The D Brief: Are U.S. airstrikes making the Sunni-Shiite rift worse?; Dempsey: ISIS a “bunch of midgets”; An Army officer’s war on sugar; Hagel’s new initiative; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

Qatar’s foreign minister warned that U.S.-led strikes in Syria are bringing the region’s Sunni-Shiite rift in sharper focus—and potentially upending an already delicate balance for the Arab coalition. The WSJ’s Jay Solomon: “[I]n an unusually explicit warning, Qatar’s chief diplomat stressed that the Mideast’s Sunni population increasingly view the U.S. military campaign as biased against efforts to topple Mr. Assad. Sunnis make up the majority of Syria’s rebel forces. ‘If we just keep the campaign limited to the airstrikes, then we are helping Assad. The question is who [is] going to fill the vacuum? Is it the regime or the Syrian people who been suffering for the past 3½ years for their freedom and their justice,’ Mr. Attiya said.” More here.

The U.S. advisory mission in Iraq has been quickly expanded in Anbar, where the key cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are still under siege. Reuters’ Phil Stewart, who was traveling with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey in Iraq over the weekend: “General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a small group of advisers had already established themselves in a preliminary fashion at Ain al-Asad air base in the province, much of which is controlled by the militant Islamist group. They would also eventually start training the Iraqi army’s seventh division…

“An aide to Dempsey said the U.S. troops, who numbered just under 50, were also already helping the seventh division as Iraq starts to build ties with Sunni Muslim tribes in the region. The goal is to create a bridging force of thousands of Sunni tribesmen before Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government creates a ‘National Guard’, decentralizing power from Baghdad.” More here.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Dempsey called ISIS a ‘bunch of midgets’ as the Iraqi security forces make favorable gains on the battlefield. Reuters’ Stewart shared these classic fightin’ words: “Dempsey said it had been crucial to show Islamic State was not an unstoppable, 10-foot-tall force and instead ‘a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology.’” More here.

Dempsey will appear at the Defense One Summit on Wednesday—his first public appearance since his assessment trip to Iraq over the weekend—in which he’ll be interviewed by Defense One’s Kevin Baron. We’ll have more on the Summit this week, but the lineup on Wednesday also includes Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Mike Vickers, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and more.

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Ukraine’s Donetsk airport remains a hotbed of violence today. Reuters this hour.

ICYMI: Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber rolled up the big, multi-billion-dollar nuclear shake-up Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday, including “boost[ing] its funding for its nuclear projects 10 percent each year over the next five years. The Pentagon currently spends between $15 billion and $16 billion per year on nuclear projects, meaning at least a $7.5 billion increase between 2016 and 2020.”

Also in Defense One: Hackers struck White House and State Department networks simultaneously—prompting State to take their unclassified email system offline on Friday. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein with more in Defense One.

Peter Kassig, a humanitarian aid worker and former U.S. Army Ranger, was slain, marking the latest in a series of beheadings at the hands of the Islamic State. The video was markedly different from past releases from ISIS, and Kassig’s friends hope that means Peter “refused to cooperate with the typical scripted video, knowing that his fate was sealed either way.” McClatchy’s Hannah Allam with more here.

McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero shares a remembrance of Kassig, here.

Who’s doing what today? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling domestically… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey returned from Iraq last night and is in D.C… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno appears at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy today for a moderated discussion about leadership. (McCourt is where the Army’s Joint Chief of Staff interns go for their masters’.)…

Secretary of the Air Force Debbie James, who traveled with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and then to the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, departed for the Pacific region for a trip. While there, James will meet with the new Pacific Air Forces Commander, Gen. Lori Robinson—the first woman four-star operational commander—to discuss the future direction of the command. We’re told she also expects to gain “direct insight into PACAF operations across the area of responsibility, mil-to-mil engagements and regional areas of interest.”

Chuck Hagel appeared at the Reagan Defense Forum at the library in Simi Valley and announced a new initiative. AP’s Bob Burns, who is traveling with Hagel: “Wary of a more muscular Russia and China, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon will make a new push for fresh thinking about how the U.S. can keep and extend its military superiority despite tighter budgets and 13 years of war. Hagel on Saturday announced a ‘defense innovation initiative’ that he likened to historic and successful campaigns during the Cold War to offset military advantages of U.S. adversaries.

Hagel: “We must change the way we innovate, operate and do business.” AP here.

More from Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “Hagel formally unveiled the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program, a project envisioned to preserve military technological superiority for decades to come. The focus is on what Hagel called ‘breakthroughs’ in robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and advanced manufacturing, including 3-D printing.

The initial development focus is on next three-to-five years, Byron Callan with Capital Alpha Partners wrote in a note to investors on Sunday. ‘It’s a new vector and in our view has the potential to change defense program priorities and thereby industry behavior and structure in 2016-2020,’ Callan wrote. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and acquisition executive Frank Kendall are overseeing the project. Expect to hear more details about the project when Work appears at the Defense One Summit this week.

