Today's D Brief: Mideast drawdown; Army’s $22B goggle deal; A 4th COVID surge; Trans ban lifted; And a bit more.

The U.S. military is reducing its deployed forces in the Middle East, and that includes diverting an “aircraft carrier and surveillance systems,” U.S. officials tell the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Warren Strobel. 

Already, “the U.S. has removed at least three Patriot antimissile batteries from the Gulf region, including one from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.” And after about 18 months of service, America’s THAAD antimissile system “was also proposed to be removed, but officials said it would remain in the region for now,” the Journal reports. And it’s probably staying because the Saudis have allegedly suffered more than 80 “rocket and drone attacks from Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq” since January. (That includes more allegations of attacks today from the Houthis, who claim to have hit Riyadh with four drones, according to Reuters.)  

Messaging concerns: The Houthis, who seem to be most frequently attacking the Saudis with projectiles, “need to know that we are standing with the Saudis and we will continue to support their right to self-defense,” a U.S. official told Lubold and Strobel. Continue reading, here.

Meanwhile in northern Syria, U.S-backed forces are rounding up alleged ISIS fighters in the al-Hawl refugee camp. “Thus far 70 Daesh criminals were arrested,” including an alleged ISIS cell leader, and “military [equipment] & booby-traps were seized,” U.S. Army Col. Wayne Morotto, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, said in a tweet early this morning.  

And across the border in Iraq, an alleged “ISIS Emir for the Tigris district” was detained by Iraqi special forces, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. 

BTW: Iraq’s PM just visited Saudi Arabia, where officials from both countries “signed five agreements on Wednesday covering financial, commercial, economic, cultural and media fields,” al-Jazeera reports

And in a somewhat puzzling remark, Iraqi PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said Wednesday “There haven’t been any attacks” on the Saudis that have come from Iraq, which contradicts an Iraqi militia official and a U.S. official’s account from late February (via the Associated Press).

Coming up next week: “A fourth round of so-called strategic Iraq-U.S. talks,” which was requested by Iraqi officials, AP reported Wednesday. 

Partly motivating those talks: “pressure from Shiite political factions and militias loyal to Iran that have lobbied for the remaining U.S. troops to leave Iraq,” AP writes.

For your ears only: How has pressure from Iran added urgency to the U.S. military’s drive to revolutionize the way it fights large-scale wars? We explore the JADC2 “warfighting” construct in our latest Defense One Radio podcast, which you can listen to or read the transcript here.

From Defense One

UK ‘Absolutely’ Will Buy More F-35s, Procurement Minister Says // Marcus Weisgerber: But Jeremy Quin declined to say whether the 138-jet goal remains unchanged.

US Army Ready to Roll Out Futuristic Goggles to Larger Force // Patrick Tucker: Service to spend up to $22 billion on Microsoft-based IVAS augmented-reality headsets.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 89 // Defense One Staff: JADC2, explained.

A US Ambassador Ends His Service on the Front Lines in Syria // William Roebuck: Reflections on U.S. foreign policy in a wartorn state.

The Fourth Surge Is Upon Us. This Time, It’s Different. // Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic: A deadlier and more transmissible variant has taken root, but now we have the tools to stop it if we want.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 527, Justinian I was named co-ruler of the Byzantine empire by his 77-year-old uncle Justin. When Justin passed away four months later, 45-year-old Justinian I assumed power, and would remain emperor until his death at the age of 83. During his reign, the Hagia Sophia (which still stands) was first built. Justinian also contracted the plague in his 60s, but recovered — unlike an estimated fifth of Constantinople’s population, and possibly as much as 60% of Europe’s population. That plague would return several times over the next 200 years, as the BBC’s “In Our Time” podcast explained in an episode from January.

