The rising urgency of Libya. President Obama’s top national security aides are pressing him to open up a new North African front in the war against the Islamic State. And the president is amenable to the idea—so long as the U.S. options do not include a large troop deployment. Instead, Obama has advised his inner council to “redouble their efforts to help form a unity government in Libya at the same time the Pentagon refines its options, which include airstrikes, commando raids or advising vetted Libyan militias on the ground, as Special Operations forces are doing now in eastern Syria,” the New York Times reports.
Many of the details have already been laid out. “The White House just has to decide,” said one senior State Department official. “The case has been laid out by virtually every department.”
Root of the worries: “The number of Islamic State fighters in Libya, Pentagon officials said this week, has grown to between 5,000 and 6,500 — more than double the estimate government analysts disclosed last fall. Rather than travel to Iraq or Syria, many new Islamic State recruits from across North Africa have remained in Libya, in militant strongholds along more than 150 miles of Mediterranean coastline near Surt.”
U.S. special operators have been looking for reliable pals in the country for some time already. But all they’ve reportedly found so far are “unreliable, unaccountable, poorly organized [militias] divided by region and tribe.”
Ideally, the U.S. would love to see Libya form a functioning unity government now that we’re nearly five years away from the death of former Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. And if the West can get that elusive unity government formed, a raft of follow-on options are already on the docket, including “sending Italian and other European troops to Libya to establish a local stabilization force and reviving a Pentagon plan to train Libyan counterterrorism troops.”
The problem with that, of course, is that it’s taken five years and we are where we are: a fragmented country at war with itself at almost every turn. And that just ratchets up the likelihood that unilateral U.S. military action will be taken. Such a decision could come as early as this week, the Times writes. Read the rest here.
Baghdad is raising a 10-foot-high wall around the city and digging a moat to deter would-be jihadis. So far work has only begun on a 65-mile stretch of that wall and trench along the north and northwestern approaches, AP reports.
Encircling is also how the Syrian army is retaking the city of Aleppo, and making enough progress that the U.S. and France are now accusing the Assad regime and their Russian comrades of “torpedoing the peace efforts” in Syria.
“The United Nations on Wednesday suspended the first peace talks in two years, halting an effort that seemed doomed from the start as the war raged unabated on the ground and government forces severed a major rebel supply route into strategically-important Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the war began,” Reuters reports.
About that peace process: Russia says the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front must be eliminated before it’ll stop its airstrikes in Syria. Well, Nusra and “terrorists” like them—so this might take a while. That via France 24, here.
In Yemen, a drone strike killed a top AQ commander. “Jalal Baleedi was killed by a drone strike as he was traveling in a car with two others in coastal Abyan province,” Reuters reports. “The U.S. State Department said Baleedi was involved in planning attacks on Western diplomatic targets in Sanaa in 2013 and put a reward of up to $5 million for information that would bring him to justice… Another strike on Thursday killed six al Qaeda militants in a car near al Rawda city in Shabwa province, residents said.” More here and here.
From Defense One
Why Turkey chose, and then rejected, a Chinese air-defense missile. Ankara’s decisions say a lot about what Turkey wants from the U.S. and NATO, if only the West will listen, say Mustafa Kibaroglu and Selim C. Sazak. Read this deep dive, here.
Three reasons the 2017 defense budget won’t be enough — and how to fix it. The responsible path is not the easy path, but there is bipartisan support for a stronger defense budget and ways to make it happen, argues Heritage’s Justin Johnson, here.
Rand Paul, the dove, never stood a chance among the hawks, writes The Atlantic’s Molly Ball: “I planned to write a different story about the libertarian anti-neocon. Instead, I found this.” Read what, here.
Ben Carson’s blueprint for better U.S. cybersecurity. The Republican 2016 contender is just the second candidate of either party to lay out a comprehensive cybersecurity plan for the United States. CFR’s Lincoln Davidson, has the details, here.
Spy on me all you like, more Americans say. A new poll shows more people are fine with increased national-security surveillance. The Atlantic reports, here.
Coming up: The civilian workforce that supports U.S. warfighters is aging. How will the Pentagon attract and retain the next generation? Leaders from DOD, USAF, and DLA will lay out their plans and outlook on Tues., February 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send your friends this subscription link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: email@example.com.
Afghan troops won’t be able to secure their own country until at least 2024, the top war commander, Gen. John Campbell, told lawmakers Wednesday. Campbell warned that fewer U.S. troops would compromise the training program to rebuild the Afghan security forces. The fewer troops under debate is the 5,500 the president has chosen to stay around past his final days in office at the start of 2017. The current count is closer to 10,000 American GIs in country.
The list of things to fix in Kabul is still quite long, Campbell said. And those include building an adequate air force, gathering intelligence, maintaining warfighting equipment, budgeting and personnel management. Campbell returns to the Hill this morning to talk Afghanistan with the Senate Armed Services committee at 10 a.m.
And here are 27 questions to ask before the U.S. extends its war in Afghanistan. Expanding U.S. combat operations or abandoning the Afghans are not the only options. says the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert M. Hathaway, here.
Those Hillary Clinton emails mentioning CIA officers didn’t really blow anyone’s cover — instead, emails from other admin staff to Clinton just sloppily tried to mask things, writes AP’s Ken Dilanian. His long dive and explainer is worth a read to get caught up on the email issue and this particular concern for intelligence workers.
Lastly today—Rumsfeld celebrated at app party. Last week we told you Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was behind a new Winston Churchill-themed solitaire app. (It’s a strategy game, which strikes some as a bit ironic.) Last night, former colleagues and fields celebrated the new incredibly challenging two-deck card game, which has been downloaded more than 300,000 times since its recent release. There were Churchill Solitaire-branded cigars and Churchill-themed drinks at the launch party held at Charlie Palmer Steak, just steps from the Capitol. Keith Urbahn, a former Rumsfeld aide who created the app, hosted the event. What was Rumsfeld’s first question for everyone he encountered: Did you download the app? DC Seen: Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michael McCaul, Scooter Libby, George Will, Lee Pollock and Jamie McIntyre.