A coalition builds for Yemen; Ukraine gets new Humvees, again; Austin talks about the Tikrit deal; Plenzler has left the building; And a bit more.

Nigeria’s army claims to have taken control of the northeastern town of Gwoza, believed to be the location of Boko Haram’s headquarters. BBC this hour, here.

The coalition against the Houthis in Yemen builds. The WaPo’s Ali al-Mujahed and Hugh Naylor: “Saudi Arabia pressed its bombardment of neighboring Yemen on Friday, striking near the presidential compound in the rebel-controlled capital at dawn as well as at military installations, residents reported. Egyptian warships were also steaming toward the Yemeni coast as part of an Arab-led offensive against Shiite rebels seeking to take over Yemen in what has become a showdown between the major powers in the Middle East.” More here.

And Egypt is strongly considering getting in. The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick: “Egypt said Thursday that it was prepared to send troops into Yemen as part of a Saudi-led campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi movement, signaling the possibility of a protracted ground war on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula… President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt said in a statement that the country’s navy and air force would join the campaign. The Egyptian Army, the largest in the Arab world, was ready to send ground troops ‘if necessary,’ Mr. Sisi said.” More here.

Behind the music: The U.S. is not contributing troops, but it is throwing the Saudis intel in a big way. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung on Page One about with a little back-story about what the Saudis knew and how they thought about the ops they began a couple days ago and how they may force the Houthis to the negotiating table: “Saudi Arabia told the Obama administration and Persian Gulf allies early this week that it was preparing a military operation in neighboring Yemen, and relied heavily on U.S. surveillance ­images and targeting information to carry it out, according to senior American and Persian Gulf officials.

“Despite days of planning for possible airstrikes, officials said, the Saudis withheld a final decision until it became clear late Wednesday that Houthi rebels were poised to take over Aden, the country’s main southern port.” Read the rest here.

Is al-Qaida benefiting from the chaos in Yemen? Probably. Read the WSJ’s Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari, here. 

And meantime on Iraq’s Tikrit operation, Gen. Lloyd Austin said that a deal was made in which the only way the U.S. would support Iraqi forces in Tikrit against ISIS is if Shiite militias backed by Iran pulled out first. ABC’s Luis Martinez and Alexander Mallin: “The U.S. agreement to conduct airstrikes to support the Iraqi offensive to retake Tikrit was contingent on Iranian-backed militias pulling out of the operation, the commander of U.S. Central Command said Thursday. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, [Austin] said the Shia militias, led by Iranian Quds Commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani, had left the area around Tikrit before U.S. forces provided air support in the mostly-stalled offensive against Islamic State forces holding the city.” More here.

Shiite militias gripe that they’ve been sidelined in Tikrit. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum, Raja Abdulrahim and Matt Bradley, here.

Meantime, Assad says he’d like to talk. AP just this morning: “Syrian President Bashar Assad says he would be "open" to a dialogue with the United States, but that it must be ‘based on mutual respect.’ Assad made the remarks in an interview with Charlie Rose for CBS News' 60 Minutes. A short excerpt of the interview was posted online late Thursday. In the clip, Assad says that in principle ‘every dialogue is a positive thing, and we are going to be open to any dialogue with anyone, including the United States.’ He says there is no direct communication so far with Washington.”

Noting: Assad’s remarks will be dismissed by some immediately, but note that most also agree that the Syrian conflict will likely end through some form of reconciliation, and Secretary of State John Kerry said just earlier this month that the U.S. would eventually have to talk with the Assad regime to broker an end to the war.

An Illinois E-4 Army National Guardsman and his cousin were captured Wednesday night trying to plan an attack on a military base in Illinois they estimated would have killed at least 120 people. WaPo’s Adam Goldman, here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, Defense One's first-read national security newsletter by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.

Noting: Lubold will be off for a bit, leaving The D Brief next week in the most capable hands of one Marcus Weisgerber and one 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.

If you want to view The D Brief in your browser, you can do that, here.

