Rouhani: airstrikes are a mistake; How Americans can help veterans; Not retiring the A-10?; Defense One on the campaign trail; And a bit more.

Saudi-led airstrikes continued overnight in Yemen as Houthis seized a provincial capital and al-Qaeda raised flags over government buildings elsewhere to the east, Reuters reports from Aden: “Residents said local tribal chiefs and security officials facilitated the entry of the Houthi forces to the city of Ataq, where they took control of the offices of the local government and security forces compounds... The takeover brings the Houthis and Saleh's forces closer to the country's most prized economic asset, the Belhaf gas facility and export terminal, on the Arabian Sea about 160 km (100 miles) to the southeast...

“Earlier in the day, residents of al-Siddah district in central Yemen said they woke to find al Qaeda flags flying over local government offices. They said a group of al Qaeda militants led by a local commander known as Ma'mour al-Hakem, took over the district at night. Residents said the Houthis, who had been in control of the town for more than two months, retreated without a fight.” More here.

A “mistake”: Iran’s Rouhani just made a speech in which he said Saudi and its allies should cease the airstrike campaign in Yemen. AP’s Nasser Karimi and Munir Ahmed in Tehran: “In his speech in Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged for a ceasefire in Yemen to allow for broad-based talks on resolving the crisis.”

Rouhani in a speech Thursday: "To the countries in the region, I say, let's adopt the spirit of brotherhood, let's respect each other and other nations. A nation does not give in through bombing… Do not kill innocent children. Let's think about an end to the war, about ceasefire and humanitarian assistance to the suffering people of Yemen." More here.

Tehran sent a naval destroyer to the Gulf of Aden off Yemen just as the U.S. accelerates its supply of weapons to the Saudis. AP overnight: “…Iran's English-language state broadcaster Press TV quoted Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari as saying the ships would be part of an anti-piracy campaign ‘safeguarding naval routes for vessels in the region.’ The maneuver comes amid an intense Saudi-led Gulf Arab air campaign targeting the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, who come from a Shiite sect. Critics say Shiite power Iran backs the Houthis, though both the Islamic Republic and the rebels deny any direct military assistance.” More here.

Fox News on growing fears of a proxy war: “…While the Pentagon has not yet weighed in on the ship movements, spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday: ‘We know that Iranians are providing support to the Houthis.’ The developments underscore the growing international tensions surrounding the chaotic fighting in Yemen, with the U.S. shoring up Saudi-led forces on one side and Iran allegedly backing the Houthis on the other – though Iran and the rebels deny any direct military assistance.” More here.

Egypt Hellfire buy is OK’ed amid the airstrike campaign in Yemen. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: “An Egyptian procurement of 356 AGM-114K/R3 Hellfire II missiles has been cleared by the State Department, the first new procurement since the White House lifted a freeze on weapon sales to that nation.” More here.

Want to know how bad it is in Yemen? Yemen is in many ways considered a beautiful country despite the abject poverty that is commonplace. But take a look at these photos to get a sense of the devastation as compiled by the HuffPo’s Nick Robins-Early. Do that here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.

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Defense One is on the 2016 campaign trail today in South Carolina with Rand Paul for his five-state announcement tour at the USS Yorktown in Charleston—where his noon speech today is expected to be Paul's big national security pitch to the nation. Our politics editor Molly O’Toole is looking for Paul to tiptoe between his self-described "libertarianish" approach to foreign policy and the more mainstream Republican hawkishness he’s gravitated toward ahead of his campaign’s launch this week. Stay tuned here for O'Toole's dispatches from the trail.

For more on the fine line Paul has to walk between Big Military and Libertarian ideals, McClatchy’s Sean Cockerham has this.

Introducing “Big Mechanism,” a DARPA project looking to turn machine-collected data into real and automatic insights into complex systems, as Defense One tech editor Patrick Tucker explains the pros and cons of one day automating “big data” searches for military use: “The supply of data, it turns out, is growing too quickly for the human race to use it effectively to solve big problems. The expanding reach and power of computational intelligence is both cause and, at least potentially, cure… But for every instance where big data correctly predicted a big national-security event, critics can point to a big miss. Last year, for example, such indicators failed to predict the Ebola outbreak. The military and national security communities have only begun to explore the potential of big data to solve these kinds of enormously complex problems.” More here.

