Iraq rebuffs US on troops; Anti-missile base almost ready in Romania; Putin admits invading Ukraine, sorta; Everything the candidates have said about military force, compiled; and a bit more...

Iraq doesn’t want more U.S. troops in its country or those Apache attack helicopters to help eject ISIS from Ramadi. That’s the takeaway from U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s face-to-face with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad on Wednesday. Baghdad is already seething from the unilateral deployment of some 100 Turkish troops to the doorstep of Mosul two weeks ago today. And now, like Iraq, the U.S. insists Turkey pull those troops out of its training camp in the Bashiqa region of northern Iraq. The Associated Press has more, here.

The U.S. is pulling a dozen of its F-15s sent to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey less than two months after they arrived, Defense News reported Wednesday. Six F-15Cs and six F-15Es will be returning to their base in Europe, leaving a dozen A-10 Warthogs in place for close air support.

A bit more on those C and E models: “While the Pentagon has said the F-15Cs were not flying regular operations, defense watchers also noted the C models greatly enhanced the air-to-air capabilities of the US and Turkish assets as they operate in close proximity to Russian fighters above Syrian airspace,” Defense News writes. “That concern took on added weight after a Nov. 24 intercept and shootdown of a Russian Su-24 in Turkish airspace by Turkish F-16s.” That, here.

For what it’s worth: The departure of the jets comes less than two days after State Secretary John Kerry said the U.S. is backing off its previous demand that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down from power to advance the peace process in Syria.

Meantime, the U.S. sent another bundle of ammo to Syrian Arab fighters in northeast Syria. The new shipment “appeared to be the third delivery of ammunition to the Syrian Arabs since the United States started supplying them with an airdrop in October,” Reuters notes. “U.S. officials said the fighters were preparing eventually to move toward al-Shadadi, which is located on a strategic network of highways. Capturing it would help isolate Raqqa, Islamic State’s defacto capital.” More here.

Assad BFF Vladimir Putin says he supports the U.S. drive to draft a new constitution for Syria, CBS News reports, though he “did not specifically say whether Russia and the U.S. had reached any sort of agreement on what role, if any, Assad should have during a transition, which has been a sticking point for years.” Putin spoke to the media during his annual year-end press conference in Moscow.

And surprise: Putin also admitted that once upon a time Russia had some of its folks in eastern Ukraine “carrying out certain military tasks,” but calm down, everyone, because they weren’t regular troops. Putin: “We never said there were no people there who were carrying out certain tasks including in the military sphere. But that does not mean there are Russian (regular) troops there, feel the difference,” a translation from Reuters reads. More here.

Amid the highest NATO-Russia tensions since the Cold War, the Pentagon has finished hauling radars and sensors to its missile-defense complex in southern Romania, despite Moscow’s objections.

Construction of the anti-missile battery and radar — which Washington says are there to shoot down weapons fired toward Europe from Iran, not Russia — is in the final stages at the Deveselu military base in southern Romania, about 90 miles west of Bucharest, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports.

In coming days, the Pentagon will make a “technical capability declaration” — that is, it will certify as ready the complex’s various components: a powerful radar, missile interceptors, and communications equipment. Weisgerber explains how the new system could alter the regional dynamics, here.  


From Defense One

NSA will overhaul its workforce next year. The spy agency wants to ‘break down cylinders,’ tie domestic and overseas action together, and create an entirely new legal regime, GovExec reports, here.

Here’s everything the 2016 candidates have said about using military force (more or less), poured into a handy table. Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf at the Council on Foreign Relations compiled the quotes in a bid to understand how the various potential commanders in chief might act in office. Read ’em and weep (or exult), here.

Cruz vs. Rubio duke it out. “In a de­bate that be­came something of a ref­er­en­dum on former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush’s in­ter­ven­tion­ist for­eign policy...Ru­bio, in line with Bush’s leg­acy, called for a more ro­bust Amer­ic­an role in the Middle East and ag­gress­ive coun­terter­ror­ism meas­ures at home.  Cruz, des­pite em­ploy­ing fiery rhet­or­ic, ad­voc­ated a more lim­ited Amer­ic­an role over­seas while de­fend­ing his vote for le­gis­la­tion that cur­tailed the gov­ern­ment’s bulk col­lec­tion of metadata.” (National Journal)

“A fractured, fragmented Republican debate” is The Atlantic’s take on Tuesday’s GOP-candidate meetup on CNN. “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz squared off in a series of detailed, wonky disputes about the military and surveillance. Meanwhile, a bit to the side and largely unawares, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump tried to one-up each other. Off to the right, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina vied to prove most willing to start a war.” More, here.

