An assault on Boko Haram; Dempsey in Iraq; Is IS fraying?; The Navy doesn’t need any more money; Check out what was in the carry-on of a North Korean envoy; And a bit more.

A Chadian general says this morning that forces from Chad and Niger have crossed into Northeast Nigeria to attack Boko Haram. That after a resident reported witnessing some 200 military vehicles from the assault crossing the border into Nigeria. AP, here.

Meantime, U.S. Special Forces are close to the right place at the right time training African militaries in Chad while Boko Haram continues their regional rampage. NYT’s Eric Schmitt from over the weekend: “In a reflection of heightened American and European concerns, Army Special Forces from Fort Carson, Colo., as well as other American Special Operations and military instructors from several Western countries, are training African troops here in Chad to conduct combat patrols and to foil terrorist ambushes, missions many of the troops will most likely carry out against Boko Haram…

“African leaders have taken the unusual step of forming an 8,700-member regional force to combat Boko Haram. The success of this new African counterterrorism force will be a test of the Obama administration’s focus on training, advising and equipping African troops to deal with their own security threats, rather than using American ground troops… No one is expecting it to be easy. The troop-contributing nations of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin must overcome years of distrust, rivalries and disparate military abilities to forge an effective fighting unit…” More here.

ICYMI: Boko Haram pledged formal allegiance to ISIS as their casualties mount from Nigeria’s concerned neighbors’ various offensives against the group. AP’s Michelle Faul on the propaganda gains from the announcement, here.

Boko Haram swears loyalty to the IS, but will the IS swear back? The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef, here.

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Small wireless cameras are embedded in the woods along Eastern Europe that could detect a cross-border Russian advance well before Baltic border guards catch them in their binos. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “The devices—built by Defendec, a small Estonian tech firm with only 30 employees—look similar to home security system motion detectors… The wireless units are rapidly deployable too. From the time a check is cut, the company can cover a 1,000-mile border with the system in six to nine months and that includes training the operators… Countries across Eastern Europe, South America, Southeast Asia and Latin America already use the system, called Smartdec, according to company employees. While the firm does not name all of its 35 customers, its growing list includes Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Montenegro and Kurdistan.” More here.

The CIA is launching a “directorate of digital innovation,” director John Brennan announced Friday. Defense One’s tech editor Patrick “PT” Tucker: “The move is a big change for the agency, one that reflects a fundamental evolution in intelligence gathering… The new Directorate will be modeled loosely off of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, or CTC, which was established in 1988 as a way to tackle terrorism across geographic regions and disciplines within the CIA… Brennan said a new senior position will ‘oversee the acceleration of digital and cyber integration across all of our mission areas.’ More here.

The number of teams competing in this year’s DARPA’s Robotics Grand Challenge just more than doubled, our own PT reports: “14 additional teams from labs around the world will join the 11 teams already cleared to participate in the summer’s robot competition in Pomona, California… The challenge was inspired by the difficulties that emergency crews faced in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in 2011. It presented, in many ways, a worst-case scenario where massive infrastructure damage and destroyed communications made working on the plant extremely difficult…” Read the rest, here.

While troops decline, DOD civilians are on the rise. According to the Pentagon’s last two budget requests, the number of costly “defense-wide” civilians cut in 2013 is due to return even while troop reductions persist. The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp with more, here.

Dempsey is in Iraq, talking among other things about Iran’s role in the fight there against the Islamic State. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey is in Baghdad where he’s meeting with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the U.S. ambassador and American generals.

AFP’s Dan De Luce, traveling with Dempsey in the region, on Iran’s role: “The US military’s top officer said Iran is bolstering the firepower of Shiite militias in Iraq but it remains unclear if Tehran is a help or a hindrance to the fight against Islamic State jihadists.  [Dempsey], speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Bahrain and Iraq, said he would raise his concerns about Iran’s influence in talks with Iraq’s leaders —- days after Baghdad launched a large-scale operation to recapture Tikrit from the Islamic State group.

“The Shiite militias, armed and advised by Iran, are playing a major role in the Tikrit offensive. But the US-led coalition — which has no dealings with the Shiite fighters — has been markedly absent from the operation and allies fear Iran’s activity could aggravate sectarian tensions.” More here.

On the French carrier de Gaulle, Dempsey defended the pace of the U.S. air war against Islamic State. AFP again: “…Expanding the air war could risk civilian casualties and play into the hands of IS propaganda, [Dempsey] said aboard the Charles de Gaulle.”

