OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: US ‘ready’ for North Korean aggression

Many experts say the likelihood of a war between the North and South remains low, despite the threats.

Locklear noted that North Korea has frequently engaged in a “cycle of provocation” as a way of achieving its goals.

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But this time, he said, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un remains an “unpredictable” factor.

“His father and his grandfather, as far as I could see, always figured into their provocation cycle an off ramp of how to get out of it,” Locklear said. “And it's not clear to me that he has thought through how to get out of it. And so this is what makes this scenario, I think, particularly challenging.”

Levin doesn’t expect base closures: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Tuesday said he doesn’t expect the Pentagon budget proposal to include new rounds of base closures.

Levin said the Defense Department knows base closures are a non-starter after lawmakers roundly rejected them in last year’s budget.

“I think they would know they’re not going to get it, so why put it in?” Levin said.

Levin also argued that amid budget belt-tightening, the Pentagon isn’t going to want to incur the short-term costs from the Base Closures and Realignment Commission (BRAC), even if there are long-term savings to be had.

The House Armed Services Committee already held a hearing on base closures, where lawmakers bashed the idea and declared it "dead before arrival."

Air Force avoiding budget fights: While there’s sure to be plenty of fights buried in the Defense budget, one service is trying to avoid a repeat of last year: the Air Force.

According to one source familiar with the Air Force budget request, the service is not seeking retirements of hardware like the Global Hawk Block 30s or cuts in the Air Guard that drew the ire of Congress last year.

The Obama administration budget request will be released Wednesday morning.

Levin said that the “big eight” — the committee chairmen and ranking members of the Armed Services and Appropriations Defense committees — were being briefed on the budget on Wednesday.

The Pentagon’s 2014 budget topline will be at pre-sequester levels, because the Obama budget reverses sequestration through a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. That plan, however, has been rejected by Republicans. 

Al Qaeda not done in Mali: While it's almost guaranteed al Qaeda's dangerous West African cell will fight to retake its safe havens in northern Mali, it remains unclear whether the country's military can keep the terror group out.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb "will attempt to reconstitute themselves" in Mali, Michael Sheehan, head of the Pentagon's special operations and low-intensity conflict directorate, said Monday. 

"We'll see whether [they] will be able to establish a strategic capability from there over the years ahead," he added.

With the help of U.S. intelligence and airlift assets, French forces were able to flush out AQIM fighters from the northern city of Gao and group's various strongholds in northern Mali.

But with Paris now planning to pull most of its 4,000-man force out of Mali and hand control of those operations to Malian and regional forces by the end of the year, it remains unclear whether those troops can maintain the gains made by the French. 

"It's a very weak army, notwithstanding all the aid that we provided them over the last five years or so," Sheehan said. "It remains to be seen how it will evolve and develop into a professional force." 

Members of the European Union and the United Nations are already planning to move military advisers into the West African nation to train and organize Mali's armed forces.

But the Obama administration has barred the Defense Department from providing any support to the Malian military, according to Sheehan. 


In Case You Missed It:

— DOD anticipates al Qaeda Mali return

— Pentagon opts to fund MEADS

— Inhofe: Sequester pay donations ‘childish

— Kerry hints at stronger US role in Syria


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