What happens if Ramadi falls; Lubold’s last D Brief; Abadi backs away on Saudi intervention; Swiss cheese in the Pentagon?; Who was there for Bravo and Panetta?; And a bit more.

AP this hour: “A senior Iraqi military official with the Salahuddin Command Center says Iraqi security forces have gained full control over a contested area south of the country’s largest oil refinery. General Ayad al-Lahabi tells The Associated Press that the military, backed by divisions of the Popular Mobilization Forces and coalition airstrikes, gained control Friday of the towns of al-Malha and al-Mazraah, located three kilometers south of the Beiji oil refinery, killing at least 160 militants with the Islamic State group.” More here.

Ramadi should not be seen as some strategic prize if it falls to Islamic fighters, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said yesterday. The more important fight is in and around Baiji, where there is an important oil refinery. Lubold’s story: U.S. and Iraqi forces are working hard to protect Ramadi, once considered one of the most dangerous cities in which American forces fought eight years ago. Should Islamic State fighters take it over, the U.S. and Iraq should fight to get it back, but losing it would not be a strategic defeat for the Iraqis, he said. 

Dempsey on Thursday: “The city itself is not symbolic in any way… It’s not been declared, you know, part of the caliphate on one hand or central to the future of Iraq.” 

Dempsey appeared at Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s first formal press briefing at the Pentagon since taking office nearly two months ago.  During the Iraq war, the U.S. military fought costly battles in Anbar province, and to the Marines who fought there it was a strategic prize as Anbar’s largest city and provincial capital. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other Iraqi officials were in Washington this week discussing the fight against the ISIS and U.S. humanitarian and military support for their government. U.S. officials want Iraqis to reclaim those parts of Anbar by “connecting the ink blots” between pockets of stability and government control and those areas controlled by the Islamic State. Dempsey said the Iraqis agreed this week that taking back Anbar would become a new priority.” Read the rest of Lubold’s story here.

Nearly two dozen experts weigh in on the lessons of the counter-ISIS campaign so far—not merely for Iraq and Syria, but more broadly, for the conflicts of tomorrow, as part of Defense One’s ongoing series on the Future of War. Peruse the insights of Tom Ricks, Shane Harris, Rosa Brooks, Anne Marie Slaughter, Dan Ward and more, here.

Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi dialed back his criticism of Saudi Arabia in remarks at CSIS yesterday. NYT’s Michael Gordon: “Mr. Abadi’s goal during his three-day visit here was to secure billions of dollars and additional American military support as Iraq seeks to roll back gains by Islamic State militants… [W]hile the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has been uneasy with Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen, it is also looking for international support in rebuilding towns and cities that it hopes to take back from the Islamic State. Much of that support is to come from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states.

“In other comments, Mr. Abadi, who took office last September, said he would like the United States to be able to carry out airstrikes more quickly against the Islamic State in Iraq.” More here.

The anti-ISIS campaign has now cost the Pentagon more than $2 billion. The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad, here.

Next week, Ash Carter heads to Silicon Valley to meet with tech companies and deliver a Stanford lecture on innovation and cybersecurity. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker and Marcus Weisgerber: “Ashton Carter will become the first sitting defense secretary in nearly 20 years to visit California’s Silicon Valley… A senior defense official told Defense One that Carter also will ‘talk about the importance of those relationships, particularly in light of the frustrations that have resulted from things like Snowden.’ Going to Silicon Valley is one of Carter’s ‘highest priorities in his first 100 days of office…’

“‘These larger [Silicon Valley] players have the expertise to navigate a very complex and opaque acquisitions system, as well as the resources to wait out the long and highly uncertain sales cycles. This is a fundamental point people need to understand, and it has nothing to do with Snowden or any other ideological red herring that is out there,’ said Jason Tama, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.Read the rest, here.

A lend-lease program for drones for Jordan? The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak: “Lawmakers are pushing Obama take a page out of the World War II playbook—and let Jordan borrow some Predator drones to keep the terror group at bay.

“…So a group of 23 lawmakers, led by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), is urging President Obama to allow the U.S. Air Force to lend drones to Jordan. “The request, if approved, would ensure Jordan is able to quickly acquire this much-needed advanced capability as it confronts” ISIS, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the president obtained by The Daily Beast.” Read the story and the lawmaker’s letter, here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.