This is just cool: DARPA is making underwater robots that can sleep for years and other robots that can fix satellites in space. And that’s just a few of the gadgets our tech editor Patrick Tucker explains from the agency’s newly released report on “Breakthrough Technologies for National Security.” More here.

Breaking: An investigation into the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 has revealed that the co-pilot believed to have deliberately crashed the plane hid an illness (he had a history with depression) from his employer. NYT’s Dan Bilefsky and Nicola Clark, here.

There are certainly precedents for mental illness and pilots and this disturbing outcome. NYT’s Erica Goode, here.

Built to last? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Washington this week was by all accounts successful and signaled a new dawn in the U.S.-Afghan relationship. But can it be sustained? Defense One's Gayle Lemmon writes this morning: “…It was all part of a smoothly choreographed visit designed to provide a decidedly stark contrast to the administration of President Hamid Karzai, in which fractured relations and constant bilateral tensions had become the old normal. This is a new day and a new chapter in Afghan history, the visit made clear at every stop. For all the diplomatic, military and civil society leaders who believed in Afghanistan throughout the past decade, it was vindication that their hope was neither fruitless nor entirely in vain.”

“…So at the end of the week, while the symbolism ruled this visit, the substance did indeed sit just behind it. And so did the reality that try as some might want to turn a new page and truly end America’s longest war, on-the-ground realities are conspiring to intervene and stop that from happening. Americans will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 at their current levels. And 2016 remains some time away.” More here.

Ghani is the partner the U.S. needs to get the job done, argues Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking in a blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations, here.

Prosecuting Bergdahl could be the worst thing for the Army. The NYT editors argue this morning that a trial would raise public questions about why someone like Bowe Bergdahl was recruited in the first place. While it would be easy to prosecute him for slipping off the base, they wrote this morning, “they would have a tougher time explaining why it’s worthwhile to prosecute a soldier the Army recruited despite significant concerns about his psychological state and who endured years of torture and privation during his captivity. As a general matter, the American military has good reason to punish service members who desert. However, it should exercise discretion in extraordinary cases. Sergeant Bergdahl’s is certainly one.” More here.

 Also in The Times: an explainer on the rare and peculiar charge of “misbehavior before the enemy,” by Richard Oppel and Helene Cooper, here.

Bergdahl’s defense is going to be: he was gonna come back, according to Bloomberg View columnist Josh Rogin this morning. More here.

Exclusive video of Bergdahl before he walked off the base, from The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, here.

The U.S. delivered another batch of Humvees to the Ukrainians Thursday. The Pentagon announced earlier this week that it had delivered 10 Humvees as part of the package of non-lethal assistance it is delivering to Ukraine, with a vid of President Poroshenko, in fatigues, proudly driving one of the vehicles off an American C-5 cargo jet. Another set of the trucks arrived in Kiev yesterday, we’re told, with another set of unarmored Humvees to follow. All of this is to “enhance the mobility of Ukraine’s armed forces” to help strengthen the Ukrainian mil’s defense and internal security operations against Russian aggression. The vid of Poroshenko driving the Humvee earlier this week, here. 

The Pentagon has already provided the Ukrainians with body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, de-mining equipment, portable explosive ordnance disposal robots, patrol boats, counter-mortar radars and more.

How do you solve a problem like Ukraine? In The Guardian, here.

“Locking in” the rebalance to Asia is still possible, and it can still be done cheaply, Shawn Brimley and Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security for Defense One: “It is possible to make good progress in the rebalance to Asia in the final years of the Obama administration.  Here are five areas to focus on: (1) Move the U.S. Navy toward a high-low mix…(2) Move from forward deployments to forward stationing… (3) Build counter-A2/AD capacity with allies and partners…” Read the rest, here.

The intelligence community all too often launches grand new programs without giving the full consideration to whether they’ll really work—take, for example, the cyber security bill the House and Senate Intelligence Committee just passed last week, Mike German of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program argues in Defense One. German sat down with Clark Kent Ervin, the Department of Homeland Security’s first inspector general, and Babak Pasdar, network security expert and CEO of Bat Blue Networks. More here.

