Afghanistan welcomes more US troops; Russia deepens role in Turkey-ISIS fight; Trump backs down on ‘One China’; US Army preps for cyber-infused war; and just a bit more…

More U.S. troops for Afghanistan? Yes, please, says Kabul. After more than 15 years of fighting, Afghan officials welcomed word that the U.S. military thinks more American troops would help stave off a “stalemate” in the country, Reuters reports from the capital. “This is a joint battle against terrorism and we support any possible way to tackle terrorism in the country,” Afghan defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said in Kabul this morning.

Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, the war’s top U.S. commander, told Congress on Thursday that the region is so rife with terrorist groups and favorable conditions for their survival that the U.S. should plan a long-term presence there — and a larger one, Defense One’s Kevin Baron reports. Nicholson said the Western coalition force is currently “a few thousand” troops short of what it needs. He clarified that he doesn’t want the 30,000 combat-brigade soldiers sent by President Barack Obama in 2009, but more “advise and assist” troops to help Afghan forces, who incurred heavy losses as they beat back various terrorist offensives last year. Those troops would come “below the corps level” and could be American or come from allied nations of the NATO training mission.

The general also said U.S. Special Operations Command commander Gen. Tony Thomas and others were already working on a plan to implement a surge, should it be approved.

To illustrate the ongoing struggle, Nicholson told lawmakers that a U.S. special operator was “severely wounded” from fighting in Sangin, southern Afghanistan, just hours before he began his testimony in Washington. Military Times has more on that, here.

For the record: The war has now cost $117 billion, and continues to drain $13 million every day, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., noted during the hearing.

So what’s next? Nicholson will be discussing the options for Afghanistan with NATO officials next week. More here.

Russia is getting embroiled deeper and deeper into Turkey’s war against ISIS, intervening at a village southwest of al-Bab “to halt a clash between Syrian government forces and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in northern Syria, sources on both sides” told Reuters this morning of tensions that “underlined the risk of the parallel offensives igniting new fighting between the government and its rebel enemies.”

What reportedly happened: “Two rebel officials accused the government forces of provoking the incident. One of them said the government forces had moved towards their positions in tanks.

Rebels shot to warn them not to get any closer, but the tank responded and a clash erupted,” said a rebel official. “Later on Russia intervened to calm down the situation. This whole incident felt like a test.”

For a little context here: “Turkey and its FSA rebel allies have carved out a de facto buffer zone in northern Syria in territory captured from Islamic State since August,” Reuters writes. “They have been battling to capture al-Bab since December, but escalated their attack this week, seizing the city’s outskirts. The Syrian army meanwhile mounted its own, rapid advance towards the city in the last few weeks, advancing to within a few kilometers (miles) of its southern outskirts.” More here.

Russia also killed three Turkish troops and wounded 11 others “in an attack both sides described as an accident” near al-Bab, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Former NATO commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, warned lawmakers Thursday of the risks of partnering with Russia to fight ISIS: “I don’t see their priorities as the same as ours in any way, shape or form in Syria,” he said in testimony before the Senate. “To align ourselves with Iran and Russia in support of Mr. Assad would be very tough for me to deal with.” Stars and Stripes has the story, here.

For a bit more on the complexities of President Trump’s intention to alter the way the U.S. partners with allies old and possibly new (like Russia and Turkey) in the war on ISIS, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius offers this—which suggests, in part, the travel ban may have been viewed as a way to curb the fallout from pushing ISIS out of Mosul and Raqqa.

Speaking of which, five people were killed and more than a dozen wounded this morning when two suicide bombers detonated at a restaurant and a checkpoint in liberated eastern Mosul, AP reports.  

ICYMI: “Iran fired a defensive surface-to-air missile (SAM) on Wednesday…from the same pad that Iran used to conduct its failed medium-range missile test earlier this month,” CNN reported Wednesday. “Wednesday’s test, however, was not covered by the UN Security Council resolution that addresses Iran’s ballistic missiles. The official said that the SAM firing was likely connected to Iran’s 10-day commemoration of the 1979 revolution.” More here.


From Defense One

For the US Army, ‘Cyber War’ Is Quickly Becoming Just ‘War’ // Patrick Tucker: Combat brigades will soon head into firefights with cyber specialists…and possibly IT lawyers.

Why Did Trump Pick a Fight with Putin Over the Nuclear Weapons Treaty? // Ploughshares’ Joe Cirincione: President Trump took a hard line over New START with Russia. It’s an odd battle to choose — and a dangerous one.

