OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel picks Fox as DOD's acting second in command

The Topline: Top Pentagon official Christine Fox will replace outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday. 

Fox, who led the department's cost assessment and program evaluation shop, will take the reins as the Pentagon's No. 2 leader on Thursday, Hagel said. 

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She will serve in the position in an acting capacity until the Obama administration selects a nominee to permanently take the post. 

Before coming to the Pentagon, Fox led the Center for Naval Analyses and advised top Navy commanders at Pacific Command on the service's air operations in the region. 

Fox was the real-life inspiration for Kelly McGillis's character Charlie, the female flight instructor and eventual love interest for Tom Cruise's Navy fighter pilot Maverick, in the film "Top Gun." 

While McGillis's callsign in the movie was "Charlie," Fox was handed the callsign "Legs" by the Naval aviators she worked with during her time at the command. 

On Tuesday, Hagel called Fox a "brilliant thinker and proven manager," and noted that she played a key planning role in the department's new strategy to deal with the massive, across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration. 

"She helped identify the challenges, choices, and opportunities for reform facing the department during this period of unprecedented budget uncertainty," Hagel said in a statement. 

NATO eyes 'zero' option: NATO chief Fogh Anders Rasmussen said Tuesday the alliance is preparing plans for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan if Kabul does not ratify a postwar plan with the United States. 

The so-called zero option for NATO forces in Afghanistan is one of several postwar scenarios being hashed out during the alliance's annual meeting in Brussels, Belgium, this week. 

Without a plan, known inside the Pentagon as a Bilateral Security Agreement, "there can be no deployment and the planned [NATO] assistance will be put at risk," Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels. 

"It is my firm hope and intention therefore to continue our efforts to support Afghanistan, once these agreements are concluded," he added. 

Rasmussen made the comments a day after the Pentagon announced the U.S. and Afghanistan have until late February or early March to reach a deal on a security agreement, or risk having no American troops in the country after 2014.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it had some flexibility on the deadline for a final deal.

“Dec. 31 is not a hard and fast date,” Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said.

Washington has been pressuring Afghan President Hamid Karzai to approve the postwar plan by the end of the year. 

But the Pentagon is adamant that time is running out for Karzai to approve the pact.

“We would like to see [it] signed as quickly as possible,” Warren said. 

Forbes presses White House on China defense zone: House Armed Services subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes (R-Va.) is pressing the White House to block U.S. commercial aircraft from complying with China's controversial air defense zone. 

In a letter to national security adviser Susan Rice, Forbes said the administration's guidance to American airliners to adhere to Beijing's demands "creates confusion about U.S. intentions and puts us at odds" with key allies in the Asia-Pacifc region. 

The White House's request to commercial airliners to obey China's rules for the so-called Air Defense Identification Zone runs contrary to its orders for American military aircraft, which do not officially recognize the air defense zone. 

By complying with the new flight regulations, "U.S. airlines will be acknowledging the validity of China's [authority], at the same time other elements of the U.S. government are vigorously ... contesting Beijing's behavior," Forbes said in the letter sent to the White House on Tuesday. 

Chinese leaders instituted new rules for U.S. allied military aircraft operating in the skies above the Diaoyutai islands, known in Japan as the Senkaku islands, in the East China Sea. 

U.S. and allied forces are now required to identify themselves and their mission to Chinese forces before entering the air defense zone, according to Beijing. 

Last Tuesday, a pair of American B-52 bombers flew unannounced into the zone above the East China Sea, in a direct rebuke of China's asserted authority over the area.

"Given the potential for miscalculation in the current environment, it is essential that the administration speak with one voice on an issue directly affecting the future of American security interests" in the region, the Virginia Republican added. 

DOD shutters Pakistani supply lines: The Defense Department is shuttering key supply lines in Pakistan, ordering a halt to all military shipments along those routes. 

The decision was prompted by security concerns for military and civilian shipping firms moving along the routes, Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told Reuters on Tuesday. 

The decision, he added, was not permanent. Department officials anticipate reopening the Pakistani supply lines once the security situation stabilizes.

"We anticipate we will be able to resume our shipments through this route in the near future," Wright said. 

The supply lines running through Pakistan are critical to U.S. and allied commanders, who depend on those routes to facilitate the American withdrawal from the country next year. 

American and NATO supply trucks have been stranded along the contested supply lines near the Afghan-Pakistan border, after protesters blocked those routes in an attempt to end U.S. drone strikes in the country. 

Roughly 1,500 trucks, loaded down with equipment and supplies bound for U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, have been stuck in the volatile northwest provinces of Pakistan for the past three days due to the protests. 

The protest is being led by local leaders in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which abuts the Afghan-Pakistan border

 

In Case You Missed It: 

— Defense hawks roll out sequester fix

— Biden 'deeply concerned' over Chinese air defense zone

— US facing tight deadline for postwar plan 

— Clinton: NSA leaks have had damaging effects 

 

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