The unofficial beginning of the fighting season in Afghanistan appears to be under way as two bombs detonated in Ghazni and Jalalabad, leaving 16 dead, and another has reportedly exploded in Kabul this morning, too. Reuters this hour, here.
The U.S. soldier killed in Wednesday’s suspected insider attack in Jalalabad was 22-year-old Army Spec. John Dawson from Whitinsville, Mass. Army Times, here.
ICYMI: Dawson’s death capped the longest period (116 days) without a U.S. military combat-zone death since Sept. 11. The WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, here.
Meantime, Ash Carter condemned North Korea’s decision to conduct a missile launch before his visit in the South. The NYT’s Helene Cooper, traveling with Carter: “[Carter’s] welcome present was waiting for him when he touched down here on Thursday: confirmed reports that North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its western coast two days before his first visit to South Korea as President Obama’s defense chief.”
“South Korean officials informed their American counterparts that the North on Tuesday fired two surface-to-air missiles from Pyongwon County in South Pyongan Province. The missiles flew only a few miles before plunging into the sea, defense officials said.
Carter, who said the launch was a reminder of the dangers posed by the North and the need for a ready force there: “If it was a welcoming message to me, I’m flattered…but in all seriousness, it’s just a further reminder of the importance of our alliance on the Korean peninsula.” More here.
The WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz, also with the Secretary: “…On Tuesday, Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, said North Korea is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile, marking the strongest comments to date from a U.S. military official about Pyongyang’s ability to make a bomb small enough to fit on a long-range missile.” More here.
Carter will make his way back to Washington this weekend after a stop in Hawaii. He’ll visit with Adm. Sam Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, who is on a very short list to be recommended to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That decision, we believe, rests with the White House at this point and could come very soon. Locklear is on that list along with Marine Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford.
Also under potential consideration is Vice-Chairman Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, Central Command commander Gen. Lloyd Austin and maybe Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, but most folks believe it’s a decision between Locklear and Dunford. Both are considered to have many talents, but Locklear’s Pacific experience would help him; Dunford’s even-handed style and management of the war in Afghanistan before returning to Washington likely puts him in good stead with the administration. We’ll see.
Defense One in re-runs: read Lubold’s story about Locklear from last month here.
Break, break, new subject: Carter will confront another issue: transgender military service. There are a lot of burning issues in the military and overseas, but Carter, as the Pentagon’s former No. 2, is familiar with a lot of the issues that have been percolating beneath the surface. Creating an effective “force of the future” is one of his priorities. That means he’ll be looking at a number of things a lot of folks don’t normally think about. Transgender service isn’t at the top of his priority list, but it’s an obvious extension of the thinking inside the building over the last few years. And Carter has already signaled that he is open to allowing service members who are transgender to serve if they are qualified. Here’s one case.
The WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin on Page One: “Over the past decade, Sgt. Shane Ortega, has served three combat tours: Two in Iraq, one in Afghanistan. Two as a Marine and one in the Army. Two as a woman and one as a man.
“Ortega is a helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. He was born female and would like to serve the rest of his career as a man. That would require a significant change in Pentagon rules, which require that transgender troops be discharged from military service, usually on medical grounds.” More here.
Here’s what Carter said about transgender service in the military earlier this year, during a troop visit in Kandahar, Afghanistan: “I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country.
“And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, by Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson.
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Read about the HuffPo’s David Wood’s winning of a Dart Award for his series on “Moral Injury” below.
The Air Force’s new highly-classified stealth bomber is being designed to make it easier and cheaper to modify for future threats—a tenet of Better Buying Power 3.0, the latest update in the Pentagon’s push to improve the way it buys weapons, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports: “That also means the company that builds the plane might not get the upgrade contracts, as has historically been the case… Defense Department officials have revealed little about the Long Range Strike Bomber project beyond plans to buy between 80 and 100 aircraft for about $550 million each. The Air Force, which is evaluating bids from a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team and from Northrop Grumman, is expected to award a contract this summer.
