Predator down; DoD on hunt for Yemen assistance; Drone demand, rising; Is the military turning into an entitlement class?; McSteamy comes to the Pentagon; And a bit more.

The Pentagon can’t find $500 million in military assistance it provided to Yemen and now there are fears that aircraft, weaponry and other equipment is in the wrong hands. And there’s a risk that the equipment may have fallen into the possession of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels or maybe al-Qaeda, American officials tell The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock for this Page Oner: “…With Yemen in turmoil and its government splintering, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the United States. The situation has grown worse since the United States closed its embassy in Sanaa, the capital, last month and withdrew many of its military advisers.

“In recent weeks, members of Congress have held closed-door meetings with U.S. military officials to press for an accounting of the arms and equipment. Pentagon officials have said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands…

“[The Pentagon said] there was no hard evidence that U.S. arms or equipment had been looted or confiscated. But the official acknowledged that the Pentagon had lost track of the items.”

And said one legislative aide on Capitol Hill: “We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone.” More here.

Speaking of things lost: The Pentagon’s Central Command confirms that it lost contact with an MQ-1 Predator over Syria that presumably crashed. The Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported that an American surveillance plane had been brought down by Syrian air defenses in the coastal province of Latakia. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes: “…The Syrian government has allowed U.S. war planes and drones to conduct both strikes and reconnaissance in much of eastern Syria in areas largely controlled by Islamic State. Since U.S.-led military operations began in Syria in September, the U.S. has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State militants.”

A U.S. official, late yesterday: “We can confirm that at approximately 1:40 p.m. EDT today, U.S. military controllers lost contact with an U.S. MQ-1 Predator unarmed remotely piloted aircraft operating over northwest Syria. At this time, we have no information to corroborate press reports that the aircraft was shot down. We are looking into the incident and will provide more details when available.” The WSJ story here.

McClatchy’s Duygu Guvenc from Ankara, Turkey, on the “first such incident” of its kind: “Turkish military officials said the drone had been launched from the giant U.S. air base at Incirlik in southern Turkey and was one of four unarmed Predator drones based there.” Read more here.

As America’s drone demand continues rising to historic levels, tomorrow’s drones may just be today’s but with “new, high-tech bolt-on equipment…[that] could keep them relevant for decades to come,” Defense One’s global business reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports: “The military has incrementally added cameras, weapons and other types of sensors to its drones over the past decade. Regular cameras, evolved into high-definition cameras. Narrow-view cameras, which have been equated to looking through a soda straw, have now turned into wide-area sensors that could monitor large swaths of land.

“The same is true of weapons. Early Predator drones were unarmed and only had a camera, but weapons were eventually added. Drones and manned aircraft also carry pods for eavesdropping enemy communications and jamming equipment.” More here.

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A panicked man, a struggle aboard a Denver-bound flight, and an emergency landing at Dulles – but no charges filed. The WaPo’s Lori Aratani and Luz Lazo: The struggle on the plane lasted only a few minutes, but a seasoned traveler aboard the United Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing at Dulles International Airport late Monday night described them as the most terrifying minutes of her life.” The rest here.

A letter sent to the White House tests “presumptive positive” for cyanide. Fox News, here.

Calling a dodge a dodge. The House Budget Committee’s FY16 budget resolution skirts the issue of sequestration by routing funds into the Pentagon’s war funding account for Overseas Contingency Operations—and so the grumbling about budget caps will remain with us all for the foreseeable future. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole and Marcus Weisgerber: “‘I think that using OCO in that fashion is basically not the best way to address it—OCO is overseas contingency, that’s the name of it,’ [Sen. John McCain] told Defense One. ‘I would much rather go through the normal authorization and appropriations process and I think most members would—this is kind of a dodge.’”

SASC ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed: “I think we’ve got to come to a solution that’s not a quick fix and more of a gimmick than a long term credible source of support.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions: “I don’t dismiss out of hand what they’re doing [in the House]—we’ll be looking at the numbers and we’ll see, and I’m not sure what we in the Senate will do. We might take a different approach.” Read the rest, here.

