1. Defense budget update: Pentagon planning for massive cuts
The Defense Department has begun planning for the roughly $500 billion in personnel and program cuts over a decade that will be needed if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal that would avoid the double hit of tax hikes and automatic spending reductions dubbed the "fiscal cliff."
Department spokesman George Little said the cuts would be "devastating to our national defense."
As the White House and members of Congress continue to wrangle over how best to find as much as $1.2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years to avert the fiscal cliff, Little said the Pentagon started more detailed discussions this week on how to slash 9.4 percent of its budget across the board.
He said cuts that deep could force the department to throw out its new military strategy, and cut weapons and technology programs, and it could hamper the department's ability to provide for its troops and their families. He added that the department also is beginning to figure out how it will prepare and inform about 3 million military, civilian and contract workers about the cuts, if they occur.
For months, Pentagon officials have insisted they were not planning for the massive budget cuts that would automatically kick in after the first of the year if the White House and Congress don't strike a deal. But with less than a month to go and no deal in sight, those evaluations have begun in earnest.
According to guidance sent out by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Pentagon will have to slice nearly 10 percent off more than 80 accounts, including more than $4 billion off Air Force aircraft and maintenance, $2.1 billion off Navy shipbuilding; $6.7 billion off Army operations, $3.2 billion off health programs and $1.3 billion out of the Afghan security forces funding.
The Pentagon would have some flexibility in deciding how to find the money in each of those broad categories; for instance officials could leave the aircraft carrier fleet intact and take the money out of other types of ships in the pipeline.
If the White House and lawmakers are able to avoid the fiscal cliff, the military still likely will be looking at as much as an additional $10 billion to $15 billion in cuts in projected defense spending each year for the next decade.
Already this year, the Pentagon revamped its military strategy as part of last year's deficit-cutting law that ordered an initial $487 billion in spending cuts over the next 10 years.
A proposal that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republican leaders sent to the White House this week calls for cuts of $300 billion in discretionary spending to achieve savings of $2.2 trillion over 10 years. The blueprint offered no specifics on the cuts, although the Pentagon and defense-related departments such as Homeland Security and State make up roughly half of the federal government's discretionary spending.
2. Senate OKs Dunford for Afghanistan commander
By voice vote Monday, lawmakers cleared the way for Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, to take over as head of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Dunford would replace Gen. John Allen, the current commander who has been nominated to take charge in Europe. Allen's nomination is on hold as he's ensnared in the sex scandal that had led to the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus.
Dunford takes charge at a critical time for Obama and the military as they decide in the coming weeks the pace of drawing down the 66,000 U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. Dunford has directed combat forces in Iraq.
3. The Fiscal Cliff: What does this mean for defense and national security?
On Wednesday, NS staff attended the U.S. Naval Institute's 2012 Defense Forum Washington, which focused on the current budget issues, including sequestration, and how they might affect America's defense strategy. Speakers and panelists included former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, American University professor Dr. Gordon Adams, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III.
The full report and video can be found here: http://www.usni.org/events/2012-defense-forum-washington?utm_source=U.S.... 
1. U.S. and Iraq reach long-term security pact
A recent deal reached between top U.S. and Iraqi defense officials this week ensures the Pentagon will continue to play a large role in Baghdad's ongoing effort to maintain security within the country.
DOD policy chief James N. Miller, acting Undersecretary of State for International Security Rose Gottemoeller and acting Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dlimi signed the agreement, which dictates the U.S. security role in Iraq for the next five years, the Pentagon's American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reports.
The deal was reached during a meeting of the U.S. and Iraqi Defense and Security Joint Coordination Committee in Baghdad on Thursday. The timing of the deal comes near the one-year anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from the country.
Details of the pact will outline a number of cooperative efforts between Washington and Iraq in areas like joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations and counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing capabilities, according to recent reports. The agreement will also facilitate military-to-military exchanges between senior leaders from both countries, as well as guide efforts to improve training and education of Iraq's national security forces.
