Carter talked to Bloomberg, Cantor as he prepared; Mosul attack plan, revealed; State can’t shake the hackers; Farewell to King Kirby; And a bit more.

Carter talked to some unconventional thinkers as he prepared for the job of his life. When Defense Secretary Ash Carter began to prepare for his confirmation hearings last month, he and aides sought the advice and counsel from some unconventional thinkers, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Most observers in the national security community expected Carter, who resigned in 2013 as the Pentagon’s deputy defense secretary, to walk into the job with his eyes closed. The physicist by training is long thought to be one of the smartest people in any room, largely because, most people will say, he actually is. But to Carter’s mind, the job of secretary of defense required a new level of thinking about the world, the massive bureaucracy that is the Defense Department, American governance, the economy and even human rights.

So Carter’s aides set up a series of meetings and phone calls with national leaders like Bloomberg, who has returned to his company, and Cantor, who joined the Wall Street investment bank of Moelis & Co. as managing director. Carter, 60, also sought counsel from Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund; Denny Blair, the retired Navy admiral ousted by the Obama White House as director of national intelligence in 2010; and Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First, a human rights advocate lesser-known in military circles but who has been influential on everything from the debate on the authorization of military force to the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The variety of individuals selected to provide Carter input as he prepared for a job he has coveted for years reflects a level of “intellectual humility,” as one former adviser put it. It also shows how a man who people often describe as decisive, innovative, and astute – but also highly hyperactive – sees himself as becoming the most activist of Pentagon chiefs in recent years.

Derek Chollet, who has known Carter for years and recently resigned from a senior policy post at the Pentagon, on Carter: “It’s like he’s been genetically engineered to be defense secretary.” Read the rest of Lubold’s story here.

Carter spoke to Pentagon employees yesterday. The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp, here.

Mosul attack plan, revealed. In an extraordinary briefing for reporters, a CENTCOM official detailed the size and composition of a force that the U.S. hopes will be ready for the offensive within as early as five weeks. Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “The coalition attack force would consist of five Iraqi brigades that the official said must first go through a U.S. training course, in addition to three Peshmerga brigades that would attack Mosul ‘from the north,’ a newly formed ‘Mosul fighting force’ of mostly Mosul police officers, and special operations forces of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service…

“Gen. Lloyd Austin, CENTCOM commander, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey are still eyeballing April or May for the offensive, the official said, but that timetable could slide if enough Iraqi brigades have not completed the training, or for other factors.” More here.

ISIS’ main supply line connecting Mosul to Raqqa could be cut by an advancing Kurdish assault, WaPo’s Erin Cunningham reports from Badhdad: “Without their vital supply line, Islamic State operatives would be vulnerable in Mosul, which is increasingly isolated as Kurdish forces close in. They would also have to use alternative supply routes to Raqqa that meander through the harsh desert or expose them to dangers such as airstrikes… The corridor from Mosul into Syria isn’t the only Islamic State supply line that is under pressure. In Iraq, a separate route linking the western town of Haditha with the oil-producing town of Baiji and continuing north to Mosul could now also prove dangerous for the group as Iraqi security forces make gains in these areas.” Read the rest, here.

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The White House’s Counter Violent Extremism Summit wrapped yesterday without establishing a clear plan of action for halting ISIS’ recruiting efforts or for treating extremism’s root causes: bad governance, economic desperation and disenfranchisement. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports: “While critics don’t find the hearts and minds argument compelling, it was echoed repeatedly at the Countering Violent Extremism summit itself… In her closing remarks Thursday evening, National Security Advisor Susan Rice did not detail what she described as additional funding, programming, partnerships and meetings. White House officials have described the summit as more of a ‘check-in’ and progress report on the non-military side of the Islamic State fight, and said it will build toward meetings around the U.N. General Assembly gathering in September.” More here.

The elephant(s) in the room: Obama’s “audience of invited guests…included representatives from some of the world’s least democratic and most repressive countries.” NYTs Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, on those attending: “Egypt…Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates. The prosecutor general of Kazakhstan, ruled by the former Communist who was in charge when it broke away from the Soviet Union, gave a short speech. Nearby was Aleksandr V. Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the K.G.B.” More here.

Retreating soldiers bring echoes of wars chaos. The NYT’s Andrew Kramer and David Herszenhorn: “As violence continued to plague eastern Ukraine on Thursday, demoralized Ukrainian soldiers straggled into the town of Artemivsk, griping about incompetent leadership and recounting desperate conditions and gruesome killing as they beat a haphazard retreat from the strategic town of Debaltseve.

“Gunshots rang out on the central square, as many soldiers began drinking heavily. One soldier stood, swaying, on the sidewalk mumbling to himself. Others, who had escaped from Debaltseve after weeks of shelling, were seizing taxicabs without payment. It was not clear that all of them had been given places to sleep, and one group stood silently, shivering on a street outside the Hotel Ukraine.” More here.

Britain and the EU have been accused of “catastrophic misreading” of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine. BBC this hour: The House of Lords EU committee claimed Europe “sleepwalked” into the crisis. The EU had not realised the depth of Russian hostility to its plans for closer relations with Ukraine, it said. It comes as European Council president Donald Tusk called PM David Cameron to discuss how the EU should respond to ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine.” More here.

State can’t shake its hackers. After more than three months of being aware of the problem, the State Department still can’t push known hackers from their networks. WSJ’s Danny Yadron: “Each time investigators find a hacker tool and block it, these people said, the intruders tweak it slightly to attempt to sneak past defenses…The malware, or intrusion software, is similar to other tools linked to Moscow in the past. Two of the people said the intruders had taken State emails related to the crisis in Ukraine, among other things. In addition, the attack appears very similar to a fall breach of the White House’s unclassified email system, which some U.S. officials linked to Russia.” Read the rest, here.

