Trump’s big natsec day; More US troops to Afghanistan?; China incensed; Iraq wants clarity on ‘take the oil’; and just a bit more…

Today is President Donald Trump’s big day on national security as he moves forward with U.S.-Mexico border wall plans (unclear this early in the announcement exactly how) and a shake-up of U.S. immigration policy. According to “congressional aides and immigration experts briefed on the matter,” the president “is expected to ban for several months the entry of refugees into the United States, except for religious minorities escaping persecution, until more aggressive vetting is in place,” Reuters reports. “Another order will block visas being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.”

These are measures Trump is perfectly within his rights to take, said Stephen Legomsky, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “But from a policy standpoint, it would be terrible idea because there is such an urgent humanitarian need right now for refugees.”

About the visa blocking: This is an “odd list,” says Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. It omits seven of the top eight countries by terror attacks last year: No. 2 (Afghanistan), 3 (Pakistan), 4 (India), 5 (Nigeria), 6 (Egypt), 7 (Philippines), and 8 (Bangladesh). It’s “especially odd to close off [the] U.S. from select states, because it’s irrelevant to what U.S. officials say is the number one threat…homegrown violent extremism.”

(Need a refresher on current refugee-vetting procedures? We outlined them last year, here.)

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will be sworn in today, White House spox Sean Spicer said Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the Trump cabinet, James Mattis’s first trip abroad as SecDef will be to Japan and South Korea sometime early next month. Reports Japan Times: Mattis and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada “are expected to exchange views on China’s island construction and military buildup in disputed areas in the South China Sea and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. They are also expected to discuss a plan to relocate the operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.”

Adds JP: “During the presidential campaign, Trump demanded that Japan, South Korea and other U.S. allies cover a greater share of the costs associated with stationing U.S. forces in their countries — or else defend themselves. Japan, however, regards its nearly 75 percent contribution as sufficient.”

Also: Mattis and Kelly are scheduled to attend the 53rd Munich Security Conference beginning Feb. 17, the conference organizers announced, along with more than 12 U.S. lawmakers “led by Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse.” More here.

We now know a few of Mattis’s top advisers: “Kevin M. Sweeney, a retired rear admiral, has been tapped to serve as Mattis’ chief of staff,” while Rear Adm. Craig S. Faller “has been designated as the secretary’s senior military assistant,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

A 1982 Naval Academy grad, Sweeney later commanded Carrier Strike Group Ten. “In 2001, he took command of the USS Cole, helping restore the ship after a devastating militant attack off the coast of Yemen. Since leaving the Navy, he has been active in business development in Virginia. As chief of staff, Sweeney is expected to help shape the incoming secretary’s agenda and take part in discussions with foreign dignitaries and the rest of President Trump’s national security team.”

And Faller “most recently served as the Navy secretary’s chief for legislative affairs, managing Navy relations with Congress, and also held senior positions at U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command. As the top military adviser, Faller will take on a coveted role that has often been a stepping stone to some of the most senior jobs in the U.S. military.” More here.

In other Trump cabinet news, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was confirmed as the country’s new UN ambassador in a 96-4 Senate vote Tuesday.

Trump is open to sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The story is based off a phone call between Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in December when “Afghan officials say Mr. Trump—at the time president-elect—and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani talked about the security situation and relations with Pakistan and Mr. Trump asked if the Afghan leader needed more U.S. troops,” WSJ reports. “President-elect Donald J. Trump said he would certainly continue to support Afghanistan security forces and will consider a proposal for more troops after an assessment,” according to one Afghan official briefed on the call.

One option reportedly on the table includes “potentially increasing the number of Afghan special forces battalions from 38 to 60.” The White House hasn’t responded to the report and military officials have declined to comment. According to the Journal, “Pentagon officials said there was little expectation of an imminent announcement about additional troops for Afghanistan…Mr. Trump, who hasn’t outlined a plan for the war in Afghanistan, has inherited a difficult dilemma. He can either risk letting the security situation unravel further or again escalate U.S. involvement in a war that has dragged on for more than 15 years.”

In case you’re just catching up, “Taliban insurgents made sweeping gains across Afghanistan after most foreign troops pulled out in 2014,” the Journal writes. “They have twice overrun one major provincial capital and at least six out of the 34 provinces are now under serious threat of falling to the extremists. There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops permanently stationed in Afghanistan and about 6,400 troops deployed there from North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, according to Pentagon figures.” Read the rest, here.

