Manhunt in Belgium; Foreign policy tensions on 2016 trail; Brussels and the ‘mother of Satan’; Pentagon strikes kill ‘dozens’ in Yemen; And a bit more.
- ISIS advance in NW Syria; Surprise, surprise—USSOF are in Syria; The Shi’a side of the Fallujah offensive; Captured IS fighters are snitching on Baghdadi; Memorial Day and the National Parks; And a bit more.
- Russia alters Syria bombing plan; Taliban are not interested in peace; DoD playing the long game in Asia; USAF open to F-22 restart; and a bit more.
- Taliban appoint a new leader; Not all Taliban like this new leader; Eyes on Raqqa—and the nearby Kurds; SOCOM wants to predict the future; Moral risk and the citizen soldier; And a bit more.
Manhunt intensifies in Belgium. Belgian authorities are searching for a man identified in security footage at the Brussels airport after Tuesday’s bombing killed nearly three-dozen people and wounded another 200. “Belgian state broadcaster RTBF identified two of the attackers as brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui, and said they are believed to have blown themselves up,” the Associated Press reports. “According to the report… Khalid El Bakraoui had rented an apartment that was raided last week in an operation that led authorities to top Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam. One of the men pictured at the airport is at large. Authorities have not identified him,” not that that kept Belgian newspaper DH from speculating on the culprit: “Najim Laachraoui, whom Belgian authorities have been searching for since last week as a suspected accomplice of Abdeslam,” writes the AP.
A bit more on this fella: “Laachraoui is believed to have made the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks, a French police official told The Associated Press, adding that Laachraoui’s DNA was found on all of the vests as well as in a Brussels apartment where they were made.” Read the rest, here.
After Brussels, will U.S. voters demand foreign-policy experience? In the wake of Tuesday’s attacks, 2016 contender Donald Trump wants to bring back waterboarding, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to “secure” American Muslim neighborhoods. But folks with with actual experience in responding to these dynamics are more cautious, writes Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, here.
How facial recognition might stop the next Brussels: Keeping terrorists away from crowded spaces requires recognizing them before they get there, which is no easy task. Defense One’s Tech Editor Patrick Tucker explains, here.
Belgian authorities found a “bomb-making factory” along with “chemicals” and an ISIS flag at a Brussels flat in the district of Schaerbeek, NBC News reported.
As far as what’s known about the bombings at the Zaventem airport: “Counter-terrorism officials from the United States and other countries told NBC News that the airport attack involved three suitcase bombs. Two of them were detonated by the terrorists, while a third did not explode and was blown up by Belgian authorities. A fourth was reportedly discovered in a nearby house.”
The Washington Post’s former Marine Thomas Gibbons-Neff re-introduces readers to an explosive nicknamed the “mother of Satan,” which “news reports in the aftermath of the attacks suggested that the terrorists used… made primarily of a peroxide-based explosive, triacetone triperoxide, known as TATP.”
Why the re-introduction: “TATP first gained notoriety after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when Richard Reid, known as the shoe bomber, unsuccessfully tried to detonate a TATP-triggered explosive during a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001. TATP was also used in the 2005 London bombings that killed 56 as well as in the November 2015 attacks in Paris.”
Why it matters: “A few grams of TATP can easily blow off fingers, while concentrated pounds of it are devastating.” More here.
What can we glean from the security camera footage authorities distributed to catch the elusive third attacker? An awful lot, writes The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi—beginning with their composure, their suitcases, and that single black glove two of them wore on their left hand, quite possibly to conceal a detonator not unlike the Paris attackers were said to have used in their mid-November siege.
Flaws in Belgium’s counterterrorism efforts were long known: Short staffing, communications problems, and institutional problems have plagued the country for years. Now ISIS is taking advantage. The Atlantic, here.
The Daily Beast goes a good deal further, citing U.S. officials calling the Belgian security apparatus “shitty” as another “likened the Belgian security forces to ‘children.’”
A U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and his wife and four children were also injured in the attack, Stars and Stripes reported.
Obama’s dilemma: “He is convinced, on the basis of his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, that intensifying the fight against the Islamic State with more American troops, more airstrikes and raids would be counterproductive,” writes WaPo’s Greg Jaffe. Even so, he writes, “If Obama does not undertake a dramatic change in course, the biggest challenge for him will be finding the right tone to reassure the American people — something he struggled to do after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.” That, here.
From Defense One
America’s working on its next nuclear deal. Obama administration wants to alter a plutonium-disposal pact. What will Russia demand in return? Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.