Citizens of Saudi Arabia can’t spend their $32 Billion-with-a-B “King’s bonus” fast enough. NYTs Ben Hubbard from Riyadh: “[F]or the moment at least, there is little talk about human rights abuses or political reform. Saudis are spending… new King Salman announced last month that he would pay a ‘king’s bonus’ of two months’ wages to every government employee and student… Such royal gifts are far from unprecedented…Western analysts noted that the last bonus came during the Arab Spring uprisings, when Saudi rulers worried about possible dissent at home.” More here.

Privately, the view from Saudi Arabia is that the air war against ISIS isn’t cutting it. NPR’s Deb Amos reports: “Because those guys [the Europeans] refuse to operate in Syria. Totally insane,” says Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief who also served as the ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-7. “It’s the same target, but because this is Syria and this is Iraq, the Europeans don’t want to hit Syria.” More here.

Two car bombs detonated across Africa this morning—one in Mogadishu that killed 2 and injured Somalia’s deputy prime minister, and the other in eastern Libya, killing 30—AP reports here and here, respectively.

The U.S. and U.K. want a better (read: functioning) Libyan government in place before lifting the U.N. arms embargo there. AP’s Cara Anna, here.

It’s not Iran’s breakout ability to make a nuclear weapon with X number of centrifuges that should worry us; it’s the possible breakdown of talks that could happen before that point, Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione says in Defense One: “A solid deal would greatly reduce the amount of uranium gas Iran is allowed to keep on hand. It would also prevent Iran from replacing its current, inefficient model of centrifuges with newer designs, limit the production capabilities of the existing cascades and put in place tough, new inspection regimes that could detect any cheating.”

Meantime, “It appears that Netanyahu is trying to engineer a collapse of the talks. The break down …would repeat the flawed strategy of the Bush administration. Rather than increasing pressure on Iran, it would decrease it. The U.S. would be seen as the reason for the collapse. Global support for the international sanctions regime would wither. Restraints on Iran’s commerce would dwindle and its oil sales and revenues climb…” Read the rest here.

2016 should in no way be the year the U.S. disables its counterterrorism infrastructure—staging drones, surveillance assets and commandos, e.g.—in Afghanistan, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution writes in a WaPo op-ed. His idea: “Keeping two to three U.S. bases in eastern Afghanistan—Bagram near Kabul, Kandahar in the south, perhaps Khost or Jalalabad in the east—would be adequate for counterterrorism purposes. With two or three operating areas, each with 1,000 to 2,000 Americans, the United States would have assets within 150 miles or less of the key areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The tab: “Maintaining these bases might cost $5 billion to $10 billion per year. That is real money, but it is less than the effective cost of keeping naval assets in the Arabian Sea to do the same job much less well.” More here.

Pakistan’s army chief says the Afghan Taliban is open to peace talks, which could begin in early March. WaPo’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Tim Craig from Kabul: “According to local reports, four cities are being considered as possible venues for the negotiations: Kabul, Islamabad, Dubai and Beijing. If the talks take place, they will represent the first direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government since the war began in late 2001.

“It is not known whether the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mohammad Omar, has given his blessing for the negotiations… [and] Zabiullah Mujahid, a top Taliban spokesman, denied Thursday that the movement has agreed to the talks.” More here.

Who’s doing what today? Secretary Mabus will visit the Naval Research Lab in D.C. this afternoon where he’ll be brought up to speed on some R&D programs like the Rail Gun, advanced fuel cell technology and unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles… Navy Chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert is heading to Halifax, Nova Scotia, today for a visit with his counterpart and to present the U.S. Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation—for just the fifth time in 45 years—to the HMCS Toronto of the Royal Canadian Navy. More on that, here… and

…Gen. Joe Dunford heads over to the Marine Corps War Memorial (aka “the Iwo”) for Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green’s 10 a.m. ceremony to become the Corps’ 18th Sergeant Major, taking over for Micheal P. Barrett, who notched nearly 35 years in the uniform. The ceremony comes one day after the 70th anniversary of the initial waves of Marines landing on the black-sand beaches of Iwo.

Got your back. U.S. Army veteran, Matt Zeller—who was saved by his Afghan interpreter from almost certain death in 2008—is helping Afghan and Iraqi translators acquire their U.S. Special Immigration Visas and assisting in their proper resettlement in America. CNN spoke to Zeller yesterday, here; and also yesterday, People magazine ran a feature on Zeller and the org he founded, No One Left Behind, here.

“For now it’s okay to be a little pissed off.” Don’t miss this missive of sorts from Doctrine Man on the imminent departure of Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby: “We all get it. The Secretary gets to make the call. But two things gnaw at me. One, the person who stands at the podium as the Pentagon’s crisis communicator doesn’t exactly rise to the top of the priority list. Certainly not on Day 1 [of SecDef Carter’s new job]. Two, Kirby deserves better. A lot better.

“A man with his ‘particular set of skills’ is a valuable commodity in Washington and even more so in the business world, where the Nation’s premiere crisis communicator will find a warm welcome. This, too, shall pass. But for now, it’s okay to be a little pissed off. Farewell to the King.” That in full, here.

With State’s Jen Psaki taking the White House’s comms director gig starting April Fool’s Day—more on that via AP, here—who will Russian media turn their derisive gaze to next? WaPo’s Colby Itkowitz with that angle, here.

An Air Force general is baiting Ellen DeGeneres’ producers on Twitter to help lift the profile of the Academy. Tom Roeder of the Colorado Springs Gazette, here.

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