“Upgradability—the Pentagon calls it “modularity”—is written into the bomber’s specifications; bidders are required to make it easy to add the scores of upgrades expected over the bomber’s multi-decade life… The Pentagon is also seeking more access to the intellectual property generated when a contractor designs a new weapon. In the past, companies have resisted giving up their blueprints.” More here.
Lockheed Martin’s tardiness delivering actual working software for the F-35 could cost them $40 million. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: “The money is part of $100 million that the Pentagon’s program office has held out as incentives for Lockheed, the contractor on the $391.1 billion F-35 program, to complete three successive versions of software needed to give the jet increasingly advanced combat capabilities.” More here.
Sen. Rand Paul’s prospects for the White House come down to whether he can convince the American voter he is not a contradiction, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports from Paul’s campaign stop in Charleston, S.C. yesterday: “As people dismantled Paul’s set in South Carolina on Thursday, a gust knocked over a large ‘Defeat the Washington Machine, Unleash the American Dream’ sign, crushing a temporary picket fence. The metaphor is too hard to resist: In the end, it may simply be too tough a balance.
Consider, for example, “Paul’s shift to openness on air strikes against the Islamic State, though he introduced a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, and called Obama’s actions unconstitutional. Cue Iran legislation he says ensures Congress gets to review any nuclear deal to ‘stay strong’ on Iran, even though in the past he has said Iran’s nuclear ambitions were not a threat to the United States. Cue a recent budget amendment to increase defense spending by some $190 billion over the next two years…” Read the rest, here.
O’Toole also sends: Stephen Preston, the Defense Department’s top lawyer—and formerly the CIA’s top lawyer—is giving a rare speech this evening, and on a hot topic: “Development of the Legal Framework for the United States’ Use of Military Force Since 9/11.” Expect him to make the case for the White House’s new AUMF for the Islamic State as well, more than eight months into the military operation (hint, hint, Congress).
Preston is speaking as the keynote at the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law, a non-partisan non-profit founded in 1906, at 5 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill. RSVP for that here, or check out more details about the event over here.
Also today: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus heads to India for a tour of India’s newest aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, which is set for a 2018 commission date. Mabus will be meeting with defense officials about the bilateral Defense Trade and Technology Initiative as part of wider cooperation on aircraft carrier technology.
The Q-word: Could Yemen become the Saudis’ Vietnam? As the Saudi Arabia-led airstrike campaign continues, it’s becoming clear that the country has fragmented all the more into angry tribes and militias and that the approach is not doing much to get President Hadi back into power. The WaPo’s Hugh Naylor from Beirut: “…The Yemeni insurgents, known as Houthis, have pushed ahead with their offensive and seem to have protected many of their weapons stockpiles from the coalition’s bombardments, analysts say. The fighting has killed hundreds of people, forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes and laid waste to the strategic southern city of Aden.
“The battles are increasingly creating problems that go beyond the rebels opposing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the forces supporting him. The conflict has reduced available water and food supplies in a country already suffering from dangerous levels of malnutrition and created a security vacuum that has permitted territorial advances by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“For the Saudi government and its allies, the military operation in Yemen may be turning into a quagmire, analysts say.” More here.
A road map to chaos in Yemen: an op-ed by Asher Orkaby of Brandeis in the WSJ, here.
Pakistan is voting with its feet: it’s staying out of Yemen. Al Jazeera, here.
Here’s video of new Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen’s defense ministry in Sana, via al-Arabiya, here.
As possible civilian casualties mount, bereaved families are rethinking their support for the air war in Yemen. Middle East Eye’s Tom Finn and Linah Alsaafin, here.
Meantime, more bumps in the road to a deal: Iran’s supreme leader wants sanctions lifted immediately and that military sites would be off limits to foreign inspectors. The NYT’s Thomas Erdbrink and David Sanger: “…The assertions by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could be tactical, intended to give both the negotiators and himself some political space to get Iran’s hard-liners accustomed to the framework of the nuclear deal reached a week ago with the United States and other world powers.”
“…Khamenei’s comments were the first time he has discussed the framework that emerged from the nuclear talks last week in Lausanne, Switzerland. His pronouncements are considered vital because they shape the “red lines” for Iranian negotiators, though they have often showed considerable flexibility in working out details that seem to adhere to his literal meaning while still accommodating some Western demands.” More here.
