Saudi-backed Syrian rebels in dire straits. Riyadh is not looking kindly on developments in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo, where an enclave of rebels—many with Saudi support—are believed to be on the verge of losing what little edge they’ve gained after months of fighting a once-beleaguered Damascus’ army. Now with Riyadh’s offer to send special operations to Syria to support the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State, the Saudis run the risk of a direct confrontation with the Russia-Iran-Syria alliance, even as they continue their own intervention in Yemen.
The Saudis say they can do both at the same time, “a point underscored by plans for a large-scale, multinational military exercise to be held in the north of the country in the coming days,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. is reportedly open to the offer, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he wants to hear more details from Riyadh before signaling anything like a yay/nay just yet, and certainly not before tomorrow’s counter-ISIS pow-wow in Brussels.
For what it’s worth: “Saudi Arabia has about 227,000 active troops, including navy and air defense, compared with more than 500,000 for Iran, including the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps,” according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Precedents in Syria’s war threaten the promise of the Saudi offer, writes the Journal, noting it “would, in theory, focus strictly on fighting Islamic State—just as Russia says its intervention in Syria is solely to help the Assad regime fight ‘terrorists.’” More, here.
Pumping the brakes on Mosul. The coalition’s planned offensive on the ISIS-held city of Mosul in Iraq will likely take a while to get going. And “a while” could well be not until 2017, according to Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Stewart told lawmakers Tuesday. Recall that 13 months ago, CENTCOM chief Gen. Lloyd Austin said plans to retake Mosul had already begun. Now, however, the situation in Iraq is improved since January 2015, but it’s still far too unstable for a clearance operation of Mosul’s scale and complexity, Stewart said.
“It’s a large city,” he said. “I’m not as optimistic that we’ll be able to turn that in the near term. In my view, certainly not this year.” Stewart’s testimony “appeared to surprise the White House, where some believe retaking Mosul soon could liberate thousands of Iraqis and help ease tensions between Iraq and Turkey over the presence of Turkish forces in northern Iraq,” WSJ writes. “This is a longer timeline,” a senior administration official said. Read the rest, here.
Syrian rebels have a request for the White House. Forget state secretaries and foreign ministers, they want President Obama to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop airstrikes before they’ll join any peace talks. It’s not a new request, generally speaking, but one that reflects their broader desperation as the UN’s peace talks envoy told rebels last week that he, by himself, was powerless to stop Moscow.
“What are you going to do, other than statements?” Zakaria Malahifji, the political chief of one of the largest rebel groups given weapons and salaries by the C.I.A. and its counterparts in several European and Arab states, demanded in a recent message to contacts at the French Embassy, the New York Times reports.
“Bye-bye, revolution,” Abu al-Haytham, a spokesman for Thuwwar al-Sham, another rebel group supported through the CIA program, said.
“It’s going to get much worse,” State Secretary John Kerry reportedly told representatives of the opposition at negotiations in Geneva. “This will continue for three months, and by then the opposition will be decimated… What do you want me to do, go to war with Russia?”
The State Department didn’t rebut the account, but added: “If you put preconditions on [peace talks], you make it too easy, certainly for the regime and its supporters, to use that as an excuse not to talk and not to sit down and not to begin any dialogue,” spokesman John Kirby said. Read more of the behind-the-scenes back-and-forth that plays out while tens of thousands of refugees continue to stream out of endangered towns and mass on the Turkish border, right here.
2017 budget request: the Obama administration’s final proposal asks for $582.7 billion, focuses on the ISIS fight and R&D. Defense News has an overview and service-by-service breakdowns, here.
What the Air Force budget request says about the future of war. Full of high tech-items aimed at countering the capabilities of technologically advanced adversaries, the Air Force budget shows a service — and a military — looking beyond ISIS toward the rising technological capabilities of China and Russia. Among the requested items: intercontinental ballistic missile modernization, long-range semi-autonomous robotic missiles, offensive cyber operations, and lasers. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker explains, here.
Obama punts controversial war account to successor. The president, who decried the Pentagon’s “dishonest” war chest, will leave office with it firmly entrenched. Weisgerber again, here.
From Defense One
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., blasts Obama’s final budget, noting that it’s $2.3 billion less — about half a percent — than last year’s request even as threats loom. In an oped at Defense One, he urges Congress to add money for readiness and new weapons. Find out what, here.
White House offers $19 billion plan to revamp cybersecurity. President Obama’s last budget calls for a new chief information security officer and $62 million to help hire 10,000 new workers. NextGov has the story, here.
(Wired quips: “Obama’s new cybersecurity plan is basically the advice you’d give your neighbor to secure their computer.”)
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., Feb. 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. It’s been 110 years since the launch of HMS Dreadnought, the 18,000-ton battleship that revolutionized naval power. Send your friends this subscription link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Army’s big chunk of change for Europe. Of the Obama administration’s $3.4B requested funds for the U.S. military’s renewed engagement in Europe, the U.S. Army will absorb all but a half-billion of the cash, Stars and Stripes reports. The plan, part of the European Reassurance Initiative, will “put a brigade’s worth of heavy armor fighting vehicles and artillery in Europe. That will cost the Pentagon about $1.9 billion,” S&S writes. “Increased troop rotations will cost $1 billion more, with the Army expected to eat up most of those funds with an additional heavy brigade rotating through Europe.”
How this boosts current capabilities: “That means U.S. Army Europe will now have two rotational brigades, providing a year-round presence of heavy units. Only two brigades are permanently stationed in Europe, both light infantry.”
War (game) chest: The Army is also “planning to spend $163 million on more military exercises and $85 million on ‘activities and assistance to build the capacity of European allies and partner nations.’” More here.
The Pentagon also wants money to upgrade a Cold War-era base in Iceland. “Naval Air Station Keflavik was home to thousands of servicemembers who supported Navy and Air Force fighter jets, tankers and rescue helicopters before closing in 2006,” S&S writes. Now they want an upgraded hangar to “house the P-8 Poseidon, successor to the sub-hunting P-3 Orion once stationed at the base.”
The thinking behind the shift toward the Arctic: “Russian submarines are patrolling the North Atlantic more frequently than at any time since the end of the Cold War, U.S. and European defense officials say. Suspected Russian subs have been spotted repeatedly off the coast of the United Kingdom, as well as Norway and Finland in the past year.”
Tracking wasteful spending. In a new report, William Hartung at the Center for International Policy, has identified 27 Pentagon projects that have wasted $33 billion. “This report demonstrates that the Pentagon has a long way to go in rooting out waste and imposing basic budget discipline,” Hartung writes. “Before the Department of Defense receives billions in additional taxpayer dollars, Congress should make sure that it has a plan to more efficiently spend the resources it is already receiving.” More here.
Washington-New Delhi partnership in the SCS? The U.S. and India are reportedly discussing the possibility of conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea, officials tell Reuters. “The U.S. defense official said the two sides had discussed joint patrols, adding that both were hopeful of launching them within the year. The patrols would likely be in the Indian Ocean where the Indian navy is a major player as well as the South China Sea.” More here.
Lastly today—the UAE made headlines this week with its creation of a new post: minister of happiness, a new gig the NYT’s flags for its apparent irony given the Emirates poor human rights record. For a few other fabulously “odd” ministry names created in recent years—e.g., India’s Ministry of Yoga, North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, and more—head over here.