Dempsey to reporters: “So we have a responsibility to be very precise in the use of air power. And that means that it takes time” to gather accurate intelligence on possible targets, the general said. “Carpet bombing through Iraq is not the answer.”

Dempsey optimistic about the Tikrit op. AP’s Bob Burns, also with Dempsey, here.

Dempsey is the first chairman in recent history, or maybe ever? to set foot on a French aircraft carrier, as France steps up its role against the Islamic State. The WaPo’s Missy Ryan, also with Dempsey, here.

Coalition airstrikes paved the way for a Kurdish assault on ISIS-held positions in Kirkuk this morning. Reuters, here.

One week into the advance on Tikrit, Iraqi security forces and their militia comrades-in-arms have so far have routed ISIS fighters from two key areas near the city. WaPo’s Erin Cunningham from Baghdad, here.

Syrian Kurds repel an Islamic State assault. The WSJ’s Sam Dagher: “…The battles in Hasakah province during the weekend have residents fearing this region, which protrudes like a thumb into neighboring Iraq and Turkey, could become the scene of a new multi-front and protracted standoff between the extremist group and the Kurds.

“In echoes of the conflict in neighboring Iraq, Christians and other minorities in northeastern Syria are bearing the brunt of the widening battle between Kurds and Islamic State. Many believe they only have two choices: leave or join the Kurds in the fight.” More here.

The Peace Corps suspended operations in Jordan, citing “the current regional environment.” That bit, here.

Iran’s role in Iraq is a real quandary for the U.S. The L.A. Times’ Bill Hennigan and David Cloud: “A major Iraqi military offensive that seeks to oust Islamic State fighters from Saddam Hussein’s hometown is placing the U.S. military in a position it has rarely occupied since it invaded Iraq in 2003 — on the sidelines.

“As many as 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and Shiite Muslim militia fighters supported by Iranian military advisors, artillery and rocket launchers started a ground and air assault last week aimed at retaking the strategic city of Tikrit, which fell to militants last summer. No U.S. warplanes are involved in the operation, though they have been carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Iraq for seven months.” The rest, here.

Is the Islamic State dream coming apart? There are some signs that the group is beginning to “fray from within,” as the WaPo’s Liz Sly puts it from Beiruit this morning. “…dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield [are sapping] the group’s strength and [eroding] its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule,” she writes on Page One. Sly: “Reports of rising tensions between foreign and local fighters, aggressive and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to recruit local citizens for the front lines, and a growing incidence of guerrilla attacks against Islamic State targets suggest the militants are struggling to sustain their carefully cultivated image as a fearsome fighting force drawing Muslims together under the umbrella of a utopian Islamic state.

“The anecdotal reports, drawn from activists and residents of areas under Islamic State control, don’t offer any indication that the group faces an immediate challenge to its stranglehold over the mostly Sunni provinces of eastern Syria…” More here.

Hitting them where they live. Reports indicate that the U.S.-led coalition hit a Syrian oil refinery held by the Islamic State. AP: “…Activists say the strikes late Sunday night targeted a refinery near the Turkish-Syrian border outside the town of Tel Abyad. The Syrian activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently posted a video purporting to depict the strikes, showing an enormous fireball. The video could not be immediately verified, though it corresponded with Associated Press reporting about the attack.” More here.

Are Americans moving past their war wariness? A new series of polls suggests “yes.” Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: “…According to a Rasmussen poll in early February, 52 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should send “send combat troops back to Iraq as part of an international coalition to fight ISIS.” That’s up from 48 percent in October. Meanwhile, the percentage of those opposed fell 8 points, to 28 percent from 36 percent in October.

“And a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Feb. 26-March 2 found that 62 percent of Americans support sending U.S. combat troops to fight the militants, while just 30 percent oppose such a move. The polls suggest that the rise of the group known as the Islamic State has focused public attention, fueled anxiety about international terrorism and begun to erode some of the broad opposition to sending troops into new conflicts.” More here.

Noting: Some have suggested on the Tweeters that those 62 percent of Americans go fight the Islamic State themselves.

Al-Qaeda fighters overran a southern city in Yemen before the army reportedly pushed them out in a counterattack this morning. AP, here. 

Meanwhile, Yemen’s defense minister fled the capital to link up with the president outside Aden. That one also via AP, here.