Some lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon and White House over its handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, as Congress continues to debate how best to pull American forces out of Afghanistan.
Washington's decision to virtually abandon Iraq with little to no residual U.S. presence to support the country's fledgling security forces has resulted in rampant violence that threatens to tear the nation apart, according to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
"That ended up being a mistake," he told The Hill on Tuesday. "We don't want Afghanistan to suffer the same way."
2. Concerns mount over Syrian chemical weapons
With rebel forces in Syria knocking at the doorstep of beleaguered President Bashar Assad's seat of power in Damascus, Washington is forcefully reminding the Assad regime of the dire consequences should the regime include chemical weapons as part of its endgame.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the latest U.S. official to threaten Assad's forces with U.S. military action if government troops decide to unleash the country's chemical weapon arsenal on its own people.
"The whole world is watching, the whole world's watching very closely," Panetta said at a press conference Thursday, reiterating comments made by President Obama on Monday.
Assad forces began shuffling around previously undisclosed stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide to various parts of Syria beginning in July.
Recent reports have emerged this week that Assad's forces are taking steps to ready chemical weapons, including the mixing of chemicals needed to weaponize sarin gas.
Concerns over the use of chemical weapons by Assad forces have also spiked on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers who have called for more U.S. action in Syria held a press conference Thursday, saying they would back the president's use of force in Syria to stop Assad from using chemical weapons.
3. POW/MIA Update
• SOLDIER MISSING FROM VIETNAM WAR IDENTIFIED
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Sgt. John R. Jones, 22, of Louisville, Ky., will be buried Dec. 6, in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. On June 4, 1971, Jones was part of a U.S. team working with indigenous commandos to defend a radio-relay base, known as Hickory Hill, in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. When enemy forces attacked the site, Jones and another serviceman took up a defensive position in a nearby bunker. The following morning, Jones was reportedly killed by enemy fire and the other soldier was captured and held as a POW until 1973.
From 1993 to 2010, joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted several investigations, surveyed the site and interviewed multiple witnesses, including those involved in the battle. During that time, analysts from JPAC and DPMO evaluated wartime records and eyewitness accounts to determine possible excavation sites. In 2011, another joint U.S./S.R.V team located human remains in a bunker suspected to be the last known location of Jones.
In the identification of the remains, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as dental records and mitochondrial DNA–which matched Jones' mother and brother.
Since 1973 more than 900 servicemen have been accounted for from the Vietnam War, and returned to their families for burial with military honors. The U.S. government continues to work closely with the governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to recover all Americans lost in the conflict.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, call (703) 699-1169 or visit the DPMO Web site at www.dtic.mil/dpmo .
Military Review Boards
This week, our Military Review Boards staff assisted 24 former service members with new and pending petitions prepare their case for review by the Military Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military Records. Case development included: 25 phone calls, 19 emails, 4 correspondences and 3 service officer inquiries.
One of our success stories for this week was a former Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class (HM2) reservist, now 31 years of age, separated General (Under Honorable Conditions). The basis for his separation processing was initiated after he was labeled as an unsatisfactory participant due to not satisfying mandatory medical readiness requirements.
The Applicant contended that he was wrongfully discharged and not given his due process rights in accordance with Navy regulations.
The Navy Discharge Review Board (NDRB) agreed with the Applicant's contention. The Board's review of his official military personnel file showed that this former member did not receive the administrative separation package to determine whether or not to waive his rights to consult with a qualified counsel, submit a written statement, and request an administrative board or a General Court-Martial Convening Authority review. Moreover, the Applicant provided a detailed explanation of events and supported the narrative with several letters of reference, including a letter from his former commanding officer who approved the leave of absence, and witness statements to prove that he was on an approved leave of absence.
The NDRB voted unanimously for full relief with a change of the character of service to fully Honorable and a change of the narrative reason for separation to Secretarial Authority.
Director, National Security / Foreign Relations Division