The D Brief: An Islamic State police official, decapitated; Ash Carter to face Senate in Feb.?; Why Bill Moran’s efforts to reform the Navy’s personnel system are critical; Maxim pinups still in Taji; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

The backlash against the Islamic State is building. A senior figure of ISIS’ police force in Syria was found decapitated with a cigarette dangling from his mouth in the eastern city of al-Mayadeen on Tuesday. Residents of the city are also trying to run over ISIS militants with their automobiles. More from Reuters, here.

But American Marines at the Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s Anbar province are taking “regular”—as opposed to “daily”—mortar fire from IS, Pentagon spox Col. Steve Warren said yesterday. However, the indirect fire has so far been “completely ineffective.” Richard Sisk of Military.com has more, here.

IS’ control of utilities and economics is creating angry residents from eastern Syria down to Mosul. Erika Solomon for Financial Times, here.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia will train Syrian rebels. Is Turkey next? Washington’s anxious ally in Ankara has agreed to “tentatively” and jointly train Syrian rebels with U.S. troops in March. The big open question, though, is whom exactly the rebels will be fighting. McClatchy’s Duygu Guvenc and Roy Gutman have more from Ankara, here.

The Pentagon’s official training mission in Iraq is well under way. Nearly 500 U.S. troops began working with their fledgling Iraqi counterparts in late December, Col. Warren said. Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper: “…approximately 170 U.S. soldiers from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division are training four Iraqi army battalions near Taji. The effort began Dec. 27 and is expected to last six weeks. In addition, Marines from are training soldiers from the Iraqi army’s 7th Division at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar province. There are about 320 American troops at Al Asad training Iraqi security forces and performing other advise-and-assist missions. The formal training mission at Al Asad began Dec. 20. Warren did not give a time line for when that process will be completed.” More here.

The U.S. is considering upgrades to Iraqi tanks. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio with this: “…M1A1 tanks with upgrades to provide greater protection from land mines and roadside bombs and to add rotating, remotely operated machine guns to attack snipers. Upgrades to the tanks built by General Dynamics Corp. also could include belly armor; lightweight reactive armor tiles; improved night-vision sensors…” More here.

American soldiers in Taji are finding all sorts of things U.S. troops left behind from the 2011 Iraq pullout. NYT’s Tim Arango from Taji: “…One soldier said he found pinups from Maxim, a men’s magazine, still on the walls. And the last copies of Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper, delivered just before the American departure, are still scattered about the floor of one of the bathrooms. The score from an NFL playoff game in 2011, now considered a classic upset, is painted across an awning: Saints 36, Seahawks 41.” More here.

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Ash Carter, nom’ed to replace Chuck Hagel as SecDef, is likely to have his confirmation hearing in early February now, not late January. At this point, nothing is exactly definite, but the conventional wisdom had been that he would be in the Senate’s hot seat by the third week of January. Now the thinking is more first week of February, we’ve been told by a number of people. That may or may not make it awkward for the Pentagon as it plans to unveil its new budget document, expected also for the first week of February. But Hagel and Bob Work, the Pentagon’s No. 2, who both own that budget proposal, will likely be the ones to sell it to Congress. Carter’s confirmation could come before or after. That also means Carter, who’s expected to sail through confirmation even if the hearing itself will be contentious, may not be in place until sometime later February.

Meantime, analysts are finding likely incoming SecDef Ash Carter a difficult read when it comes to the use of military force. Boston Globe's Bryan Bender: “…He has argued that the threat of force often can be more effective than its actual employment, saying the careful calibration of America’s naval, air, and nuclear superiority can often deter adversaries from threatening the United States or its vital interests in the first place. When force is necessary, he has placed a premium on its limited use for limited aims, relying heavily on covert action and special forces...

'Some thought he was a dove,' Denis McDonough, currently the White House chief of staff, said at a Pentagon ceremony when Carter stepped down as deputy secretary of defense in 2013. 'Some thought him a hawk. And what became clear to me is that Ash is neither hawk nor dove . . . he is a guy who’s influenced not by ideology, but by facts.'" More here.

Meantime, Dianne Feinstein is seeking to ban what she calls “abusive” interrogations. The Senate Intel Committee’s top Dem pledged to make “abusive” interrogation measures illegal and she would ban the CIA from holding prisoners. This stems from the big CIA report that came out last month on the agency’s treatment of detainees since 9/11. The WaPo’s Greg Miller, here.

The CIA says that it’s Inspector General, David Buckley, is resigning this month. Buckley had investigated the dispute between the CIA and Congress over how the agency handled detention and interrogation activities. National Journal’s Dustin Volz, Read the rest of that here.

NYT reporter James Risen says little on the stand and refuses to “provide information that in any way would prove or disprove a mosaic that the government is trying to make” in the case against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Read that bit here.

The Navy is part of the search and recovery effort for the AirAsia plane. Government Executive's Eric Katz:The U.S. military has joined the effort to recover parts from the AirAsia plane that crashed in the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia last week, as well as the remains of those on board. Two Navy ships — the USS Fort Worth and USS Sampson — are aiding the Indonesian-led search effort. The Sampson has supported the recovery operation since Dec. 29, the day after the crash, while the Fort Worth joined more recently. Both ships are from San Diego.”

