A pause in Tikrit; Cotton, to Defense One, on 'paper resolutions'; Thornberry: no new BRAC; Where are women’s voices in nat-sec? Prince Harry, out; And a bit more.

Voter turnout for Israel's elections--just three hours in, so far--is already higher than the previous two elections. Polls close at 4 p.m. EDT today. Meantime, track the developments at Jerusalem Post's live blog here.

Meantime, the operation to retake Tikrit is foundering. A critical test of the Iraqi forces effort to kick the Islamic State out of Tikrit in northern Iraq - Saddam Hussein’s hometown – isn’t going all that well so far. The WaPo’s Loveday Morris: “Iraqi forces’ operation to retake the city of Tikrit has stalled as troops suffer heavy casualties at the hands of Islamic State militants, raising concerns about whether the pro-government fighters are ready for major offensives.

“After two days of little activity on the battlefield, Iraq’s interior minister, Mohammed al-Ghabban, confirmed Monday that the offensive has ‘temporarily stopped.’ The steady flow of coffins arriving in Iraq’s Shiite holy city of Najaf suggests a reason for the pause; cemetery workers say as many as 60 war dead have been arriving each day.”

“As the momentum has slowed, some Iraqi officials have begun to publicly call for U.S.-led air support… However, Raed al-Timimi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Defense Ministry, said the government had not made a formal request for such assistance… Joining the battle would put the United States in an awkward position, with the Tikrit operation dominated by militia forces and overseen by Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. Shiite-dominated Iran has been a key backer of the militias.” Read the rest, here.

Another reason for the stalled offensive? Not only to prevent casualties but also to help save Tikrit’s infrastructure, Baghdad’s interior minister told AFP, here.

Iran sent artillery rockets and missiles for the Tikrit offensive, the U.S. says —and the fact that they’re not precision-guided arms is adding to U.S. military officials’ anxiety over the long-term consequences of Tehran’s escalated meddling in Iraq’s affairs. The NYTs Eric Schmitt: “The Fateh-110 missile is even more capable than the Fajr-5, military specialists said on Monday, but they questioned the need for them in Tikrit now that the battle has moved to close-quarters, urban combat, when unguided rockets and missiles are not as useful…

American officials say they believe Iran imported the rockets and missiles for the Tikrit operation because other artillery was not able to reach targets around the city in what has become a difficult, protracted battle… There has been growing international pressure to avoid civilian casualties and revenge attacks on people or property in an operation by a mostly Shiite force in a hub of the so-called Sunni triangle.” More here.

To defeat ISIS, Iraq is forced to accept help from Iran’s “suffocating embrace.” U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman: “…The presence of foreign Shiite fighters, taking their cues from Tehran, is, however, complicating what U.S. officials for months had touted as their singular effort to help Iraq retake its sovereign territory.” More here.

Trap doors and liquor bottles: How the Islamic State gets VBIEDs through Iraqi police, via AFP’s Ammar Karim in Baghdad, here.

Meantime to the north, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Assad regime forces used poison gas again to kill six people in the northwestern Idlib province yesterday. A Syrian military source denied the allegation. Reuters’ Oliver Holmes and Sylvia Westhall from Beirut, here.

“Wars are not won by paper resolutions,” Sen. Tom Cotton told Defense One’s Molly O’Toole. “They are won with resolution on the battlefield. And the main flaw is not the president’s lack of a resolution; it’s his lack of a resolution in waging the fight against the Islamic State, and other radical Islamists like the government of Iran.”

The freshman Arkansas Republican, who’s also an Iraq and Afghan war vet as well as the Senate’s newest member, delivered his first floor speech last night—nearly two weeks after he wrote a letter directly to Iranian leaders to try and teach them a constitutional lesson. Check out O’Toole’s full profile of the GOP's newest hawk, here.  

About that letter from Cotton, et al.: It was never actually sent to Iran, The National Review’s Deroy Murdock reminds us all, here.

But the Iranians did ask Kerry about the letter; the NYT’s Michael Gordon in Lausanne, Switzerland, with Kerry, here.

Morning Joe rips the GOP apart over the letter to Iran, here.  