Of note, executives from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Harris, Huntington Ingalls and SpaceX participated in panel discussions at the summit now known as the “Davos of Defense.”

Robert Cardillo, the new head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, on what it was like to brief Obama and how that’s helped him in his new role. The Tampa Tribune’s Howard Altman. Cardillo, on Obama: “High demand. High expectations.”

“Obama, says Cardillo, ‘tended to be very strategic. I didn’t get a whole lot of overnight development questions. The questions I got, and this is generally about the West Wing, tended to be, OK, I get it Cardillo, that such and such happened in the past three days, Expand the optic for me, OK. What’s that mean for the region? What’s that mean for the next two or three years? And you keep bringing me challenges. You keep bringing me problems. Where’s the opportunity in that? Where do you see an opening?’” Read the rest here.

The British SAS is staying in Afghanistan in 2015 for the fight against al-Qaeda. The Telegraph, here.

A Green Beret died Friday from small arms fire in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province. Stars and Stripes’ Paul Woolverton on the death of Bay City, Mich. native Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Cathcart, here.

India wants to be a big arms dealer and that could mean good things for the U.S. defense industry. The WaPo’s Rama Lakshmi: “…India is the world’s largest buyer of weapons, accounting for 14 percent of global arms imports, almost three times as many as China.

Over the next seven years, India is likely to spend more than $130 billion importing arms, officials say, to upgrade its understocked, Soviet-era arsenal with modern weapon systems.

India’s military modernization can generate billions of dollars worth of business for American companies, but it also helps strengthen the nation’s strategic role in the region—at a time when the Indian and U.S. militaries are conducting more and more joint exercises.” More here.

Burkina Faso’s military rule will cede control to a former UN ambassador as the nation’s interim leader. AFP here.

The Nigerian army retakes the town from Boko Haram in which the school girls were kidnapped, the BBC this morning, here.

Okinawa has a new mayor who on Sunday declared a new U.S. Marine base there “will not be built.” The NYTs Martin Fackler with more, here.

A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel is heading up a “war on sugar” for the troops, with tips that include: Get a plan; get a budget; and get a beer. Kevin Lilley for Military Times: “’The Army should attack sugar addiction like it did high cholesterol in the ‘80s,’ the retired infantry officer said: Educate the Army community on the health risks, teach soldiers how to better monitor their food intake, and identify problem soldiers—either via tape test or other means—and track their path to improved health.” More here.

The Behind-the-Music on Clapper’s trip to North Korea: Is Kim Jong-Un going against North Korea’s old guard generals, and what does that mean for the future of Washington-Pyongyang relations? ODNI James Clapper spoke with Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous for the WSJ to share this play-by-play of the release of two Americans earlier this month, here.

John McCain on Dennis Rodman: he’s no spy. TMZ, here.

Friday scoop from Tony Capaccio: The Navy just deployed its first laser in the Persian Gulf capable of destroying a target.  “…The amphibious transport ship USS Ponce has been patrolling with a prototype 30-kilowatt-class Laser Weapon System since late August, according to officials. The laser is mounted facing the bow, and can be fired in several modes—from a dazzling warning flash to a destructive beam—and can set a drone or small boat on fire.” More here.

Iraq War critic Tomas Young, who appeared in the movie “Body of War” has died. The NYT’s Doug Martin, here.

Input from a D Brief reader on the widening mil-civ gap. Last week, we ran an item about Diane Rehm’s discussion on the radio about these issues. A 30-year veteran listened to the interview and it resonated for her. Here’s what she wrote The D Brief, which reflects how many veterans think on this issue: “Although I understand the idea, I’ve never liked being thanked for my service or seeing one of those obnoxious magnetic ribbons on a car. I think the owner of the car or the ‘thanker’ felt that shallow gesture absolved them of any further obligations of support—the more difficult forms of support. 

“Such as fixing the VA; requiring all doctors to accept TriCare (military health insurance), reviving the mental health care system; and the list goes on and on. This—and other items—are addressed with much more eloquence by Skylar Gerrond, who wrote last week in War on the Rocks about being conflicted on Veterans Day, here.

The D Brief reader quoted Gerrond: “We heap shallow praise on military members and give out free appetizers on Veterans Day, but we don’t demand resolution for those issues that sincerely impact veterans most in need, while rejecting that those damaged labels apply to the majority of us.”  

 It’s past time Washington moves the debate over how to spend its defense dollars beyond the narrow security dynamics of 2012, warn Craig Cohen and Josiane Gabel over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an impressive six-part look-ahead in their “2015 Global Forecast: Crisis and Opportunity,” that just went live yesterday. More than 30 scholars and experts tackled deterrence, a revanchist Russia, the limits of American influence in the Middle East, the Asia pivot, an increasingly integrated global economic order and the implications of additional global health crises like we’ve seen with Ebola today. “In this modern era, there are very few unilateral actions America can take to solve the problems we face. Acting in concert with others doesn’t mean America is leading from behind or is in retreat. Quite the opposite…” You can check out the complete 100+ page report here.

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