1. Defense Budget: Pentagon Delays Civilian Furloughs
The Pentagon is delaying its furlough notices to civilian employees by two weeks after Congress passed a government funding measure giving the Defense Department more flexibility in its budget.
The Defense Department had been planning to furlough most of its nearly 700,000 civilian employee for up to 22 days before September in order to deal with budget reductions.
But the continuing resolution (CR) that Congress sent to President Obama on Thursday provides the
Pentagon with an additional $10 billion in its operations and maintenance accounts, which includes civilian personnel costs.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said that the delay will allow the Pentagon to analyze the CR, and said no decisions have been made about whether the number of furlough days in fiscal 2013 will be changed.
"We believe the delay is a responsible step to take in order to assure our civilian employees that we do not take lightly the prospect of furloughs and the resulting decrease in employee pay," Little said.
DOD spokeswoman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said that furlough notices are not expected to be sent to civilians until April 5, although that date has not been finalized.
While the continuing resolution included a full-year Defense appropriations bill — which allowed for the transfer of funds — the Pentagon is still facing across-the-board cuts under sequestration. The DOD must cut roughly $46 billion in fiscal 2013.
2. Services Gear Up To Restore Tuition Assistance
The military services held off Thursday on lifting the suspension of new enrollments for tuition assistance programs while reviewing the legislation that calls for the restoration of the continuing education plans.
Congressional sponsors said they expected the services to act quickly on the tuition assistance amendment they attached to the continuing resolution on government funding that passed the House and Senate and awaited President Obama's signature.
"The amendment specifically requires that," said Christopher Moyer, a spokesman for Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who joined Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in offering the amendment on the Senate side.
But the TA programs may not be restored in their current forms, which provide up to $250 per credit hour to a total of $4,500 annually. Moyer said tuition was subject to the same 8 percent cuts facing other defense accounts through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30 under the congressional cost-cutting process known as sequestration.
The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard all suspended new enrollments for tuition assistance earlier this month. Service members currently enrolled were also advised that they would be ineligible for future courses.
The Navy stood apart in not joining the other services in suspending enrollments while considering a plan that would require sailors to pay for 25 percent of their education aid. The Navy was "now in a holding pattern" on how to proceed since passage of the amendment, said Sharon Andersen, a spokeswoman for the Navy's personnel office.
A Marine Corps statement suggested that the suspensions would be lifted shortly. The statement said that "further guidance on the Tuition Assistance (TA) will be published, which will include an effective date (for lifting the suspensions). Until that time, TA requests will not be processed."
3. War on Terror: Congress Axes Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund
The spending bill Congress sent to President Obama Thursday night zeroes out funding for a Pakistan military aid program that was a key part of David Petraeus's counter-terrorism plan when he was chief of Central Command.
The Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund called for $3 billion to be spent on helicopters, equipment and training for Pakistan's special operations forces between 2009 and 2014. Some in Washington were concerned the fund would circumvent the State Department's role in overseeing foreign military assistance.
Two years ago, the fund was moved back into the State Department, with the Pentagon retaining much of its authority on how it was to be used. Now, with Petraeus out of the picture, lawmakers have voted to terminate funding altogether — at least until the end of September.
The Obama administration says it's not opposed to the cut. The program was always meant to be a short-term effort, a State Department official told The Hill, and other military assistance programs — including Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training — are there to fill the void.
"We're not not working with the Pakistanis on counterterrorism; there are other programs," the official said. "We can still achieve a lot of our objectives with other tools that are available to us."
Still, the program's defunding is but the latest example of America's strained relationship with Pakistan.
The on-again-off-again ally in the war on terrorism demanded two years ago that the United States sharply reduce the number of CIA and Special Forces personnel in the country. And when the US-Pakistan Defense Consultative Group reconvened in December after a 19-month hiatus following a U.S. strike that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops, the official said, both sides agreed to pare down their military-to-military collaboration.
1. Obama Warns Syria on Chemical Weapons
President Barack Obama said in Jerusalem that the United States was launching an investigation into reports that Syrian authorities used chemical weapons (FT) against rebel forces this week, pledging that any such use would represent a "game-changer" in American involvement in the civil war there. Both Syria's government and rebels have demanded an international inquiry (al-Jazeera) into an attack in Khan al-Assal, a town near the northern city of Aleppo, that killed twenty-six people on Tuesday. Syria's UN ambassador announced on Wednesday that he had requested the UN to form an independent mission(al-Arabiya) to investigate the incident, which, if confirmed, would be the first use of chemical weapons in the two-year-old conflict.
"It is not hard to imagine how, in the heat of battle, chemical weapons could be turned against government forces or used in retribution for past atrocities. Some might even see their use as a way to trigger outside intervention. Other wildcard possibilities involve terrorist groups like Hezbollah acquiring chemical weapons in various ways as the Syrian regime crumbles," writes CFR's Paul Stares in this Expert Brief.
"For now, it's unlikely Obama would authorize airstrikes on the known weapons depots and chemical labs. Instead, the hope is that Syrian officers can be persuaded to safeguard the material if the regime collapses," writes Eli Lake for The Daily Beast.
"While conventional weapons are the true weapons of mass destruction in Syria, the use of chemical weapons might just bring about a significant increase in international military support for the Syrian opposition -- if not overt military intervention on their behalf," writes Michael Eisenstadt for the Atlantic.
2. Asia – Pacific: South Korea Cyberattack Traced to China
South Korea traced a hacking attack (Reuters) that shut down three broadcasters and two major banks to a server in China that has been used by North Korean hackers in the past. One South Korean official directly blamed Pyongyang for the attack.
Japan: Japan and the United States began planning joint operations (KyodoNews) for contingencies arising from conflict between Tokyo and Beijing over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Expert Yinan He offers her assessment on the ongoing crisis over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in this blog post.
3. New Russian Bear Bomber Flights
Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers carried out a fourth high-profile training flight last week, flying near South Korea, where large-scale war games are under way, and near Japan and the U.S. military bases on Okinawa.
It was the fourth time since June 2012 that Russian bombers have run up against U.S. and allied air defense zones in the Pacific
Defense officials told Inside the Ring that two Tu-95 Bear-H nuclear-capable bombers, Russia's main nuclear cruise-missile delivery vehicle, were detected Friday in the Pacific Command theater of operations coming from a base in Russia's Far East.
Pacific Command spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. DeDe Halfhill declined to provide details of the flights or say whether any U.S. interceptor jets were sent aloft to follow the bombers. She instead referred questions to the Russian, Japanese and South Korean governments, even though she acknowledged that the incident took place within the command's area of responsibility.
It could not be learned whether South Korean interceptor jets were scrambled to trail the bombers.
The latest Russian strategic bomber flights near Okinawa, where U.S. Marines are deployed, followed a Feb. 12 incursion around Guam, July 4 bomber flights near the California coast, and practice bomber sorties near Alaska in June.
Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/mar/20/inside-the-ring-new-bear... 
4. POW/MIA Update
On Wednesday, staff met via conference call with the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) who are finishing a report to Congress on DoD remains accounting efforts. GAO staff were interesting in the Legion's positions on the issue and where improvements might be made.
Director, National Security / Foreign Relations Division