‘Double-overtime’ in the Iran talks; Yemen air war roll-up; #ThrowbackThursday for Russia and Norway; Military suicides not linked to war?; Menendez exits SFRC; And a bit more.

By Marcus Weisgerber and Ben Watson

April 2, 2015

Breaking this morning: Al Qaeda militants stormed a prison in Mukallah, Yemen, freeing dozens of prisoners—though there are conflicting reports on just how many inmates have been freed. BBC says at least 150, CNN says at least 270 and AFP says more than 300.

Double-overtime.” Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continue into their second day beyond the original Tuesday deadline, and there still seems to be little to show for the extra effort. WSJ’s Jay Solomon, Laurence Norman and Carol Lee: “Diplomats involved in Wednesday’s talks said they remained stalled on two main points: the pace at which international sanctions on Iran would be scaled back and the future scope of Iran’s nuclear research and development. Washington and its partners are also pressing Iran for greater access to its nuclear sites…

…Iran’s deputy foreign minister and a key figure in Tehran’s negotiating team, said in comments on Iran state media that Tehran wouldn’t back down on its demand that it be allowed to continue nuclear research on its most advanced technology. However, he also signaled the possibility of compromise on Iran’s demand for an immediate cessation of sanctions and indicated it could accept a phase-in of relief.

Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a joint statement that it was apparent the talks had failed…” Read the rest, here.

Iran’s foreign minister said “differing voices” among the P5+1 are making it difficult to find consensus. AP’s Matt Lee and George Jahn this hour, here.

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province killed 17 and injured at least 50 others this morning at a demonstration against corruption. Reuters this hour, here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, by Marcus Weisgerber with Ben Watson. Gordon Lubold is off this week, but Weisgerber and Watson have you covered through tomorrow.

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No, Donald Rumsfeld does not want to come back to the Pentagon. Yesterday’s three April Fools’ segments at the top of The D Brief confused some readers. In case you missed it, we had a short entry saying the two-time SecDef wanted to come back for a third time. Our customary story link took readers to a YouTube video of the 1987 Rick Astley hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” For those who don’t know, it’s an Internet trick called Rickrolling.

What is Rickrolling? It’s when someone sends you a link about a topic, but instead of taking you to a page about the that topic, it takes you to a video of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Fun Fact: Your D Briefer saw Rick Astley in concert at Long Island’s Jones Beach Amphitheater in 1988. And no, the U.S. military will not be hosting the Chinese at Area 51 either. And now, back to your regularly scheduled D Brief.

Fighting has intensified in Yemen’s southern port city, Aden. Reuters this morning: “Yemen's Houthi fighters and their allies seized a central Aden district on Thursday, residents said, striking a heavy blow to the Saudi-led coalition which has waged a week of air strikes to try to stem advances by the Iran-allied Shi'ite group.” Residents in the neighborhood reported Houthi tanks and foot patrols in the area following a morning of heavy fighting. Read the rest, here.

BBC on the deteriorating situation in Aden: “Witnesses have reported bodies lying in the street after intense rebel shelling and sniper attacks.” More here.

India evacuated 350 of its citizens from Yemen on two C-17 cargo plans. More here.

U.S. warplanes are not part of the Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen. Tara Copp of the Washington Examiner with more here.

So which countries are part of the airstrikes campaign? Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan and Jordan, reports Tony Osborne of Aviation Week. More, including a tally of how many planes are in the air for the Arab coalition, here.

The Russians are coming, again. NYT’s Andrew Higgins reports from a Cold War-era bunker in Bodo that houses a Norwegian military command in this A-1 lede: “Last year, Norway intercepted 74 Russian warplanes off its coast, 27 percent more than in 2013, scrambling F-16 fighters from a military air base in Bodo to monitor and photograph them. This is far fewer than the hundreds of Soviet planes Norway tracked off its coast at the height of the Cold War. However, last year’s total was a drastic increase from the 11 Russian warplanes Norway spotted 10 years earlier.” More here.

Speaking of Russia, War on the Rocks’ Nadia Schadlow with a piece about how “Europe is now a petri dish for hybrid war.” More here.

Air Force anti-collision technology could have saved Germanwings Flight 9525. Wired’s Mary Grady: “The Automatic Ground-Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) has been in development by the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and Lockheed Martin since the 1980s, and it went operational in October.” A computer monitors the plane’s altitude and speed. “[W]hen these parameters show that a crash is imminent, it triggers an autopilot-commanded maneuver to return to safe flight.” The system saved an Air Force jet flying in Jordan last year. More here.

Meantime back in the states, federal prosecutors formally announced corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez yesterday. WaPo’s Paul Kane and Carol Leonnig: “Federal prosecutors laid out the charges in a 14-count indictment charging Menendez with using his office to help Salomon Melgen, a ­Florida-based eye doctor with whom Menendez had maintained a long personal and political friendship. Menendez intervened on Melgen’s behalf in at least two disputes, one with federal regulators over Medicare charges and the other involving a bid by Melgen to secure a ­port-security contract in the Dominican Republic, according to the indictment.

The gifts to Menendez included 19 free rides on private jets to resort locations, often with guests of the senator aboard; long weekends to visit Melgen in West Palm Beach, Fla., or his villa in an exclusive Dominican resort; and campaign donations, including $600,000 to a super PAC that spent heavily on the senator’s behalf during his 2012 reelection campaign.” More here.

