Key Iraqi refinery may fall to ISIS; Yemen wants ground troops; Carter: GOP bill a ‘road to nowhere’; And a bit more.

Islamic State militants have taken back portions of the key northern Iraqi oil refinery in Baiji. And one U.S. senior official tells The Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes ISIS could soon take over the entire facility—not that they’ll be able to operate it after extensive damage from weeks of prolonged fighting, as McClatchy’s James Rosen and Mitchell Prothero write. Much more on ISIS below.

Yemen’s UN ambassador just asked the Security Council to rapidly deploy land forces in the strategic port city of Aden and the western city of Taiz, where rebels overran a military brigade in late April. The ambassador’s letter could give the international community the legal justification required to intervene in the virtually lawless southern Gulf country where indiscriminate violence is killing a greater number of civilians with each passing week—including at least 40 who died yesterday when their boat off Aden’s coast was hit by shelling allegedly from Houthis, Reuters reports this morning.
State Secretary John Kerry requested a “humanitarian pause” to the fighting in Yemen shortly before he arrived in Riyadh to speak with Saudi officials Wednesday, The Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Erin Cunningham report. The U.S. will also donate nearly $70 million to aid groups helping Yemeni refugees displaced from fighting that’s highlighted the diminishing returns of conducting counterinsurgency almost entirely via air power alone. Kerry spoke at a stop in Djibouti, home to U.S. drone operations in the Horn of Africa and the near-beyond, after becoming the first state secretary in U.S. history to visit Somalia on Tuesday.

From Defense One

The crisis in Yemen reveals the dangerously short shrift given to the naval and coastal dimensions of counterinsurgency, writes David Sterman of New America’s International Security Program.

The GOP’s sequester-dodging defense bill is an irresponsible and dangerous “road to nowhere,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday on Capitol Hill. Politics reporter Molly O’Toole has more.

Bridging America’s civilian-military gap with a re-instated military draft is anything but a realistic solution, writes MIT’s Harvey Sapolsky, professor of public policy and organization, in this deep-dive into an aged and misguided debate.


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Iran released the Marshall Islands-flagged cargo tanker, the MV Maersk Tigris, this morning, AP reports from Tehran. This less than 18 hours after the Pentagon announced an end to the Navy’s impromptu mission of accompanying U.S.- and British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuz.
Despite Washington requests that U.S. allies not close deals with Tehran before nuclear negotiations conclude (fingers crossed) in late June, India just signed an agreement to develop a naval port in southeast Iran, WSJ reports from New Delhi.
And today, the U.S. Senate holds a “test vote” on an Iran bill that would give Congress 30 days to weigh in on any final deal with Tehran. AP’s Deb Reichmann has more.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the White House is reaching out to members of Congress to warn against pushing a measure in the GOP’s draft defense authorization bill that tacitly approves of an independent Kurdistan. While denoting the region its own “country” would free up military aid according to U.S. guidelines, the plan has also drawn immense fire from countless Iraqis, as WaPo’s Missy Ryan writes.

More than a month after the Tikrit offensive ended, Iraqis are still discovering mass graves where thousands of Iraqi Shiite troops were summarily executed by ISIS. That from The New York Times Tim Arango and Anne Barnard.
Evidence appears to be mounting that the Assad regime is using chlorine bombs again in northwestern Syria. NYT’s Barnard again.
Call it a series of “setbacks” or mere “ups and downs” on the battlefield—but even Assad acknowledges his military is getting outfoxed and outgunned across Syria, reports WaPo’s Hugh Naylor. The Syrian army reportedly killed dozens of al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters threatening Hezbollah forces on the Lebanese border, Reuters reports this morning.

The Pentagon is advising members of Congress that Afghanistan is simply too dangerous for official visits this summer. The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak has more.
And the Air Force released video yesterday of an attack in Helmand province last September that led to three airmen being awarded some of the highest honors for valor on Fort Bragg, N.C., Wednesday. WaPo’s Dan Lamothe is on it.

Social media loves its female pilot stories, as the U.A.E. showed us last September, and now the Air Force has turned its spotlight on Lt. Col. Christine Mau who completed her first flight in an F-35A Tuesday in Florida. Air Force Times’ Brian Everstine has the story.

A plan to shift Tricare beneficiaries to civilian healthcare plans already stalled in Congress, but advocates refuse to let it die. Now they want to launch a pilot program for National Guard and Reserve troops and their families. Military Times’ Patricia Kime has more.
Happening today: The Center for American Progress will talk military compensation reform this morning at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. The Chairman of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, Alphonso Maldon, keynotes the event, which is followed by a panel discussion with retired two-star Arnold Punaro, Phillip Carter of the Center for a New American Security, and CAP’s Larry Korb. RSVP for that one here.

It’s just a little gambling and “adult entertainment”—on the taxpayers’ dime. Multiple Pentagon employees used their government charge cards for the sort of things you don’t want your spouse finding out about, Politico’s Bryan Bender reports ahead of an inspector general report that’s expected to be made public in a few weeks.
Taking allegations of murder on the battlefield seriously. The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux and Jeremy Scahill got their hands on internal Army investigation documents for the Green Beret major who tried to join the CIA but was rebuffed, then investigated for the alleged murder of an unarmed Afghan man. A lawyer for the accused Maj. Matthew Golsteyn said that to this day there is “not one piece of evidence that corroborate[s] the allegation.”

First the French, now the Canadians are stepping up their counterterrorism surveillance game. Ottawa passed a law greatly expanding the Canadian intelligence agency’s spying powers and allowing it to operate overseas for the first time. AFP has more.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is quietly curbing his ambitious plans to modernize Moscow’s military. WSJ’s Thomas Grove writes: “…a report published in April by Moscow-based defense think tank CAST said Russia’s military spending has reached a crisis. ‘The modern Russian economy just does not generate enough resources to finance the current 2011-2020 rearmament program,’ CAST said in the report. ‘This seriously reduces the ability to efficiently renew the Russian armed forces’ equipment.’”

In case you were missing Chuck Norris, he’s stepped into the Jade Helm debate taking Texas conspiracy theorists by storm. Military Times Oriana Pawlyk picks up the back-and-forth between Norris and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who compared citizens’ indignation toward the special operations exercise to “an 8-year-old picking a fight with a Predator.” West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, meantime, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that his state would gladly host the exercise, The Hill’s Mark Hensch writes.

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