If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or drop us a line at glubold@defenseone.com. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you’ll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

Candy: This is Lubold’s last D Brief.  Today, I am hanging up my newsletter hat and sharing with you that I’ll be moving on. I’ll be starting May 4 as Pentagon reporter for The Wall Street Journal. It’s a lottery win for me and I can’t afford to pass up the chance for a dream job, much as I love the one I’ve got. I’ll be succeeding the inimitable Julian Barnes, and I hope my feet are big enough. Barnes, by the way, will remain with The Journal (and the national security beat) but will soon begin doing it from Brussels. I don’t have any plans to be doing another letter. I started in journalism “covering dog catcher,” as a friend of mine once said about doing journalistic grunt work, and it’s been great ever since. This newsletter should never be about me, but it would be weird if I didn’t say anything, so I hope you’ll allow me this indulgence.

The D Brief is the third letter I have launched, it’s also been my favorite. If I said getting up to make the doughnuts each morning to write these letters has been a humbling, thrilling, tedious, exhausting, scary thing, I’d be more than accurate. It’s also been the most gratifying experience of my professional life.

I remember a reporter-friend who once told me that he’d rather clean bathrooms than wake up so early each morning to have to do my job, and he was serious. Then he proceeded to ask me if I’d promote his new book in my next edition. Funny how that worked. I truly loved the tidbits, the news tips, the over-the-transom insights, the requests to showcase people’s work – we got more of those than anyone knew! – and generally all the backstage stuff we were allowed to be privy to sitting in this spot. The candy was oftentimes the best. I’d thank a number of the folks who played in that game, but it’s better to allow them to take their bows behind the curtain. But truly, you have made the D Brief to be whatever it is.

Big thanks also goes to my partner in crime for the last six months, Ben Watson, who awoke, often before me, to help in a big way to make those doughnuts. He has been tremendous to work with and immediately got what it is we try to do each day. And that in itself speaks volumes about who he is as a guy and a journalist. The D Brief will be lucky enough to continue under Ben even as there will be some changes. Look for more in this space on Monday.

I’m pleased to thank friend-and-boss Kevin Baron, executive editor of Defense One as well as friend-and-former deputy boss Stephanie Gaskell, who has since departed. The two understood intuitively what we were trying to do and gave us the space to do it. That had a singular effect on any success The D Brief has enjoyed.  Thanks also in a big way to everyone at Defense One who supported and nourished The D Brief and always supplied lots of good journalism, insight and metaphorical candy: Marcus Weisgerber, Kedar Pavgi, Patrick Tucker and Molly O’Toole. Sarah Flocken and Yvonne Dudley are also doing awesome work for Defense One each day and we’re glad that Brad Peniston has just joined as deputy dog.

Defense One is an exciting place to be right now and it’s clear that the impact it is having on the national security conversation is only growing. “Mean it,” as Kevin would say. For now, contact me at gordonlubold@gmail.com anytime. We’re out.

Speaking of Defense One, one week from Saturday—8 days from now— The Atlantic and National Journal will host their annual editorial breakfast briefing—and this year’s theme is “Culture Shock: Vets and the Battle Back Home.” Confirmed speakers include: Sen. Tom Cotton; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Col. James Isenhower, director of the Chairman’s Office of Reintegration for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actress and veteran advocate Michelle Monaghan.

The event also includes another actor and veteran’s advocate, Melissa Fitzgerald, probably best known for her work as a member of the ensemble cast of The West Wing, who is now senior director of “Justice for Vets,” which advocates for a veterans treatment court system as part of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in Alexandria, Va.

And Defense One’s special guest for that evening’s White House Correspondents Dinner is: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and his wife, Lynn.

A great read: how the children of wounded warriors cope – and take care of “wounded parents.” On Page One of the WaPo this morning, by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, here.

Meantime, is it swiss cheese in the Pentagon? Defense officials have long decried the fact that many senior jobs go unfilled or are filled only with acting folks. Most will blame Congress for not acting on the nominations from the White House. Sometimes, it’s hard to find anyone qualified to actually fill the jobs – especially in the last innings of the Obama Administration. Either way, here’s the list of vacancies and/or jobs in which someone is acting - like Elissa Slotkin as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs - but who has not yet been confirmed. We wonder if SecDef Carter may be able to prevail upon the Senate to get some folks confirmed.

The list of jobs that are vacant or only have someone acting in them: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense; Principal Undersecretary of Defense - Comptroller; Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology; Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness; Deputy Chief Management Officer; Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs; Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management.

Three hundred U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade recently arrived in Yavoriv, Ukraine. There, they’ll begin six months of training three battalions of Kiev’s troops. AFP, here (since the Army’s own link appears to have been taken down).

