Assault on a Pakistan university; Carter rolls up his sleeves in Paris; The most important tech on the F-35; Laser-armed anti-missile drones; and a bit more.

Gunmen allegedly from the Taliban’s Pakistan wing killed nearly two dozen people on the Bacha Khan University campus in Charsadda, about 30 miles northeast of Peshawar. The Washington Post reports at least four attackers “cut through a back fence...under cover of fog Wednesday” and proceeded to shoot their victims—almost of them male students, some reportedly shot in the head, execution-style—before security guards converged on the scene to kill the gunmen.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed a “ruthless response,” saying the attack was on all of Pakistan, WaPo reports. “Cowards and their finances will see our national resolve to eliminate terror,” a statement issued by Sharif’s office said, even as some Pakistani media outlets reported that the death toll could rise from among the dozens wounded.

A senior Pakistani Taliban commander first claimed responsibility for the attack, Reuters reports, but an official spokesman later denied involvement, calling the attack “un-Islamic.” Adds the Associated Press: “Such statements from among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions.”

Nearly three-dozen attacks from the Pakistan Taliban going back to 2007—with the pace sharply escalating in recent months—have been annotated by Agence France-Presse, here.

In Afghanistan, the Pentagon just got the authority to go after Islamic State group wannabes, which the U.S. military described Tuesday as “operationally emergent” in eastern Nangarhar province. The new war authority is “the first such authorization for military action against the extremist group outside Iraq and Syria, senior administration officials said, in a sign of how the fight has broadened,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The latest U.S. estimates put the number of ISIS-aligned fighters at 3,000. And Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, said ISIL-K (the U.S. military’s term for the group, the “K” referring to “Khorasan, a term used by the extremist group for parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan it claims”) has grown in the past six months in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan, and the WSJ reports the group “appears to have plans to build a base from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan north to Kunar province.”

For what it’s worth: “In a separate action, the State Department last week designated ISIL-K as a foreign terrorist organization based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, formed largely from former members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.” Read the rest, here.

Ash Carter in Paris: The Paris meeting of the counter-ISIS coalition is underway, where Defense Secretary Ash Carter is updating his counterparts on the stepped up military campaign against the Islamic State and finding a way to bring additional countries and capabilities to the fights, writes Defense One’s Kevin Baron, who is traveling with Carter.

In his first visit here as defense secretary, Carter first met with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and then laid a wreath at the makeshift memorial to last year’s Paris attacks at Place de Republique. Nice clip of his walk about tweeted by @AFNEurope, here. “They were truly galvanized, as many of the Europeans were, by the attacks in Paris. Therefore, it's fitting that we hold this meeting in Paris,” Carter told reporters aboard his plane Tuesday.

Carter detailed what’s on his Paris menu, describing a true working ministerial meeting: “There’s a lot of attention, and justifiably so, on the air war and on sorties and so forth, and all of these countries have contributed in one way or another to that. But we will be discussing the full suite of capabilities that are going to be required for victory here, and that includes in the air ISR transport; it includes special operations forces of the sort that we don't talk about a lot but that we've introduced in a number of different ways, including the expeditionary targeting force that we have discussed; it involves things that may seem prosaic to you but are extremely important.”

Expect more U.S. troops to Iraq. “I expect the number of trainers to increase, and also the variety of the training they're giving,” Carter said, re-emphasizing his recent remarks back in the States. Expanding on those, he said once troops take back additional Iraqi cities, it will be up to police forces to keep the peace – not American soldiers, Marines, etc. “That's already being done in Ramadi.  It will be as we move to Heet, and then to Mosul.”

Carter will stand for a press conference Wednesday afternoon at France’s version of the Pentagon, the Hexagone-Balard.

If you’re unfamiliar with Le Drian, Defense One covered his visit to Washington last July, read here, and the minister sat for a conversation with Executive Editor Kevin Baron onstage at the German Marshall Fund.

From Defense One

Tomorrow: Livestream on maintaining force readiness. Join top leaders of the 24th and 25th Air Forces and U.S. Army North for a Defense One livestream on Thurs., Jan. 21.  It’s in San Antonio, at 11 a.m. Central time. We will explore the impact of recruiting and retention on critical commands and developing top technical talent to execute the mission requirements. Livestream, here.

Pentagon eyes laser-armed drones to shoot down ballistic missiles. The high-flying aircraft would be the unmanned successors to the Air Force’s missile-zapping jetliner, reports Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber, here.

In an era of cheap drones, the U.S. can’t afford exquisite weapons. Various technological advances are about to make hundred-drone swarms a reality, and a nightmare for today’s top-of-the-line weapons, writes retired Marine Corps general T.X. Hammes, who is working a study on the matter for the Cato Institute. Read on, here.