The Democrats are down one hawk as Menendez stepped down from his post at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, National Journal’s Sarah Mimms reports in Defense One: “Sen. Barbara Boxer would be next in line to take Menendez’s position, but is expected to stay on as ranking member of Environment and Public Works. That would put Sen. Benjamin Cardin in position to take the Foreign Relations post…

The timing could not be worse. Menendez’s indictment comes less than two weeks before the Foreign Relations Committee is set to take up legislation requiring congressional approval of a still hypothetical White House nuclear deal with Iran… Next, the committee will turn back to the U.S. fight against ISIS, taking up an Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Menendez has been a key player in negotiating with the administration and Republicans…” More here.

There are still nearly 200 booby-trapped homes and another almost 1,000 IEDs in Tikrit, where Iraqi officials’ celebrations still feel slightly premature, WaPo’s Loveday Morris reports on location: “In a televised speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi insisted that only Iraqi blood was being spilled in the battle. But the Farsi graffiti scrawled next to an Islamic State flag painted on a wall outside the city’s presidential palace seemed to suggest otherwise…

Local police forces began to arrive to help maintain the government’s hold on the city, though they said they would be doing so alongside the ‘public mobilization’ units, a reference to the largely Shiite militias that are part of the operation.

The capture of Tikrit is seen as a key step before any offensive to reclaim Mosul. But parts of Tikrit are not entirely secured. The neighborhood of Qadisiya, which stretches north toward the city’s university, is not under government control.” More here.

The offensive in Tikrit has empowered a new generation of militias, WSJ’s Matt Bradley and Julian Barnes report, and now U.S. and Iraqi officials are hoping these irregular Shiite troops, which they say aren’t beholden to Iran and are more careful to avoid stoking sectarian tensions with the Sunni community, will help defeat the Sunni militants across Iraq…U.S. officials say they deliberately used the Tikrit operation to drive a wedge between Iran and Iraq while opening space for [militias without loyalty to Tehran]… U.S. officials assessed that the Iranian-backed assault on Tikrit was failing because of the inaccuracy of Iranian artillery and the failure of the Tehran-backed militias to respond to orders or coordinate their movements with the Iraqi security forces nominally leading the fight.” More here.

Five days of U.S. airstrikes broke the stalemate, White House spox Josh Earnest said yesterday, casting Iraq’s gains in Saddam Hussein’s birthplace as “a pretty compelling description of the successful implementation of our strategy.” McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero, here.

After months of trials that began in October in Africa, a U.S. Army research lab said yesterday an experimental Ebola vaccine appears to be safe and effective. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more: “Researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, performed two independent studies involving 52 volunteers, 28 of whom received the test vaccine while the rest received a placebo.

Within two weeks, 93 percent of the vaccinated group showed the antibody response for which the researchers were hoping, meaning that their bodies had developed the capacity to fight off an Ebola infection. All of the vaccinated volunteers showed the response within a month… Other tests in Gabon, Kenya, Germany, and Switzerland showed similarly promising results.” Read the rest, here.

A new study reveals exposure to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had no connection to military suicides—but an abbreviated time in service (less than four years, e.g.) did. NYT’s Dave Phillips: “The latest study, which analyzed records of 3.9 million military personnel who served from 2001 to 2007, did find that troops who left the military within four years, especially under less-than-honorable conditions, were at much higher risk of suicide than those who continued to serve.

The prevalence of suicide was not even across branches. The Army and Marine Corps, which bore the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, had rates about 25 percent higher than those of the Air Force and Navy. But within those branches, rates between those who deployed and those who did not were nearly the same.

This is a very good study, but there may be a lot going on here that the data doesn’t allow us to see,” said Michael Schoenbaum, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health…[adding] the question of war’s effect on suicide was far from settled.” Read the rest, here.

The Army is looking at ways to speed up wartime acquisition, Defense News’ Joe Gould reports from an Association of the United States Army conference in Huntsville, Ala., here.

And the Army’s first gender-integrated Ranger Course begins in less than two weeks—and now the number of women who will give it a go just doubled. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole: “Six servicewomen successfully passed the latest round of the Ranger Training Assessment Course, or RTAC, qualifying them for the first gender-integrated full Ranger Course beginning on April 20, the Army announced on Wednesday. The two-month combat training course is considered to be one of the toughest in the military.

Five women qualified during the first RTAC in January, and one in the second round in February… Though a majority of the military’s roughly 1,000 occupations are currently open to women, some of the most demanding positions, such as infantry and special operations, remain closed to them.” More here.

There is huge divide between special agents and intelligence analysts at the FBI, 10 years after the Bureau stood up an intel division, Nectaria Krokidis Gelardi writes in the intelligence and national security blog, Overt Action: “This imbalance needs urgently to be addressed to meet growing and increasingly complex national security threats, from adaptive and increasingly tech-savvy terrorists, more brazen computer hackers and more technically capable, global cyber syndicates,” an FBI report warns. “In addition to budgetary concerns, a cause behind the slow progress of the FBI’s analytic shop is that most law enforcement agencies – the FBI especially – are resistant to change, particularly systemic cultural change. And this is a major cultural shift.” Read the rest, here.

Defense leaders need to make tough choices about how to spend limited Pentagon funds, Tom Collina and Will Saetren write in Defense News: “Rather than play the partisan game of ‘who is tougher on defense,’ Congress needs to help Pentagon leaders do what they seem incapable of doing for themselves: setting realistic priorities and reducing unnecessary spending, such as rebuilding an oversized nuclear arsenal.” More here.


By Marcus Weisgerber and Ben Watson // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials. // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge.

April 2, 2015

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2015/04/d-brief-april-2/109105/