Marine on tap to lead AFRICOM; ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Mideast?; Navy christens a ghost ship; How DoD is like Enron; and a bit more.

The White House is poised to select a Marine general to lead U.S. military forces in Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. In a reflection of the increased use of U.S. Marines as crisis response troops on the continent, Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser—a former expeditionary unit commander who led troops in the early days of the Afghan war—for the gig in Africa in recent weeks, WSJ’s Gordon Lubold writes. The move would make Waldhauser, who currently serves on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff as the director for Joint Force Development, “the only Marine officer in one of the U.S. military’s top combatant command posts.”

“He is an intellectual workhorse, a battle-tested guy, who has thought deeply about the future of the military who is also someone who is well-trusted by [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford] and the secretary,” said a senior defense official.

Gen. Waldhauser would take over for a combatant command that’s “quickly becoming the focus of U.S. security policy,” Lubold writes, adding, “The number of Islamic State fighters in Libya has grown to as many as 5,000.”

On this note, current AFRICOM chief Gen. David Rodriguez told reporters Thursday that number could be as high as 6,000—a number that’s roughly doubled in the last 12 to 18 months. “Threats also are growing from al Qaeda-affiliated groups as well as from the Boko Haram extremist organization in Nigeria.”  

And speaking of Boko Haram, the New York Times has a disturbing investigation into Boko’s use of female suicide bombers in recent months, including their use of “at least 105 women and girls in suicide attacks since June 2014, when a woman set off a bomb at an army barracks in Nigeria.”

The problem is more than just simply one of identification and rules of engagement for soldiers fighting the Boko insurgency, NYT writes: “Bombings by women have become so widespread that even humanitarian groups are rethinking how they distribute food, water and other help to them. What if one of the women is hiding a bomb?” More here.

U.S. State Secretary John Kerry is in Baghdad today—his first visit in 18 months—to offer his support for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Nechrivan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government, the Washington Post reports from the capital. “Kerry’s trip coincides with military advances” by Iraq’s troops, AP adds: “Iraqi forces say they entered the strategically important IS-held town of Hit on Thursday, while the Pentagon is considering establishing more small military outposts to provide artillery support and other aid to Iraqi forces readying an assault on Mosul, IS’ stronghold in the country.” But Iraq’s fraught governance situation which likely called for Kerry’s support as Abadi is “still trying to establish a new Cabinet amid pressure from supporters of a hard-line Shiite cleric who last month staged rallies and a sit-in next to the government headquarters to demand reforms. A prolonged standstill could severely hamper al-Abadi’s ability to effectively lead a country that has often broken down along sectarian divisions since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein some 13 years ago.”

The U.S. is considering arming Egypt as part of its plan to accelerate the war against ISIS, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reported Thursday after a recent trip to Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis.

“Graham on Thursday confirmed he has been briefed on the so-called accelerants to the war campaign that the White House is considering, and that he discussed those with the foreign leaders he met on this trip. ‘I can’t share them with you, but I want to say this about the White House: They are taking the problem in the Sinai seriously. They are trying to put together packages that would increase Egyptian capability.’” Read how Tillis and Graham navigate the inevitable criticism of the U.S. suspected human rights abusers like Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s former military chief who seized power in a coup in 2013, here.

Marshall Plan for the Mideast? Before we leave Sen. Graham, he said Thursday that he wants to set up “emergency funds” specifically for Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon “to provide those countries with weaponry and equipment that will help to secure their borders,” Military Times reported. “Additional funds would go to Israel to boost its security operations. as the first step in creating a larger ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Middle East,” Graham said. How a project like that would be bankrolled in the current era of fiscal belt-tightening isn’t yet clear—but Graham said the security problems the region could inadvertently export to the U.S. are more pressing at the moment: “If you don’t think this is an emergency, go there yourself,” Graham said. “If you don’t think the situation on the Sinai [Peninsula in Egypt] needs to be dealt with quickly, then you didn’t see what I saw. If you don’t think there’s an emergency brewing…you’re wrong.” Read the rest, here.

From Defense One

U.S. christens first ghost ship, and welcomes the dawn of the robotic navy. Autonomous vessels like this submarine hunter will play a growing role in future naval missions. And Tech Editor Patrick Tucker explains why the Navy lets its robots travel a bit more freely than the Air Force, here.

Don’t let the Pentagon become the next Enron. CSIS fellow Army Col. John A. O’Grady lays out the parallels, and notes that bad financial assumptions and unwillingness to make hard choices threaten to undermine national security. Read, here.

In Libya, you can buy an anti-aircraft gun on Facebook. An online marketplace for illicit weapons is thriving in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a recent study that found sales of machine guns, rocket launchers, and anti-aircraft guns. Via Quartz, here.

