With Syrian peace talks slated to open Friday, Russia tossed a bit of a monkey wrench this morning by insisting that Kurds be invited to the table. The proposition, brought forward by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, was met with swift opposition from Ankara—which, like Moscow, faces accusations it is using the fight against the Islamic State to largely attack fighters it dislikes (the Kurdish YPG militia in the case of Turkey; and a broad array of rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the case of Russia).
While we’re on Assad, Lavrov reiterated that Russia still has no interest asking Assad to step down from power or in offering him any sort of political asylum. And with the Saudi-backed opposition meeting today in Riyadh, and holding fast to their demands that Russia halt its airstrikes in Syria while a path is cleared to supply besieged towns with badly-needed humanitarian aid, the entire “peace” process for Syria remains as imperiled as it’s been for months. The Associated Press has more on this front, here.
ISIS claims to have been behind multiple bombings in the central Syrian city of Homs that killed nearly two dozen and wounded close to 100 others this morning, AP reports. “Syrian state television broadcast footage of the aftermath of the Homs bombing, showing cars ablaze and extensive damage to shops and apartments around the site of the explosion in the Zahra neighborhood, which is inhabited mostly by members of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam.”
To the south in Syria, Assad’s forces retook the town of Sheikh Maskin, near the Jordanian border, “culminating an offensive that began in late December to retake the town after seizing the Brigade 82 military base, nearby,” AP writes. Russian and Syrian airstrikes helped pave the way for government troops, Hezbollah and Iranian officers to collectively retake the city overnight, Agence France-Presse reports, adding Sheikh Maskin is located just “12 kilometres (seven miles) from the rebel stronghold of Nawa, another key target for regime forces.”
Radio silence from Capitol Hill on expanding ISIS fight. While U.S. military officials have been talking in recent weeks of their eagerness—and in places like Afghanistan, their readiness—to expand the fight against ISIS outside of Iraq and Syria and into spaces like Libya, the New York Times editorial board warns that “this significant escalation is being planned without a meaningful debate in Congress.” Further, they write, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph “Dunford told reporters that striking the cells of Islamic State fighters in Libya would ‘put a firewall’ between that front and sympathizers of the group elsewhere in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. That is a reasonable goal. But military officials have yet to make a persuasive case that it is achievable.”
Not unlike what’s reportedly playing out with ISIS affiliates in eastern Afghanistan, “Even if the Pentagon and its allies were to manage to strike Islamic State targets successfully, it remains uncertain that they would have a reliable ground force to hold the terrain.” Read the rest of the Times‘ take, here.
The Obama Doctrine has no heir in Hillary Clinton. As Clinton puts more distance between her foreign policy and President Obama’s, his national security legacy may prove short-lived. Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole has the story, here.
The 2016 election is on track to be an inverse of the 2008 race, the Wall Street Journal reports after the Democrats wrapped their last town hall ahead of the Iowa caucuses. “At the start of [the 2008] race, the campaign was shaping up to be a referendum on the Iraq war, but the financial crisis erupted and became dominant. This time, what started as a focus on the economy has morphed in part into debates about Syria, Iraq, Russia, Israel, Iran—and more recently, North Korea.”
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has a Plan B should Donald Trump win the White House this November. Gates told a crowd gathered for a Politico event in D.C. that his home is just 50 miles from the U.S.-Canadian border. Not that he was actually serious about a move north, he clarified for the humorless.
But he did take nearly all the 2016 contenders to task in this chat with The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey. He also said Obama is a hyper-rationalist in a fairly insane world—a world whose leaders are often stuck in a 19th- and 20th-century mindset—and that sometimes you gotta bring out a little crazy to throw your opponents off balance. Oh, and the president has underestimated the threat of ISIS. All that, here.
From Defense One
Russian scientists may have solved one of the major barriers to light-based computers. A new cooling method opens a door to optical chips far faster than today’s electronic ones. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports, here.
The U.S. intelligence community must remove barriers to minority recruitment, say UTEP professors Damien Van Puyvelde and Stephen Coulthart. National security demands a more diverse workforce to understand the world, but several things stand in the way. Read what, here.
Get up to date on the latest defense technology trends by reading “Best of Defense One: Tech Trends,” an ebook that brings together the most-read technology stories recently published on Defense One. Get that, here.
Welcome to the our Tuesday “still-snowed-in” edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Get your friends off on the right foot in 2016 by telling them to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different this year? Got news? Let us know: email@example.com.
Lockheed to separate IT business and combine with Leidos. Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, announced it would separate and then combine its IT and technical services business with Leidos, the former SAIC. The $5 billion transaction “will enable Leidos to offer a broader portfolio of mission-critical IT solutions and services to support customers across the globe,” Lockheed said in a statement this morning. When Lockheed announced it would buy helicopter-maker Sikorsky last year, executives said they were looking to sell or spin off the company’s IT and technical services business. Expect more details about the deal during Lockheed’s earnings call later this morning. And speaking of earnings, Lockheed’s were $46.1 billion in 2015—that’s up $500 million from the previous year.
Pakistan’s army chief to step down: “The most powerful and popular man in Pakistan, Gen. Raheel Sharif, announced Monday that he will step down as army chief when his term expires in November, a positive step for the country’s historically unstable democracy but one that creates new uncertainty about the battle against Islamist militants.” Washington Post, here.
Grisly green-on-green attack in Afghanistan. An Afghan policeman is believed to have poisoned ten of his comrades before inviting the Taliban to shoot each of them in the head Monday night in south-central Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province, the New York Times reports. The killing marked the second insider attack in Afghanistan in less than two weeks: “In a similar incident on Jan. 17, nine police officers were killed in the district of Dehrawoud. After shooting their colleagues, three officers — also believed to be Taliban infiltrators — took weapons, burned the post and joined the insurgents, according to Dehrawoud’s district governor, Aminullah Khaliqi.” More, here.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter is set to preview the Pentagon’s upcoming budget in a speech slated for Feb. 2, Reuters reports. His talk is intended to be long on vision and short on any “detailed list of programmatic changes.”
Some brief background: “A massive government spending bill enacted by Congress last year set a spending level of about $576 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal 2017, which meant the Defense Department had to trim its planned funding levels by about $15 billion… Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), maker of the F-35 fighter jet, Boeing Co (BA.N) and other big weapons makers are anxiously awaiting details about the budget and how it will affect their programs. Senior defense officials have said that the $15 billion in cuts would largely come from procurement accounts since personnel costs and operations costs were harder to cut.” Read the rest, here.
And lastly today—dig into “five bad arguments for cutting U.S. defense spending,” from the Heritage Foundation’s Justin Johnson. He writes that—despite what you may have read—ballooning national debt is not actually a national security threat; and, rather than fixating on how much the U.S. spends on defense, a more telling indicator of what possibly lies ahead in U.S. national security is the downward trend in U.S. defense spending. Read his take in full, here.