The Pentagon believes it has a potent new weapon against networked surface-to-air missile systems: cyber weapons to counter or spoof them. Defense One’s global business reporter Marcus Weisgerber: “It’s the latest move in a decades-old chess game between ever-stealthier U.S. aircraft and increasingly lethal anti-aircraft defenses developed by companies like Russia’s Almaz-Antey…The need to create such counter-weapons is growing, say Pentagon officials. The proliferation of surface-to-air missiles and long-range tactical missiles reduces the area where U.S. forces can operate with impunity. “[Air Force Chief Gen. Mark] Welsh provided some possibilities: making the enemy’s air defense system go completely blank on the first minute of the conflict. Or making a surface-to-air missile radar see a thousand false targets while an aircraft sneaks through in plain sight. Or preventing a missile from launching. Or directing it to turn around and strike its own launch site...” Read the rest, here.

The Islamic State just realeased more than 200 Yazidis who’d been held for months. AP’s Sameer Yacoub: “…Gen. Hiwa Abdullah, a peshmerga commander in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, said most of the freed 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect. He added that about 40 children are among those released, while the rest were elderly.

“No reason was given for the release of the prisoners who were originally abducted from the area around Sinjar in the country's north. The handover took place in Himera just southwest of Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad.” More here.

Sweden is sending 35 troops to Iraq for the training mission there, Reuters reports this morning, here.

Mixed bag: The Obama Administration’s policy in which the U.S. military trains foreign forces so those forces can do the heavy lifting overseas has never been a total success story. Bloomberg’s David Lynch: “For now, President Barack Obama is doubling down on getting other nations to fight by boosting arms sales to the Gulf states, resuming military aid to Egypt and supporting the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen.

“In Afghanistan, trainers have 21 months left before Obama plans to recall them. In Iraq, U.S. advisers are rebuilding a U.S.-trained army that crumbled last year when Islamic militants attacked. Training moderate Syrian rebels, which Congress approved last fall, has yet to begin. Weak institutions and sectarian divisions in all three countries have imperiled the chances for success, and the U.S. military remains focused on maintaining its own combat capabilities, not developing those of uncertain allies, say former military officers and diplomats.” More here.

The casualty count rises from 3 to 7 injured in yesterday's insider attack in Jalalabad that killed one U.S. soldier. Army Times' Michelle Tan with an update from Afghanistan, here.

Who’s doing what today? VP Joe Biden will deliver a speech today on America’s Iraq policy at 12:30 p.m. from the National Defense University… Ash Carter is in Seoul today continuing his Asia pivot tour… and Deputy SecDef Bob Work and DOD’s Frank Kendall brief the press on “Better Buying Power 3.0” from the Pentagon at 3 p.m.

Also today: Navy Secretary Mabus is in Da Nang, Vietnam, today for talks with Vietnamese defense officials and a stop with sailors on the USS Fort Worth and USS Fitzgerald. Mabus’ trip marks the first visit of a Littoral Combat Ship to Vietnam. The Navy wants four LCS deployed to the region by 2018.

HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry’s bill to reform the Pentagon’s acquisition process could go a bit further and do a whole lot of good, Truman National Security Project’s Justin McFarlin and Alex Haber of Censeo Consulting Group write in Defense One: “Rep. Thornberry commits an entire section of the bill to identifying and eradicating bureaucratic muck… [but] Rather than driving marginal gains at the surface, the bill could have attacked the root of the problem: budget uncertainty.

“The choice to avoid service acquisition to focus just on weapons and business systems was deliberate, but odd. Historically, services contracts have comprised over half of DoD contract spending and nearly a third of the overall budget. Additionally, though the primary focus on ‘program initiation’ is appropriate, completely ignoring the protocols and policies around sustainment was not.” More here.

It’s really very likely that Congress will protect the A-10, despite the Air Force’s distinct hope that the Warthog could be retired for good. The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp: “…The Air Force has argued it needs the estimated $4 billion it would save over the next several years to apply to other, critical priorities, such as surveillance drones and its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It also argued that it needs to phase out the A-10 to free up its ground crews and maintenance personnel to shift them to the F-35, and it has argued that the A-10 can't handle highly-contested environments for close air support.

