Yemen airstrikes halted?; Taliban fighting season begins Friday; Iraq ISIS-Sunni rift; And a bit more.

Coalition aircraft bombed rebel positions in the Yemeni industrial town of Taiz, where Houthis seized a military brigade early Wednesday, AFP and Reuters report this morning.

Riyadh yesterday announced an end to its month-long bombing runs over Yemen, backing down from its previous hardline that the Saudi-led coalition would keep up the campaign until Houthi rebels relinquished all seized territory. The Saudi defense ministry said the air war had achieved its objectives and Riyadh was at last ready to pursue a political solution to the crisis—even while it vowed to continue attacking Houthi supply lines in their northern stronghold of Sa’dah. More on Yemen below.

Friday is the start of the Taliban’s 2015 fighting season, the group announced this morning in an email to the media. Their name for the bloody campaign: “Azm,” which means resolution or perseverance in Dari and Arabic—a possible parallel to NATO’s “Resolute Support” mission. More here from AP’s Lynne O’Donnell in Kabul.

This morning: Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh joins Defense One’s global business reporter Marcus Weisgerber for an intimate interview in the first installment of Defense One Live’s new “Leadership Briefing” series. Opening remarks are slated for 8:30 a.m. EDT. We’ll be live-tweeting the event @DefenseOne. And if you weren’t able to register for this one, we hope you’ll join us for the next installment in the series. Watch this space for more.

From Defense One

The Marines could be on the verge of the next big thing in battlefield autonomy. They just paired up a ground robot with a six-rotor aerial drone, and Patrick Tucker lays out its implications for future warfare.

After Brennan’s CIA reorganization -- and 10 years after reorganizing the U.S. intelligence infrastructure -- there are still several ways the transformation needs to continue apace to meet today’s threats, former intelligence officials David Shedd and Matthew Ferraro write.

Vladimir Putin’s marathon call-in sessions are one of numerous examples of how the Russian president has “weaponized” state media. Jill Dougherty, former Moscow bureau chief for CNN and currently with the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, lays out the rest.

The risks Putin takes reveal him to be less a pragmatic kleptocrat than a determined crusader for Russian “sovereignty,” writes New York University’s Clinical Professor of Global Affairs, Dr. Mark Galeotti.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s reticence appears to be roadblocking post-Snowden NSA reforms in the USA Freedom Act. National Journal’s Dustin Volz has more.

Defense contractors say the acquisition reform bill from House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry further complicates an already complicated process, reports Government Executive’s Charlie Clark.

At the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor, two specially-designed, shape-shifting robots tried to assess the damage this month, and what they discovered could pose a real challenge to future robotics in disaster relief, Quartz’s Adam Pasick reports.  


Welcome to Wednesday's edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. If you'd like to subscribe, click here or drop us a line at the-d-brief@defenseone.com.If you want to view The D Brief in your browser, you can do that, here.


Let the budget dance begin. The House Armed Services subcommittees kick off the markup for the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, today. Background briefings get under way at 10 a.m. and run through the mid-afternoon. Livestreams for the afternoon markups from the Readiness and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittees can be found here.
House lawmakers will announce their support for the 20-year, all-or-nothing military retirement model, along with a new investment plan similar to a 401k, according to Military Times’ Leo Shane. The plan incorporates many of the recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, though it leaves out changes to the commissary system and Tricare. More here.
Hush, hush—there could be a pay raise in the works. Shane also teases HASC’s quiet backing of a 2.3% pay raise for service members—the result of a law tying military raises to private sector wage increases. But the proposal is hardly a done deal.
What’s in store for SOCOM? Last year Congress knocked down the special operations budget from $10.3 to $10 billion. This year the command wants $10.6. The Tampa Tribune’s Howard Altman dives at length into the difficulties of nailing down the budgetary impacts to SOCOM’s operations, including the planned retirement of two helicopter squadrons servicing Navy SEALs.
See also: Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber peeled back the “onion” that is the Pentagon’s special operations budget, here.

Back to Yemen, where the air campaign is slowing after some 1,000 deaths, 300 of them civilians: The announcement Tuesday from the Saudi defense minister follows reports from The New York Times that the Obama administration pressured the coalition to end the air war. “Too much collateral damage,” one official told the NYTs.
President Obama on MSNBC: “[Yemen has] always been a fractious country with a lot of problems…There are a lot of people inside Yemen suffering. What we need to do is bring all the parties together and find a political arrangement.”
A “new phase” or just simply mop-up operations? Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said yesterday a new operation would being in the country plagued by warring Houthis and al-Qaeda. It’s unclear how the Saudi-led coalition actually intends to counter either of the two groups that have been increasingly carving up Yemen in recent weeks. But the Saudis say their emphasis now moves to the worsening humanitarian crisis while pressure will be kept up on combating terrorism and working to find a political solution, according to The Washington Post.
What does U.S. naval deterrence in the Gulf of Aden look like? The Navy posted a video yesterday of the newly-arriving USS Theodore Roosevelt and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy here.

Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS’ brutality has split the Sunni al-Lehib tribe that initially welcomed the militant group’s seizure of Iraqi turf last summer. "We thought they were going to Baghdad to establish a government. But then they started killing our own people. It turned out they were the same as al-Qaida," one tribal leader told the AP. Now his group is allied with the Kurds and Iraqi troops, and Baghdad is paying the Sunni tribesmen approximately $600 per month.
Thousands of Iraqis who fled Ramadi are beginning to return following Baghdad’s announcement late Monday that security forces had retaken parts of the city. AP has photos of the harrowing trek back home for many of the 114,000 who abandoned their homes in the embattled Anbar provincial capital.
3,200 airstrikes later, ISIS is finally being forced to “reallocate” to Syria from Iraq, Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley, chief of staff for the U.S.-led coalition said yesterday. The Hill’s Kristina Wong has more.

And yesterday Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey responded to the mother of a Navy SEAL killed in Ramadi for comments he made last week that "the city itself is not symbolic in any way"—but while he apologized for causing her pain, he did not walk back his strategic assessment.
"I've read your letter, and I do apologize if I've added to your grief," Dempsey wrote Deborah Lee in a personal note, per Military.com. Lee's son Marc died in Ramadi in 2006. "Marc and so many others died fighting to provide a better future for Iraq ... nothing will ever diminish their accomplishments nor the honor in which we hold their service. We are in a different fight now, with a different enemy, and with a different relationship with the Government of Iraq. They must determine the path and pace of this fight. That's what I intended to convey."
Dempsey didn't name Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. of course, but the letter was also an answer the long-time Dempsey critic's suggestion the Iraq combat veteran had insulted "all those brave Americans who served and sacrificed in Ramadi."

Russia, Afghanistan, ISIS, cyber war and piracy—can NATO do it all? Former NATO Commander James Stavridis thinks so, and describes why the alliance must act toward what he calls “NATO 3.0” over at Politico Europe.

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