House Republicans admitted that the prospects for moving the bill through on a process known as reconciliation—advancing the budget on a simple majority, cutting out Senate Dems ability to block it—are slim to none, Tara Copp reports  for The Washington Examiner, here.

Bibi wins handily in a victory that doesn’t bode well for U.S.-Israeli relations or for the Palestinians. Reuters’ Luke Baker and Jeffrey Heller: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a come-from-behind victory in Israel's election after tacking hard to the right in the final days of campaigning, including abandoning a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state.

“…But the promises he made to woo ultranationalist voters in the final days of the campaign, by effectively jettisoning the "two state" aim of more than two decades of Middle East peacemaking, could have far-ranging consequences, including deepening rifts with the United States and Europe.” More here.

Jerusalem Post’s live updates, here.

The U.S. is hitting pause on its training if any Ukrainian soldiers so Moscow can’t use it as an excuse to ditch the Minsk-2 ceasefire, WSJ’s Philip Shishkin reports from a meeting with U.S. Army Europe’s Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges yesterday, here.

The Air Force is expecting the Pentagon to soon approve a contest designed to backfill the loss of access to Russia’s RD-180 engines. Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio and Julie Johnsson with more, here.

An American former Airman who’d served in the late 80s was nabbed in Egypt in January trying to join ISIS. Dan Lamothe at WaPo’s Checkpoint blog: “Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 47, was charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization...

“…Pugh had a chart on his laptop computer that included crossing points between Turkey and Syria and showed the areas on the Syrian side of the border controlled by the Islamic State and other groups, federal officials said. He also had downloaded militant propaganda videos, authorities allege.” More here.

Flip/Flop? U.S. envoy John Allen says the U.S. seeks a negotiated settlement in Syria – without Assad – which is different from what John Kerry seemed to say just days ago. Reuters: The United States still wants a negotiated political settlement in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad, and its position on the Syrian leader has not changed, top U.S. envoy John Allen told Turkish officials late on Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the U.S. would have to negotiate with Assad, though the State Department later said he was not specifically referring to the Syrian leader and that Washington would never bargain with him.” More here.

Assad’s forces are accused of launching a chemical attack. AP, here.

After Iraqi Shiite militias helped clear Amerli of ISIS last year, they then torched and rampaged thousands of Sunni homes in neighboring villages, Human Rights Watch said today. Reuters’ Emma Batha: “Using satellite imagery, HRW identified over 3,800 destroyed buildings in 30 towns and villages. Of these, it said 2,600 were likely to have been destroyed by fire and 1,200 with heavy machinery and explosives… Militias named in the report include the Badr Brigades, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq, Kita'ib Hezbollah and Saraya Tala'a al-Khorasani.” More here.

The ex-lawyer for a doctor who helped the CIA look for bin Laden has been shot dead in Pakistan. CNN’s Jethro Mullen and Zahir Shah just this morning: “…Unidentified gunmen attacked the lawyer, Samiullah Afridi, in his car near the city of Peshawar on Tuesday, said Mian Saeed, a police superintendent in Peshawar. Two different militant groups claimed responsibility for the killing.” More here.

Manila says that U.S. counter-terrorism officials played a key but secret role in a raid in the Philippines. The WaPo’s Whitlock, here.

Former warlord and current Vice Prez of Afghanistan: “No one returns my calls!” Abdul Rashid Dostum feels marginalized in one of the nominally more powerful positions in Kabul, NYT’s Azam Ahmed reports in one of the more odd and alarming stories out of Kabul: “When [President Ashraf] Ghani selected him as a running mate last year, the strategy was clear enough. Mr. Dostum was certainly controversial: Human rights advocates accuse him of war crimes, and the memories of abuses at the hands of some of his fighters still resonate. But he commands the loyalty of the nation’s Uzbeks, roughly 10 percent of the population, a voter block that Mr. Ghani desperately needed.

“[This past December] Mr. Dostum suddenly announced that he was planning to create a force of 20,000 elite troops to clear one of the most deadly areas of the country. He later retracted his vow, but only after sending a shudder through the ranks… But there is nothing funny about a warlord adrift in the palace. As the first vice president, he is next in line to assume control of the country if something should happen to Mr. Ghani.” Read the rest, here.

