U.S. strategy in Iraq increasingly based on Tehran; Where are all the women at Aspen Security Forum; Eight Rs and three Ds want WH to do more on Ukraine; And a bit more.
Some experts will tell you that the only way Obama can stick with his strategy in Iraq is to “implicitly assume” that the Iranians will be doing all the heavy lifting there. Washington is waking up to a new narrative about the war in Iraq: Iran is playing an enormous role and, maybe, the U.S. will need to be good with it.
Says Vali Nasr, the former Obama adviser, to the NYT’s Helene Cooper this morning: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too — the U.S. strategy in Iraq has been successful so far largely because of Iran.”
Cooper: “At a time when President Obama is under political pressure from congressional Republicans over negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, a startling paradox has emerged: Mr. Obama is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian fighters as he tries to contain the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria without committing American ground troops.
“In the four days since Iranian troops joined 30,000 Iraqi forces to try to wrest Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit back from Islamic State control, American officials have said the United States is not coordinating with Iran, one of its fiercest global foes, in the fight against a common enemy. That may be technically true. But American war planners have been closely monitoring Iran’s parallel war against the Islamic State… through a range of channels, including conversations on radio frequencies that each side knows the other is monitoring.” More here.
Remember what Dempsey said just this week on Iran’s role at the SASC hearing: “It's worth reminding ourselves, Iran and its proxies have been inside of Iraq since 2004. This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things. Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism, as the secretary said… If they perform in a credible way, rid the city of Tikrit, turn it back over to its inhabitants, then it will, in the main, have been a positive thing in terms of the counter ISIL campaign.”
Dempsey added: “And by the way, we are watching.”
Of course, there’s worry that this really will drive serious sectarianism. The WaPo’s editors, this morning, saying the U.S. is “naïve”: “…By allowing Iran to take the military lead in Tikrit and other parts of Iraq, the United States might speed the destruction of the Islamic State. But the administration is also risking the undoing of all the work that has been done since last summer to prevent Iraq from fragmenting along sectarian lines — and it is allowing Iran to take another step toward replacing the terrorist regime with its own malevolent hegemony.” More here.
And from the battlefield, Iran’s influence is clearly seen – and felt. The NYT’s Anne Barnard from near Tikrit: “…More openly than ever before, Iran’s powerful influence in Iraq has been on display as the counteroffensive against Islamic State militants around Tikrit has unfolded in recent days. At every point, the Iranian-backed militias have taken the lead in the fight against the Islamic State here. Senior Iranian leaders have been openly helping direct the battle, and American officials say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forces are taking part.” More here.
Read “Iran versus ISIS” – a four-part study – on the Iran Primer – “the world’s most comprehensive website on Iran” hosted by U.S. Institute of Peace – here.
Welcome to Friday and the crisp-but-beautiful winter wonderland edition of The D Brief, where our vintage planes never crash. This is Defense One's first-read national security newsletter, and if you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or send us a holler at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
D.C.’s weather forecast by the WaPo’s Capital Weather Gang – it’ll be cold and reasonably dry and then like mid-40s tomorrow – but watch out for refreezing. More here.
How to survive in freezing temperatures, with guidance from U.S. and Canadian soldiers diving into an icy lake in Latvia. That 30-second clip via NATO’s Facebook page, here.
Eight Republicans and three top Democrats in the House urged the president to expedite the transfer of weapons systems to Ukraine. Defense One politics editor Molly O’Toole on the request in writing on Wednesday: “We urge you to lead Europe in challenging this assault on international order, lest our foreign policy be held hostage by the lowest common denominator of European consensus. In the face of Russian aggression, the lack of clarity on our overall strategy thus far has done little to reassure our friends and allies in the region who, understandably, feel vulnerable. This needs to change,” wrote Republicans John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, Kay Granger, Hal Rogers, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Mac Thornberry, Ed Royce, and David Nunes. On the Democratic side: Eliot Engel, Adam Schiff and Adam Smith. Read O’Toole’s report in full, here.
