Today's D Brief: US kills Iraqi militia leader; Red Sea warning; Missiles for Moscow; New African bases; And a bit more.

Developing: The U.S. military killed an Iraqi militia leader with an airstrike in Iraq’s capital city on Thursday. The group is known as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, and the man killed appears to be Abu Taqwa al-Saeedi, deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, according to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. U.S. officials confirmed the strike in a short statement to Reuters news agency. 

Lister called the strike “A remarkably bold move by an otherwise risk-averse Biden admin[istration] that remains committed to sustaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq.” Early indications seem to suggest the Thursday strike involved an air-to-ground AGM-179 JAGM missile.

Iraqi officials called it “a blatant aggression and violation of Iraq's sovereignty,” according to a spokesman for Iraq’s military, using the social media account of Iraq’s prime minister. He also called it “unwarranted” and an “action [that] undermines the previously established understandings between the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Global Coalition Forces” fighting ISIS in the region. 

Expert reax: “If [Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani] doesn't chuck the U.S. out this time, I predict he'll get a nice state visit to DC this quarter,” said Mike Knights of the Washington Institute. 

Tallying up: “At my count, Iran-directed militants have launched 138 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since October 18 (i.e. in 78 days),” Lister wrote Thursday on social media. “Until now, U.S. retaliatory strikes in both countries have done nothing to enforce deterrence,” he said. “Will this? Time will tell.”

Also new: The U.S. and a dozen allies formally warned the Houthis against attacking any more ships transiting the Red Sea. Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. in reprimanding the Iran-backed group in a joint statement released Wednesday. 

Why it matters: “Nearly 15 percent of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea, including 8 percent of global grain trade, 12 percent of seaborne-traded oil and 8 percent of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade,” the 13 leaders said in their statement.

Mapped: See how Europe- and North America-bound shipping has been rerouted as a result of the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea via this image shared Wednesday by Bloomberg’s Javier Blas. See also this map of disruption in the Red Sea going back to November 19 when the Houthis hijacked the container ship Galaxy Leader and docked it in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah. 

“We call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews,” the leaders said in their statement. They stopped short, however, of tough talk or threats of violence—other than warning, “The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives.” 

“The UK will not hesitate to take necessary and proportionate action should the Iranian-backed Houthis continue to put innocent lives at risk and threaten the global economy,” British Defense Minister Grant Schapps wrote on social media Wednesday.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, the allies’ Operation Carpetbagger began resupplying resistance fighters in France, Italy, and elsewhere.

Iran is about to sell Russia short-range ballistic missiles, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal Thursday. Moscow is not believed to have purchased or acquired the missiles yet, but “negotiations to acquire close-range ballistic missiles from Iran are actively advancing,” and delivery “could happen as soon as this spring,” an official told the newspaper. 

North Korea has already delivered short-range ballistic missiles to Russia along with artillery shells, which had been previously reported. Those deliveries arrived to eastern Russia over the past “several weeks,” the Journal reports.

A Russian plane accidentally bombed a Russian village on Tuesday at Petropavlovka in the southern region of Voronezh, state-run RIA reported. Nine houses, “​​a small local school, an arts centre and an administrative building” were all damaged in the errant strike, Reuters reports. Four people were injured, but fortunately no one was killed. 

Ukraine and Russia exchanged an impressive number of prisoners Wednesday: 230 from Ukraine returned home while 248 Russian troops were freed thanks to mediation by officials from the United Arab Emirates. 

New: British defense firm BAE Systems says it's restarting production of M777 artillery parts for the U.S. Army. “For now, the effort is focused on producing new parts to refurbish old guns in Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The first deliveries aren’t expected until next year, BAE said. 

“The M777 will remain at the forefront of artillery technology well into the future through the use of technical insertions, long-range precision guided munition developments, and flexible mobility options,” John Borton, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Weapons Systems UK, said in a statement. 

Additional reading: 

The U.S. is setting up new drone bases in western Africa after a coup in Niger limited operations there. As well: “The effort to build up American forces in the coastal states” of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Benin “suggests Washington believes Mali and Burkina Faso are so inundated with Islamist militants that they are beyond the reach of Western help,” reports the Wall Street Journal, which notes that Africa has become “the global epicenter of Islamist violence.” More, here.

The U.S. Army is amping up its airborne recon fleet to serve longer-ranged missiles and evade ever-more-sophisticated air defenses. On Wednesday, officials announced a contract to buy a Bombadier Global 6500 large-cabin business jet, its first purchase of an aircraft to support the three-year-old High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System, or HADES, effort. 

New era: The Global 6500 and the jets that are sure to follow will replace the slower and lower-flying turboprops that have long handled the Army’s aerial reconnaissance. Sam Skove has more, here.

Developing: Osprey black box found. Crews have found the flight recorder from the U.S. Air Force CV-22 that crashed Nov. 29 off Japan. The service’s fleet of Ospreys remains grounded, and the search continues for the body of the eighth airman aboard, an Air Force Special Operations Command spokesperson said. Audrey Decker has a bit more, here.

Want to buy a ghost ship? The U.S. Navy is auctioning off Nomad, a 175-foot-long, aluminum-hulled offshore support vessel that has been used since the late 2010s to test concepts and gear for large uncrewed surface vessels, The Drive reports.

And lastly today: We say goodbye to former U.S. Army chief Gordon Sullivan, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 86. 

Sullivan entered service after college in 1959, and stayed for 36 years until his retirement as the Army’s 32nd chief of staff in 1995. Three years later, he became the president of the Association of the United States Army—where he would remain until 2016, when Defense One interviewed Sullivan ahead of his departure. 

As Army chief under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Sullivan oversaw a post-Cold War drawdown that slashed the force from 770,000 active duty soldiers to just over half a million. By 2016, after a decade and a half of fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sullivan was especially worried about the toll of repeated deployments on families of service members. 

“We’ve got an Army that is under-resourced, over-committed,” he told Defense One at the time. “But clearly the Army needs modernization and it needs dollars,” he said. “And I worry that in some cases, we are presuming a level of risk at the front end where we are using Army forces, that if we’re not careful, we’ll wind up with an Army which can’t react when we need it to if something really happens.” Read more about Sullivan’s life and legacy from AUSA, here