MARINES EXPANDING COMBAT ROLE IN IRAQ U.S. Marines are supporting Iraqi troops with targeting assistance and artillery fire, the Associated Press reports, in what is an apparent expansion of their combat role in Iraq. But officials are pushing back on that assessment, arguing they only provided such support at the request of the Iraqi government, and that it doesn’t count as an expansion of their mission. The operation was launched from Fire Base Bell, a small outpost that officials insist is there to provide security for Iraqi and U.S. forces at the nearby base in Makhmour.
ISIS ON RETREAT They’re being squeezed and pushed back by U.S. and Russian-backed forces, and their offensives have dwindled to zero. That’s the picture of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria right now, The Washington Post reports, as a defeat of the Islamic State begins to come into focus — and fighters for the extremist organization appear to lose confidence in their cause.
The assessment is largely based on the testimony of Iraqi officials. But U.S. officials, too, believe that the campaign against the Islamic State has finally hit its stride, after a year and a half of fighting, and that the Islamic State has lost over 40 percent of the land they once controlled, thanks to a mix of successful campaigns against them. Now, the question is whether they can maintain the momentum, and build a force strong, capable and composed of the proper fighters to seize the so-called Islamic State strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa, and hold them.
CIVILIAN HIRING FREEZE AT THE PENTAGON No new civilian hires at the Pentagon for a while, except for projects deemed “mission critical” — that’s the new order, as of March 20, that’s intended to help the Defense Department reduce staff at headquarters, as ordered to by Congress, Defense News reports. The freeze was outlined in a Feb. 23 memo, and can be lifted only once agencies get a “delaying plan” approved. The personnel reduction order is all part of an attempt to “de-layer” the system, making it more nimble and less bureaucratic.
TWO AMERICANS KILLED IN BRUSSELS The State Department announced that Americans are among those who died in Brussels, but have released no other details — neither their identities nor a guess as to how many Americans in total may have perished in the attacks. Authorities in Brussels are also continuing to search and apprehend suspects, carrying a series of raids around the city.