Meantime, a CNN poll out this morning shows 68 percent of Americans favor direct negotiations with Tehran over their nuclear program. And nearly half (49 percent) think Cotton and Co. went too far with their letter. CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta with more, here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, where we celebrate Cas Overton. Like her, if we decide we’re going to choke a rabid racoon with our bare hands, we’re definitely gonna kill it. Read about this amazing 75-year-old woman’s experience here.  This is Defense One's first-read, a curated national security newsletter by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.

If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or drop us a line at glubold@defenseone.com. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and - best of all - your candy. But send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you'll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

For Who’s up to what today – scroll down, please.

In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is trying a new tactic in response to drone strikes—sending photos and detailed obits out to reporters shortly after their fighters are killed. WSJ’s Maria Abi-Habib: “With drones almost constantly monitoring its strongholds in Yemen, it can no longer rely on couriers to deliver video or audio statements to regional media outlets. Now, it uses secure text messaging, which enables it to respond to the fast-moving news cycle, as its leaders prepare more detailed and comprehensive statements.” More here.

Ahead of Ghani’s visit to DC next week, no sign that Kabul has brought the Taliban to the negotiating table yet. The WSJ’s Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil: “…In February, Afghan government officials said they expected to meet representatives of the Taliban for an initial round of peace talks as early as the first week of March. Afghan and international officials described the launch of talks as a key deliverable ahead of Mr. Ghani’s scheduled visit to Washington next week.

A senior Afghan official: “We are hopeful that the peace talks will begin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the talks will be held tomorrow.” Read this story here.

A smaller U.S. footprint in Afghanistan is predictably leading to the rise of militia leaders as local strongmen across the country, NYTs Joseph Goldstein from Kabul: “In Ghazni Province, the drive to create anti-Taliban militias gained momentum after a series of anti-Taliban uprisings in 2012 emerged in areas once considered lost. Until they pulled out of Ghazni’s districts last year, American Special Operations units gave cash, ammunition and even armored vehicles to men who had little or no official connection to the Afghan government and were often former insurgents themselves.

“Since the Americans left, many of these militias have become more predatory, officials in Ghazni say, partly to feed themselves and partly because there is no one to stop them…” Read the rest, here.

Real talk: Jim Mattis talks about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. Watch this vid of what the retired Marine four-star has to say in The WSJ’s Uncommon Knowledge series, here.

And from AFP, a 21-year-old Afghan “Bruce Lee” dreams of Hollywood. That short video, here.

Shortimer: Prince Harry to “retire” from the U.K. military. NBC’s Today Show on the modern-day royal who went to war, here.

A Marine recruiter in Indiana is charged with rape and sexual battery, via Terminal Lance (@TLCplMax)… The local Fox affiliate reports on it, here.

Everybody likes a comeback story, but is P4’s own story just a little too amazing? That’s the question the NYT’s Eds are asking this morning with “General Petraeus’ Light Punishment”: Granted, Americans love a comeback story. But it is astonishing how quickly David Petraeus seems to have bounced back from the sordid aftermath of his extramarital affair, which cost him his job running the Central Intelligence Agency and added a rap sheet to the carefully managed legacy of the most famous American general of his generation.” More here.

An IG dogfight! Treasury’s Inspector General says VA’s Inspector General might have it wrong when it comes to fraudulent contracts. USA Today’s Donovan Slack: The Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general may have wrongly claimed in a report last year that one of the top procurement officials at the VA steered contracts worth millions of dollars to friends, according to the inspector general at the Treasury Department.

“Eric Thorson, the Treasury inspector general, also implied in a letter Thursday to Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, that the claims in the report issued by the office of acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin were influenced by a dispute between a VA employee and the procurement executive, who now works at Treasury.

“Thorson's move exposes an unusual intermural spat between inspectors general, the independent watchdogs at about 75 federal agencies who root out mismanagement and abuse in their agencies, not in their counterparts' offices.” More here.

To Ray Mabus, size matters. Read Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ op-ed in the WSJ this morning on the size of his fleet: “Size matters. It’s as true for America’s Navy as anywhere. It is the size of our fleet that uniquely enables the United States Navy and Marine Corps to maintain presence around the globe, around the clock. That presence has kept the peace and promoted prosperity via trade across open sea lanes for nearly seven decades.” The rest, here.