Meantime, a constructive role for Congress on Iran? For the Center for American Progress, Ken Sofer: “…On such a critically important national security issue, the president must lead. Congress should also continue to play a role, but it must be a constructive one.” More here.

America’s crisis response preparations for Africa and across the Middle East will be curbed if Congress allows budget caps to continue. James Sanborn for Marine Corps Times, here.

With a Page Oner today about the reburial of King Richard III in Leicester, England, the NYT’s John Burns ends his distinguished run. The editors, in a little epilogue on his career that ran in today’s paper about the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter who spent 39 of his 40 years at The Times in various bureaus overseas and was Baghdad bureau chief during the early years of the war in Iraq: “His portrait of a cellist playing on Sarajevo’s main pedestrian concourse while artillery shells exploded nearby is considered a classic of modern journalism.” More here.

FLOTUS Michelle Obama capped an event yesterday to celebrate the nearly 200 companies participating in the "100,000 Jobs Mission" to hire that many veterans and their spouses by 2020. Since starting in 2011 with almost a dozen companies, now more than 190 have hired some 217,000 veterans and their spouses. Read more about the 100,000 Jobs Mission, here. Read Michelle Obama's remarks, here.

After more than a decade U.S. troops at war, “It is our children who may truly reap the consequences,” former Air Force officer Michelle Villarreal Zook writes in Task and Purpose: “The research regarding post-9/11 military children covers a broad spectrum; it seems to either argue that military children are happily resilient to claiming military children have higher rates of suicide attempts, lower academic rankings, and more behavioral issues. As a researcher, I can accept that both ends of the spectrum are possibly true, simply based on subgroups and sample sizes and factors not considered. As a parent, I only hope we can somehow overcome the influence on our family of repeated deployments that seem to have a larger impact on children under the age of five…” Read the rest, here.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed what everyone suspected already about the administration’s response to Republican budget plans skirting sequestration. The Hill’s Kristina Wong: “‘Current proposals to shoehorn [the Pentagon's] base budget funds into our contingency accounts would fail to solve the problem, while also undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning,’ Carter said Thursday.

“The plan, which the House approved on Wednesday and is expected to pass the Senate early Friday, would keep the defense budget at $523 billion but raise wartime spending levels to more than $90 billion…” Read the rest, here.

A new report "lays out a cultural collision between [billionaire Elon] Musk’s entrepreneurial impatience and the Air Force’s methodical bureaucracy," Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports, here.

A catapult system by General Dynamics won’t work on jets carrying extra fuel on a new class of aircraft carriers like the USS Gerald R. Ford. Bloomberg’s Capaccio once more, here.

The F-16s tasked with protecting the homeland are getting upgraded radar arrays, and the first in line will be the Air National Guard pilots keeping watch over the National Capital Region. Brian Everstine for Air Force Times, here.

Your Friday #LongRead: Military Times published the fourth installment in their five-part series on the Marines’ MARSOC command—this one focusing on the stateside travails of the Marines charged with murdering innocent Afghans, and the flawed investigation that ultimately led to the collapse of the government’s case against them. Check out the entire “Task Force Violent: The Unforgiven” series from Andy deGrandpre, here.

Today is Joe Plenzler’s last day at the Pentagon. Marine Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler, whom we first met during those early, heady days of the Iraq invasion, is transitioning out of the Corps. The public affairs officer for a number of Marine commandants has landed a job as vice-president of marketing for a not-for-profit in the D.C. area. From Joe: “I am deeply indebted to the members of the Pentagon Press Corps for their friendship and for the advice they gave me over the past five years working for Generals Conway, Amos and Dunford.   This has been a very special time of my life and a rare opportunity to work with so many top-quality professionals...lots of laughs on the road with CMC.”

His retirement ceremony will be in the Pentagon courtyard at 10am on April 24 – “all our invited,” he tells us.