Egypt’s investigation into what brought down a Russian-bound passenger jet points to a mechanic with a cousin with ties to ISIS. Cairo hasn’t yet released a statement or official findings in the case, but two sources told Reuters “the mechanic had been detained, along with two airport policemen and a baggage handler suspected of helping him put the bomb on board.” It’s unclear yet if the detained police were either incompetent or actually complicit in the plan, which reportedly involved the mechanic not asking any questions about the package from his cousin, who is said to have joined ISIS about 18 months ago. That story, here.
For what it’s worth: Egypt is losing some $250 million in tourism revenue each month since Russia suspended its flights to the country, the Associated Press reported.
Syrian peace talks are under way in Geneva today, but one rather key party is missing: the Syrian opposition. “Ahmad Ramadan, a senior official with the Syrian National Coalition, said the opposition is holding on to its decision to boycott the talks until it receives assurances on the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions on lifting the sieges on rebel held areas and halting bombardment of civilians in Syria.”
UN’s envoy for the talks, Staffan de Mistura, reportedly admitted to the opposition that their “demands were reasonable,” AP writes, “but that he was powerless to implement them himself, adding that negotiations were the best way to force everyone to implement those resolutions.”
The fight against ISIS requires “hundreds more trainers, advisers and commandos from the United States and its allies” and fast, unnamed Pentagon officials tell the New York Times, which adds that President Obama isn’t opposed to the notion.
What numbers are we talking about here? “One official said that he did not anticipate that number increasing to more than 4,500 over time, and even that increase, the official said, could come incrementally, much as the deployment of the 3,700 American troops occurred over the period of a year and a half.”
Why now? In a word: Ramadi. But gains in Syria make the idea look tempting, too. “With the liberation of the Iraqi city of Ramadi last month, coupled with recent gains in northern Syria, senior military leaders say that the war effort can now focus on isolating — and then liberating — the Islamic State-held cities of Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria.” Read the rest, here.
From Defense One
Homeland Security’s $6B firewall has more than a few frightening blind spots. A recent audit revealed the National Cybersecurity Protection System—aka EINSTEIN—does not scan for 94 percent of common computer vulnerabilities. But that’s not all of its shortcomings. NextGov has the story, here.
The Arab Spring’s aftermath, in seven minutes. From the Council on Foreign Relations, a multimedia look at where Libya, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Tunisia stand now. Turn on your speakers and head here.
Here’s why the UN sat on its hands during 5 years of war in Syria. The “great power” origins and recent deadly failings of the power of veto inside the U.N. Security Council. CFR’s Stewart M. Patrick indicts the international system, here.
Video: “Maintaining Force Readiness in the New Era of Global Threats.” If you missed last Thursday’s livestream, here’s the video of a conversation between Brig. Gen. Thomas Murphy, deputy commander of Air Forces Cyber; Robert Naething, deputy to the Commanding General of U.S. Army North; and Brig. Gen. Peter Lambert, vice commander of 25th Air Force, ISR and Air Combat. Moderated by Defense One’s deputy editor, Bradley Peniston. Watch, here.
Welcome to Friday’s 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.
DoD sets maternity leave for female servicemembers at 12 weeks, doubling the existing time for soldiers and airmen, but halving it for sailors and Marines. (New fathers get a four-day bump-up to 14 days.) Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the change yesterday, surprising both the Navy, whose secretary had increased leave to 18 weeks, and the Air Force, whose secretary had announced an intention to follow suit. Navy Times has the story, here.
Is Ash Carter allergic to the Pentagon Briefing Room? He seems to think so. Toward the end of yesterday’s briefing, the secretary’s allergies seemed to get the best of him. After coughing a few times, while answering a question, he apologized to the press corps and said: “I always tell Peter there’s something about this room.” Carter has allergy issues in the briefing room several times since becoming secretary. Pentagon officials had the room, and the velvet curtains that hang behind the podium, thoroughly cleaned over the Christmas holidays. But that didn’t seem work.
Foodies rejoice! That’s because celebrity chef Robert Irvine’s new Pentagon restaurant Fresh Kitchen is slated to open in the Spring. Nearly two years since its announcement, and the bureaucratic hurdles along the way, white plywood walls were installed a few months ago, signaling the commencement of construction of the new eatery, which is located next to the CVS in the old Market Basket. This week, signs were posted on those construction walls announcing the opening and they’re hiring. The restaurant will bring some healthier lunch options to America’s military leaders.
The Army’s future may have just become a little more clear. That after the National Commission on the Future of the Army released its findings Thursday. The bottom line up front: 450,000 troops is America’s baseline in order to meet the “minimum national security requirements” in the years ahead. Check out two summaries of the findings—first from the Center for Strategic and International Studies here and also via the folks at Army Times, here.
Another successful missile defense test. The Missile Defense Agency successfully tested a new “Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle” yesterday during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to companies involved in the test. The so-called kill vehicle is the part of an interceptor that collides with a ballistic missile. “The mission’s objective was to observe in-flight performance of redesigned components and gain valuable information on evolving threat classes,” Raytheon, maker of the kill vehicle, said in a statement. The interceptor did not shoot down a missile, but instead “performed an intentional fly-by of a target” to gather “engineering data that’s not possible in an intercept test,” according to Boeing, the lead contractor on the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense project. More from AP, here.
Des Moines debate, in short: Jeb Bush wants to fix the VA. Ted Cruz says Obama has degraded the military and won’t arm the Kurds. Marco Rubio lamented the small size of America’s army. And somewhere else, Donald Trump said he raised $6 million for veterans. Those are the high points of last night’s Republican debate, via Military Times’ Leo Shane III.
As expected, more than a few of the candidates told some whoppers about the military, “carpet-bombing” and more—and the AP fact-checks those claims, here.
Somebody’s watching me. Iran says it flew a drone “directly over” the USS Harry S. Truman and near the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and on Jan. 12 as the vessels were in international waters in the Persian Gulf. State media said the drone took “precise” photographs of Truman as part of an ongoing naval drill, AP reports.
And allegedly newly released Snowden documents reveal “U.S and British intelligence cracked the codes of Israeli drones operating in the Middle East and monitored their surveillance feeds for almost 20 years,” AP writes, rolling up reports from the German daily Der Spiegel and the investigative website The Intercept.
And finally: do you want to believe? “Military Times asked the Defense Department if the NDAA calls for funding any of the nefarious activities mentioned in the first episode of the new X-Files television series. ‘Thanks for your weird question,’ replied intrepid Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright. ‘The FY 2015 NDAA did not allow for funding of any alien/human hybrid colonization, whatever that means.’” Uh-huh, sure. Continue your investigation, here.