their fight, write Scott Atran and Doug Stone in an op-ed in the NYT. Their BLUF: “The United States must help the Kurds translate their bravery into a true ability to defeat the Islamic State. They are America’s most reliable friends on the ground, and should be treated as such.” The rest here.
Today in history, four years ago: A crackdown on a five-man demonstration in Damascus kicked off what would morph into the Syrian conflict we know today. The NYT has that historical look back, here.
U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations have resumed at their familiar sputtering pace, AP’s Bradley Klapper and George Jahn report from Switzerland, here.
And yet… U.S. officials are hoping an easing of U.N. sanctions on Tehran can grease the skids on a deal, Reuters, here.
The Saudis, of course, fear the nuclear deal. Reuters reports this morning of a BBC interview by a senior Saudi prince: “Any terms that world powers grant Iran under a nuclear deal will be sought by Saudi Arabia and other countries, risking wider proliferation of atomic technology, a senior Saudi prince warned on Monday in a BBC interview.” More here.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen was on Meet the Press Sunday and spoke hopefully of Iran, even if he sees it as a bigger challenge than the Islamic State. Mullen used the word “constructive” in terms of Iran’s role in the defeat of the Islamic State – something others have avoided saying. That’s not to ignore who Iran is or what atrocities the country has committed, he said. But for now, Iran’s role against the Islamic State is something “we have to accept.”
Mullen’s answer to the question of if he fears Iran more than ISIS over the long term: “I do, actually. I think Iran is a much more difficult challenge, an incredibly complex country that we don't understand very well. We have had had no relations with them for 35 years. There is a complexity inside that country that is represented by enormous tension on the part of President Rouhani, who is considered to be a reformer…
“And this whole focus on the nuclear deal is part of where I think President Rouhani wants to get so that possibly he's got a chance with elections next year, with respect to those who will select the next Supreme Leader, with parliamentary elections in the spring, to possibly turn it in a more constructive, reformed direction for the country of Iran, and a future that is much more integral to the international community.”
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ICYMI: The Navy’s new maritime strategy calls for a 20 percent increase in the number of deployed ships near the Middle East and Asia. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “The strategy calls for deploying the Navy and Marine Corps’ newest equipment: the Littoral Combat Ship, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Triton surveillance drone and MV-22 Osprey to the Asia-Pacific region, an area when the Navy already plans to base 60 percent of its ships… It is the first update of the document since 2007 and brings the Navy’s mission in line with the Pentagon’s overall military strategy...
“The Navy has about 275 ships, 97 of which were deployed in 2014. That number will increase to 120 by 2020, a time when the Navy’s fleet is expected to total more than 300, according to the new strategy. In the Middle East, the number of U.S. ships will increase from 30 to 40 over the next five years.” Read the rest, here.
From the Different-Spanks-for-Different Ranks Department: The attorney for former State Department contractor Stephen Kim, imprisoned last year for leaking classified information, is asking federal prosecutors for the “immediate release” of his client, given the light sentence given to David Petraeus.
Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff just this morning: Abbe Lowell, the lawyer [for Kim] acknowledged that he’s not expecting a positive response to a recent letter he wrote to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and three other federal prosecutors who pursued his client.
“But Lowell released a copy of his letter to Yahoo News to highlight what he described as a “profound double standard” in the government’s prosecution of leak cases — a subject of mounting debate that could weigh on the Justice Department's decision in at least one ongoing high-profile leak probe.” More here.
Feeding the hand that bites you: Millions in CIA cash made it to al-Qaeda thanks to a ransom Kabul paid in exchange for a diplomat’s release in 2010. Matthew Rosenberg for the NYT over the weekend: “The letters about the 2010 ransom were included in correspondence between Bin Laden and [al-Qaeda’s Atiyah Abd al-Rahman] that was submitted as evidence by federal prosecutors at the Brooklyn trial of Abid Naseer, a Pakistani Qaeda operative who was convicted this month of supporting terrorism and conspiring to bomb a British shopping center…
“The Afghan government had no direct contact with Al Qaeda, stymieing negotiations until the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent faction with close ties to Al Qaeda, stepped in to mediate… But Bin Laden was clearly worried that the payout was an American ruse intended to reveal the locations of senior Qaeda leaders… ‘It’s cash,’ said a former Afghan security official. ‘Once it’s at the palace, they can’t do a thing about how it gets spent.’” Read the rest, here.
Also: Brookings’ Will McCants takes a look at what else has come out of the Abbottabad documents, including translations and originals from Arabic, over here.
America’s current roughly 9,800 troop count in Afghanistan may not decline much over the next 12 months or so—but don’t expect any solid figures until Obama’s meeting with Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani next Tuesday, March 24. AP’s Lolita Baldor: “U.S. officials familiar with the debate said it's not clear yet whether the White House will agree to a small, symbolic decrease by the end of this year or insist on a larger cut. They note that there is some stiff opposition to any change, largely from national security adviser Susan Rice…” More, here.
