Carter says no major strategy change necessary now; Frank Kendall to talk Ukraine; CIA expands its cyber ops; How many troops does the ANSF need?; And a bit more.

Ash Carter doesn’t see a need to overhaul the strategy in Iraq and Syria for now, even if he does want to see it refined. Defense One’s Lubold’s story from Kuwait City, Kuwait: Fresh from a nearly day-long discussion with top military and diplomatic officials here about the best way forward in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters he doesn’t think the administration’s current strategy needs a fundamental overhaul.

But in remarks after the consultations here, Carter spoke broadly about ways in which he thinks the strategy could be tightened or refined, leaving open the door for larger changes down the line.

Carter to reporters following the big summit with two- three- and four-stars, top ambassadors and such: “I think we have the ingredients of a strategy.”

Carter hinted that while the strategy did not need to change fundamentally, it could use some sharpening. That could include pushing some nations of the 60-member coalition fighting the Islamic State, or ISIL to contribute more. And Carter said there could be more emphasis on not only the military but also the diplomatic aspects of the strategy against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Carter also seemed certain that the U.S. had to counter ISIL’s use of social media, where it has been particularly effective, helping to win the war of perceptions as disagreements in Washington over strategy upstage what gains the U.S.-led coalition’s air war has made.

The conference Carter assembled in the first week of office was intended to be a discussion of the strategy to defeat the Islamic State, not a precursor for an overhaul of the approach, senior defense officials were careful to point out.

A senior defense official: “Today, we have heard form the secretary that the strategy is sound, the strategy is working… There are pieces of the strategy where I think he thinks we could do a better job.” Read the rest of Lubold's report, here.

ISIS abducted nearly 100 Christians yesterday in northeastern Syria. AP’s Ryan Lucas from Beirut: “The extremist fighters swept through the villages nestled along the banks of Khabur River near the town of Tal Tamr in Hassakeh province around dawn on Monday… some 3,000 people managed to flee the onslaught and have sought refuge in the cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli.” More, here.

The Turkish military’s attempt to mimic the famous Iwo Jima photo may rank among the clumsiest of military PR moves. Ankara released select photos of their large-scale entry into Syria to evacuate troops at an Ottoman tomb over the weekend, with one photo showing soldiers raising the Turkish flag “exactly in the same manner and style as that unforgettable picture at Iwo Jima,” Cengiz Candar writes in Al-Monitor: “The Turkish military operation is being treated as a matter of indignation or military farce rather than the stunning military success that the government had hoped it would be. Whatever the case, Turkey’s terms of engagement with Syria have been totally altered by this military operation, officially named ‘Shah-Euphrates.’” That, here.

CIA Director John Brennan is proposing major shift to the way the agency maximizes its cyber capabilities, though it leaves open the question of how much might overlap with NSA tasks. WaPo’s Greg Miller: “U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State. Several officials said Brennan’s team has even considered creating a new cyber-directorate…The changes are designed to replicate the model of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which has surged in size and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The restructuring could lead to new reporting lines for thousands of CIA employees… Brennan is expected to begin implementing aspects of his plan this month.” More here.

Washington and Tehran are mulling a nuclear deal that would put a decade-long freeze on Iran’s ability to amass enough enriched uranium to make a bomb. WSJ’s Laurence Norman: “Such a compromise could allow Iran to portray the major restrictions on its nuclear program at home as lasting only 10 years—an upper limit Iranian officials have mentioned before... It also could break the impasse over how many centrifuges—machines for enriching uranium—Tehran would be allowed under a deal. If Iran can expand its activities, it could start with fewer centrifuges and then be allowed to operate more over time... Critics in Congress and in Israel quickly attacked the prospect of a 10-year time frame as inadequate.” More here.

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Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine said this morning they’ve begun withdrawing their heavy weapons from the front lines. Kiev, meanwhile, says shelling from separatists is still ongoing. Reuters this hour, here.

Pentagon weapons buyer Frank Kendall is going to meet with the Ukrainian president amid a debate over providing lethal assistance to the country. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber, in Abu Dhabi: “Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to meet with U.S. defense companies Tuesday during a major arms exhibition here even though the American government has not cleared the firms to sell Kiev lethal weapons.

“Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive is scheduled to meet with a Ukrainian delegation Monday evening, however Poroshenko is not expected to be there.

Kendall to Weisgerber: “I expect the conversation will be about their needs… We’re limited at this point in time in terms of what we’re able to provide them, but where we can be supportive, we want to be.

“…Dozens of U.S. and foreign-made armored trucks, the types wanted by Ukraine, are on display here at the International Defense Exposition and Conference, known as IDEX.” More here.

Also: The U.S. is poised to sell drones made by General Atomics to the UAE – the first to a non-NATO ally. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: “…The State Department notified the House and Senate foreign relations committees on Feb. 6 that it’s prepared to license the export of eight Predator drones and associated equipment, such as electro-optical and infrared sensors, valued at $220 million, according to two U.S. officials with knowledge of the letter sent to lawmakers.

“While the drones would be unarmed, a separate transaction would include laser designators that highlight ground targets for attack, according to information provided by the officials, who asked not to be identified before the approval is announced.” More here.

