Counterterror honchos convene tech lords; NorK fallout; Missing US missile turns up in Cuba; Meet the new SOCOM chief; and a bit more.
- Another Taliban leader reportedly dead; Are US troops cleared hot vs. Taliban, or not?; Human shields in Fallujah; USSOF ‘invade’ Florida; And a bit more.
- ISIS bombs kill 120+ along Syria’s coast; America’s imperfect alliance in NE Syria; Fallujah offensive begins; US lifts arms embargo on Vietnam; And a bit more.
- Battling ISIS in the Sinai; Hezbollah sends arms to Fallujah; Pentagon preps for tank war; China may have a ship-hunting drone; and a bit more.
Counterterrorism comes to Silicon Valley. The White House has sent its big guns to San Jose, Calif., to persuade CEOs of firms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yahoo and Google to do more to “block terrorists from using the Internet to recruit and incite violence,” the Wall Street Journal reports, Attending today’s meeting: Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “Other top officials expected to attend are Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, Lisa Monaco, the president’s counterterrorism aide, and Megan Smith, the White House chief technology officer,” writes the Journal.
A copy of the day’s agenda was seen by The Guardian, which reports the White House will be asking executives: “In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?”
The White House is reportedly “also interested in knowing how they can encourage others to publish content that would ‘undercut’ the Islamic State’s message online,” adds the Washington Post.
Encryption is also on the agenda, but is not the primary focus of the talks—though it was reportedly FBI Director Comey’s condition for attending, WaPo notes. Read the rest of their preview, here.
NorK fallout: “Whatever happened has definitely got our attention,” said U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who leads the Japan-based 7th Fleet, in his first meeting with reporters since September.
“The Korean Peninsula is ‘what keeps me up’ for a possible crisis, more than anything else in the 7th Fleet’s region, he said, noting that North Korea’s ballistic missiles pose a threat to South Korea, Japan and even the United States,” the Associated Press reports from the USS Ronald Reagan at the Fleet’s base in Yokosuka.
The U.S. military could soon dispatch a “radiation-sniffing” jet—its WC-135W jet, dubbed the “Constant Phoenix”—to check things out around North Korea, officials told CNN Thursday. “The four-engine Boeing jets are equipped with external devices that collect radioactive material from the atmosphere on filter paper. The planes also have ‘a compressor system for whole air samples collected in holding spheres,’” a fact sheet reads. The Air Force keeps two of these aircraft at their Nebraska facilities at Offutt Air Force Base. A bit more on their mission and history, here.
In case you had thought otherwise, the U.S. military has a robust and annually tested plan to evacuate troops, civilians and even pets from radioactive fallout in the Korean peninsula. Military Times explains how the plan works, here.
Back stateside, lawmakers are gearing up for a new round of sanctions against Pyongyang and early support from House Democrats virtually ensures its passage, Foreign Policy reported Thursday. “An aide for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Foreign Policy the legislation would be based on the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, a bill that passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last year. The measure authorizes sanctions against banks facilitating the country’s nuclear program and the freezing of U.S. assets linked to North Korean ‘proliferation, smuggling, money laundering, and human rights abuses.’” More here.
A missing dummy U.S. Hellfire missile found its way to Cuba, “a loss of sensitive military technology that ranks among the worst-known incidents of its kind,” the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports. “This particular missile didn’t contain explosives, but U.S. officials worry that Cuba could share the sensors and targeting technology inside it with nations like China, North Korea or Russia.”
The missile reportedly bounced around Europe for a NATO exercise, then was discovered missing from a flight originated out of Madrid, Spain. “After tracing the cargo, officials realized that the missile had been loaded onto a truck operated by Air France, which took the missile to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. There, it was loaded onto a ‘mixed pallet’ of cargo and placed on an Air France flight. By the time the freight-forwarding firm in Madrid tracked down the missile, it was on the Air France flight, headed to Havana.”