Afghanistan’s “forgotten” warlords—especially around the western city of Herat—clamor for power while Kabul drags its feet. The WSJ’s Margherita Stancati from Herat, here.
Who’s up to what today? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is in New York today first to speak at his alma mater, Goshen’s John S. Burke High School, at 11:30 a.m. … former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford joins the Middle East Institute to talk about the way forward on the Syrian conflict at noon. More on that, here… the Cato Institute talks prospects for reform in the Pentagon’s budget at noon. More on that one, here...
Also today: the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force talks Tehran’s role in regional U.S. relations at 2 p.m. Head here for more details… the U.S. Institute of Peace talks Libya and violent extremism at 3 p.m. Deets on that one, here… and Dempsey reemerges in New York to take the stage at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Battle Standard Dinner in Great Neck, to deliver remarks to midshipmen honoring 142 cadet midshipmen who died during World War II. More info on that event, here.
He’s alive! Putin has at last appeared in St. Petersburg, The BBC reports this morning here.
Ukrainian activists erect a tombstone for Putin, whose absence for more than a week had led to a slew of theories. Watch that Reuters’ video here.
Moscow, meanwhile, announced the start of five days of show-of-force military drills involving 38,000 troops, 50 ships and more than 100 aircraft on Russia's northern flank and to its east. AP, here.
Meantime, the Atlantic's Matt Schiavenza looks into the dreary prospects for Russia's future without the heavily-meme'd former spy, here.
Crimean prelude, and how the war in Ukraine is one of the first real tests of Putin’s new-and-improved military – and why its early successes should make Russia’s neighbors a little jittery. The 2008 conflict on Russia's doorstep in Georgia was "the first time in Russian military history that authorities learned lessons not from failure, but from victory,” says Russian journalist Alexander Golts. Canada’s Macleans’ Michael Petrou on how the road to Crimea was paved by Russia’s military advances, here.
Putin said in a documentary aired yesterday he was ready to go to nuclear high-alert during the Maidan protests in Kiev. AP’s Jim Heintz from Moscow, here.
After the Polish military announced it would offer military training to any interested civilian, nearly 1,000 showed up on the first day in early March. NYTs Rick Lyman with more on how Russia’s neighbors are growing antsy as they brace for possible invasion, here.
President Obama visited the Phoenix VA facilities Friday to keep attention on the unfinished work changing a culture of mistreatment. WaPo’s Greg Jaffe, here.
Travel back in time to Fort Bragg with the radio documentary program “This American Life,” where soldiers in the 90s uncomfortably used musical theater address the uncomfortable matter of non-combat deaths. That one, here.
Stolen valor: A sailor found guilty of wearing unearned medals. The Virginian-Pilot’s Dianna Cahn via military.com: “Standing in the middle of the University of North Carolina football field this past fall, Seaman Matthew Cottom soaked up the thunderous applause… Cottom turned slowly to wave at the crowd, his chest decorated with medals and ribbons -- among them a Purple Heart. The only problem: It was all a lie.” More here.
But genuine hero Dakota Meyer, who received the Medal of Honor, is now engaged to Sarah Palin daughter Bristol, who declared herself “truly the luckiest girl in the world!” USA Today’s Gregory Korte: “Former Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer, whose heroism in Afghanistan earned him a Medal of Honor for his "daring initiative and bold fighting spirit," is engaged to be married to the daughter of a former vice presidential nominee. His fiancee is Bristol Palin. She is a reality television personality and the daughter of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president.” More here.
The incredible story of a prostitution ring inside Fort Hood, in The Daily Beast, here.
The Joint IED Defeat Organization, created in 2003 by current SOCOM chief Gen. Votel, is finally transitioning from a field to a support agency, Richard Sisk reports for Military.com: “JIEDDO’s roster of about 430 government civilians and 1,900 contract personnel was expected to be cut significantly. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, did not specify how large a percentage of funding will be cut for JIEDDO. In addition, JIEDDO will also be getting a new name, but that hasn’t been decided… Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work ordered the transition to a smaller organization with the goal of improving oversight…” More here.
One of the authors from the last maritime strategy (2007) explains where the current approach diverges from its predecessor and why. That from Bryan McGrath over at WOTR, here.
The arrival of the USS Fort Worth littoral combat ship in the waters off South Korea could be the first of the Navy’s faster ships to visit Northeast Asia, Stars and Stripes’ Erik Slavin reports, here.
The world’s leading arms exporter, the U.S., increased its arms exports by almost 25 percent over the last five years compared to the 5 years previous. And China just passed Germany to take the #3 spot behind Russia. Just a few of the takeaways from SIPRI’s annual arms report. Gregory Viscusi for Bloomberg, here, and Robert Wall and Doug Cameron for WSJ, here.