Amid mounting tensions over their connections with Islamist movementsQatar’s emir meets with President Obama today at the White House. WSJ’s Jay Solomon and Nour Malas from Doha: “In recent months, U.S. and Qatari officials said there has been an uptick in Qatari moves against alleged terrorist financiers. They said the emirate has expelled a Jordanian associate of Mr. Nuaymi and shut a social-media website the U.S. believed was used in raising money for al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria…

“But Qatar has resisted pressure from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to evict Hamas’s top leadership, according to U.S. and Arab diplomats. U.S. officials believe that many of the Qatari nationals involved in fundraising for Syrian rebels remain active... ‘The Qataris need to know they can’t have it both ways,’ said Dennis Ross, who was Mr. Obama’s top Mideast adviser in his first term. ‘But so far, they see that they can.’” Read the rest, here.

“The Future of War” is here. New America, a nonpartisan think tank network; Arizona State University; and Defense One have teamed up for a new series looking at where conflict is headed in the 21st century. New America’s Peter Singer kicks things off with some up-front remarks via series’ contributors Peter Bergen, Rosa Brooks, Sharon Burke, Shane Harris, Tom Ricks and more, right here.

Gunmen snatched some 30 people off a Kabul-bound bus in Zabul province, with a particular eye for ethnic Hazaras. WSJ’s Ehsanullah Amiri and Nathan Hodge this hour, here.

How many troops do the Afghan security forces need through 2018? One assessment suggests a 21k increase over the most recent 352k figure, while another assessment advises a reduction in ANSF levels—so the inspector general for the U.S. reconstruction effort is seeking some clarity. Read SIGAR’s letter to Gen. John Campbell, sent last week, here.

Phil Breedlove will brief on Ukraine tomorrow. Military Times’ Brian Everstine: “The top U.S. general in Europe will update lawmakers Wednesday on the military response to Russia's encroachment in Ukraine and other threats in Europe.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, supreme allied commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, has been summoned to the House Armed Services Committeeto detail the U.S. response to ongoing threats in Europe. Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, also will testify.”

What Breedlove told AP earlier this month: “Everything we do we have to look and evaluate as to will [it] advance the ball toward that political solution that we have to find here… So all manner of aid has to be taken in light of what we anticipate would be the Russian reaction." More here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ruled out an "apocalyptic scenario" of all-out war in Ukraine as foreign ministers from Kiev, Moscow, Berlin and Paris gather today to try to salvage the ceasefire. AFP this hour, here.

Reuters’ Islamabad bureau chief is dead. Read that here.

Corporal Hassoun is guilty of desertion. AP’s Jonathan Drew: “A U.S. Marine who vanished a decade ago in Iraq was convicted Monday of desertion for leaving his post there and then fleeing to Lebanon after a brief return to the U.S. The judge at Camp Lejeune, Marine Maj. Nicholas Martz, ruled in a bench trial that Cpl. Wassef Hassoun was guilty of deserting for the 2004 and 2005 disappearances. Hassoun was also convicted of causing the loss of his service pistol.” More here.

The Kurds’ fight against ISIS is drawing an increasing number of “freelance” American fighters with previous experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Daily Beast’s Jesse Rosenfeld from Daquq, Iraq: “Jeremy, Leo and Mel portray themselves—and really do seem to see themselves—as volunteers motivated by a need to support a historically victimized people leading a fight against a ruthless entity that uses Islamic scripture to justify biblical slaughter. But there are more than a few foreign gunmen, these three tell me, who treat this war like a business… ‘ISIS are tough, real tough,’ Jeremy says with his Mississippi twang… It’s a different kind of warfare from what he saw when he was with the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He sees ISIS not so much as an insurgency as an invasion force. ‘It’s very different fighting a group that’s trying to take over,’ he says.” Read the rest, here.

The Iran factor in Iraq. Reuters’ just launched a special report detailing militia dynamics in a nation where the Shiite Badr Organisation is said to be more powerful than the prime minister. That right here.

Ranger-qualifed Army veteran and VA Secretary Bob McDonald went into Crisis Comms mode yesterday after telling a homeless man he’d served in special forces. HuffPo’s David Wood: “McDonald’s remark came to light after several retired military officers noticed his remark on the CBS tape, days after NBC News anchor Brian Williams was suspended for fabricating stories about his reporting experiences in Iraq and elsewhere... While he earned a Ranger tab designating him as a graduate of Ranger School, [McDonald] never served in a Ranger battalion or any other special operations unit… ‘I have no excuse,’ McDonald told The Huffington Post, when contacted to explain his claim. ‘I was not in special forces.’ …The White House said Monday evening that the Obama administration accepted McDonald's explanation.” That, here.

In his foreign policy speech last week, Jeb Bush ducked an enormous challenge ahead for any candidate in the 2016 presidential race. AEI’s Roger Zakheim, writing in The National Review: “[Bush’s] critique failed to get to the root cause of Obama’s foreign policy—since Day One in office, the Obama administration has been blinded by its compulsion to be the antithesis of Bush 43. This gross overcorrection has been the driving force behind Obama’s foreign policy… To be the next commander-in-chief, one must wrestle with the post-9/11 policies of Bush 43 and the dramatic reversal of those policies during the Obama years.” More here.