A North Korean envoy had $1.4 million in gold – in his carry on. The WSJ: “Bangladeshi authorities said they intercepted a North Korean envoy who arrived at Dhaka’s international airport with 27 kilograms of gold—worth an estimated $1.4 million—in his carry-on bag. Customs officials said they seized the gold and detained the diplomat, who they identified as Son Young Nam, a first secretary at the North Korean embassy in the Bangladeshi capital, on Thursday. Mr. Son was released Friday, they said.

Sales of gold have long been an important source of funds for the North Korean regime, which has been largely cut off from the global financial system by sanctions imposed to curb its nuclear-weapons program.” More here.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert in recovery: @W7VOA: #ROK President Park visiting in hospital today recovering US Ambassador @mwlippert. Pic here.

From Friday: U.S. relied on unarmed South Korean security guard to protect Lippert, raising questions. In the NYT, here.

Who’s doing what today? President Obama meets with the European Council’s President Donald Tusk today in the Oval Office at 3 p.m. … Democratic ranking member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez is scheduled to talk about not his problems from possible pending corruption charges teased on Friday—WaPo’s Mike DeBonis with more on that, here—but about Putin’s “Revisionist Russia” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 2:15 p.m. Deets for that, here... And four retired generals from three different services will dive into a new report about the conduct of the Israeli military and Hamas during the 2014 conflict in Gaza from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. That starts at noon at DC’s Regis Hotel. RSVP here, or catch it streaming live over at C-Span, here.

Also today: The Stimson Center hosts Sen. Chris Coons for a keynote on international security and environmental crime at 2 p.m. James Alverson of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and State’s Luis Arreaga will also participate in a panel discussion. Full details on that one, here.

Don’t ignore Congress! Tom Cotton and 46 other Republicans write Tehran a letter to educate Iranians on the U.S. Constitution. The letter notes that senators may be in office for “perhaps decades.”  The letter, to be released this morning, reminds Iran not to skirt the Constitution – or Congress. “…What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” Read it on Cotton’s site later this morning, here.

Kibosh: The NYT says there’s no reason to slow down the drawdown from Afghanistan. Its editorial board’s BLUF: “…it would be a mistake to change the withdrawal schedule without strong evidence that it would make a difference. Bringing the Afghan war to a successful close will require significant shifts in regional politics and a determination by the Taliban that they stand to gain more in the political arena than on the battlefield. It’s unlikely that keeping a few thousand American troops in Afghanistan for an extra year will do anything other than delay the start of that nation’s post-American era.” More here.

Weird:  Ethiopia spying on journalists – in Alexandria, Va. The WaPo’s Andrea Peterson: “The Ethiopian government appears again to be using Internet spying tools to attempt to eavesdrop on journalists based in suburban Washington, said security researchers who call such high-tech intrusions a serious threat to human rights and press freedoms worldwide. The journalists, who work for Ethiopian Satellite Television in Alexandria, Va., provide one of the few independent news sources to their homeland through regular television and radio feeds — to the irritation of the government there, which has accused journalists of ‘terrorism’ and repeatedly jammed the signals of foreign broadcasters.” More here.

The $3.3 billion destroyer Zumwalt being built is a symbol of a Navy that is big enough – and it doesn’t need to get bigger, says Gregg Easterbrook in the NYT this morning. Easterbrook, a contributing editor to The Atlantic: “… The Zumwalt destroyer uses all-electric propulsion, employs stealth features, carries a huge arsenal of guided missiles, and mounts advanced cannons that can hit targets 63 miles away. Most likely it will never be tested in battle, because no other nation is even attempting to build a warship like the Zumwalt, which symbolizes the gigantic advantage the United States Navy enjoys… Last month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the House Appropriations Committee that the Navy must get bigger — increasing to a total of at least 300 ships, versus the current 275… Yet no naval expansion is needed. The Navy has 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers — 10 more than the rest of the world.”

His BL: “A few years ago, I gave a lecture at the United States Naval War College, in Newport, R.I. Officers from 129 nations have graduated from the Naval War College; flags of their countries ring the grounds. I was reminded that one lesson that officers of other navies learn at the Naval War College is that there is zero chance they will ever defeat the United States in battle — so why even try? This situation is a tremendously positive development for the world, but it also means there is no reason to increase the Navy’s budget, nor for Congress to fret about how many ships we have.” More here.

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