What Iran deadline?; Tikrit to be cleared ‘within hours’; White House reversal on Egypt; Carter on Biden; And a bit more.

Rumsfeld wants back in! Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he would accept the top job at the Pentagon for the third time should Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, be elected to the White House in 2016. The 82-year-old tweeted a snowflake late Tuesday that he misses public service and would be open to holding a cabinet position he held under Presidents George W. Bush and Gerald Ford in a Cruz administration. More here.

And this: Yet another look into the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden and how documents recovered in the Al Qaeda leader’s Abbottabad compound predicted the rise of ISIS. “[F]or the first time, I can now confirm a hidden truth about the death of Bin Laden that ties directly to the stunning rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,”  William McCants writes in War on the Rocks. More here.

Pentagon invites Chinese generals to visit Area 51. In what senior Pentagon officials are calling the ultimate sign of openness and transparency, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will host his counterpart Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the PLA General Staff, at the top-secret U.S. Air Force base in the Nevada desert. A source with knowledge of the meeting said the leaders will look for ways to collaborate on the Air Force’s new long-range bomber and stealthy drone projects. More here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s April Fools’ edition of The D Brief, by Marcus Weisgerber with Ben Watson. Gordon Lubold is off this week, and probably regretting it right about now, but Weisgerber and Watson have you covered through Friday. No more jokes from here on down. Promise.

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As airstrikes in Yemen continue—more from there below—the Obama administration Tuesday lifted a hold on a U.S. arms shipment to Egypt. The release comes as Egypt contributes air and naval forces to the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen.

A dozen F-16s and more than 120 Abrams tanks are Cairo-bound as democratic reforms take a temporary backseat to President Obama’s need for an ally in Egypt. Defense One’s Brad Peniston: “In a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President Barack Obama said he would release 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and up to 125 M1A1 tanks for export to Egypt, lifting the hold that has been in place in 2013. The U.S. also will begin in fiscal 2018 to funnel U.S. security assistance to Egypt in four categories: counterterrorism, border security, Sinai security and maritime security…

The administration enacted the arms freeze in October 2013, four long months after the Egyptian military deposed the country’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi. The move was a belated attempt to send a message: there is a price to be paid for a military coup (though the White House was careful not to use the term).” More here.

While Saudi Arabia is flexing its military muscles in Yemen, it’s also conducting a glitzy messaging campaign at daily press briefings on the operations. WaPo’s Brian Murphy: “[T]he Saudis have added their own sense of purpose and pride. The event has become something of a possible dress rehearsal for a country that could be quickly moving out of the background of American-directed security agreements and taking regional matters into its own hands.” More here.

Saudi-led airstrikes could turn Yemen’s civil war between competing branches of Islam into a wider regional struggle involving Iran, the Times’ editorial board warns: “Rather than bombing, Saudi Arabia should be using its power and influence to begin diplomatic negotiations, which offer the best hope of a durable solution.” That, here.

Meantime in D.C., Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is back in town after a two-day trip that focused largely on the enlisted military. On that trip, he sat down with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie for his first one-on-one interview since becoming defense secretary. Here are some highlights:

On nuclear negotiations with IranGuthrie: What do you do if you don’t get a deal? Is it back to the drawling board in terms of the military options?

Carter: The military options certainly will remain on the table. If there is a good agreement to have, obviously it’s worth waiting for and completing the negotiations.

On ISIS—Carter: I think it’s too early to say that we’re winning, but I think we have certainly inflicted a lot of damage. But it will take some time to inflict defeat upon ISIL. We’re still building the coalition and we’re still building the forces and that’s why I’m hesitant to say we’re winning. I’m confident we will win.

On Yemen—Carter: We are going to continue to prosecute our counterterrorism operations against AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], whatever happens on the ground there… We have to do it in a different way. Because remember AQAP, that particular branch that’s in Yemen, is the one that is very, very much focused on attacking us and particularly our air travel.

And on Joe Biden rubbing Stephanie Carter’s shoulders during his swearing in ceremony at the White House—Guthrie: Did you laugh or cringe when you saw the video of Vice President Biden?

Carter: I laughed. They know each other extremely well and we’re great friends of the Bidens.