Turkey, the EU’s enforcer: A damning report by Amnesty International describes a “less visible human rights crisis” in Turkey, as a result of increased pressure from the EU to halt record flows of migration. Amnesty accuses Turkey of illegally detaining refugees, denying them communication with the outside world, and pressuring some to return to the countries they fled, “in violation of Turkish and international law.” (Quartz)

The feds are getting serious about filling empty cyber jobs. U.S. federal agencies have just two weeks left to “report to the White House the top five areas — network services, cyberthreat analysis, systems development, and others — where they lack sufficient personnel,” NextGov reports. “OMB and OPM plan to publish a first-ever governmentwide cybersecurity HR strategy in April.” That, here.

Battle for the White House, a new ebook from Defense One. If you want to know the future of U.S. national security strategy, look to the 2016 presidential election. Whoever wins the White House will inherit the wars President Obama had pledged to end, along with dozens of ongoing counterterrorism operations in overlooked countries and an increasingly complex global security environment. This ebook wraps up the essential reporting you need to understand where the race is, and where it’s going. Buckle up and download it here.

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


The Department of Homeland Security will soon issue expanded guidance to U.S. citizens about terrorist threats, NBC News reports. The new “bulletin” approach—which you can see here— describes “current developments or trends regarding terrorist threats, to outline actions the government is taking in response, and to give advice about what people should do to report suspicious behavior,” a U.S. official said. More here.

A lot got stuffed into the 2016 omnibus spending bill. Sen. John McCain is furious about a provision that would remove restrictions on buying Russian rockets to launch satellites, Politico reports. (Here’s an argument against doing so, by two SpaceX advisors.)

And the cybersecurity bill, debated for so long, apparently got wedged into the 2,000-page bill, much to the consternation of those who argue that it rips apart crucial privacy protections.

Now Ash Carter is taking heat for conducting official business on a personal email account, the New York Times reported Wednesday. “In September, The Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails from the personal account that Mr. Carter sent or received with his chief of staff at the time, Eric Fanning, during the month of April. In November, the Defense Department provided The Times with 72 work-related emails that Mr. Carter sent or received from his personal email account. The emails show that Mr. Carter used an iPhone and iPad to send the messages, and that Mr. Carter was emailing Mr. Fanning and other top aides on their government email addresses.”

Carter was given “a government email account when he became defense secretary in February but continued the use of the private account,” the Times writes. However, “a former aide to Mr. Carter said the defense secretary used the personal account so frequently that members of his staff feared he would be hacked and worried about his not following the rules.”

Carter’s spokesman, Peter Cook, played down the sensitivity of what was discussed in the emails, but stopped short of saying whether Carter had in fact violated DoD email policies, including one from 2012 “that bars all employees regardless of rank or position from relying on personal email to conduct government business.” Read the rest, here.

Carter orders Navy to cut its LCS buy to save money — but the service says the cuts will only drive prices up. Defense News’ inimitable Chris Cavas has the story, here.

Big GTMO moves could be coming. The White House is reportedly on the verge of transferring more Guantanamo Bay detainees in a single month than at any point since 2007, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports. “Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has notified Congress in recent days that he has approved 17 proposed transfers of lower-level detainees… a move that could reduce the detainee population there to as low as 90 by mid- to late January.”

And in response to what SOUTHCOM chief Gen. John Kelly “described as a sharp rise in visits by delegations from foreign governments that are considering resettling detainees,” the Pentagon “has created new rules that will limit reporters to four ‘media day’ trips a year in which large groups will come and depart the same day. Reporters will generally no longer be permitted to go inside the prison camp’s walls.” More here.

Your Thursday #LongRead: Damning allegations surround some U.S. Navy SEALs’ behavior in Afghanistan, NYTs reports. U.S. Army soldiers described the scene in a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry that cleared the SEALs of wrongdoing and that was obtained by the Times.

“Three Navy SEALs stomped on the bound Afghan detainees and dropped heavy stones on their chests, the witnesses recalled. They stood on the prisoners’ heads and poured bottles of water on some of their faces in what, to a pair of Army soldiers, appeared to be an improvised form of waterboarding.”

Said one of the dissenting soldiers: “It just comes down to what’s wrong and what’s right…You can’t squint hard enough to make this gray.”

The larger problem with the case, said Geoffrey S. Corn, a former military lawyer who was the Army’s senior expert adviser on the law of war, is that it feeds a perception of a double-standard among special operations troops as they work with conventional counterparts. “It diminishes the immense courage it takes to maintain that line between legitimate and illegitimate violence,” Corn said. Read the rest, here.

The first U.S. servicemember to die in Syria was Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler — and that’s just about all the government is going to tell us about that. Beyond the secrecy surrounding the mission itself, Wheeler was a member of the elite and officially-barely-acknowledged Delta Force. But Wheeler deserves to have his story told — which former USAF pararescueman Matt White does brilliantly by reading, and explaining, the uniform decorations that appear in the two photographs we have of him. Esquire, here.

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