Speaking of the Navy, Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the Chief of Naval Personnel, is thinking about how to reform the Navy’s manpower system. That’s not as boring a topic as it might seem to the military layperson. If the military doesn’t rethink the way it recruits, trains and retains its folks – but also, perhaps most prominently, how it properly and fairly compensates its personnel – many believe it will find itself in deep trouble and soon. 

Council on Foreign Relations’ Jesse Sloman, writing on Moran's visit to CFR and his plans on reform: “…VADM Moran’s efforts come at a time when there is a growing awareness across the military that the services need to think hard about how to build more flexibility into the careers of service members than exists today. Manpower reform has become a high profile topic for defense commentators, prompting opinion pieces published by this and other military blogs, an essay contest sponsored by Tom Ricks and a book by entrepreneur and Air Force veteran Tim Kane.

“The reformers’ central argument—one that VADM Moran made during his talk—is that the management system created in 1947 to serve a draft military is falling behind the demands of the 21st century all-volunteer force. Critics cite problems throughout the services, including: lockstep promotions based almost entirely on a person’s time in service; an outdated method of matching personnel with assignments that does not sufficiently take into account individual preferences, special skills, or unique experiences; and narrowly defined career trajectories. Taken together, these issues are manifested in a manpower system that is inefficient, inflexible, and may be struggling to retain the best and brightest service members.”

Also, here’s Defense One’s Stephanie Gaskell talking to Moran at the Defense One Summit in November about this very topic. Read that bit here.

So 93-year-old “Yoda” of the Office of Net Assessment (also known as Andy Marshall) finally retired from the Pentagon yesterday and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel honored him with a little farewell. Here are the shots of the party, here.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren on Marshall yesterday: “…He's retired after 42 years as one of the Pentagon's most long-serving, influential and dedicated public servants, who was appointed under Secretary of Defense Schlesinger and was reappointed by 10 subsequent secretaries of defense.

“His service coincided with the post-World War II emergence of nuclear strategy, the long arc of the Cold War and the transition through the Clinton, Bush and Obama eras of post-Cold War conflict and strategy. Effective today, his deputy, Mr. Andrew May, will serve as the acting director until a permanent successor is appointed.”

War on the Rocks’ Ryan Evans on “aspiring Yodas” and the job description on usajobs.gov where you can apply for Andy Marshall’s old job, here.

Why the rise and fall of a moderate Syrian leader helps us to understand the dynamic on the ground there. The WaPo’s Liz Sly, here.

An Afghan man is “death’s ferryman,” taking the bodies of soldiers and police officers – and insurgents – back to their families in southern Afghanistan. The NYT’s Azem Ahmed, reporting from Kandahar, on Page One, here.

With NATO’s Afghan mission largely behind it, the alliance really wants that rapid reaction force they’ve been talking about since Russia invaded Ukraine last March. But who’s gonna pay for it still remains an open question. AP’s John-Thor Dahlburg from Brussels: “NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called the new force and other components of the reboot of alliance capabilities ‘the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.’ Stoltenberg, now in his third month as the alliance's top-ranking civilian official, said it is his ‘top priority to implement this plan in full and on time.’

“Many are hoping the Americans will foot much of the bill, while others are looking to Germany, NATO's wealthiest and most populous member in Europe, [Bruno Lete, senior program officer for foreign and security policy at the German Marshall Fund] said. It is vital for NATO cohesiveness that as many members as possible contribute to payments, he said, or ‘the plan will lose its legitimacy.’” More here.

The U.S. has about 60 Abrams and Bradley tanks in Europe today, and it wants about three times that many by the end of the year. Michele Tan for Army Times has more on the U.S. and NATO's slow response to the renewed Russian aggression, here.

U.S. troops sent to West Africa for the Pentagon’s Ebola mission are returning home early thanks to local contracting help in Liberia. WaPo’s Dan Lamothe: “‘What we thought would take until April is going to be done this week,’ [Lt. Col. Rob Gordon, the deputy operations officer with the 101st Airborne Division] said… Although the construction took less time than some in the military expected, the amount of time that has passed since the mission began has led to concerns that the Ebola treatment units are no longer in the right locations.” More here.

And up the West African coast, two Americans tried to orchestrate a coup against the Gambian government last week—which failed spectacularly. WSJ’s Andrew Grossman with the whopper of a tale: “Cherno Njie, the Austin, Texas-based developer, led and financed the effort to oust Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in an affidavit.

“A spreadsheet allegedly found at property belonging to Mr. Njie in a search on Saturday listed a total budget of $220,798 for equipment, transportation and aid to the family members of the plotters. It included two sniper rifles that were labeled ‘NOT really necessary but could be very useful,’ according to a photo included in the affidavit.

“The plotters thought their task would be easy… They also thought they would get backup from some sympathetic soldiers… One team of plotters shot into the air. Instead of fleeing as expected, the soldiers began to fire at them, killing them all. Mr. Faal’s team, which had failed to breach a door, retreated…

“After it was put down by Gambian government soldiers, one of the alleged conspirators, Papa Faal, a dual American and Gambian citizen living in Minnesota, fled to Senegal, where he turned himself in at the U.S. Embassy.” More here.

“Many people were killed in their sleep.” WSJ’s Drew Hinshaw and Gbenga Akingbule with more details on Boko Haram’s weekend seizure of a multinational base in Nigeria, here.

Meantime, is Beijing’s military becoming more transparent? China launched an official website laying out more than 350 items the PLA plans to acquire. Bloomberg has more, here.

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