Iraq fights back; Carter orders China to halt; Top Iran negotiator quitting; Pentagon’s ‘oops’ on anthrax; And a bit more.

The counteroffensive to take back Anbar is underway, Iraq says. Well, the amassing to begin the combat, at least. Washington is nervously waiting and watching Iraqi forces allied with Iranian-backed Shiite militias, as CNN shows, who say they’re cutting off Islamic State, or ISIS, supply lines to retake the mostly-Sunni area. How, when and by whom the coming battle for Iraq plays out seems increasingly out of Washington’s hands, whether by grand design or not. The ethnic morass of the fabric of this war has become more important to the ground gains-and-losses than the strategy concerns of nation-state proxy bosses afar.
There are now more Iraqis displaced from the war against the Islamic State, or ISIS, than there were at the height of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, The New York Times’ Tim Arango reports from Amiryat Fallujah: “Nearly 85 percent of the [3 million] Iraqis on the run are Sunnis, and they often find themselves seeking safety in Shiite-dominated areas, including Baghdad,” where they’re often treated as security threats, making already inflamed sectarian tensions worse at an already terrible time for the future of Baghdad and the Iraqi state as a whole.
This Iraqi soldier, a son of Ramadi, says running from Anbar “prevented a ‘massacre,’” according to Radio Free Europe. He also said Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition didn’t provide enough supplied or air coverage.  "I would be lying if I said we don't have the desire," he said. "But desire without the needed wherewithal is not enough."
Could Baiji be the next Ramadi? The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp investigates the fragile city’s dim prospects here.
“Looking, looking, looking…” Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the Pentagon is looking into ways to enhance and expedite training Iraq’s military and Sunni tribes, as AP’s Lita Baldor writes from Carter’s 11-day trip to Asia.  
Some Sunni tribal units could soon get more U.S. equipment from the $1.6 billion Iraq Train and Equip fund, provided Baghdad authorizes this newest plan from the Pentagon, The Hill’s Kristina Wong reported last night.

Carter, meanwhile, called for an “immediate and lasting halt” to China’s island building in the South China Sea, promising continued expansion will only isolate Beijing further from the international community, Reuters’ David Alexander wrote earlier from Hawaii. Carter now is in Singapore for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue of Asia-Pacific defense ministers, where you can bet you’ll hear more on those islands.

Congress has until midnight Sunday to stop its “national security Russian roulette” over the NSA’s mass surveillance program, the White House said yesterday, The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports. Attorney General Loretta Lynch opened yesterday’s presser on FIFA corruption in global soccer by warning the two chambers a failure to pass the White House-endorsed USA Freedom Act would cause a “serious lapse in our ability to protect the American people.”
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul remains enemy number one on the issue, as National Journal’s Dustin Volz explains. Paul is either the greatest threat to the NSA since Edward Snowden, or he’s poised to become one of the agency’s best friends.

From Defense One

From the reader mailbag, a January article on The Atlantic calling for a return of the draft in order to bridge the military-civilian gap, raise the American foreign policy profile among the public and more widely distribute the burden of protecting the homeland spurred a flood of reaction from readers. Take a second to read some of the more cogent and concerned among them here.

We have now built robots that won’t die. Researchers have just found a way for a mobile robot to continue on with its mission after suffering what, in the past, would have been considered catastrophic damage to one of its limbs. The Atlantic’s Adrienne Lafrance has more.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. You can subscribe here or drop us a line at If you want to view it in your browser, click here.

Wendy Sherman, the White House’s chief negotiator in Iranian nuclear talks, is stepping down shortly after the (likely blown) 30 June deadline, NYT’s David Sanger reported yesterday: “With her departure, all the top officials who have negotiated with Iran over those two years will have left the administration, leaving questions about who will coordinate the complex process of carrying out a deal if one is struck by the deadline.”

Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Treasury Department just got on the same page as Riyadh announced formal sanctions against two Hezbollah commanders, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon: “‘Today’s step taken by Saudi Arabia reflects the close counter-terrorism and information-sharing cooperation we enjoy and look forward to extending further,’ said Adam Szubin, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.”

Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch—the Nusra Front—has been ordered to keep its fight local, according to Nusra’s alleged leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, NYT’s Ben Hubbard reports. Al-Jolani also took time during an interview recorded by Al Jazeera to deny the “al-Qaeda all stars” of the Khorasan Group even exists. U.S. airstrikes have been targeting Khorasan members in Syria since at least late-September.

Not suspicious at all. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin doesn’t want anyone talking about the death of any of Moscow’s special forces, signing a decree yesterday that places such chatter in the dark realm of “state secrets,” AP reports this morning.  
Meanwhile, Russia is massing more troops and hundreds of “mobile rocket launchers, tanks and artillery at a makeshift base near the border with Ukraine, a Reuters reporter saw this week,” the news service reported yesterday.
Happening today: The Atlantic Council hosts the English language version of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov’s report on the Kremlin’s casualties from the conflict in Ukraine. That begins at 2 p.m. EDT in Washington, D.C., but you can livestream it right here.

A big, dangerous “oops” from the Pentagon. The U.S. military says it may have exposed workers across nine states to a live sample of the anthrax virus—but not to be worried, as “There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers,” the Pentagon’s Col. Steve Warren said in a statement last night.
The states where labs received the live samples include Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, WSJ’s Julian Barnes reports.
An additional nearly two-dozen workers in South Korea were also at risk from the sample’s use at a lab training exercise at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, but DASD Carl Woog tweeted last night there’s no sign of exposure.

And we have GOP 2016 hopefuls number 7 and 8 now with the re-emergence of Pennsylvania’s former two-term senator and “scorched earth” ISIS strategy advocate Rick Santorum, who announced his bid for the White House yesterday—and “long shot” moderate Republican and former New York Governor George Pataki, who will announce his bid today as well.
Almost twice as many Americans—59 to 32 percent—say going to war with Iraq in 2003 was the wrong thing to do, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University. (But still split down party lines.) It also found that the only GOP 2016 hopefuls even close to Hillary were Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky’s Rand Paul. (Tip of the hat to WSJ’s Beth Reinhard for flagging this one.)

California Republican and Iraq war vet Rep. Duncan Hunter hits the FWD button in message to Pentagon. Less than two weeks after ISIS seized control of the Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul on June 10, Hunter sent then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel a six-point plan to defeat the insurgents sweeping across Syria and Iraq. He sought to bring back the band of “old hands” and recreate many of the 2007-2008 dynamics around the Sunni Triangle that stood on the shoulders of the U.S. surge in Iraq and a half-decade of mistakes before that. Now 331 days later and with the Pentagon under new leadership, Hunter is resending that six-point plan—this time throwing his support behind arming Iraq’s Sunni tribes to counter Iranian-influenced Shiite militias and “immediately embed special operators and ground-air controllers” on the ground to fight ISIS. You can find Hunter’s plan at the link above.
But for the most part, Congress has offered little more than “sniping,” when it comes to actually getting into the battle to save the Middle East, reports McClatchey’s James Rosen.

The U.S. may have killed another al-Qaeda veteran with a recent airstrike in northwest Syria, Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn writes about Saif Arif, who trained in Afghanistan in the 1990s and was leading al-Qaeda’s Jund al Aqsa’s forces in Syria.
Under-appreciated fact: After the U.S. kills a terrorist leader, a seemingly endless succession of paper work is initiated. Former Army Ranger and CIA analyst Kevin Strouse explains the necessary and occasionally maddening bureaucratic process over at the intelligence blog Overt Action.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers now set to face the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals, evidently the alleged last detainee interrogated by the CIA had a beef with James for the superstar forward’s abandonment of his home state back in 2007. Vice News’ Andrew Helms explains after digging through that letter and others contained in the Senate’s so-called “torture report.”