More from the interview here.

Carter met with students at Syracuse University on Tuesday where he fielded questions about drones, the Pentagon’s technological superiority, Ukraine and Iran negotiations. Syracuse U. has some of the Q&A transcript here.

What Tuesday deadline? Chinese, French and Russian foreign ministers ditched the Iran talks last night while State Secretary John Kerry along with his German and British counterparts continued negotiating well past the 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday deadline. AP’s Matt Lee and George Jahn from Switzerland: “After the talks last broke in the early hours of Wednesday, Zarif said solutions to many of the problems had been found and that documents attesting to that would soon be drafted. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said before leaving that the negotiators had reached agreement in principle on all key issues, and in the coming hours it will be put on paper.

“Although the Chinese, French and Russian ministers left their deputies in charge, Kerry postponed his planned Tuesday departure to stay in Lausanne, and an Iranian negotiator said his team would stay ‘as long as necessary’ to clear the remaining hurdles.

“Officials say their intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and their intention to begin a new phase of negotiations to get to that point. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.” Read the rest, here.

Senior U.S. official to the NYT's David Sanger: “‘We are all about quantifiables: how many centrifuges can spin, how much plutonium can come out of the Arak reactor, how much uranium you can have on hand...They are all about symbolism, about avoiding the optics of backing down’ …even if it means engaging in expensive, inefficient nuclear enrichment activity that makes little economic or strategic sense.” That, here.

Iraq’s interior minister says Tikrit will be recaptured “within hours.” AP on location: “‘There are only a few pockets of resistance left and we will announce the good news within the coming hours that these pockets of resistance are eliminated," he told reporters at the front-lines in the city. He said the government will help displaced residents return and that a civil defense unit will be combing the city for roadside bombs and car bombs.

“‘After clearing the area from roadside bombs and car bombs, we will reopen police stations to restore normalcy in the city, and we will form committees to supervise the return of people displaced from their homes,’ al-Ghabban said.” More here.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi delivered a triumphant speech yesterday celebrating Baghdad’s gains in Tikrit. NPR’s Alice Fordham with more, here.

Iraq’s Tikrit offensive represents the biggest setback for ISIS yet, WSJ’s Matt Bradley and Julian Barnes report: “The offensive to reclaim Tikrit—the second-largest Iraqi city under Islamic State control—had been seen as a test of preparedness for the Iraqi army and its allies for a planned offensive on Mosul, the largest under the militant’s control, later this year.

“In the end, U.S. officials said that Iranian-backed militias didn’t play a role in Tuesday’s assault, with only about 200 Shiite volunteers in the 4,000-man force that swept into the city. All of those Shiite volunteers, said the U.S. defense official, were under the command of the Iraqi security forces. Iranian-backed Shiite militias disagreed…” Read the rest, here.

Families of three U.S. troops who were taken prisoner and then killed in one of the Iraq war’s boldest attacks eight years ago are suing Iran. AP’s Richard Lardner: “Filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington…[t]he lawsuit said Iran directed the assault on the provincial headquarters in Karbala as retaliation for the arrest of Iranian agents operating in Iraq by U.S. forces.

“Gunmen posed as a U.S. security team to get past the headquarters checkpoint manned by Iraqi police. They traveled in black SUVs, had American-style weapons, wore U.S. military combat fatigues and spoke English… The families of the soldiers are seeking about $200 million in damages.” Read the rest, here.

A former dictator returns to power in Nigeria. NYT’s Adam Nossiter: “[A]s detractors insist and many supporters acknowledge, the former general, Muhammadu Buhari, had a long way to go to prove that he had left the military barracks behind... Yet, for many voters, it was precisely the ramrod-straight former officer’s tough history that was one of his biggest electoral draws in a country swamped by the twin scourges of Islamist insurgency and corruption.” More here.

In case you were wondering: Just 100 U.S. troops remain in Liberia for the Pentagon’s Ebola mission, Military Times’ Oriana Pawlyk reports, here.