The all-too-human reason that nuclear material isn’t secure enough. Every facility that holds it is vulnerable to security complacency, writes William Tobey, a former nonproliferation leader at the National Nuclear Security Administration. Read his prescription for fixing that, here.
What we know about the Brussels attacks. Dozens were killed in bombings at an airport and subway station, prompting outrage and disbelief across an already-shocked Europe. The Atlantic wraps up the day’s news, here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1983, Ronald Reagan first suggested developing the technology to intercept incoming ballistic missiles. Send this link to someone who needs it: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Yemen, U.S. airstrikes killed “dozens” of al-Qaeda fighters “queued for dinner at the camp, west of the port city of Mukalla on Yemen’s south coast,” Reuters reports after the Pentagon announced the strike Tuesday evening. “Yemeni sources said that at least 50 people were killed and 30 wounded. The air strikes set off huge fires inside the camp.”
Manned and unmanned aircraft carried out the strike, which Press Secretary Peter Cook said hit a site containing more than 70 AQAP fighters, WaPo added. “The Pentagon’s justification for the strike was that it hindered AQAP’s ability to use the base to launch attacks against ‘U.S. persons.’ Cook has used similar language in past months to describe recent strikes in Northern Africa and the Middle East that have also targeted terrorist training camps.” More here.
The Pentagon’s odd accounting on troop levels in Iraq took a few punches from lawmakers Tuesday, with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, calling the fine-print reading of the White House’s troop count “artificial.”
The heart of the tensions: “The Pentagon refused Monday to release the total number of servicemembers deployed to Iraq following the death during the weekend of Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin at a newly created U.S. artillery base near Mosul,” Stars and Stripes reports. “The number of troops in Iraq is limited to 3,870 unless President Barack Obama authorizes an increase, though troops rotated in for short periods are not counted in that total.”
Thornberry: “The argument is that if you are rotating people in every 30 days or whatever it is to keep below the troop caps then the people who are rotating in are not going to have time to get acclimated to the environment and may be at increased risk.” It’s not an illegitimate concern either, as your D-Briefer can attest from time spent in Afghanistan—short-term stints on the ground can hamper a locally-placed force intent on shaping the battlefield with long-term goals.
Nevertheless, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers “that the president’s military advisers believe more troops are needed in the fight,” Stripes adds.
Dunford: “We are in the process right now of bringing forward recommendations for increased capability as a result of operations in Mosul, Raqqa and elsewhere so we can maintain and accelerate the campaign.” That, here.
State Secretary John Kerry is headed to Moscow to talk the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts. It’s a meeting scheduled after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his troops’ partial exit from Syria while the cease-fire deal tentatively held. “Now that the truce is in place, Kerry will be seeking clarity from Putin and Lavrov as to where Russia stands on a political transition for Syria, particularly on the future of President Bashar Assad,” AP writes. “One senior official said it was now time to get down to ‘brass tacks’ on Assad.” That, here.
Meanwhile, Assad’s army is on the doorstep of ISIS-held Palmyra. “The regime forces are now two kilometres (a little more than a mile) away on the south side and five kilometres (three miles) away on the west side,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
About that “partial exit”—Moscow said last week that it was flying up to 25 sorties a day to help government forces liberate what President Vladimir Putin described as a ‘pearl of world civilisation.’ But IS has fiercely resisted the advance, killing at least 26 pro-government fighters on Monday alone. More from AFP, here.
Britain’s military is being accused of “mismanagement” of its aging nuclear weapons system, Reuters reports. The claims come on the heels of reports “Britain’s defense ministry has not yet established the overall cost of replacing and maintaining” its new Trident submarine fleet, what Reuters calls a “mega-project expected to be given the go-ahead this year.”
Context: “The government has indicated the price tag for replacing the fleet has risen since 2007 but has not given a full cost over its expected 30-year life. Calculations by Reuters and a Conservative lawmaker suggest it could reach 167 billion pounds… Initially, in 2006, the cost of producing the submarine and warheads was put at around 15-20 billion pounds.” That, and a whole lot more math and history on the topic, here.
Speaking of Britain’s military—one of its generals isn’t so sure they can deploy a single combat brigade at the appropriate readiness level. That bit was buried in a Financial Times report the Atlantic Council excerpted, here.
The line: For the U.K., “the deployment of a brigade, let alone a division at credible readiness, would be a major challenge,” said Sir Richard Shirreff, previously chief of staff for Britain’s Land Command.
Lastly today—join five veterans, including California Rep. Duncan Hunter, to discuss “Women Fighting on the Front Lines” today at 1 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington. It’s a great topic, and we’re told lunch is provided. Details here.