Sunnis for Ramadi; US helo takes fire in Iraq; Asia-Pacific grows hectic, risky; F-35 ‘battle-ready’ in July?; And a bit more.

Islamic State group, or ISIS, militants last night launched an ultimately failed four-hour offensive by firing mortars on Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen staged outside Ramadi in a bid to slow a pending Iraqi counterattack on the Anbar provincial capital, Reuters reported this morning. ISIS has reportedly spent the last few days in Ramadi building up defensive positions and laying down land mines as the fate of the city—and the broader fight against the militant group—has taken on enormous significance in Baghdad and Washington.
After President Barack Obama met with two dozen of his top national security advisors yesterday, his administration endorsed Baghdad’s decision Tuesday “to speed up the training and equipping of local Sunni tribal fighters, expand Iraqi military recruitment, and train local police” in the hopes of gaining back Anbar and putting the war on some kind of sustainable footing, The Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee and Dion Nissenbaum reported last night.
Mosul and Ninewa province, rather than Ramadi and Anbar, are the strategic prizes U.S. and Iraqi war planners should target promptly as the Obama administration scrambles for a viable way forward in the wider war against ISIS in both fragmented Iraq and civil-war-torn Syria, writes Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Iranian-fueled rumors that the U.S. is arming ISIS have resulted in at least one instance where anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq have fired on U.S. forces. Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Central, revealed the concern at a conference on Tuesday when he spoke about “intelligence reports that we've gotten that members [of the anti-Islamic State coalition] were firing on helicopters because they thought we were supporting Daesh.” That’s from Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, reporting from the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida.

From Defense One

The U.S. Marine Corps is set to declare their vertical-takeoff model of the Joint Strike Fighter battle-ready in July—but Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation, says it’s unlikely the jets will head to Iraq any time soon. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber has the story.

The paradox of the ISIS war strategy: A vast majority of senior national security workers say not enough is being done to fight ISIS, but only 31 percent support sending additional U.S. ground troops to do anything about it, according to a new Defense One/Government Business Council poll.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials have been lining up in recent weeks to warn against the growing threat of “home-grown” extremists inside America’s borders. But perhaps even more disturbingly, their warnings have had virtually no effect on U.S. foreign policy debates in Washington, as the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko notes.

With the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program offering up to $25 million for “information that brings to justice” Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor as leader of al-Qaeda, The Atlantic’s Kathy Gilsinan investigates how the U.S. arrives at its occasionally arbitrary-seeming terrorist bounties.

The U.S. Army is joining a growing number of Pentagon entities that are trying to acquire advanced cyber capabilities. And NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein explains what exactly that could mean for the future of U.S. cyber defense.


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


While U.S. Marines meet with nearly two dozen allied representatives in Hawaii this week, the U.S. Pacific Fleet is in the middle of an exercise (Culebra Koa 15, aka “CK 15”) on the island as well that’s pointing out the underappreciated strain simple logistics places on Washington’s pivot to Asia. Central to that CK 15 exercise is a network of bases and port agreements to move allied equipment where it’s needed ahead or in the event of a crisis. The idea is called “seabasing,” and Vice News’ Ryan Faith explains how it figures into possible future wars in the Pacific theater.
Meantime, two factors are undermining American deterrence and power projection in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Aviator Cdr. Greg Knepper and New America’s Peter Singer write this morning in War on the Rocks. “The first is self-imposed range limitations due to the fuel constraints of our tactical strike and fighter aircraft…[while] advanced threat systems continue to expand operating ranges, widening contested air space and posing a greater threat to bases.”
And the folks at CNA just released a 96-page report entitled “The Role of the U.S. Army in Asia,” which aims to shed light on a neglected topic as the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine have diverted so much of Washington’s attention in recent months.

Today, President Obama will deliver the commencement address for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. The 11 a.m. EDT speech will be Obama’s second at the academy, Military.com’s Julia Bergman wrote in this preview back in April.
Also today, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus sits down with Defense One’s Kevin Baron to talk about the growing stack of missions confronting America’s Navy. That one starts at 9 a.m. EDT at the CEB Waterview Conference Center in Rosslyn, Va.
And later this evening, Mabus will stop by Nationals Park in Washington to present the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award to the Washington Nationals, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and the Navy League, for their response efforts immediately after the 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates smacked away the Washington echo chamber about Iraq in a refreshingly frank and in-depth interview with Charlie Rose on Monday. Instead of blaming Presidents Obama or George W. Bush for the rise of ISIS, the former defense secretary identified two other culprits: the Syrian civil war and the anti-Sunni policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government.“I think our withdrawal of all of our troops had a role, but I think these other two things were the major cause,” he said, noting that Iraq’s Sunnis initially saw ISIS as liberators from Maliki’s policies.
So, what now? Gates said the U.S. needs to stick with Iraqi troops, but to be patient training them up again. “The truth is it’s going to take some time,” he said. When the U.S. left, those forces were in “pretty good shape,” he argued. Again, he blamed Maliki for their downfall. “The quality of everything in the Iraqi security services has deteriorated so badly.” Gates’ prescription: Change the rules of engagement to “empower our special forces,” have on-the-ground air spotters, and allow some U.S. embedded trainers at the battalion level with the Iraqis.
The former secretary also has some advice for GOP candidates of 2016: stop talking about what you would have done in 2003 and starting explaining what lessons you learned from 2003 that would influence how you would govern.

From the desk of Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole: For more than a week now, Jeb Bush has been taking flak for flubbing questions about his brother's Iraq war, but he may have done something right in his interview with Megyn Kelly: Jeb reminded voters that Hillary Clinton authorized it, too, when she was a senator. “I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush said. On Tuesday in Iowa, former Secretary of State Clinton addressed the vulnerability for one of the first times in her 2016 campaign, saying, “I’ve made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple, and I have written about it in my book, talked about it in the past, and you know, what we now see is a different and very dangerous situation.” Read more about Clinton’s rare question-taking from the media.

And Defense One Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber sends these two bits—Chuck Hagel might be gone, but Poland still loves America. Tomasz Siemoniak, the Polish deputy prime minister and defense minister who showed Hagel around Poland last year, met with new U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at the Pentagon yesterday.
The Polish minister asked Carter for a larger American presence in Poland and increased cooperation between the militaries. Siemoniak also touted Poland’s planned purchase of American-made Patriot missile interceptors, calling it a strategic decision “for years, for decades to come.” The Polish minister also met with Thomas Kennedy, chairman and CEO of Patriot maker Raytheon.

How does Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly feel about Ramadi falling to ISIS? “It breaks my heart,” Kelly, a former commander in Anbar Province and now the head of U.S. Southern Command, said Tuesday evening during an event at the Atlantic Council. “I got hundreds of young Americans killed or wounded under my command [in Anbar],” Kelly said. He reminisced about walking unarmed though the streets of Ramadi with Iraqi soldiers before leaving in 2009. “We had started to take down, on my watch, all the barbed wire, all of the Texas barriers, all of the heavy concrete,” he said.
And Quick D Brief Shout Out to journo pal Kate Brannen on becoming a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. She moderated yesterday’s panel with Kelly.

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