Jordan’s quid pro quo; Carter’s big job interview today; UAE bowed out of airstrikes; Saudi oil is key; Isn’t it ironic: Jill Kelley’s emails to brass; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

Earth-shaking: Jordan hangs two in response to the barbaric killing of pilot Muath al-Kasaebeh. Reuters just this morning: Jordan hanged two Iraqi jihadists on Wednesday including a female militant in response to an Islamic State video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burnt alive by the hardline group.

“Islamic State had demanded the release of the woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for a Japanese hostage whom it later beheaded. Sentenced to death for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack in Amman, Rishawi was executed at dawn, a security source and state television said.

“Jordan, which is part of the U.S.-led alliance against Islamic State, has promised an ‘earth-shaking response’ to the killing of its pilot, Muath al-Kasaesbeh, who was captured in December when his F-16 crashed over northeastern Syria.

Jordan also executed a senior al Qaeda prisoner, Ziyad Karboli, an Iraqi man who was sentenced to death in 2008.” More here.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby on what the killing of the Jordanian pilot means for the fight against ISIS: “…What we have done and will continue to do is degrade and destroy their capabilities and continue to put them on the defensive, in which they still remain today… it's not tit for tat… it does bring into stark relief the seriousness of the threat. But you know, the -- these brutal murders, I can't -- there's no way I could, but no possibly figure out how to justify it in your brain, because it's so twisted. But it certainly isn't -- these aren't the acts of a winner. And they're not winning.”

Brookings’ Ken Pollack in the NYT this morning: ISIS is losing in Iraq, but what happens next? Read that here.

The UAE quietly bowed out of airstrikes in December. The NYT’s Helene Cooper: “The [UAE], a crucial Arab ally in the American-led coalition against the Islamic State, suspended airstrikes against the Sunni extremist group in December, citing fears for its pilots’ safety after a Jordanian pilot was captured and who the extremists said had been burned to death, United States officials said Tuesday.” More here.

U.S. will boost assistance to Jordan, by the WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, here.

Thoughts and prayers – and anger: The scene outside the Jordanian pilot’s home, ABC, here.

Gen. Lloyd Austin, on the murder of Al-Kasabeh: “This vicious act is yet another example of ISIL or "Daesh's" brutality and warped ideology… Al-Kasasbeh served his country courageously and honorably, and as a part of the counter-ISIL Coalition he is an important member of our team.”

The Counter Extremism Project: "…The vicious nature of his murder reveals a sickening level of barbarism from ISIS that we have not seen before. By executing a fellow Muslim, ISIS demonstrates once again the perversion of the very faith it claims to represent."

ISIS is public enemy number one, according to a top European lawmaker, reports U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman, quoting Gianni Pittella, a prominent and influential member of the European Parliament, here.

The chilling reason why ISIS burned the Jordanian pilot alive, by the WaPo’s Terrence McCoy: “The Islamic State video depicting the brutal immolation of a Jordanian pilot was different from the beginning… Those videos, often starring the masked Jihadi John, were rough and hurried. This one, by contrast, plodded through 22 long minutes. It had a narrative, almost thematic, quality. There was building tension. There was a defined arc. And a clear message.” More here.

Meantime: a former operative for al Qaeda, now in federal supermax prison, says prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family as major donors to the terrorist network. The NYT’s Scott Shane: “…[He] claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. The Qaeda member, Zacarias Moussaoui, wrote last year to Judge George B. Daniels of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia by relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said he wanted to testify in the case, and after lengthy negotiations with Justice Department officials and the federal Bureau of Prisons, a team of lawyers was permitted to enter the prison and question him for two days last October.” More here.

Saudi oil is seen as the lever to pry Russia’s Putin away from Assad in Syria. The NYT’s Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, and David Kirkpatrick: “Saudi Arabia has been trying to pressure [Putin] of Russia to abandon his support for [Assad] of Syria, using its dominance of the global oil markets at a time when the Russian government is reeling from the effects of plummeting oil prices.” More here.

The WaPo’s David Ignatius, on the new Saudi order, here.

ISIS has lost all credibility on the hostage negotiation front. The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reports on the perverse stage-managing tactics of the terrorist group, here.

De-conflicting the Syrian strategy: There are competing views inside the White House over what to do about Assad and Syria in the face of ISIS and the administration’s “Iraq first” approach. CFR senior fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, writing in Defense One: “‘Aid our moderates, pursue the regime and pursue ISIL is a math equation that doesn’t add up,’ said one former senior administration official who worked on foreign policy. The link that might make the math work…is the train and equip program to aid Syrian moderates, being led by Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the special operations commander for Central Command... But there is also an acknowledgment of the very real policy limitations he faces [considering] Moscow and Tehran have a stake in keeping Assad in power, at least for now.” Read the rest here.