Trump’s Dangerous ‘Dishonest’ Message to the Troops // Kevin Baron: It’s politics when a candidate disparages “the media.” But it’s potentially dangerous when the commander in chief tells U.S. troops not to trust the reporters who cover them.

US Counterterrorism Strategy Must Be About More than ISIS // Colin P. Clarke and Chad C. Serena: Even as Trump focuses on the Islamic State, other dangerous groups need attention.

Global Business Brief: February 9 // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense firms still hate the infatuation with Silicon Valley; L3 looks to reverse overseas slump; F-35 price tags, revisited, and more.

Military-Grade Spy Gear Is Flooding into Local Police Departments // George Joseph: Major U.S. cities are spending millions of dollars on tools that track and extract data from people’s cellphones — but almost nothing on rules to guide their use.

President Trump Sets a Remarkable Bar for Critiquing His Military Operations // The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman: The president took to Twitter to argue that publicly discussing the success or failure of a mission ‘only emboldens the enemy.’

Four Ways to Automate Cyber Defense // John Breeden II: Humans aren’t fast enough to respond to network attacks and breaches. Machines can help us, if we help them.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1906, Great Britain launched HMS Dreadnought. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Back to Flynn, once more: He “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials” told the Washington Post on Thursday. “All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.”

However, “U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.” Read the full story, here.

For the record: Russia denies Flynn spoke with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about sanctions, AP reports this morning from Moscow.

President Trump reportedly received an impromptu nuclear briefing midway through his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Reuters reported Thursday. “When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said. Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.”

For a bit more on the underlying dynamics of Trump’s chat on the New START treaty, Arms Control Association’s Kingston Reif took to Twitter to explain a few important points, beginning here.

U.S. and Chinese military planes came inadvertently close to one another over the South China Sea this week. A KJ-200 early warning aircraft and a U.S. Navy P-3C patrol plane had an “unsafe” encounter on Wednesday, U.S. Pacific Command said this morning, marking the first such incident of the Trump administration. AP, here.

Trump backs down on “One China.” When the U.S. and Chinese presidents got on the phone for the first time since Trump took office, the first item on Xi Jinping’s agenda was figuring out whether the new president truly meant to knock down a longtime pillar of U.S.-China relations. New York Times: “By backing down in a telephone call with China’s president on his promise to review the status of Taiwan, President Trump may have averted a confrontation with America’s most powerful rival. But in doing so, he handed China a victory and sullied his reputation with its leader, Xi Jinping, as a tough negotiator who ought to be feared, analysts said.” More, here.

What kind of navy will the U.S. need if great-power competition replaces transnational terrorism as security planners’ biggest concern? The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Bryan Clark, working with Bryan McGrath and others “explores those implications and proposes a new fleet construct for the U.S. Navy to pursue over the next two decades”  in “Restoring American Seapower: A New Fleet Architecture for the United States Navy.” Read it, here.

Navy axes unmanned-warfare office. Not quite two years ago, then-Secretary Ray Mabus stood up the outfit to put a spotlight on drones and automation. Now a Navy spokesperson says the office is being broken up and its functions distributed among the service’s customary warfare shops — surface, submarine, aviation, etc. — in an effort “to mainstream the complementary warfighting effects of manned and unmanned warfare systems.” Defense News, here.

Someone used the wrong oil in a trio E-2C Hawkeyes, and now the Navy is scrambling to replace all six turboprop engines before their air wing heads out on deployment. The estimated repair bill: upwards of $1 million. Virginian-Pilot, here.

Emoluments Watch: “A lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia paid for a room at Donald Trump’s Washington hotel after Inauguration Day, marking the first publicly known payment on behalf of a foreign government to a Trump property since he became president.” Politico reports, here.

(As more information becomes available about the president’s national-security conflicts of interest, we’ll update our tracker, here.)

Lastly today: A bit of history and culture for your weekend. “If we don’t see how cultures shape how people fight, we won’t be able to win those wars when they come,” warns former Marine artillery officer, Matthew Cancian, writing at the Modern War Institute at West Point. “Cultural misunderstandings of the causes of conflict have bedeviled efforts in America’s post-9/11 wars. In Iraq, American leaders initially attributed the nascent insurgency to regime ‘dead-enders,’ without understanding the tensions between Sunni and Shiite Arabs. In the event of a breakdown of the government in America, the battle lines would probably not be drawn along ethnic (Irish vs. Italian) or religious (Mormon vs. Protestant) lines; in the cultural context of Iraq, however, this was the case.” Worth the click, here. And we’ll see everyone again on Monday!

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