Russian defense officials, meanwhile, spent yesterday placing blame for the Ukraine crisis at Washington’s doorstep. Reuters’ Gabriela Baczynska from Moscow, here.

Happening today: The Stimson Center reviews where things stand in the Ebola fight at 3 p.m. with the White House’s National Security Council Senior Director Laura Holgate and others. More on that one, here.

Outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told the UN yesterday his country doesn’t need help battling Boko Haram—but help rebuilding his country is a different story. AFP, here.

ICYMI: Nigeria’s incoming president, Muhammadu Buhari, however, penned an op-ed in the NYT on Wednesday with a new plan for tackling the six-year insurgency. That, here. Or check out the Council on Foreign Relations’ John Campbell on Buhari’s next steps, here.

Morocco is trying to fight the Islamic State and Houthis while trying to make a counterinsurgency plan at home. Can it do it? U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman, here.

Egypt said this week that it would deport people accused of being gay. What does that mean for gay soldiers deploying there? Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder and Maged Atef, here.

Uncle Leon was back at the Pentagon yesterday: Ash Carter on Thursday hosted an event at which the portrait for the 23rd Defense Secretary – Leon Panetta – was unveiled. In a sun-drenched Pentagon Courtyard, we’re told since we couldn’t be there, “Carter, who served under Panetta as Deputy Secretary, praised his former boss as a big hearted, caring Secretary whose presided over the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, while keeping the military’s capabilities strong and opening combat roles to women,” according to someone who was there.

Panetta joked that his military aides had to learn how to drink Scotch – And they did a good job. He also said that his golden retriever Bravo, who appears with him in the painting, is a good reminder about the importance of loyalty. (Panetta quipped that he wanted longtime aide and former chief of staff Bash to appear in the painting, too, but… he wouldn’t stay down!)

DC Seen included: Michele Flournoy, Jim Miller, Julie Smith, Marcel Lettre, Mike Vickers, Gen. John Kelly, Bailey Hand, Jeremy and Robyn Bash and Jeremy’s parents; Bob Hale, Doug Wilson, Frank Kendall, Gen. Marty Dempsey, Army Secretary John McHugh, Jamie Morin, Bob Taylor, Jimmy Panetta, Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser; Bob Hale, Robert Rangel, Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, Eric Fanning, Stephen Preston, Mike McCord, Brent Colburn, Delonnie Henry, Iram Ali, Zach Mears and Bravo.

Terrorists are turning to robots as weapons, and they aren’t limited to consumer-grade UAVs with small payloads, founder of the Future Crimes Institute, Marc Goodman, writes in Defense One: “Using such systems, jihadists no longer need to martyr themselves…The earliest video of an actual firearm, a .45-caliber handgun, mounted and firing on a remote-control helicopter appeared way back in 2008. Since then, numerous other videos showing smart-phone-controlled UAVs with guns have appeared online, including an HD version of an octocopter carrying a .45 Colt handgun fired repeatedly using a remotely controlled robotic trigger finger.” More here.

From Jeb Bush, some familiar refrains. The WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe this morning on Page One, here.

One of the Navy’s top enlisted sailors, Fleet Master Chief (SW/AW) Marco Ramirez, was relieved of command this week after filing fraudulent travel vouchers. Navy Times’ Mark Faram, here.

Iranian hackers are reportedly targeting U.S. infrastructure, according to a report from the cybersecurity company Norse, in conjunction with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris, here.

Meantime: The Chinese are building a runway on those disputed islands. The NYT’s Jane Perlez, here.

Manila says that the dispute in the South China Sea is a global problem. Reuters, here.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, tried to alleviate China’s concerns over the possible deployment of a THAAD missile defense system to protect America’s ally in Seoul from North Korea. AP’s Matthew Pennington: U.S. officials are most concerned about a long-range missile designated as the KN-08 that has been displayed in military parades in Pyongyang. The KN-08 is said to be capable of being launched from a road-mobile vehicle and would therefore be difficult to monitor via satellite.” More here.

The Navy’s experimental unmanned sub, the Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle, is set for a 2016 debut, Navy Times’ David Larter reports: The LDUUV would help backfill demands from combatant commanders for attack submarine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, said a retired submarine captain and UUV expert who spoke on background… The LDUUV is being designed to launch from a Virginia-class submarine’s torpedo tube, a littoral combat ship or a dry dock shelter, according to the requirements.” More here.

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