It’s so bromantic: The lack of women’s voices in national security. Most would agree that there’s a dearth of women’s voices in the national security community, despite the recognition that there’s no shortage of them. You see this on panel discussions, forum attendance lists and the like. So what’s up? Jill Russell (guest post) on Blogs of War:

“…I don’t doubt that there are men in military affairs who will never respect women’s capabilities. There is not much that can be done about that. But there are too many more who would proclaim their support for women’s equality if asked who yet still manage to continue creating around themselves socio-professional networks and opportunities that leave off women.

“I cannot speak for other fields, but in military affairs one cannot help but note that it must be second nature given the mono-sexual demographics of vast swathes of the experience and working environment. The absence of women in the quotidian professional context is normal for many. Whether in the armed forces or in many halls of academia and expertise, the presence of women is limited.

“But this is where it gets pernicious. Because this experience means it is easy to overlook women in the creation of overlapping webs of social and professional relationships, women become marginalized. Absence becomes the standard, the normal image.”

“…we have more than a critical mass of women’s expertise. And so now the men must do something. Until they start asking why it is they can end up in a professional group – panel or other initiative – that is all male it will not stop. It is time to have that conversation. Frankly.” Read this here.

None taken: No offense against our straight white male friends who have written or will write books – but is the world reading too much of you? Turns out there’s an online campaign to stop people from reading so many of books by such authors. According to one blogger: “most books were ‘skewed heavily toward privileged voices’ and some even made her ‘ragequit’ reading them. The Guardian’s Martin Daubney, here.

Dating and mating: Why women find war heroes so attractive – and why men don’t find brave women all that: Time’s Belinda Luscombe on some new study that we know will make some people want to ragequit this story, here.

Meantime, House Republicans are expected to boost war funding in the budget. The WSJ’s Kristina Peterson and Nick Timiraos, here.

Will BRAC not be back? The Pentagon always wants to shave what it believes is excess infrastructure – bases and other installations – and Congress, never thinking parochially, always resists. Of course it’s not always that simple. But the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Republican from Texas, suggested Monday that the 2016 defense budget won’t include a new round of BRAC – otherwise known as the Base Realignment And Closure process and said he’s “not sure we can afford another BRAC.”

The Hill’s Kristina Wong: “…The Pentagon has for years called for new base closures to save money by reducing what military officials say is unneeded infrastructure. Congress has rejected those proposals, out of concern that BRAC, which would target installations for closure, would affect facilities in their communities. GOP lawmakers have also questioned the projected savings from the process.

‘Remember, BRAC costs more in the early years than it saves,’ [Thornberry] said. ‘We have not yet broken even from the 2005 BRAC.’ Thornberry said closing down excess infrastructure often involves consolidating staff and resources at bases and even building new facilities. That would cost more than it saves in the short term and not address the defense budget squeeze.” Read more here.

Who’s up to what today? President Obama marks the day with a visit from Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny… the Joint Chief’s Vice Chairman Adm. Sandy Winnefeld is the featured speaker for today’s McAleese/Credit Suisse “FY2016 Defense Programs” conference at the Newseum at 9:50 a.m. … the House Armed Services Committee gets each service’s take on their FY16 budgets from Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. Ray Odierno; the Navy’s Ray Mabus and Adm. Jonathan Greenert; Marine Gen. Joe Dunford; and the Air Force’s Debbie James and Gen. Mark Welsh at 10 a.m. … the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee reviews the National Guard and Reserves’ budget with NG/Reserve leaders (full line-up here) also at 10 a.m. ... Sen. Marco Rubio’s Foreign Relations Committee talks Venezuela at 10 a.m., too… at 10:35 a.m., the Pentagon’s Frank Kendall follows Winnefeld talking about defense programs at the Newseum… and DOD Comptroller Mike McCord takes the podium at the Newseum at 12:15 p.m.

Why HRC’s email defense is “laughable” by someone whose opinion is informed: Dan Metcalfe used to run FOIA for the gov. A sample from Metcalfe’s piece in Politico mag’s piece: “…First, while it is accurate for Secretary Clinton to say that when she was in office there was not a flat, categorical prohibition on federal government officials ever using their personal e-mail accounts for the conduct of official business, that’s a far different thing than saying (as she apparently would like to) that a government official could use his or her personal e-mail account exclusively, for all official e-mail communications, as she actually did. In fact, the Federal Records Act dictates otherwise.” Read the rest here.