ICYMI: Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said Tuesday that the Taliban “launched nearly 19,000 attacks throughout the country in the last 10 months,” a period in which “2,021 Taliban militants were arrested” while “365 Taliban commanders were killed.” Adds the AP: “There was no way to independently confirm Waziri’s figures.” That here.

The Taliban seem to have more or less copy-and-pasted previous messages to U.S. presidents in a new message for Trump, AP reports: “In a long rambling letter, the spokesman for the Taliban is telling U.S. President Donald Trump that it’s time to leave Afghanistan. The letter, emailed to journalists Wednesday, was written on behalf of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, warns Trump that peace will be elusive as long as foreign troops are on Afghan soil…Written in English, as well as Afghanistan’s two prominent languages Dari and Pashto, the four-page letter waxed on about Afghanistan’s history, its numerous defeats of invading armies and the reported corruption widespread in Afghanistan today.”
  


From Defense One

China’s Growing Ambitions in Space // The Atlantic’s Marina Koren: While Trump works to lay out a new policy for NASA, China is set to conduct a record number of launches this year.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston, and Kevin Baron. On this day in 1945, the Battle of the Bulge ends as German forces complete their retreat. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Iraq’s prime minister is puzzled about Trump’s Saturday remarks at the CIA (“We should have kept the oil…Maybe you’ll have another chance,” the president said). “Iraq’s oil is constitutionally the property of the Iraqis and any statement contradicting that is unacceptable,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told reporters Tuesday in Baghdad, Kurdish Rudaw reports.

However, he hedged, “I have asked others too [what Trump meant exactly], but we don’t know yet what he means by that. Did he mean in 2003 or that ISIS should not take Iraq’s oil, or what. It is not clear to us yet.”

Regardless, he added, “I’ve got assurances from President Trump that the assistance to Iraqi will continue and that it will also increase…We are fighting ISIS on the ground therefore we certainly welcome any help and hope that president Trump will stand by us on this.” More here.

To the north, the coalition announced Mosul’s east has been liberated after nearly 100 days of fighting and approximately 90 allegations of civilian casualties. “While clearance operations are ongoing, the Iraqi security forces control all areas inside the city east of the Tigris River, the east bank of the river around all five bridges crossing the Tigris River, Mosul University and the Ninevah Ruins,” read the coalition’s statement.

Cautions coalition commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend: “There is still a long way to go before ISIL is completely eliminated from Iraq, and the fight for western Mosul is likely to be even tougher than the eastern side.”

The damage inflicted on the group: “Since Oct. 17, the coalition has conducted 558 air strikes in assistance of the Iraqi forces, using 10,115 munitions against ISIL targets. These munitions have destroyed at least 151 vehicle bombs, 361 buildings/facilities, 140 tunnels, 408 vehicles, 392 bunkers, 24 anti-air artillery systems, and 315 artillery/mortar systems.”

See the Mosul offensive in photos thanks to this spread from The New York Times’ Ivor Prickett, who embedded with Iraqi special forces as they shot down drones, searched houses and observed children peek out from homes all while fending off an average of five car bombs a day.

Take a guided video tour of Mosul’s Grand Mosque, a place ISIS reportedly converted into a car bomb factory, thanks to this 2.5-minute report from Kurdistan24 news.

The Shi’a-dominant Popular Mobilization Units said Tuesday they’ll soon help Baghdad’s coalition advance on western Mosul, advancing one axis of pressure on the group.

The U.S. Army’s equipment-push into Eastern Europe is running into some slight logistical problems, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. “Five heavy vehicles have sat at a port in Bremerhaven, Germany, since arriving earlier this month while the Army tries to figure out how to move them east to Poland, Army officers said… Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, said the military has lacked sufficiently detailed information about infrastructure in areas that were once part of the Soviet bloc and now belong to NATO. In coming weeks, the Army plans to move tanks from Poland to other former Warsaw Pact countries… Despite hiccups during the deployment, Gen. Hodges said the troops were ready to fight within two weeks of landing in Europe. The unit is scheduled to stay until September, when it will be rotated out and replaced by another.” More here.

