Flareup in Azerbaijan; Global defense spending drifts up; Who runs US cyberdefense?; F-35s to Alaska; and a bit more.

Conflict may be at last on the downturn in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan’s separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region. A ceasefire took effect about five hours ago after two days of fighting that left 16 Azerbaijani soldiers and one civilian dead. “The outbreak of hostilities (which began anew Saturday) is the worst since a war that ended in 1994 and left Nagorno-Karabakh — officially a part of Azerbaijan — under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military. Armenian forces also occupy several areas outside Karabakh proper,” AP reports from the city of Gapanli. “The conflict is fueled by long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azeris. Armenia, although supporting the separatists, insists that its army does not engage in the fighting.”

What’s at stake: “A return to conflict could drag in Russia, which has a defense alliance with Armenia, and NATO member Turkey, which backs its ethnic kin in Azerbaijan,” Reuters reports.

Seeking a resolution: “In a much-anticipated mediation attempt, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be traveling to Azerbaijan's capital on Thursday while [Russian] Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be in Armenia's Yerevan on the same day,” AP writes. The U.S. and France are also sending diplomatic envoys to the crisis, and a “fact-finding mission” from the ceasefire monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is also en route.

Meantime, Russia says it’s sending S-300 missiles to Iran “in the coming days.” Here’s some background on that system, which Defense One wrote a year ago “could tip the balance [of power] in the Middle East.”

And while we’re on Iran, the White House seems to think Tehran is yanking (at least some of) its troops out of Syria—but AP reports that just might not in fact be the case.

Case in point: “Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC’s aerospace division, told reporters on March 9 that Iran is still deploying troops to Syria. On Monday, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency quoted Gen. Ali Arasteh, deputy chief liaison of the Iranian Army's Ground Force, as saying that the army has dispatched a number of commandos to Syria.”

But the messaging from Washington may in fact be aimed more at Moscow than Tehran or even Damascus. More here.

Iraqi security forces claim to have killed 150 Islamic State fighters in Fallujah, a town held since January 2014. “Islamic State forces used car bombs and heavy machine guns in hours long assaults on two towns on the outskirts of militant-controlled Fallujah and the neighboring town of Hit in Anbar province,” officials told the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling in Baghdad. “Some 100 militants were killed Monday by airstrikes fired by the U.S.-led coalition, U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren said, but he couldn’t verify the 150 number. The ISF’s offensive in Anbar province—part of a broader and eventual move on the city of Mosul—remains stalled in Hit, some 250 miles south of Mosul. More here.

The U.S. is tossing $5 million to clear Ramadi of all those pesky mines. And the contract has gone to a Tennessee-based company, Janus Global Operations Inc, “which bills itself as ‘the largest commercial munitions management and de-mining company in the world,’” Global Post reported Monday.

Also on Monday, the Pentagon confirmed it was behind the airstrike that killed Jabhat al-Nusra Abu Firas.

The nomination for the Pentagon’s top lawyer—a post that signs off on DoD airstrikes—is being held up by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., The Washington Examiner reported Monday. Ayotte’s stated reason for the hold: She wants to get her hands on an “overdue” report on Guantanamo Bay detainees. That here.

From Defense One

Giddy among fellow nerds, Carter pitches Pentagon work to techies. The defense secretary takes his outreach tour to robotics labs and startup centers in Austin and Boston. Editor Kevin Baron reports from the road.

The Pentagon still hasn’t decided who’s in charge if America comes under cyberattack. Is it NORTHCOM or CYBERCOM? CYBERCOM or the NSA—or both? So many agencies; so little clarity, GAO complains. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein (who won a Neal Award on Friday for her coverage of last year’s OPM hack) walks us through the tangles, here.

(ICYMI: Tech Editor Patrick Tucker noted this very problem last November. Read that, here.)

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2009, North Korea launched its Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 rocket over Japan. Subscribe to the D Brief: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

Global military spending rose 1 percent in 2015, the first rise in four years, to $1.6 trillion, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Defense News picks out some details, here.

And for way more: Stimson is hosting a talk today at 10 a.m. on Global Military Spending and the Arms Trade. Speakers include: Gordon Adams, Aude Fleurant, and Rachel Stohl. Details here.

F-35 will head north to Alaska, eventually. There’s long been speculation that the Air Force had been looking to close Eielson Air Force Base, but sending F-35 Joint Strike Fighters there beginning in 2020 will expand the warplane presence at the Fairbanks base.  Two F-35 squadrons will join a squadron of F-16 aggressor jets that simulate the tactics of enemy planes. “Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said. “Basing the F-35s at Eielson AFB will allow the Air Force the capability of using the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex for large force exercises using a multitude of ranges and maneuver areas in Alaska.” More here.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed six and wounded more than two dozen others at a busy market in northern Afghanistan’s Parwan province this morning. An Afghan official said the bomb was meant to strike local police headquarters but was stopped by guards before reaching his target.

The ANSF are changing their tactics in Kunduz, and it’s due to a wide range of reasons—none of them new (capability, confidence, e.g.). Stars and Stripes has a bit more, as much as officials would divulge, anyway, here.  

A key Afghan warlord is no longer demanding that  “foreign troops” leave the country before he will call off his group’s four decades of fighting with Kabul. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—a former prime minister of Afghanistan who now leads the Hezb-i-Islami Party—is a designated terrorist by the U.S., but his take on peace talks in the country could influence other disparate Taliban factions, AP reports from the capital.  

So who’s arming locals now in Afghanistan? The country’s spy agency, the NDS. This “local” push joins nearly a half-dozen others tried in the country since U.S. troops began fighting almost 15 years ago. And if nothing else, it points to the continued need to address rural security—just this time, without American troops overseeing the entire program. WSJ has the deep-dive into this latest iteration, here.

And finally—Meet the woman who invented Kevlar. Born in 1923, Stephanie Kwolek intended to go to medical school but followed a passion for chemistry to the Dupont company. “In 1965, Kwolek created the first of a family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness. Kevlar became the best known of this family.” Her accolades include the National Medal of Technology, the Perkin Medal, and induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Read on, here.