ISIS plunges Syria into greater uncertainty; US hostage released from Yemen; Are Graham’s nat-sec credentials too much for White House bid?; A Petraeus-Carter disconnect; And a bit more.

Points for consistency to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who kept up his NSA surveillance renewal delay tactics, thwarting Senate Leader and fellow Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell’s attempts to stop him. The majority leader was unable to get the unanimous consent needed on the floor to advance blocking language today. “McConnell has set up votes on three amendments, the passage of any of which would send the bill back to the House, where its fate would be uncertain,” The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Ellen Nakashima reported last night.
But any big changes to the plan that the Senate is considering from the House is likely to cause even more delays, as The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer write. There’s more below about the target the GOP is painting on Rand Paul in its quest for the White House.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, launched a new offensive in Syria’s northwestern Aleppo province, just seven miles from a key highway connecting Aleppo to the Turkish border, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim.
Rebels want the U.S.-led coalition to escalate its airstrikes nearby, but that hasn’t happened yet, reports WaPo’s Liz Sly, who notes that this latest offensive “reinforces the impression that the Islamic State is regaining momentum despite more than eight months of U.S. led-airstrikes. Further, “U.S. intervention on behalf of rebels in the Aleppo area would probably be complicated by the presence of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra alongside more moderate rebel groups.” More on the U.S. role in Turkey’s counter-ISIS fight below.

In Yemen, Houthis released American journalist Casey Coombs yesterday as the rebels released a video showing detained Frenchwoman, Isabelle Prime, appealing to Paris for her release, NYT’s Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone report.
White House officials secretly met Houthi representative in Oman last week pushing for another ceasefire and the release of more U.S. captives held in Yemen, WSJ’s Jay Solomon and Asa Fitch reported last night. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that airstrikes and fighting continued in the central and northern parts of the country, with Saudi-aligned tribesmen killing 18 Houthis in central Ibb province this morning.

From Defense One

“I have more experience with our national security than any other candidate in this race,” said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham at his campaign launch yesterday—not that that makes this military attorney any less of a longshot. Molly O’Toole has more.

GOP to Rand Paul: You are a national security distraction. Take your pick from recent Republican lines of dissent—Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as always, being the most direct—aimed at the all-or-nothing civil libertarian Paul and gathered up by National Journal’s Alex Rogers here.

So what remains of the intelligence community’s spying powers here at home? Plenty, as National Journal’s Dustin Volz explains the “grandfathered” portions of the (at least temporarily) expired Patriot Act, here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. Why not pass this puppy on to a friend? You’ll find our subscribe link here. (Want to read it in your browser? Click here.) And feel free to send us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at

Whose fault? The rise of ISIS in Iraq “is a failure on the part of the world,” Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said this morning. Abadi is indignant over the number of foreign fighters in his country and the inability of partner nations to do much about it.
“We are trying to do our part, but Daesh was not created in Iraq...The air campaign is useful for us, but it's not enough. It’s too little. Surveillance is very small. Daesh is mobile and moves in small groups,” Abadi said. Reuters’ John Irish has more from Paris where 20 counter-ISIS coalition reps are meeting today.
And retired Gen. David Petraeus disagrees with Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s assessment that Iraqi troops lacked the will to fight, according to an interview the former Iraq war general gave to the BBC. “We know that they will fight,” Petraeus said. “But they will only fight if they have good leadership, and the support and knowledge that somebody will have their back if they get into a tough fight.”

After several months of false starts, the Washington-Ankara relationship has reportedly given way to talks of joint operations to clear ISIS from regions of Turkey’s border with Syria, NYT’s Michael Gordon reports. Coalition reps are meeting in Paris today to assess ways forward for the fraught and complicated war that’s shined a light on Turkey’s ambivalence and caution as a partner in the fight. (Just don’t ask about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about his golden toilet.)
And Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today that Tehran has the Assad regime’s back “until the end of the road.” That after U.S. President Barack Obama reminded Israeli viewers yesterday the American military solutions will not eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat.  
Meanwhile, Tehran’s nuclear fuel stockpile has grown by about 20 percent in the past 18 months, puzzling Western officials and experts, NYT’s David Sanger and William Broad reported yesterday.

The Marines’ lessons learned center is no longer putting its monthly newsletters on the web, Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck writes, citing a laborious review process that—at the end of the day—just wasn’t worth the effort, according to Christopher Sonntag, who heads the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned Branch.
While we’re on transparency, security expert Bruce Schneier shares these two “Fun NSA Surveillance Quizzes” for a brief Tuesday diversion.
ICYMI—The National Security Council will get a new spokesperson soon with the coming departure of Bernadette Meehan, as reported first by Politico’s Michael Crowley. Meehan will return to work at the State Department, she said; her last day at NSC is Thursday.

OMB chief slams Republicans’ defense budget funding “gimmick.” More on the letter to House Appropriations lawmakers from Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, over Defense News here.
Since the Navy says it can’t fund two special operations helicopter squadrons, who’s going to step in? The Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp introduces a “dedicated group of former commanders and SEALs” who want to capitalize on the same strategy that’s kept the A-10 from retirement so far.

China plays its what-about-ism card in South China Sea relations. “Smaller countries that ring the sea, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have tested Beijing’s patience by striking claims to multiple islets, building structures on them and prospecting for energy,” writes WSJ’s Andrew Browne from Singapore. But, as he points out, the whole justification from Beijing nevertheless begs the question: “If a construction spree on an unprecedented scale equals restraint, what would unrestraint look like?”
Meantime, Asia-Pacific neocons turned out in force last night at the Georgetown home of Michael Pillsbury to hear Liu Mingfu, a retired People’s Liberation Army colonel, talk about his book, The China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era, as Defense One’s Patrick Tucker and Marcus Weisgerber report after attending. Speaking through a translator, Liu stuck to the official Chinese party line in many of his answers saying that China is expanding westward because America is threatening its expansion east.
It was a surreal scene, staged to promote not only the English version of Lui's book but also Pillsbury's recently-released The Hundred Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. Host and guest seemed to stand on opposite sides of issues ranging from human rights to history to the proper role of American power around the world. Where they agreed: China is preparing to counter U.S. influence in the region, and elsewhere, more forcefully in the decades ahead.

The Pentagon yesterday played down a close flyover of the destroyer USS Ross in the Black Sea by a Russian Su-24 bomber on Saturday, AFP reports. “This was simply a ship and a plane passing in the day,” said Pentagon spokesman and Army Col. Steve Warren, looking to correct what the department viewed as inaccurate portrayals in Russian media.
So how do U.S. and Russian weapons match up if a new Cold War began today? Popular Science’s Joe Pappalardo weighs in with this nice little multimedia roll-up.
And in case you weren’t tracking this one, NASA has its own fleet of “chase planes.” BBC’s Stephen Dowling shares photos and some video on how these jets help turn pilots into astronauts and watch over NASA equipment.