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The Big Job Interview today: Ash Carter is in the hot seat today. The last of the murder boards were held yesterday and Carter is ready to go this morning. During his confirmation hearing today to be the next Pentagon chief, Carter will attempt to walk a thin line between supporting current Obama administration policy in Iraq and Syria and creating enough distance from the White House to placate anxious Republicans and establish himself as his own man.

Carter, who would be President Barack Obama’s fourth defense secretary, has given little public indication of where his thinking is about the U.S. military’s efforts against the Islamic State. But while Carter isn’t likely to veer far from the current course, at least initially, there’s reason to believe that if confirmed he will have a slightly longer leash to manage the war effort as he sees fit. Passed over for the top job he coveted more than two years ago, Carter may have expressed to administration officials that he had a keen desire to run the Pentagon, but do it in the best way he knows how.

Carter’s thinking may be informally connected to that of former U.S. Central Command commander Gen. James Mattis. Mattis, a Marine four-star who retired in May 2013, was peppered with questions last week during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Mattis was adamant: without agreement on what an ‘end state’ is for Iraq or Syria, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a strategy.

“We don’t lack military capability,” Mattis told the panel. “What we lack is the political will and the definition of the political end state.” Read the rest of Lubold’s story, here.

And Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports that Carter could be confirmed and in the E-Ring within two weeks.

If confirmed, Ash Carter’s most important legacy will hinge on how much elevate America’s technological edge for tomorrow’s crowded and increasingly sophisticated battlespaces. Shawn Brimley and Elbridge Colby of the Center for a New American Security, writing in Defense One: “[T]he United States is no longer the only international actor to employ stealth fighters, satellites and long-range precision-guided munitions. Dozens of countries are embracing unmanned systems and… [i]f left unaddressed, these trends could mean that the U.S. may find itself outclassed in serious fights in the Western Pacific, Eastern Europe and beyond.

“Carter’s legacy depends entirely on what he is able to accomplish this year. The president’s fiscal 2016 budget request is already in, and the 2018 budget will be submitted after the next president is elected. That means that the fiscal 2017 budget could be the only one Carter will be able to really control.” More here.

Defense News’ Paul McLeary go a hold of Carter’s opening statement that he’ll read this morning: “[Carter] will take a stand for sweeping defense reforms in his opening remarks slated to be delivered at his Wednesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, while also hinting at some of the tensions that have roiled the tenure of his predecessor, a copy of his opening statement reveals. Carter will read: "The taxpayer cannot comprehend, let alone support the defense budget, when they read of cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overhead, and the like. This must stop.” Read the rest here.

The Boston Globe’s Sally Jacobs looks at Carter’s early years, and his “perennial search for balance.” Jacobs: The truism about Carter is that he’s the smartest person in the room; the truth is he’s probably the smartest one in the building. This is a man who did calculus problems to relax as a youth, who snuck away from his fellow lacrosse players in high school to read medieval history, who wrote one of his two senior theses on the use of Latin by monastic writers in 12th-century Flanders. And that EKG collection? He still has it.” Read that bit here.

The Pentagon’s new budget contains more than a few projects that give defense manufacturers reason to be excited in the years ahead. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber delivers the forecast for high-speed strike weapons, advanced aircraft, railgun tech and lasers: “Defense manufacturers pay the most attention to two key parts of the defense budget, procurement and research and development... Collectively, these two coffers include $177.5 billion, making up more than 33 percent of DOD’s $534 billion base spending request in 2016 [and] money for new planes, ships, vehicles and drones is up more than 15 percent.

“Defense companies are closely watching an Air Force contest to build a new bomber, a project likely worth more than $40 billion... The Pentagon also wants to boost spending on classified projects in 2016. The spending request includes $18.8 billion for these secretive efforts, a 7 percent increase from 2015...[but] Defense firms still want more certainty, and with the current budget proposal more than $34 billion in sequestration looming.” More here.

Who’s doing what today? Ash Carter has his big day before SASC at 9:30 a.m. … the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee talks cyber security safeguards for the future at 10 a.m. … which is also when Thornberry’s House Armed Services Committee covers the military compensation report with Chiarelli, Giambastiani and the rest of the gang … the House Foreign Affairs will talk Cuba policy at 10 a.m. also, then return for a 2 p.m. discussion on the Palestinian Authority and the International Criminal Court.

