US running low on smart bombs; Carter previews 2017 budget; Syria fighting intensifies despite peace talks; Real eagles vs. drones; And a bit more.

The Pentagon is starting to run low on the smart bombs and guided missiles it has used in the more than 9,000 airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria over the past 18 months, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.

So President Barack Obama will ask Congress next week to approve $1.8 billion to buy 45,000 new bombs. The spending request is part of $7.5 billion the Pentagon says it will need to bomb ISIS and train Iraqi security forces in 2017.

“This will be critical as our updated coalition military campaign plan takes hold,” Carter said of the request for the Pentagon’s war chest.

The secretary, in a speech to the Economic Club of Washington, outlined major themes within the Pentagon 2017 spending plan, which the Obama administration will send to Congress next week.

Carter said the Pentagon is at “a major inflection point” and that its $583 billion 2017 budget takes “the long view.”

He also announced a host of new technological projects to address near-term and strategic threats. Among them is the “arsenal plane, which takes one of our oldest aircraft platforms, and turns it into a flying launch pad for all sorts of different conventional payloads.” Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.

The U.S. military also wants a brigade of new troops—as many as 5,000—in Europe, Stars and Stripes’ Tara Copp reports. “A brigade-size fleet of heavy vehicles and weaponry would also be delivered to storage sites throughout the Continent,” defense officials said.

Now to the money, which represents a four-fold increase over the previous year: “The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017… more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million,” the New York Times adds.

And the why: “This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor,” a senior administration official told the Times.

Quote Of The Morning: “This is a really big deal, and the Russians are going to have a cow. It’s a huge sign of commitment to deterring Russia, and to strengthening our alliance and our partnership with countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia,” said Evelyn N. Farkas, former top Pentagon official on Russia and Ukraine policy.

For what it’s worth: The new brigade of troops would complement the 65,000 or so already in Europe.

How many U.S. troops are fighting ISIS? Officials say about 3,650. But the actual count is almost twice that—6,000, writes The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef. “In reality, there are already about 4,450 U.S. troops in Iraq, plus another nearly 7,000 contractors supporting the American government’s operations. That includes almost 1,100 U.S. citizens working as military contractors, according to the latest Defense Department statistics.”

Bottom line: “The U.S. military presence is larger and growing faster than officials would like to admit.” More here.

The Syrian army is racing to push rebels out of Aleppo as peace talks enter their second day. Rebels are still insisting on a ceasefire, but the UN’s envoy repeated Monday night that “only world powers could bring about ceasefires.”

The attack north of Aleppo “is the first major government offensive there since the start of the Russian air strikes on Sept. 30.” The location under fire concerns “a rebel supply route from Turkey into opposition-held parts of the city and stands between government-held parts of western Aleppo and the Shi’ite villages of Nubul and al-Zahraa which are loyal to Damascus.”

Rebels are reportedly rushing reinforcements to the scene, “including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles to the Aleppo frontline for what he described as a ‘decisive battle’ in northern Syria near the Turkish border.” More here.

Russia says it’s open to allowing two “hard-line” rebel groups—the Army of Islam and Ahrar al-Sham—into the peace process, a move the Associated Press writes reflects Russia’s “realistic stance” in the dynamics on the ground.

In Iraq, the besieged city of Fallujah—seized almost exactly two years ago—faces dire food and medicine shortages, residents said by phone. Officials estimate Fallujah has between 400 and 1,000 ISIS fighters that have tacitly frozen a town of some 300,000 residents. That dispatch, here.

While U.S. officials celebrate recent gains in pushing back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. is looking increasingly to Libya as the next big front, State Secretary John Kerry said this morning in Rome where he met with 23 of his counterparts to discuss the ISIS fight. “The last thing in the world you want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars of oil revenue,” Kerry said of Libya. More from the meeting in Rome, here.

From Defense One

The Hawkeye State sours on hawkish Republicans. Four years ago, Iowans rewarded the neocon-inflected campaigns of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. This year, four of the top five finishers are critics of unnecessary interventions. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, here.

Carpet-bombing is not how you defeat ISIS, Pentagon says. The general in charge of fighting the Islamic State dismisses Ted Cruz’s idea, says there’s nothing to gain from an indiscriminate, scorched-earth approach. News Editor Ben Watson has that, here.

Want an alternative to ISIS? Look to Tunisia. The Islamic State offers a false choice between dictatorship and extremism. Tunisia proves there’s a better way. From The Atlantic’s Rached Ghannouchi, here.

Bring the troops home — from Sinai. Your first question is likely: “We have American soldiers deployed in Egypt?” Soldier-turned-Harvard biz student Matthew Leatherman says it’s time to bring their decades-old mission to a close, here.

Coming up: The civilian workforce that supports U.S. warfighters is aging. How will the Pentagon attract and retain the next generation? Leaders from DOD, USAF, and DLA will lay out their plans and outlook on Tues., February 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Help your friends beat the February blues by sending them this subscription link: Got news? Let us know:

Afghanistan’s outgoing war commander will talk Obama’s exit strategy before House lawmakers today. That White House plan would drop the total U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 from the current 9,800 in-country. AP has a preview, here.

Also in Afghanistan, U.S. airstrikes destroyed an ISIS-affiliated radio station along with nearly two dozen fighters in eastern Nangarhar province.

Worth noting: “Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where most people do not have televisions and only 10 percent of the population has access to the Internet. Nearly everyone has access to radio, with around 175 stations operating across the country.” More from AP, here.

Ukraine to armor its U.S.-made Humvees. Textron Systems has inked a deal with Ukraine’s Ukroboronprom to up-armor some of the country’s Humvees that the Washington donated to Kiev last year. The deal marks the first sale of Textron’s Humvee armor kit, a project the company calls the Survivable Combat Tactical Vehicle. We first told you about the deal in October, when Textron Systems showed off a Humvee with the special armor at an arms show in Washington. The deal announced on Monday is for three armor kits, according to a Textron announcement.

ICYMI: Russia just sent its most advanced jet to Syria. “The (four Su-35S) aircraft will provide cover to the Russian warplanes conducting raids in Syria, that are already being covered by both RuAF and Syrian jets as well as the S-400 Triumf battery installed at Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia,” The Aviationist writes. “The 4++ generation Su-35 is characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth (even if some sources say it can detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers…), once engaged in a WVR (Within Visual Range) air-to-air engagement, it can freely maneuver to point the nose and weapons in any direction, to achieve the proper position for a kill.” More here and here.

Lastly today—Eagle vs. drone: Dutch police are betting on the bird over the bot, AP reports from the Netherlands. “Police are working with a Hague-based company that trains eagles and other birds to catch drones to investigate whether the birds can be used above large events or near airports, where the small flying machines are banned,” AP writes.

Their partner company is a group called Guard From Above, a raptor training crew based in Denmark. Watch their birds snatch the drones right out of the sky, here.

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