A U.S. and a Polish think tank are running a defense-of-Europe simulation in Poland. A former supreme allied commander is there to help run a wargame simulation complete with a map right out of a Cold War movie set with big red arrows of troop invasions coming west from Russia. Also participating were defense experts and government representatives from Poland, the United States, and the Baltic and Nordic countries.
Retired Gen. Phil Breedlove said the exercise, hosted jointly by the Potomac Foundation and the Warsaw Security Forum-hosting Casimir Pulaski Foundation, is meant to walk through how Poland and NATO allies would respond to Russian-threat scenarios. Organizers billed it as a “true simulation” with attrition and movement engines, the the first “full simulation” of a defense of Europe beyond a tabletop exercise.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Breedlove told Defense One. “This simulation that we’re doing here is really important because it allows us to test our doctrines, test our policies, and test our thought processes — can we react to and see what the enemy is doing and form good judgements from which then you can make in puts into your troop movements.”

As well, Poland is rebuilding and expanding its military, and Breedlove says this will help them determine what to purchase.

So how’d it go? Breedlove: “This wargame was excellent. It gave the game players from several nations and many of our Polish planners some tough problems to address: first, a confusing political situation and the need for not only Poland but the NATO alliance to be able to sort through what is fog and what is fiction and what is reality in order to to make those early and tough decisions. Second, that preparation is required today, because we will fight with the forces that we have as arriving forces come.” Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz is scheduled to meet with the group tonight as well.

For your eyes only: Saudi Arabia showed off the F-15SA multi-role fighter jets it received a little more than a month ago. Watch video of that, here.

The first arms sales under Trump will be hold-overs from the Obama administration. The Washington Post: “The sales, once finalized, will send $525 million in observation balloons to Saudi Arabia; $400 million in helicopter gunship parts and air-to-air missiles to Kuwait; and $400 million in maintenance support for Britain’s fleet of C-17 cargo jets. On Thursday, the day before Trump’s inauguration, the State Department notified Congress it was prepared to sell Kenya $418 million in propeller-driven close air support aircraft and their accompanying weapons but only publicly announced the deal Monday. The awkward-looking aircraft, known as the Air Tractor 802L, will likely be used by Kenyan forces to hunt the terrorist group al-Shabab.”

For what it’s worth, “During his time in office, Obama transferred more than $100 billion in over 40 different arms sales to Saudi Arabia, more than any other administration in history.” More on that angle, here.

Chinese officials suggested Tuesday that “the U.S. should butt out of China’s relationship with its neighbors,” NBC News reported “a day after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer vowed that the United States would stand up to China’s military expansion in the South China Sea.”

Lu Kang, a senior official with the Chinese foreign ministry: “There might be a difference” of opinion regarding who has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, “but that’s not for the United States” to get involved in, he told NBC in an interview. “This issue touches upon China’s core interests. By no means is this something that can be negotiated, or [used] as a bargaining chip,” he said. More here.

Don’t look now, but China has teased the possible deployment a new long-range nuclear-capable missile, Popular Mechanics reported Tuesday. “The Dong Feng (‘East Wind’) -41 missile, or DF-41, can carry up to a dozen nuclear warheads and China claims it has the longest range of any nuclear missile in the world. The announcement of the missiles is likely a warning to U.S. President Donald Trump, who is known for sharply worded anti-Chinese rhetoric and has announced plans for a new ballistic missile system.”

Adds PM: “While China tends to be low-key regarding nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence, this seems like a deliberate move to make a subtle threat. After all, it was probably completely unnecessary to move strategic nuclear weapons through a city of 2.9 million people, unless you want to get the word out. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been talking tough about China as well as enhancing America’s ballistic missile shield. If China wanted to overwhelm the shield with more missiles, the DF-41 would be the way to do it.”

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, PACOM’s Adm Harris will attend Thailand’s Cobra Gold exercise in mid-February, where the U.S. will send 3,500 personnel, which “is slightly fewer than last year,” Reuters reports this morning. In total, “This year’s event will be attended by 8,333 personnel from 29 countries.” More here.

Finally today: Say what you will about crowd size, these high-contrast black-and-white photos of President Trump’s inauguration from U.S. Air Force Combat Camera(wo)man Staff Sgt. Angela Santos are superb. We spotted them over at Airman Magazine’s Facebook page. You can find them here.

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