SYRIAN OPPOSITION IN POLITICAL SHAMBLES, via WaPo’s Liz Sly, from Beirut — “Syria’s opposition coalition was on the verge of collapse Sunday after its president resigned and rebel fighters rejected its choice to head an interim government, leaving a U.S.-backed effort to forge a united front against President Bashar al-Assad in tatters.” http://wapo.st/YBj7x1
SIREN: ISRAEL FIRES INTO SYRIA: Israel’s army fired a guided missile into Syria yesterday, striking a military post. The move was in response to cross-border gunfire that hit an Israeli vehicle in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, The Associated Press reports. “It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian troops had fired into the Golan intentionally or whether the vehicle had been hit by stray gunfire,” according to the AP. More here: http://apne.ws/WskMXV
ON THE HOME FRONT, the political battle over Syria has reached new heights, bolstered by reports that extremist groups are gaining influence among the rebels and conflicting information about the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Meanwhile, members of President Barack Obama’s own party — including SASC Chairman Carl Levin — are urging him to take a more active role in the campaign to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The current turmoil is also providing additional ammunition to longtime proponents of lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels — with Sen. John McCain leading the charge. “It is unfortunate that Moaz al-Khatib has resigned today as president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition,” McCain said in a statement yesterday. “If the United States remains on the sidelines of this conflict, the Syrian revolution will be hijacked by Al Qaeda, and anti-American radicals will inherit post-Assad Syria.”
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BREAKING... KERRY IN AFGHANISTAN: SecState John Kerry has arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, for a surprise 24-hour visit. He's expected to meet with President Hamid Karzai, civic leaders and others to discuss continued American assistance for the country, The Associated Press reports this morning. The visit comes as American lawmakers protest Karzai's anti-American rhetoric, which has included an accusation that Americans were colluding with the Taliban to keep the country unstable. http://politico.pro/14peoG1
KERRY PRESSES IRAQ ON OVERFLIGHTS — Kerry was in Baghdad yesterday after accompanying the president on his trip to the Middle East. Kerry’s goal? Urge leaders to stop allowing Iranian flights to through Iraqi airspace en route to Syria. “Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said during a press briefing. “I made it very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping to sustain President Assad and his regime.”
Kerry, to embassy staff in Baghdad: “Hello, Embassy Baghdad. It is wonderful to be here. It’s great to be with all of you. I am a recovering politician. (Laughter.)”
HAGEL, KARZAI REACH DETENTION DEAL — SecDef Chuck Hagel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke by phone over the weekend about an agreement to transfer the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan control. The prison had become a major sticking point, with the United States refusing to hand over complete control for fear that Afghanistan would release prisoners considered dangerous.
“The secretary welcomed President Karzai’s commitment that the transfer will be carried out in a way that ensures the safety of the Afghan people and coalition forces by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. http://1.usa.gov/14opJX5
HAPPENING TODAY: PASSOVER STARTS AT SUNDOWN. The president and first lady will mark the occasion with a Seder at the White House, with friends and staff in the Old Family Dining Room.
MEANWHILE, ON CAPITOL HILL ... The Senate passed a budget after a marathon series of votes that ended at 4:56 a.m. on Saturday. In total, senators considered 101 amendments during the "vote-a-rama." An amendment introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte — and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Begich and Jeanne Shaheen — to prohibit funding for MEADS was approved by a vote of 94-5. But the Senate rejected by a vote of 25-74 an amendment by Sen. Ted Cruz to reduce foreign assistance to Egypt. Under the amendment, the funds instead would have been used to begin work on an East Coast missile defense site.
TOP TALKER: ‘ARE U.S. NAVY’S SUPER CARRIERS A RELIC OF WARS PAST?’ by Mathieu Rabechault of Agence France-Presse — “Budget pressures at the Pentagon have renewed a debate about the value of the U.S. Navy’s giant aircraft carriers, with critics arguing the warships are fast becoming costly relics in a new era of warfare. With the Pentagon facing $500 billion in cuts over the next decade, a Navy officer has dared to question the most treasured vessels in his service’s fleet, saying the super carriers are increasingly vulnerable to new weapons and too expensive to operate.” http://bit.ly/11A4fFS
F-35 CRITIC BLASTS BOGDAN — Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight knocks the head of the Pentagon’s F-35 office, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, for his dismissive response to a pilot’s concerns about cockpit visibility. “That’s just what DoD needs more of,” Wheeler writes, “Washington-based bureaucrats talking down to servicemen in the field with the character to express their experience-based concerns about defective equipment.” More here: http://atfp.co/ZTEJX9
WHO’S WHERE WHEN:
- 8:30 a.m.: Tony Montemarano, director of strategic planning and information for the Defense Information Systems Agency, speaks at an event held by the American Institute of Architects, in Washington.
- 10 a.m.: Gen. John Allen, former head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, speaks at the Brookings Institution, in Washington.
- 2 p.m.: JCS Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia speaks at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honoring the 150th anniversary of the first award of the Medal of Honor.
ROGERS NAMES NEW APPROPRIATIONS DIRECTOR: Will Smith has been named staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, Chairman Hal Rogers announced in a statement. Smith, who’s been with Rogers for 15 years, is currently the committee’s deputy staff director. He succeeds William Inglee, who’s been the committee’s staff director since 2010 and is leaving to work in business and political consulting.
— 2 DoD PROMOTIONS:
- Navy Rear Adm. Terry Benedict has been appointment to the rank of vice admiral and assigned as director for Strategic Systems Programs, in Washington.
- Meanwhile, Navy Rear Adm. Joseph Rixey has been appointed to the rank of vice admiral and assigned as director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, in Arlington, Va. Rixey is currently the director of the Navy International Programs Office, at the Pentagon.
STOCKWATCH: Here’s how the top five U.S. defense contractors performed over the past five trading days, compared to the NYSE composite:
- Boeing: -1.86 percent to 84.82
- General Dynamics: -0.89 percent to 69.29