Sen. John McCain issued a statement late last night: “The Supreme Leader’s comments today on the nuclear agreement suggest that Iran and the Obama Administration are on very different pages. It is the Supreme Leader, not Iran’s President or Foreign Minister, who really calls the shots in Tehran. So for him to say, as he did today, that Iran will not permit inspections of its nuclear facilities anytime, anywhere – and that sanctions relief must be complete and immediate – would appear to be a major setback.”
FYI, Judith Miller took the nation to war in Iraq. So, not really. But the former NYT reporter – who has a new book out - wrote an essay adapted from the book that is in defense of that line. Miller’s top: “I took America to war in Iraq. It was all me. OK, I had some help from a duplicitous vice president, Dick Cheney. Then there was George W. Bush, a gullible president who could barely locate Iraq on a map and who wanted to avenge his father and enrich his friends in the oil business. And don’t forget the neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon who fed cherry-picked intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, to reporters like me.
“None of these assertions happens to be true, though all were published and continue to have believers.” More here.
One week before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Washington, Vice Prez Joe Biden said ISIS’ “aura of invincibility has been pierced” and the mission’s “momentum is in the right direction.” Defense One’s Lubold with more: “Biden, speaking at National Defense University in Washington, acknowledged the speed at which the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) took over swaths of Iraq last year… [but] Rebuffing criticism that the U.S. didn’t do enough fast enough in Iraq, Biden argued that the administration’s approach is now paying dividends…
“Baghdad has generally pushed Washington to accelerate its delivery of weapons and other equipment to the Iraqis. Abadi is expected to point to some early successes—such as the one in Tikrit—in his bid for more support from the U.S.” More here.
Anti-drone activists purchased airtime for TV ads near Nevada’s Creech AFB in March and now Beale AFB in California urging drone pilots to “Please refuse to fly.” Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol, here.
Kiev accused pro-Moscow rebels of violating the Minsk 2 ceasefire on Thursday. The rebels, in a continuing pattern that has defined the stalemate, have countered with allegations against Kiev on similar ground. Reuters, here.
An updated report from the Office of Naval Intelligence highlights multiple signs of China’s rapid naval expansion. Bloomberg’s Capaccio again, here.
“The most groundbreaking single piece of information in the report,” Andrew S. Erickson, associate professor in the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, says is confirmation “that Chinese ships and submarines have deployed the potent new-generation supersonic YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile.” That one over at WOTR, here.
Meantime, China’s foreign ministry defended their aggressive South China Sea island-building, basing it at least in part on natural disaster contingency planning, Reuters reports, here.
HuffPo senior military correspondent (and Pulitzer Prize-winner) David Wood just won a Dart Award - for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma - for his series called “Moral Injury.” His intro, a testament to why he’s recognized as a reporter who actually cares about the subjects he writes about: “I have covered conflict and the military for 35 years, drawn to the adventure and adrenaline rush, and fascinated by the drama of Americans at war. I feel privileged to have been accepted by soldiers and Marines in their squads, platoons and battalions. Living with the grunts, I have come to respect their grit, their sense of honor and commitment, their bearing, their courage. I’ve been enriched by their unfailing humor and spontaneous generosity. Amid the horror and squalid waste of war, I have seen young Americans at their best. In a very personal way, I honor their service.
“It took me a long time to recognize that something was wrong. I know too many accomplished warriors who return home proud but uneasy about their experiences. Some have sought therapy, but most have not. Some were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most were not. But they are not okay.
“This series came from a determination to understand why, and to explore how their way back from war can be smoothed. Moral injury is a relatively new concept that seems to describe what many feel: a sense that their fundamental understanding of right and wrong has been violated, and the grief, numbness or guilt that often ensues.
“Here, you will meet combat veterans struggling with the moral and ethical ambiguities of war. You will hear from some of the researchers and therapists working to help them cope, and you will come to understand some of the demons that veterans bring home from battle. However we individually feel about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these enduring moral wounds, to young Americans who fought on our behalf, must be counted among the ultimate costs.”