SOF vs. Boko Haram; New USAF bomber gets a name; COCOMs will get a rethink; Senators slam Force of the Future; and a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

February 26, 2016

Dozens of U.S. special operators could soon be headed to the front lines of the fight against Boko Haram, the New York Times reported Thursday. “If it is approved, as expected, by the Defense and State Departments, the Americans would serve only in noncombat advisory roles,” military officials said.

The recommendation comes as “part of a recent confidential assessment by the top United States Special Operations commander for Africa, Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc,” the Times reports. (Bolduc cut his teeth in Afghanistan; catch a glimpse of him there almost exactly five years ago today, here.)

A part of the plan includes positioning “‘small dozens’ of Special Forces in Maiduguri, a major city in the northeast on the edge of the conflict, to help Nigerian military planners carry out a more effective counterterrorism campaign. British special forces are already assisting in the city. (The American military now maintains only a tiny intelligence cell in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.) Nigerian military officials have embraced the recommendations and are drawing up detailed requests,” American officials said.

Already in the AO: “About 250 American servicemembers have deployed to a military base in Garoua, Cameroon, where United States surveillance drones flying over northeastern Nigeria are sending imagery to African troops,” writes the Times. “Drone photos recently helped the Nigerian Army avoid a major Boko Haram ambush, according to a senior American intelligence officer.” Read the rest, here.

USAF’s new bomber will be called the B-21, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Friday morning. Wisely choosing to move past the unwieldy “LRS-B,” James, speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual winter conference in Orlando, Fla., showed a concept image of a flying wing that looks like a mix between the B-2 and the Navy’s unmanned X-47 carrier drone. Check out the first official artist’s conception, via Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber.

Fighting still rages on several fronts in Syria less than 24 hours before the latest ceasefire is set to begin in the war-torn country. Rebel-held areas around the capital of Damascus are still hot, and “at least 26 air raids and artillery shelling [were reported] targeting the town of Douma in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta near Damascus,” Reuters reports. Fighting was also reported in Hama and Homs, as well as in Latakia, where the Russians maintain an airbase on Syria’s main port city. All that, here.

And some 100 rebel groups have reportedly consented to the cease-fire, Agence France-Presse reports.

Reminder: It’s been said since 2013 that there are some 1,000 rebel groups in Syria. The number, which was impossible to verify three years ago and even much less verifiable these days, points to the broader, overwhelming sense among Syria watchers that this conflict will drag on for a decade, maybe longer—especially given President Barack Obama’s more limited approach toward counterinsurgency and the declining use of large ground forces. More on America’s options below.

Meantime, the Saudis just plopped down four F-15E Strike Eagle jets at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. News of the arrival was teased just before Valentine's Day, but the jets didn’t make it to the airfield until today. More here.

The U.S. needs to speed up the process for selling weapons to its pals, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers Thursday. “We should look for ways to expedite the delivery of equipment, because [Washington’s allies] have, and they will, go elsewhere.” U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman digs into the matter, along with all the human rights concerns and bureaucratic complications, here.

Your Friday #LongRead: What Ramadi tells us about Iraq’s plans to drive ISIS from Fallujah and Mosul, from Newsweek’s Jane Arraf, here.

From Defense One

Congress will rethink combatant command boundaries. Reshaping, or even deleting, some of the four-star headquarters that run America's military operations around the world could be part of broader Defense Department reforms. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.

FBI head: Apple is taking us to a “different world.” James Comey warns that Apple is trying to make his job impossible; Apple says the FBI is seeking “dangerous power.” Who’s right? Tech Editor Patrick Tucker sorts through charge and counter-charge, here.

America’s “Plan B” for Syria has a very ugly past. Dividing Middle Easterners along ethno-religious lines has a deeply troubled history. There's little reason to believe similar “last-ditch” plans for Syria would be any different. That from Quartz, here.

Securing Syria, region-by-region, from the bottom up. We’re too focused on fighting ISIS and Assad and not enough on finding and uniting the Syrians who will govern after the war, argue Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas A. Heras, both of the Center for a New American Security, here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1980, Egypt and Israel established full diplomatic relations. Here’s a subscription link to send your colleagues: Got news? Let us know:

Brad Carson’s bad day on the Hill. Ash Carter’s point man on personnel reforms ran into a buzzsaw Thursday as he tried to get the Senate Armed Service committee on board with his Force of the Future efforts to improve how the military develops and retains talent. Military Times reports: “Defense officials’ hopes for sweeping personnel reforms were crushed by Senate Republicans on Thursday who attacked the ideas as ‘an outrageous waste of time’ and the Pentagon’s pick to implement them as unfit to serve.”

Some lowlights: Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, questioned whether civilian corporation tactics can work in an environment where national security issues are paramount. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, criticized efforts to make the military more “progressive” as off-base and unproductive. And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the whole thing “an outrageous waste of official time and resources.”

Bonus: McCain accused Carson of lying on several occasions in the hearing, and suggested his actions over the last year disqualified him for the post. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., asked for a command climate assessment report of his office before any Senate action is taken, due to leadership complaints forwarded to his office.

(For reference: here’s a 2015 oped by Carson, “How We’re Planning the Biggest Personnel Overhaul in 45 Years.” And here’s D1’s report on the first tranche of FotF reforms.)

The U.S. sent an unarmed ICBM over the Pacific last night, an unsubtle reminder (the second one in a week) of America’s nuclear capability in the face of nuclear threats from North Korea. “The unarmed Minuteman III missile roared out of a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California late at night, raced across the sky at speeds of up to 15,000 mph (24,000 kph) and landed a half hour later in a target area 4,200 miles (6,500 km) away near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific,” Reuters reported.

It’s a signal, said Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, “that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.” More here, or catch video of the launch, here.

Lastly today, need a good used F-4 Phantom jet? “Cal Worthington at Cal’s used F-4s in Terre Haute” has you covered, and will even toss in a year’s supply of argon for those AIM-9 Sidewinders.

Some background: This is one of the better military “spoof” videos we’ve seen, and it’s all thanks to the reposting folks over at FoxtrotAlpha, who write: “It was clearly shot towards the end of USAF F-4E operations, a culture-shifting event for the flying force. As you can tell, F-4 drivers were a breed of their own.”

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // 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. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

February 26, 2016