China and the Philippines are on NSA Sullivan’s mind. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Wednesday spoke with his Philippine counterpart, Hermogenes Esperon. “The National Security Advisors discussed their shared concerns regarding the recent massing of People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia vessels at Whitsun Reef,” National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Mr. Sullivan underscored that the United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order, and reaffirmed the applicability of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.” 
Why that treaty matters: “[T]he Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia that might realistically host” U.S. air and naval forces “to counter China's naval and missile advantages in its near waters,” including the South China Sea, Michael Green and Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in December.
“So Plan B would be to rethink U.S. goals,” Polling told Nikkei Asia in February. “Guam and Okinawa are too far from the South China Sea to effectively threaten Chinese vessels, or defend Philippine ships. So Washington and Manila would have to decide what is possible and recalibrate their goals, and the nature of the U.S. defense commitment, accordingly.” Indeed, as Horne added in her statement Wednesday, “The National Security Advisors agreed that the United States and the Philippines will continue to coordinate closely in responding to challenges in the South China Sea."
From the region: Myanmar’s coup leaders just shut down internet and wireless broadband services across the country, Reuters reports in a shorty. 

Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s border appears to be a training exercise, the U.S. military says. However, “a U.S. defense official told CBS News that the locations and types of units seen on the ground didn't line up with what the Russian Ministry of Defense had announced last month.” A bit more — though no elaboration on how things “didn’t line up” — here.
Russian aircraft forced NATO to scramble jets 10 times in a six-hour period on Monday, the BBC reported. Intercepts occurred over waters of the North Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic and Black Sea. More here.
State Secretary Antony Blinken called his Ukrainian counterpart Wednesday. Here’s Dmytro Kuleba’s window into that chat, via Twitter.
And here’s Alexander Vindman’s two cents: “Putin wants to shake up the West and bolster his support. Russia’s buildup along Ukraine serves to distract from internal challenges and intends to consolidate Russian support around an external threat. It’s also a way to challenge the Biden Admin & give Biden a [foreign policy] black eye. Russia’s interest & interior lines suggest Putin thinks he can escalate & win this confrontation. The Biden team must send the message there will be major costs for Russian escalation...sanctions & every bit of hardware the Ukrainians need to defend against & defeat an attack. It’s a history of impunity, a lack of response to aggression & malign influence that brought us to this point. Biden’s efforts to rebaseline the relationship & reestablish deterrence was always going to increase the risk of confrontation. Best to rip the bandaid off now. The risk of conflict—and more significant conflict—will only increase the longer Putin is unchallenged.”
Russia’s reax has been more or less, “We move things around. So what.” A bit more via Reuters.
BTW: Italy just booted two Russian diplomats and arrested one of its own Navy captains for allegedly “passing secret documents to a Russian military official in return for money,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Rome.

Australia to build its own missiles. The country will spend 1 billion Australian dollars ($761 million) to “become less reliant on imports from the U.S. and Europe after the pandemic exposed weaknesses in global supply chains,” Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. “Defense officials will select a company to run the operation; they didn’t say when the first missile will likely be produced.” Read on, here.
Taiwan will soon buy an upgraded Patriot surface-to-air missile, “with deliveries to start in 2025 and deployment the following year,” Reuters reported Wednesday. 

Pentagon reverses trans ban. Following POTUS46’s executive order in January, Pentagon officials on Wednesday issued new rules that allow transgender people to serve in the U.S. military and “offer them wider access to medical care and assistance with gender transition,” AP reports.
What this means: It "immediately prohibit[s] any service member from being forced out of the military on the basis of gender identity," AP writes. SecDef Austin has given "the Pentagon two months to finalize the more detailed regulations that the military services will follow.” More, here.

Lastly today: How did a Yemen-made coin from 1693 wind up in Rhode Island? AP reports today on the legend of Henry Every, “a murderous English pirate who became the world’s most-wanted criminal” in 1695 before “vanish[ing] into the wind,” never to be seen again.  
TLDR: It may have come from North Carolina, “where records show some of Every’s men first came ashore.” Much more to that story, here.