Welcome to the Friday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1832, federal troops left St. Louis, Missouri, to fight the Black Hawk War. Subscribe to the D Brief: Got news? Let us know:

Air Force eyes A-10 replacement, but not soon. Service officials are building “draft requirements” (a list of stuff they want the new plane to do) for what they are calling A-X, Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, told reporters yesterday. The Air Force has backed off controversial plans to immediately retire the Warthog, but still plan to get rid of the beloved close-air support jet early in the next decade. From Defense News: “Defining the requirement is the first concrete step toward potentially developing a replacement A-10 for the close-air support mission, often dubbed A-X. The Air Force has been studying the idea of a procuring single-role A-X for at least a year now, hosting a joint-service summit in March 2015, to work out options for the close-air support, or CAS, mission.” More, here.

The war in Yemen is getting a little less foggy—and bringing some joint U.S.-British intelligence capabilities into sharp focus, according to a Vice News investigation. “Following interviews with more than two dozen current and former British, American, and Yemeni officials, VICE News can reveal that the UK played a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program.” Given the difficulty of placing and safely concealing Westerners in Yemen, “Networks of human intelligence — sources on the ground — were therefore invaluable in locating targets, and this is where the British came in.”

As one British intel official said: “Our station people were pretty shit-hot.” Read exactly how, here.

But it’s not all good news for the U.S. and its pals in Yemen: an investigation by Human Rights Watch “found remnants of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which combines a 2,000-pound MK-84 bomb with a [J]DAM satellite guidance kit,” Vice reports. “The team [also] reviewed footage and photographs taken by British TV journalists two days prior, which it said showed ‘remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit.’”

Why this matters: at least 97 civilians on March 15 were killed in the strike where the remnants were found, while only 10 Houthi fighters were believed to have died in the airstrike on that Yemeni market in the northwestern village of Mastaba.  

Your Friday #LongRead: the war in Yemen has made al-Qaeda more powerful and more wealthy, a Reuters investigation reveals: “If Islamic State’s capital is the Syrian city of Raqqa, then al Qaeda’s is Mukalla, a southeastern Yemeni port city of 500,000 people. Al Qaeda fighters there have abolished taxes for local residents, operate speedboats manned by RPG-wielding fighters who impose fees on ship traffic, and make propaganda videos in which they boast about paving local roads and stocking hospitals.”

As a result, the group has reportedly “extorted $1.4 million from the national oil company and earns up to $2 million every day in taxes on goods and fuel coming into the port.” Read the full report, here.

That PACOM gag order is bogus. That’s the word from Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook following a Wednesday Navy Times article that alleged U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris is seeking “a more confrontational approach to counter and reverse China’s strategic gains in the South China Sea” while meeting “resistance from the White House at nearly every turn.”

Said Cook on Thursday: “To be clear, there never has been a ‘gag order,’ as described by anonymous officials in the article.”

Replied Harris to the Washington Post: “Any assertion that there is a disconnect between U.S. Pacific Command and the White House is simply not true… “During recent congressional testimony and press engagements in Washington just a few weeks ago, I was very public and candid about my concerns regarding many issues in the Indo-Asia-Pacific to include the fact that China’s militarization of the South China Sea is problematic. So any suggestion that ‘the White House has sought to tamp down’ on my talking about my concerns is patently wrong.”

Quick follow-up on Thursday’s email call-out: We asked readers to share their picks for the next Director of National Intelligence following rumors former CIA chief and media-friendly Gen. Mike Hayden is in the running for the job. Your selection? Go with Hayden, and he can be either the DNI or Ash Carter’s successor as SecDef. So that’s settled now, right? Thanks, everyone!

Lastly today—“Mad Dog” Jim Mattis for prez! It’s a refrain nearly a year old, but it’s still being echoed by “an anonymous group of conservative billionaires,” The Daily Beast reports. “Mattis is the former commander of Central Command, which includes the strife-afflicted conflict zones of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, and has developed a reputation among troops as a general officer who cares about the little guy. This reputation blossomed into the political realm during the 2012 presidential contest, when a Marine Corps veteran started an online campaign to write-in Mattis on presidential ballots—it ultimately lacked the backing to take off. But this situation involves far bigger players: Close to a dozen influential donors—involving politically-involved billionaires with deep pockets and conservative leanings—are ready to put their resources behind Mattis. At their request, a small group of political operatives have taken the first steps in the strategic legwork needed for a bid: a package of six strategic memos outlining how Mattis could win the race, in hopes of coaxing him in.”

The catch this time around? “The strategy would not be for Mattis to win, at least at first—the operatives behind this potential bid would only be seeking to deny Trump and Clinton the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the general election outright.” Read the rest of this 2016 tussle, here. And have a great weekend, everyone!

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