“…With each approach, the Air Force has found its argument challenged by lawmakers, former A-10 pilots, ground controllers and advocacy groups who see the early retirement of the revamped airframe as a colossal mistake.” More here.

SecDef Carter is in South Korea but earlier this week made a stop in Tokyo. The WaPo’s Missy Ryan on that visit: “The United States and Japan are close to concluding a set of bilateral defense rules that if finalized would give Japan’s military new powers to act when U.S. forces are threatened by a third country, U.S. officials said Wednesday. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, speaking during a visit to Tokyo, said the revision of the “defense guidelines” would transform U.S. military ties with Japan, which is grappling with a missile threat from North Korea and China’s moves to assert control of areas off its coast.” More here.

The founder of South Korea’s intelligence agency sounded the alarm on the organization that’s now “porous, politically pliant” and no doubt hurting Seoul’s relationship with partners like the U.S., former CIA analyst Soo Kim writes in the intelligence and natsec blog OvertAction: “The NIS frequently leaks intelligence to the press to showcase its “successes” to the domestic audience, regardless of the consequences to national security, collection efforts, and sources. For example, in October 2014, a district court in South Korea convicted two NIS counterintelligence officials of fabricating Chinese documents to build a case against a North Korean refugee named Yu…” Read the rest, here.

A year after the shocking revelations about the VA and veteran healthcare, there’s still a big problem. AP’s David Caruso: “…No one expected that the VA mess could be fixed overnight. But The Associated Press has found that since the summer, the number of vets waiting more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care has largely stayed flat. The number of medical appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete has nearly doubled.” More here.

Do you want to know more about how the U.S. can support veterans and military families? The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University just published a report that proposes a blueprint for just that. The report argues that there is a gap in the services that public, private and non-profit organizations now provide to veterans and their families. The solution, the report, “Driving Community Impact,” is not more resources – but better collective efforts at the community level.

Military Times’ Leo Shane: “Veterans struggling to adapt to post-military life face a bounty of support resources, but poor coordination of those efforts potentially leaves them confused and without help, according to a new study released Wednesday.

“Researchers from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University said many of the financial, medical and social problems faced by veterans in America can be traced not to a lack of assistance programs but instead to "a lack of collaboration, coordination, and collective purpose" between myriad government and community offerings.”

Read the rest of Shane’s report here and read the actual report, “Driving Community Impact”, here. 

Is CIA Director John Brennan getting political? The WSJ’s editors: “Remember when the left accused the Bush Administration of politicizing intelligence to justify its invasion of Iraq? It wasn’t true, but someone ought to remind CIA director John Brennan. Because in attacking critics of the President’s Iran policy Tuesday, he sounded more like a White House communications director than a CIA chief.” More here.

The Army expands a recruiting program to bring in more immigrants with language and medical skills. The WSJ’s Miriam Jordan: “The U.S. Army has expanded a program that encourages immigrants with certain language and medical skills to enlist by offering them a fast track to U.S. citizenship. The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, known as Mavni, will double to 3,000 enlistments in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, and to 5,000 in fiscal 2016. The program is currently capped at 1,500 recruits.” More here.

A former Command Sgt. Maj. at Fort Sill is now a Sgt. 1st Class after slapping a Ranger and Pathfinder badge on his uniform. Army Times’ Michelle Tan, here.

How could the U.S. go about striking an underground nuclear facility if it had to today? The key weapon for the task now would be the Boeing 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports, here.

Last week’s decision to lift the U.S. arms embargo on Egypt is just the latest example of how the Obama administration regularly undermines U.S. interests by supporting oppressive dictatorships, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley argues in Defense One: “It is hard to fathom how further arming the Sisi regime, while disregarding the human rights concerns that the administration had raised when imposing the holds in 2013, will be good for the region or good for U.S. long-terms interests. It undermines those in the country who are pushing for human rights, it fuels anti-Americanism, and it rewards a government that is attacking its civil society…” More here.