Current FBI whistleblower protections serve more as a trap than a shield against retaliation, and that needs to change, writes Mike German of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, in Defense One: “The GAO looked at more than five dozen FBI whistleblower claims, and found only three that resulted in some form of corrective action. It took the Justice Department eight to 10 years to investigate and adjudicate these three cases. If you can imagine the financial and emotional costs of litigating a claim against your own employer for 10 years, you might understand why 42 percent of FBI employees questioned in a 2009 survey said they did not report all of the misconduct they saw on the job and 18 percent said they never reported any wrongdoing they witnessed…” Read the rest here.
Did you miss last week’s first annual Future of War talks from the folks at New America brought to you in part by Defense One? Catch every discussion—with featured guests including Army Chief Gen. Ray Odierno, DARPA’s Dr. Arati Prabhakar and Sen. John McCain—as well as Defense One’s own Kevin Baron and Lubold, available via video right here.
ISIS supporters are using at least 46K Twitter accounts to spread their message, according to a collaborative study from the Brookings Institution and Google Ideas. NYTs Rick Gladstone and Vindu Goel: “After refining and filtering for deceptive practices, including the use of bots… the authors came up with 46,000 to 70,000 accounts… While these accounts have an average of about 1,000 followers each, considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user, many followers are also account holders, which creates a kind of echo chamber in the messaging. [J. M. Berger, lead author of the study] said that effect was likely to increase after Twitter suspended so many accounts.” More here.
Meantime, when it comes to profiling ISIS recruits from the West, there’s no smoking gun. The WSJ’s Nicole Hong: “Federal authorities investigating suspected Islamic State supporters in all 50 states have found no clear pattern to the type of American inspired to try to join the militant group, complicating efforts to thwart terror recruiting.
“Some common threads exist, such as the fact that would-be recruits are often in their teens or early 20s and use social media to express support for Islamic State… But overall, the group is broad, covering people who were raised Muslim and those who converted, married and single people, male and female, rich and poor, U.S.-born citizens and recent immigrants. An estimated 180 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to the civil war in Syria, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said this week. Not all of those, however, are believed to have joined extremist groups.” More here.
Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock wants the FBI to brief her about the 17-year-old arrested a week ago in Woodbridge for allegedly helping a man travel to Syria to fight with ISIS. WaPo’s Matt Zapotosky, here.
After insurgents initially blamed the U.S., it turns out the Syrian army in fact killed Nusra Front commander Abu Humam al-Shami yesterday in a run of "concentrated airstrikes" in the western Idlib province. Reuters, here.
Get eyes on the assault of Tikrit, thanks to these photos gathered by WaPo’s Dan Lamothe at his Checkpoint blog, here.
Libya’s government said it will halt air strikes on militants’ positions in the name of peace talks in Morocco. Al-Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra from Rabat, here.
Clapper’s new report finds Gitmo detainees returning to the fight. The Hill’s Kristina Wong: “A new report predicts a number of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba prison will return to terrorism if they are transferred. The report could hurt President Obama's hopes of closing Guantanamo by the end of his presidency, which would fulfill a campaign pledge.
“The report said transfer to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment by insurgent and terrorist organizations "pose particular problems." More here.
The updated DNI report on recidivism, released this week, here.
When it comes to conferences and panel events in the national security community, gender diversity is always a bit of a problem. Sometimes amazingly, women appear nowhere on the dais. Some folks fear that this summer’s Aspen Security Forum in Aspen in July won’t have enough women represented – again. Just Security’s Megan Graham, John Reed and Sarah Knuckey write about the “Women We Want to See At This Year’s Aspen Security Forum,” here.
Last year, 20 women were listed for the speaker’s list for the 2014 Aspen Security Forum – out of 167 speakers.
Here is last year’s list, here.
Here is this year’s list – a work in progress, but still… here.