Meantime, Adm. Jonathan Greenert is speaking this morning at the Office of Naval Research’s Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo (which runs through tomorrow; more here) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in DC… and today NavSec Ray Mabus makes the final stop in his five-country engagement tour of Latin America, arriving in El Salvador where he will meet with the country's defense minister and other senior military officials. He’s also scheduled time to chat with Sailors and Marines deployed to El Salvador to support America’s southern regional partnerships… Air Force Secretary Debbie James returns from her visit to Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, where she met with Airmen supporting Operation Deep Freeze, as well as met with partner nation counterparts to continue discussions about interoperability between our services…

Ahead of today’s HASC hearing on military compensation reform, CSBA guru Todd Harrison explains two of the best cost savings options on the reform table: replace TRICARE with a healthcare alliance and altering the retirement system for new troops. More on that over at Forbes, here.

“You rock! No, YOU ROCK!!!!, no you rock MORE!!!!”: The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock snags the email exchanges between Tampa socialite Jill Kelley and the smitten brass that could be described as the Mutual Admiration Show. Blame it on the fact that so few Americans understand or truly appreciate the U.S. military, so when someone like Kelley comes along who is a natural-born, pom-pom bearing cheerleader for it, it’s easy to see how she wormed her way in to get what she wanted.

WaPo Pentagon Correspondent Whitlock, in the Wapo’s Style section today, after FOIA-ing emails long ago: “Judging from her e-mails, Jill Kelley was star-struck by the big-name military commanders rotating between the war zones in the Middle East and her home town of Tampa. And they were equally smitten with her.

‘Everyone thinks you’re a RockStar!’ Kelley gushed in a 2012 e-mail to Marine Gen. James N. Mattis… After another social event, she wrote a similar mash note to Mattis’s deputy, Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward. ‘What a Leader you were to these heads of State,’ she enthused. ‘You ROCK!!!’ Replied Harward: ‘YOU ROCK MORE!’”

It’s a little bit ironic: This was Kelley’s note to Jim Mattis when she found out she would become an honorary consul for South Korea:  “YES!!!! Honorary Consul General. I’m soooooo excited about the humbling honor... ‘It’s ironic that I get the request from the state of Korea — which is NOT my expertise. However as a lover of International Politics/Foreign Affairs, I do find the Korean Statehood quite interesting . . . (I’m a lover of conflict problem solving, and have a keen sense of seeking opportunities in chaos.).’”

And when she got invited to Kabul to speak to Parliament, supported by John Allen, Kelley wrote this to a State Department official and copied Allen: “I am honored by their petition of me, and would be humbled to serve the request to foster, promote and proliferate future relations and agreements with the Members of Parliament… As I stated in our conversation, COMISAF John Allen is well aware of the invitation by Parliament, and is in support of my visit to Kabul.” Read the rest here.

The U.S. used a drone over Somalia to kill a top al-Shabab operative. Reuters: The United States carried out a drone strike in Somalia against a senior leader of militant group al Shabaab, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, adding his death would represent a major blow to a group already losing ground in the country. The Jan. 31 Hellfire missile strike south of the capital Mogadishu targeted Yusef Dheeq, the group's chief of external operations and planning for intelligence and security, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.” More here.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they’ll seize power by force if no agreeable power-sharing arrangement can be agreed upon with the embattled San’a government. WSJ’s Asa Fitch and Hakim Almasmari from Yemen’s capital: “Bilateral talks on a power-sharing arrangement proved fruitless, however, prompting Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi to call a three-day conference that started Friday. He then extended the conference, held at a converted indoor sports stadium San’a, until Wednesday... The Houthis made a new proposal late Tuesday that would give dozens of seats in Parliament to Houthis ahead of new elections, something a senior Houthi official said could serve as a stopgap to end the crisis. But Mr. Shaban, the Houthi leader, said time for compromise was running out. Houthi militants began to close roads in San’a on Tuesday, in apparent preparation for their planned takeover should the talks fail.” More here.

The CIA’s effort to push the al-Qaeda and Taliban out of Afghanistan immediately after 9/11 has just given us a “sad, and disturbingly fatalistic” book, “88 Days to Kandahar.” Former Islamabad CIA station chief Robert Grenier’s new memoir hit bookstores last week, but you can read a review from the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood, here.

Know a journo who you'd say exemplifies a "fearless pursuit of the truth?" Nominate them for the 2015 Michael Kelly award -- named for the celebrated former editor of The Atlantic who was the first American reporter killed in the Iraq war in 2003 -- from Atlantic Media. Deadline is Friday, and the conditions for applying can be found here.

Clay Hunt Act headed to POTUS’ desk: The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act cleared the Senate with 99-0 vote after less than two hours of debate. McClatchy’s Marissa Horn dives into what’s in the final bill, here.