Meantime, Pakistani airstrikes today have reportedly killed at least 20 militants in the Khyber tribal region neighboring Afghanistan. Reuters from Peshawar, here.

Who's up to what today: The Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee talks shipbuilding with Navy officials (lineup here) at 9:30 a.m. … Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Gen. Marty Dempsey go before the House Armed Services Committee to talk war powers against ISIS and the Pentagon’s FY16 budget request at 10 a.m. … Vice Adm. James Syring heads before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee to talk the Missile Defense Agency’s budget at 10:30 a.m. … SASC conducts its posture hearing with the Army’s John McHugh and Gen. Odierno, as well as the Air Force’s Debbie James and Gen. Welsh at 2:30 p.m. … and an hour later, SOCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel and DOD’s Michael Lumpkin talk special operations budget with the HASC’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee at 3:30 p.m.

Also today: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus heads overseas in a trip that will net him his one-millionth mile traveled visiting Sailors and Marines. This journey includes a ceremony to commemorate the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

No thanks: There’s reason to believe that America’s guilt that only 1 percent serves in the military is causing, not only a civ-mil divide, but an entitlement class – the military. Americans who barely understand the true sacrifices military members and their families make would be well-served to think deeper about what it means to heave thanks on those who serve and then forget it in the morning. On the other side, military spouses who ship ketchup to a newspaper reporter whose story dared question the military’s massive commissary system should think twice. As Congress weighs a series of proposals on how to change the military compensation and retirement system, it’s worth thinking about.

Today we excerpt from a guest post of the WaPo’s Checkpoint blog on the WaPo. It’s written by a retired Army officer who owns some smoothy/food shops. One day, a military spouse went on a tirade when she found out there was no discount for military families when she tried to buy a smoothy or something.

Read this bit by Dave Duffy on Checkpoint: 

“…We are fortunate in our society that we have tremendous citizens who pursue professions for our betterment. Teachers, police, firemen, doctors, nurses, scientists, social workers, civil servants, diplomats — and yes, military  – all do our part to make our society a bit better while taking care of our citizens. All deserve admiration and thanks. It is time we recall that and quit creating a separate class of citizens.

“I’m all for easing up on thanking veterans and uniformed personnel ad nauseam, eliminating most veteran hiring preferences, and having military leaders stomp out the attitude that military members veterans are better than others. Let’s focus instead on fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing business to hire the best-qualified candidates, and taking care of our wounded warriors.

“At the end of the day, I’m a capitalist and fought to defend that system. I’ll offer a discount to whomever I want, and if you don’t like it, then patronize another establishment. If offered a discount as a retiree, I’ll take it, although I’ll never ask for one. At the end of the day, I just regret that military-civilian relations are suffering, in part because of the attitude among some that civilians should have the military on a pedestal. Enough is enough.” Read the rest of this piece here.

“Boom and Roger:” one Army officer posted this after reading this story: “Boom. And roger. If you ask for a discount, even as a service member, you are probably wrong. If not asked, and it's given to you, you should feel grateful, but also a little uncomfortable. If you think you are entitled to it, you are flat out wrong.”

McSteamy comes to the Pentagon. Actor Eric Dane of Grey’s Anatomy fame and now leading in the “post-apocalpyptic dramatic series The Last Ship” slid through the Pentagon yesterday to talk about TAPS, the nonprofit national veterans service organization that gives service members “peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, casualty casework assistance and crisis intervention for military families,” according to the Pentagon.

Defense Media Activity’s Amaani Lyle: “…Dane said working on the The Last Ship has afforded him the chance to meet people from across the ranks and military branches, a privilege he doesn’t take lightly.

“The more I learn from you, the more impressed I am by your service to this great country, and the more determined that I am that all of us on the show get it right when it comes to portraying military [people] on television,” Dane said to current and former service members and their families.

“And though he feels a sense of pride when donning his “digi-blues,” the dark and light blue Navy pattern of the service’s utility uniform, he said, he’s humbled to be part of The Last Ship and, along with fellow cast members and crew, to help tell the stories of service members.”

Dane: “My job is not just to entertain but also to manifest and honor the courage and commitment that each of you possess… My show is fictional. You’re the real heroes.” More here.