Among the questions dominating the investigation so far: “Did someone take a bribe to send it somewhere else? Was it an intelligence operation, or just a series of mistakes? That’s what we’ve been trying to figure out,” said one U.S. official. Read the rest of this unusual military tech caper with enormous implications, here.
From Defense One
Nigeria just arrested its former defense chief for looting anti-Boko Haram funds. If the allegations are true, it would help explain the country’s gross under-resourcing of government security services. John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations unpacks the news, here.
There’s far more to the Saudi-Iran feud than Sunnis-vs.-Shia. Or even Persians vs. Arab. The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman explains why these ancient splits can only take us so far in understanding what’s going on between Riyadh and Tehran. Read on, here.
While we’re on the subject of misunderstood history: a terror-incited Europe is ignoring its long, tortured history of waging war abroad. “Even if ISIS could be defeated from the sky, another Western-led regime change is unlikely to lessen brutality in the Middle East or blunt the fervor of zealots in European capitals,” writes Quartz, here.
U.S. suspects Russian hackers in unprecedented Ukraine blackout. It’s a scenario that has long worried cyber security experts: the world’s first known case of a successful network attack on a power grid cut power to more than 600,000 homes in Ukraine in late December. Quartz has the story, here.
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“Kill-em-all with airstrikes” is not working against ISIS. That’s the acid conclusion from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who notes: 1) U.S. officials estimated in 2014 that the Islamic State group numbered about 30,000 fighters, 2) recently said 25,000 have been killed since then; and 3) now believe there are about 30,000. “I often ask U.S. government officials and mid-level staffers, ‘What are you doing to prevent a neutral person from becoming a terrorist?’ They always claim this this is not their responsibility.” Read on, here.
What would stem the flow of foreign recruits? The eight authors of the Heritage Foundation’s new report (“Combatting the ISIS Foreign Fighter Pipeline: A Global Approach”) have some ideas. Read ’em, here.
Meet the “shadowy general” expected to take charge of America’s special operations forces. His name is Lt. Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, and he was once one of the nation’s premiere “pipe-hitters” in the U.S. Army’s top-secret Delta Force.
“Since last year, Thomas has headed up SOCOM’s most prestigious component, the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, which oversees terrorist-hunting missions from North Africa to Afghanistan and beyond,” WaPo writes.
“A 1980 graduate of West Point, Thomas completed a brief stint with a mechanized infantry unit before entering the elite Ranger battalions, where he participated in two combat parachute jumps, into Grenada in 1983 and Panama six years later, before trying out for Delta Force, the Army’s super-secret counterterrorism unit. After commanding a squadron in Delta and leading Delta operators searching for war criminals in the Balkans, he returned to the Rangers as a battalion commander in time to lead the first Ranger contingent to Afghanistan three months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.”
For what it’s worth: “The only year of the war on terror during which Thomas didn’t spend time in Afghanistan was 2008, according to information Army officials shared with the press when he gained his third star last year and took command of JSOC. That was the year Thomas spent overseeing U.S. troops in Iraqi city of Mosul, where he survived a head-on attack on his armored vehicle by a car bomb.”
Troops who have worked for him have nothing but good things to say about the man and his leadership style, and you catch all the seemingly well-deserved praise, here.
Here are photos of the first aircraft flying from China’s fake islands, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re all commercial jets. From Xinhua News: “The successful test flight proved that the airport has the capacity to ensure the safe operation of civil aviation large aircraft, will transport between reefs supplies, personnel, medical aid provided convenient mode of transportation, while the South China Sea will provide new transoceanic flight alternate Airport select more economical and flexible route selection.” Uh-huh. As Foxtrot Alpha writes, “The question is when will the military hardware begin to show up? Now that the runway is operational, cargo flights can begin that will greatly enhance the speed at which the island becomes a fully operational military base. Where it goes from there, nobody is sure.” Read and see, here.
In other China news, PLA troops are getting laser rifles, kinda. That from Popular Science and D Brief friend P.W. Singer, here.