The ‘staggering’ civilian costs of Iraq’s fight against ISIS. The UN estimates that at least 18,000 Iraqis have been killed since the start of 2014, a number it warns might be too low. The Atlantic has the story, here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Get your friends off on the right foot in 2016 by telling them to subscribe here: Want to see something different this year? Got news? Let us know:

This is the most important technology on the F-35. “The U.S. military is banking on an emerging technology called cognitive electronic warfare to give the jet an almost-living ability to sniff out new hard-to-detect air defenses and invent ways to foil them on the fly,” writes Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker.

To understand what cognitive warfare is, you have to know what it isn’t, he writes. “EW makes use of the invisible waves of energy that propagate through free space from the movement of electrons, the electromagnetic spectrum. Conventional radar systems generally use fixed waveforms, making them easy to spot, learn about, and develop tactics against. But newer digitally programmable radars can generate never-before-seen waveforms, making them harder to defeat.”

Tucker puts it all in context—including the overarching concern the U.S. is falling behind its peers in emerging weapons tech, and what to do about it—here.

Germany may have a big recon problem in its fight against ISIS over the skies of Iraq and Syria. “German Tornado jets deployed to Syria for reconnaissance missions can't fly at night, Bild daily reported Tuesday in a new embarrassment for the defence ministry which has been battling equipment problems,” according to AFP.

“The six aircraft sent to Syria are fitted with surveillance technology, and had been touted as being capable of taking high-resolution photos and infrared images, even at night and in bad weather. But Bild reported that night flights were impossible as pilots are blinded by the cockpit light which is far too bright.

A defence ministry spokesman admitted to “a small technical problem that has to do with the cockpit lighting,” and added there was “currently no need to fly at night in Syria” and that the Tornado’s deployment was performing at “100 percent.” That read, here.

Mysterious new problems are plaguing the U.S. drone fleet, WaPo’s Craig Whitlock reports. “The Reaper has been bedeviled by a rash of sudden electrical failures that have caused the 21/2-ton drone to lose power and drop from the sky, according to accident-investigation documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Investigators have traced the problem to a faulty starter-generator, but have been unable to pinpoint why it goes haywire or devise a permanent fix.”

In 2015 alone, “20 large Air Force drones were destroyed or sustained at least $2 million in damage in accidents last year, the worst annual toll ever,” Whitlock writes. “Ten Reapers were badly damaged or destroyed in 2015, at least twice as many as in any previous year, according to Air Force safety data. The Reaper’s mishap rate — the number of major crashes per 100,000 hours flown — more than doubled compared with 2014. The aircraft, when fully equipped, cost about $14 million each to replace.”

Where did the mishaps take place” “All but one of the 20 Air Force drone accidents last year occurred overseas. Six drones crashed in Afghanistan. Four crashed in the Horn of Africa, near a U.S. military base in Djibouti. Three crashed in Iraq. There were also crashes in Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Libya. In two cases, Air Force officials would not identify the country where the mishaps occurred.” Read the rest, here.

How’s that “pivot to Asia” going? The Center for Strategic Studies was tasked by Congress in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act with conducting an independent assessment of the Asia-Pacific rebalance first announced by President Obama in 2011. CSIS is holding an event to ring in the occasion right now, and you can livestream it here. Meantime, the report—“Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence and Partnerships” from CSIS’s Mike Green, Kathleen Hicks and Mark Cancian—goes live tonight at 8 p.m. EDT, here.

Were the three U.S. contractors who disappeared from Baghdad over the weekend training Iraqi special forces? The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says yes, and they go further, saying their employers, General Dynamics, was tapped for that contract by Washington “without any formal tendering process.” The end result, BIJ writes, is that “the question of using American contractors to train Iraq’s special forces has now been thrown into sharp focus.” Read their findings, here.

ISIS just leveled a 1,400 year-old Christian monastery in Iraq, St. Elijah's Monastery of Mosul, AP reports.

From Jihadi John to Jihadi Gone: That’s the dominant initial takeaway from ISIS’s latest online magazine release, where they admit the former face of the group, Jihadi John, was indeed killed in an airstrike that the U.S. said occured back in November in Raqqa, Syria. More here.

Lastly today—the tragic story of former SEAL Team 4 leader, Cmdr. Job W. Price, who evidently took his own life (a rarity for a SEAL) while deployed to Afghanistan three years ago. It’s a long, sad tale of a man who described his job as “the loneliest position he had ever held,” having felt himself “unable to confide in the men above or below him for fear of looking weak” during a particularly violent deployment that cost his unit three fatalities. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kulish and Christopher Drew have the full story, here.