This time next week, a new offensive by pro-Russian rebels is expected to kick off in eastern Ukraine, former NATO commander and retired Gen. Wesley Clark says. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker: “After Easter Sunday, pro-Moscow forces could begin a spring offensive lasting until V-E Day, or May 9... “Why are they reporting that? Because they feel that Putin’s forces require a certain reorganization period. That period began in mid-February with the ending of the Debaltseve campaign, in eastern Ukraine. It normally takes at least a couple of months, maybe longer” for pro-Russian forces to regroup after major campaigns, Clark said Monday at the Atlantic Council.

“Clark dismissed predictions that further fighting would be limited to port city of Mariupol, calling Mariupol, “the cork in the bottle,” and adding that Putin’s ultimate goal probably lies beyond even the Ukrainian provinces, or oblasts, of Donestsk and Luhansk.” Read the rest, here.

More Russian soldiers are reportedly giving up the pretense Moscow isn’t fighting in Ukraine, says Vice News’ Alec Luhn, here.

Afghanistan intelligence officials captured a senior Taliban commander of what was once referred to as the “Kabul Attack Network,” Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio reports: “The National Directorate of Security...captured Hamidullah, who is also known as Zabit Hamid, during a clash in the 5th police district in Kabul. The Kabul Attack Network has been linked to a host of suicide and other attacks in and around the capital over the past five years. Most recently, the network was involved in the Feb 25 attack that targeted a convoy transporting NATO’s top diplomat to Afghanistan.” More here.

Violence in northern Helmand is escalating, WSJ’s Margherita Stancati reports from Lashkar Gah: “Since the latest government offensive began in February, Emergency’s hospital in Lashkar Gah has been overwhelmed with patients, fighters and civilians. It admitted more than 460 people in February and March, roughly 30% more than the same period last year... The heavy fighting in and around Sangin, as well as several deadly blasts in Lashkar Gah, largely explain the spike in casualties. As U.S.-led troops gradually retreated from the front line, Afghan soldiers and policemen are preparing for a difficult spring.” More here.

The Pentagon kept tabs on just a third of its reconstruction budget in Afghanistan, Matthew Gault reports for War Is Boring: “That’s $45 billion dollars the military can’t track and the reason is … ridiculous. According to SIGAR, the Pentagon didn’t check a box on an electronic form when it filed the information in government databases.” More here.

The Air Force is working with a number of emergent technologies—femtosecond lasers, Mach 8 capability, e.g.—that highlight the need to stay ahead of the competition while lawmakers look to cut the Pentagon’s budget, the Air Force’s Vice Chief Gen. Larry Spencer writes in Defense One: “This means that the ability now exists to calculate and measure things quicker and more precisely than ever before... In an era of declining defense budgets and increasingly smaller military forces, it is essential that the United States maintain technological superiority if we are to remain guardians of global security – in essence, we must wisely invent the future.” More here.

Things got downright nasty at a South Carolina Air Force recruiting battalion, AFTimes’ Stephen Losey reported yesterday: “A commander-directed investigation, dated April 16, 2014, substantiated allegations of a hostile work environment at the 337th Recruiting Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. According to the report, investigators substantiated allegations that now-retired Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Adamczyk, who was the squadron's production superintendent, "created a hostile work environment…

“Recruiters who displeased him often heard Adamczyk threaten, ‘I'll choke you out,’ the report said. One recruiter said Adamczyk ‘constantly’ used the term ‘throat punch’ when describing what he would do to flight chiefs, according to the report. That airman also said Adamczyk told senior noncommissioned officers he would ‘knock the s--t out of them,’ the report said.

“When reached by phone March 24, Kimball said of the report, ‘It was a load of crap. It wasn't handled the right way.’ He then declined to discuss the report further.” More here.

Montana’s former Navy SEAL Team 6 commander, Rep. Ryan Zinke, is not on board with SecDef Carter’s messaging this week that the Pentagon may relax its standards for future recruits. The Hill’s Martin Matishak, here.

Veterans’ groups like the American Legion and AMVETS are suing the VA over the department’s addition of an “intent to file” form for benefit claims. Military Times’ Leo Shane, here.

A District Court judge yesterday ruled the so-called “Panetta Review” on torture practices essentially FOIA-proof. The Hill’s Julian Hattem with more, here. Or read the ruling for yourself, here.