Just Security’s suggestions for women include: Anne Marie Slaughter, Michelle Howard, Debbie James, Rachel Kleinfeld, Tammy Duckworth, Jill Abramson and Kara Swisher and a bunch more.
Just Security’s editor’s note: “This isn’t the first time we’ve had to point out a shortage of women on the rosters of important security related discussions.” Read their piece on another conference last year, here.
Five things the Pentagon purchased in February, including MQ-9s, Lakotas from Airbus and Hellfires for Australia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, via Rich Smith at DailyFinance.com, here.
An Iranian operation freed a diplomat in Yemen. The BBC, here.
Shiite-based Houthis seized a national dialogue HQ. Reuters: “Yemen's dominant Shi'ite Muslim Houthi militia seized the offices of a political conciliation body late on Wednesday, hours after the president refused U.N.-brokered talks with their powerful movement unless they withdrew from Sanaa.” More here.
There’s worry about the prison system in Yemen – and what it may breed. A team from the U.S. Institute of Peace led by Fiona Mangan visited 37 detention facilities across the country to, we’re told, “assess organizational function, infrastructure, prisoner well-being, and security.” Their new report, released this week, covers “the need for more training, the potential for radicalization once in the system, and the need for simple reforms that could positively impact law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts in Libya.”
The intro to USIP’s report by Mangan and Erica Gaston: “Since the 2011 Arab Spring crisis, Yemen has faced ongoing serious security sector challenges. Part of this reform effort is the country’s prison system, which this report—drawing on visits to thirty-seven facilities in six governorates—documents from a systems perspective. This report provides a more in-depth assessment of detention facilities and their role within larger rule of law challenges. Opportunities for prison reform are emerging, many well within reach.” Read the report here.
South Korea is scrambling to figure out why U.S. ambassador Mark Lippert was knifed – and what exactly are the links to the North. Reuters this morning: “South Korean police said on Friday they are investigating possible links between a knife attack on the U.S. ambassador to Seoul and the assailant’s multiple visits to North Korea, as they also sought to charge him with attempted murder.” More here.
Raising eyebrows: There’s a demand for more information from the panel that did that big review of military compensation and retirement. Military Times’ Patty Kime and Andrew Tilghman: “…In the Defense Department's response to recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, the military services are likely to ask for more information about the panel's detailed proposals on retirement, health care and quality-of-life programs.
“Most Defense Department officials have had no access to the data that the commission's recommendations are based on, and that lack of background information makes it difficult for the services to provide a firm response to the proposal, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran said Wednesday.
Moran: “[The commission] claims they've done all the analysis but we have not been able to see what's inside that analysis, so I'm anxious to see it . … We are interested in looking at how the commission came to the conclusion that [its proposed retirement recommendations] would be a better option.” More here.
Is an Air Force security test painting civil libertarians as predators? Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol: “An Air Force test question about constitutional rights has led to accusations that the service is not only confused about religious freedom protections, but also believes civil libertarians are predators... When Air Force Times forwarded [one upset] captain's email and screenshots of the test to the Air Force on Thursday, service spokeswoman Rose Richeson said the Air Force was working to fix the issue.” More here.
Flight 370: A rogue pilot is the likeliest explanation for the missing Malaysian jet, folks have concluded. Read that in the NYT here.
Just 40 miles south of Kabul, the Afghan police have their work cut out for them trying to keep the country from sliding back into anarchy, as NYTs Azam Ahmed reports after a week with the ANP in this #LongRead: “This is no longer an American war, regardless of how many United States Special Operations forces continue to sweep the mountains for insurgents or how many American warplanes fire missiles into remote desert camps. That war, by most accounts, has been lost… For the central government in Kabul, the real fight is to persuade the population, not to kill insurgents. And the police, local and national, are the only ones who can win it.” More here.
Will the Long Range Strike bomber upend the combat jet industry? Forbes’ Clay Dillow, here.